Scary in more ways than one. A danger to themselves and others. Hall and Yakupov, two kamikazes on one team? Them trying to out-do each other has the potential for something that has never been witnessed before in a hockey rink.
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It's interesting to consider what potential holes the Oilers could be looking to address in the off-season. There are obvious question marks in the crease and on the blue line. It would be crazy for the club to promote from within after consecutive 30th place finishes, right? Wait a second. Didn't that just…?
I'm going to go one step past crazy and say the Oil get even younger in 2012-13.
As of now the lines would project something like the following. Keep in mind only those that have been qualified and those under contract are included. (Part of me wants to see Smyth back, but I just don't see a place for him. It's sad to say, but time to create a position up top for him. Maybe in charge of hair styles or something. That would be rad.)
The top 3 lines are going to be tough for any defense corps to deal with for a long, long time. When glass bones Hemsky goes down with an injury or they trade him for a defensemen, MPS can slide into the top 6. If Hemsky plays the whole year, great. If not, MPS can slide in and Jones slides into MPS' spot. That's if they don't already have MPS penciled in to start in the top 6 this year. Hemsky is perhaps the player in that top 9 the Oilers would trade for something less than straight across. There isn't room for him once Pitlick or, if all trust in Stu, this Moroz requires a spot in a year or two. The Oilers will take what they can get for him whenever that deal comes along. We all know Tamby doesn't rush anything. Ever.
On MPS and a 3rd Line Theory…a lot of people seem to have contrasting opinions on whether MPS should play in the top 6 or be trade bait for another piece (read: a young defensemen). What I'd most like to see is him build chemistry with Lander and become the focal point of the third line. He does a lot by himself with his speed and it would be a huge advantage to have an all-world caliber talent (see: WHC) on your third line. I'm a huge fan of the Philly/Pitt model with 3 scoring lines. A lot of teams (especially in the West) are putting together some scary good top 4 D pairings. The relentless attack of 3 scoring lines represents a dilemma even for those teams.
Some would argue this 3rd line is still a little young and not ready for the responsibility. But it's time to let that go. Lander has proven to be completely solid and already possesses a good 2 way game based on positional strength. You can sense the intensity within Lander like few others. He will benefit from the speed of MPS not to mention their already strong bond off the ice. They will ensure each other succeed. Hartikainen is strictly about puck control. He's a big body and hard to take off the puck. You heard Stu and Tamby talking about players who are big and will get the puck for the skill guys. This year that guy is named Teemu and he'll be found on the Oilers third line with MPS and Lander.
It's the other side of the puck that raises the most questions. I am convinced after hearing the buzz this week at prospect camp that Tamby and K-Lowe are going to do everything they can to get Klefbom to stay with the big club. Forget the AHL, he could step into their top 4 once he adjusts to the NHL game and that would come sooner than later by the look of things. I'm going out on a limb and saying he stays. If he does, things look marginally better.
There are still two surprises on the back end. Fedun and Teubert. Teubert gets this year to try and secure his role as a hard to play against, tough shutdown D. He is going to be challenged on the depth chart as soon as this fall by Musil, Marincin, Gernat, Davidson and maybe Alex Plante (jk…not really Alex Plante) for that 7th spot.
Regarding Fedun. Fedun is the anti-Klefbom. Klefbom is the anti-Fedun. I look at the pairings and suddenly I don't hate everything that is defense. This may seem like a stretch for those outside of Oilerville, but Fedun looks like a player who the game slows down for. Klefbom seems like a logical partner. I like the players more than any of the individual pairings anyways. Not as important. What I do see is a nice balance and high intelligence on the back end. There also isn't any question on the compete level from any of the 7. They are all gamers. The Oilers have been busy the last couple years weeding out the weak ones.
Again, these are only players the Oilers have under contract. If they can somehow lure Justin Shultz to sign, who becomes expendable?
The obvious choice is Teubert. But for reasons of toughness and cause he really likes Ebs, they do the unthinkable and keep Teubert. Petry and Smid are going nowhere, that much we know for sure. Nick Shultz isn't going anywhere either. He is the Smid half of whoever steps up into the other top 4 role. Klefbom and Fedun are most likely the other half of the top 4 by the end of the year with Shultz getting to know his new best friend, the role of a #5 defensemen.
