Friday, February 6, 2009

Buyers or sellers?

I have a couple buddies who are Flames fans (poor things) and we often spend many hours trash talking hockey over email. 95% of everything we say is junk, "Horcoffs a first line goonie", "Phaneuf gets the sloppy second assist" ect. But the other day, I was presented with the following information. Edmonton Oilers since 2000:

2008-09 - 8th Position (currently)
2007-08 - 9th Position
2006-07 - 12th Position
2005-06 - 8th Position (cup run)
2003-04 - 9th Position
2002-03 - 8th Position
2001-02 - 9th Position

Edmonton's Average Position Last Seven Seasons: 9.00

That my friends is the recipe for mediocrity. You have an ok season, make or barely make the playoffs and you don't get much help back via the draft. Draft position is not the key to organization stability - teams like New Jersey, Detroit, San Jose, Dallas ect. have remained dominant franchises for the past decade without a top end draft pick - but teams like Chicago, Washington and Pittsburgh are proving it to be a recipe for success.

Going back briefly to New Jersey, Detroit, SJ and Dallas I think the Oilers are building properly. They seem to be building from the back-end out. Their top 4 D, is solid. The old saying goes "offense wins games defense wins championships" and it still applies. Detroit, Dallas and New Jersey have always had a strong defense. SJ has never had the dominant defenseman but was 3rd best in GA last season and is again up there this year. I don't think this is a coincidence. While Kevin Lowe has failed in having a balance roster, that is more a reflection of the team not being good. His approach to building a team is solid and with Chris Pronger would have been much easier.

I've said many times that the Oilers are good enough to be a playoff team. With the injury to Visnovsky, that opinion is now in jeopardy. The organization is faced with the question of being sellers or buyers come deadline day. Frankly the only way they lose is by doing nothing.

Arguments for a reload

I dont use the road reload because the Oilers don't need to rebuild - they have a solid core. However, the Oilers are 4 points removed from 14th in the West. 5th last in the league and a shot at Taveres has to be a tempting option. Erik Cole should have good trade value and Staois, Pisani et al would be good salary dumps. Another interesting point is that the Oilers team in 05-06 was much better than 8th (obviously). What did they do before the season? They created about 15 million dollars in cap space. With the global recession and impending decline in NHL salary cap there is going to be a lot of good players available for teams with money. Right now the Oilers have money but no cap space. Reloading is also the best option for trying to find that top-end player to play with Ales Hemsky.

Arguments for a playoff push

This team has 2-3 glaring weaknesses and is otherwise a solid team. A center who can win faceoffs and kill penalties and a scoring forward would help this team immensely. That player IMO doesn't need to be a veteran. Roloson has proven he is a good playoff goaltender and this team still has several key ingredients from the 06 Stanley Cup run who would be hungry and game for the playoffs. The Oilers are well stocked with assets who should have enough cachet to fill the voids that are so frustrating to watch. Another undervalued intangible that comes with the playoffs is that the development Oilers young players with no playoff experience (Gilbert, Smid, Grebeshkov, Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Brodziak) would be accelerated.

My guess is that the Oilers make a push this season. There are many people in the organization whose jobs are on the line. If that's the case, I see no reason to wait a month till the deadline.
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