Apr 4, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Sam Gagner (89) celebrates with center Jeff Halpern (14), defenseman Justin Schultz (19) and left wing Taylor Hall (4) after scoring a goal in the third period against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Wanted: Sam Gagner's Replacement

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The Edmonton Oilers’ roster for 2014-2015 has been greatly improved during the summer. So has the Coaching staff. Ditto for the hiring of hockey analytics pioneer and man hard to be friends with Tyler Dellow. For all the gooey goodness though, at least one very important piece is still missing: Sam Gagner’s replacement.

The flushing of all the experimental bottom d men from last season (Belov, Grebeshkov, Frasier, Larsen, Potter and Schultz the elder) made way to two solid signings in Mark Fayne and Nikita Nikitin, who, at best, will help ( all things staying equal) the top 2 pairings keep their heads above water. At worst they are proven NHL defencemen who will do no worse than the former group. Keith Aulie should provide functional size on the back-end with his 6’6, 228 lbs frame and decent skating.

Darryl Sutter offered the following quote after the Gaborik trade last season: “The game’s changed. They think there’s defending in today’s game. Nah, it’s how much you have the puck. Teams that play around in their own zone (say) they’re defending but they’re generally getting scored on or taking face-offs and they need a goalie to stand on his head if that’s the way they play,” (Source: sportingnews.com).

The Oilers seem to have bought in, or at least are willing to explore the concept, as they made clear with the addition in the back office of Tyler Dellow and wingers Teddy Purcell and specially Benoit Pouliot, both solid puck possession players according to statistics like Corsi for %, which is basically the difference expressed in percentage between all shots attempted at the opposing net and all shots attempted against own net, when a specific player is on the ice.

Even though this stat is better at measuring a group of players on the ice rather than a single one, it’ s a good estimation for having an idea of who’s good at keeping the puck on the opposite end, since you need to have the puck in order to attempt a shot. Better possession numbers should go a long way in helping Edmonton reduce their goal differential (league worst last season)

Craig Ramsey and Rocky Thompson will add NHL experience behind the bench and a fresh set of eyes and voice in the locker room.

For all the positives though, if the 2 C position is not filled by a capable hombre, Nuge and co. are going to drown in the West. Current candidates are Arcobello, Draisaitl, Lander and Gordon. Arco held his own last season, but his size and inexperience on that job make him a wild card. Draisaitl is said to have the tools, but lacks the maturity and experience desired for sure success, so that’s another coin flip. Management’s fault or not, Lander’s lack of offensive development in the NHL make him the least likely candidate for the job. Gordon is the one proven center of the bunch, but he is a career shutdown guy, and the 2 C slot requires more skill than Gordon was graced with.

That’s where the depth at C ends. Even 1 injury to any of the current pivots will be big trouble. There are 2 solutions here: sign a FA or make a trade. Given the slim pickings at this time of the year on the FA market, the second solution is  in my opinion the most practical for Mac Tavish. The big question in his mind should be what makes the team weaker, youth at center? ( Draisaitl) or youth at defense? (Petry traded, one of Klefbom, Nurse taking his spot).

If the Oilers want to at least make it interesting come March, Mac Tavish needs to find a way to bring at least a top 9 C and work by committee. Anything less (current roster as is) and the Oilers will be betting on best case scenarios, again. We have all seen how that movie ends.

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Tags: Edmonton Oilers Leon Draisaitl Sam Gagner

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