Really we are left with one man out. Ryan Whitney. Do you find a way to keep him for a defense that is 8 deep for the playoffs? Can you unload Whitney's contract even if you wanted? Trade him for a young goalie or skater at the deadline? Is Ottawa a good fit with Ben Bishop coming the other way? Mega cap room there.
You'd have to think Bishop would command a similar price to that of Anders Lindback, who (along with solid D prospect Kyle Wilson) was traded for two 2nd rounders, a 3rd and a goalie prospect. So is it Whitney+ a 2nd? And one of our goalie prospects, say, Roy? Seems steep for a relatively unknown goaltender, but some could also see this as a salary dump by the Oilers. A semi-functional one at that though. With less of a resume than Lindback, perhaps Bishop for Whitney straight across is not a stretch since it addresses organizational needs in Ottawa. With Carkner, Gilroy and Kuba unlikely to return, one would have to think Whitney would be a welcome addition even as a 4 or 5. A former All-Star for their 3rd string goalie is, somewhat sadly, what the Oilers would be looking for.
The goaltending is unlikely to remain as is. First of all, Khabby is done. He's gone. Great guy, don't get me wrong. But the torch is being officially passed this year. Katz has given the orders and damned if they won't be followed. We've all seen his stats after Christmas by now. The only way he keeps a job and the Oilers go into the season with the same goalies is if Yaks need a Russian on the team to help his transition. Here is 4 million for being Russian, I guess.
Dubnyk will start 60 games this year anyways. This is barring any unforeseen goalie moves, such as the one above with Bishop. But I suppose that has now been seen and does not qualify as such. Damn.
There is also, as always, a wild card in the system. His name is Tyler Bunz. Doubt the Oilers have any interest in moving him for a piece, even of Bishop's quality. Maybe. I'd have to think hard about that one. Bunz seems to have a desire to play in the NHL and the pedigree to do it. I think they would let Roy go in a deal. Bunz will probably play in the AHL this year.
I would be all for offering Yann Danis the other goaltending spot on the Oilers. After his stellar year in the AHL has he earned a chance to play or, at the very least, back-up Dubnyk?
Overall, I think the goaltending becomes less of an issue as team defense improves. It's been demonstrated by the Bryz and Mike Smith anomaly (albeit on a small sample size), where each was the beneficiary of a solid team defense in Phoenix. Neither Smith or Bryz would be considered solid number 1 goalies in the TB and Philly systems. They were simply hung out to dry too often and when you couple the odd soft goal with that, it's deflating.
The great part about the Oilers is they will probably score over 3 goals a game this year. Maybe more. The Pens led the league last year scoring 282 goals, good for 3.44 per contest. The Oilers gave up 2.91 goals per contest so you see where they are heading or need to go. Keep in mind the Pens also held a 2.70 goals against, marginally better than the Oilers. Philly's +/- was much smaller than Pitt's so maybe the standard is a little high. With Yakupov scoring 30 this year, it's safe to assume the Oilers are going to score upwards of 240 goals (212 last year) or around 3 per game. If they can even slightly trim the goals against, their differential will be on par with nearly all of the top teams in the West. Suddenly things are looking up.
So should the Oilers go after someone like Bishop? Let Danis have a fair chance at challenging Dubnyk for starts? Will Dubnyk even be an issue if team defense improves and/or we're scoring at a 3.5 per game clip? Is there any way Bunz gets to the NHL in 2013? Does it matter?
So who should the Oilers target in free agency?
Should they target anyone at all? (Outside of everyone's man Shultz, of course.)
It seems crazy for a 30th place team to only promote from within. But maybe that's the craziness of it all. It's time to hand over the keys. The Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings were, on average, 26. They were built on years of drafting and trading other developed prospects for key players they made their run with. They also happen to have 4 pretty good forwards.
It's going to be an interesting training camp. And yesterday we found out it will be run by Ralph Krueger. This is a very good choice.
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