Yes non-hockey season is finally over. The young stars tournament has started with a glorious 7-2 win, and training camp starts soon. Fortunately summer isn’t quite over yet either, although that could change any day… After the break I’ll continue sharing my thoughts on the Oilers moves this summer.
For the NHL players I thought I would directly compare the newcomers to who they are most likely to replace starting with defence. While Foster was traded for Sutton, Sutton is more of a Strudwick/Vandermeer replacement. I would rather have Vandermeer, but we’ll have to see how the season goes. Foster on the other hand has been replaced with Barker. I know a lot of people hate this signing, but I am one of the few who really like it. My only problem with it is how much they signed him for. I don’t get how a guy that gets bought out (and because he wasn’t very good, not because he was getting way too much money) can get that much. Maybe he was a highly sought after player, but I kind of doubt it. So why do I like the signing? Well, he’s still young, he was a 3rd overall draft pick so he has to have some talent, and if this isn’t his last chance I don’t know what is. If he can figure things out and get himself going than this is a steal of a signing, and if not, well, it can’t be much worse than Foster… If you can count you may wonder how two people can replace three, but after missing most of the season I would consider Ryan Whitney to be the other replacement. If he still can’t play then it will be both of Petry and Chorney that make the team, instead of just one of them. Later this month I’ll share my thoughts on that whole debate, but that’s enough for now. Did our defence improve? Maybe. If Whitney is healthy (and if he can stay that way), absolutely yes, if not we’ll have to wait and see. They can’t get much worse. Can they?
My favourite addition among the forwards is not the return of Smyth, though I really like that. Looking at the current list of departures there is no obvious replacement. Instead I would argue that he is Penner’s replacement, and serves to provide Hartikainen with more development time. If he can be resigned to an affordable/reasonable extension than he could be very important for the Oilers now and for years to come. Even if not extended, the knowledge/attributes that he can pass on to the kids should be invaluable. My favourite move of the summer was the addition of Belanger. I think most would agree that he is the replacement for Cogs, and while I like Cogs, I would much rather have Belanger. He has experience, he can still produce, and he can actually win a faceoff! If he can find chemistry with the Swedes then we have an awesome third line that can be responsible defensively and contribute a lot of offense. In my opinion Eager and Hordichuk are great replacements of Jacques and Macintyre. They are better hockey players, and while Hordichuk isn’t as tough as ‘Big Mac’ he should be more of a deterrent as people will actually fight him, and he can play more than two minutes a game.
So that just leaves Stortini and Fraser, assuming the trade doesn’t get overturned, and I don’t think it will be. Stortini was already replaced by Omark so his departure is irrelevant to the big club. Fraser’s replacement could be a number of different players. One that many people are hoping for/expecting is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Like Jeff (Should Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Suit Up For The Oilers In 2011-12?) I really hope he isn’t placed on the fourth line. I’m fine with him staying if he shows he is ready for one of the top two lines (with either Smyth and Hemsky, or Hall and Eberle). I would even be okay with him playing with the Swedes if they showed chemistry, but please don’t play him with Jones and Eager. If he does make the team then I would hope that either Horcoff or Belanger centers the fourth line. Which of those two does so would depend on who plays better with who. If the kid is sent back to Junior, then the obvious fourth line center would be Brule, if he can stay healthy and regain his confidence. OK, so maybe it’s not so obvious… Other candidates include Vande Velde, O’Marra, and Lander. I don’t see any of them being worse than Fraser was last year. I would personally love to see an all Swede line with Lander centering Paajarvi and Omark, but it may be too early for that.
Overall I would say that the team is better now than they were before the summer, and that’s without considering the experience gained by the kids, and (hopefully) players returning from injury. The problem is that like many others I don’t think it is enough. The defence might be a bit better, but it may also be worse, and it is hard to be worse than it was last year. We do have some promising prospects (Klefbom, Teubert, Marincin, etc.), but they are still a ways away from being the impact top pairing players that we need. Goaltending is basically unchanged, and still needs to be addressed. The forwards is the one area that looks really good, but that could change if players like Omark and Hemsky get traded… All things considered the Oilers should be better this year, but they definitely still need some serious improvement.