Summer mantra for Edmonton Oilers fans: What do we want? Depth players! When do we want it? Sometime between now and when we really really need it!
Summer can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. To some, it’s a chance to go outdoors and spend some time with people you care about. For others, it’s getting to enjoy some of your favourite activities under the sun and travel around the world. For me, it’s an opportunity to re-establish my dominance over ants, beetles, spiders and anything else I can squash with my foot. Take that, circle of life. As long as I don’t leave my backyard, I’m the big dog at the top of the food chain. If I’m forced to venture out on a camping trip I make sure to carry aerosol deodorant, aerosol bug spray, and whenever possible, aerosol cheese. You don’t like that environment? You shouldn’t have invented bees then. Now before all three of you who read this jump down my throat about how insensitive I am to Mother Nature, I just want to say that I am a lover of the trees. Whenever I see someone needlessly cut down a tree I get so full of nerd rage that I’m ready to start opening action figure packaging thus lowering their collectible value. I just can’t control myself.
All jokes aside, like most of you I spent the entire summer pining for the hockey season to begin again. This summer was unlike most summers, because things actually happened. A number of needs were addressed by a competent general manager for a change. I know… sounds weird doesn’t it?
My good friend Lowetide who I’ve never met and communicated directly with only once, created a list of items on his blog that the Oilers needed to address this summer in order to move a step further into contention. Among the items he had listed that the Oilers desperately needed were depth on the 3rd and 4th lines and anybody who can reasonably pass as a defenseman (If you haven’t come across Lowetide, I suggest you pause your game of World of Warcraft and go check it out – http://lowetide.ca/blog/ ).
How to address these needs? A segment of the fan base were pushing for a trade involving one of the studs up front (Hall, RNH, Eberle, Yakupov) for some of that ever elusive ‘depth’. I hate that word. It’s as overused as ‘truculence’ and ‘YOLO’ ( I swear if I ever find out who made that up, I will punch that person in the throat with a shovel). If for a moment I can stop, collaborate and listen to these fans, I can’t help but to shake my head. For 23 years the Oilers roster has been littered with ‘depth’ and come up short on talent. Most recently they have been so bad that they have had no choice but to draft actual skill and talent. Now apparently we have too much and need to get rid of it for the sake of balance? Thank you, but no.
Let’s take a step back and look at the argument objectively. For the past 20 years, the Oilers have boasted only three bonafide all-star players. I’m not talking about guys who make the all-star team because each team has to have a representative (hello Roman Hamrlik), or guys who have a couple nice seasons (cough cough Hemsky). I’m talking about league wide superstar players who are worth the price of admission. True stars who year in and year out produce top notch results. Those players are Chris Pronger, Doug Weight & Curtis Joseph.
Chris Pronger only played here one year, but he is a sure fire hall of famer and almost singlehandedly took the Oil to game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2006. Had Dwayne Roloson not get hurt in game 1, the Oilers would have won their sixth championship.
Doug Weight is the last player to average a point a game and the last to reach 100 points in a season. He did so during a dead puck era in the late 90’s when the neutral zone trap was all the rage. Back then it was easier to score in a convent in Utah. In 1996, Weight finished 11th in league scoring with 104 points. Six of those ahead of him are now in the Hall of Fame. He tied for 5th in assists that season with none other than Wayne Gretzky, aka Paulina Gretzky’s dad.
Curtis Joseph played 3 seasons for the Oilers. He ended up taking over in net for the declining Bill Ranford who was the last connection to the dynasty era. Who will ever forget his playoff heroics in those last two seasons before he left for Toronto? He was the last great goalie that donned the blue and orange. Roloson had a good run, Tommy Salo was so-so, and other than that it’s been a revolving door of average to below average net minders that I have conveniently erased from my memory.
Around those players have been a lot of ‘depth’ players, but no real game breakers who actually make a difference between winning and losing.
“We had a lot of guys that the best they were going to be in any given game was a non-factor.”
I can’t even begin to say how misinterpreted that sentence is. The truth is a third and fourth line are supposed to be non-factors. Everybody has been freaking out since Craig MacTavish said those words and has proposed about 30 different trade scenarios involving Yakupov for three good checkers. If you’re one of those people, please register at a school where they encourage critical thinking. The only role that 3rd and 4th lines should play is the role of not losing. You don’t pay the third line to win you games. You pay the top two lines for that. That’s why they get the big bucks and the big minutes. A third line is most commonly used as a checking line, and a fourth line can be an energy line or a couple of tough guys who can go muck it up if necessary. Neither of those lines will get more than 10 – 12 minutes a game while the big guns get the quality minutes. Depth players are supposed to provide game maintenance. They get confused for game changers. Never should depth players be used in any game deciding situation. Are you really going to tell me that with the game on the line, you are going to send Steven Rice, Brad Isbister and Marty Reasoner over the boards to score that tying goal? If you think that’s a good idea, you probably think Miley Cyrus is as classy as Princess Diana.
This team has been so starved for high end talent that it had to finish dead last 3 years in a row to get it. The idea is to build around it. When you look around at the successful teams such as Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh and LA, they all have quality depth. But that is the coating around a very high end nucleus. Around Crosby, Toews, Kopitar, Kane, etc are good checking line players and grinders like Brandon Sutter, Bryan Bickell, and Jarret Stoll. Good game managers, but not game changers. As much as those names are solid components to a winning team, they aren’t the critical pieces. It’s far easier to get a Bryan Bickell than it is to get a Patrick Kane. You simply don’t trade one $6 million player for three $2 million players. An Ace for three 5’s is a bad way to do business. I remember a long time ago I offered about six hundred 1990 Pro-Set hockey cards to my friend for his one Mario Lemieux rookie card. I thought it was a fair deal but he knew better. Remember folks, depth can be had for cheap. Talent costs a lot. In the Oilers case, it cost them 7 losing seasons to get it. Now that they have it, building around it is the easy part. Solid players like Boyd Gordon, Ryan Smyth and Ryan Jones can be those pieces. Boston has built a powerhouse by building around their core with other teams’ spare parts and waiver pickups. With smart management (remember that Steve Tambellini does NOT work for the team anymore) the Oilers can do the same.
This week’s twitter update has me up to 72 followers. I’m pretty sure that my pandering to random people on the internet is the cause of the increase, but let’s just pretend for a moment that one of you out there follows me too. Here is this week’s challenge: get one of your ‘internet’ friends to follow me. I will personally invite you to my cat’s Halloween party where everyone dresses up like mice and all the neighborhood cats chase us around till the wee hours of the morning. Oh what fun to be had! Follow me @Yaseen_AC.