I hate it when the Sportsnet guys copy me. Watching the game last night (ok, I started this post quite some time ago), I commented to my wife "they're going to be in some trouble next year," and expanded when she asked why. The return of Torres, Moreau, and Horcoff is going to make for some difficult decisions for Lowe and MacTavish.
This has already been covered a billion times in other places, but what's the point of having a blawwwg if I don't paraphrase what everybody else has said?
Issues to keep in mind when considering the future of this roster:
1) salary cap. I won't address salaries. Let's assume everybody Lowe wants to sign does so for reasonable sums, and that defencemen (Pitkanen, Gilbert) won't affect this. Having said that, I think it's safe to assume Stoll doesn't get a raise this year. With any luck, he feels as bad as Adam Oates did about his lack of production this year and takes a cut, but I won't presume to read his mind.
2) budget. Who knows what Katz will do? Hopefully he lets Lowe spend to the cap.
3) RFA raids. Everybody thinks Lowe left himself open with his moves last year. I don't agree. Penner's not been lights-out, and that's gotta have some effect on the thinking of other GMs. The other most recent attempts (Vanek, Kesler) didn't earn their new salaries their first year either. Without debating the wisdom of the players given offer sheets, I think it's safe to say that Edmonton's forwards are safe next year from signings of this sort; there's better quality available.
4) reserve list. This has been well-documented as well. Edmonton's close to, if not at, the limit. Fortunately, part of that reason is they have a lot of forwards, and that's exactly what we're talking about here.
As of now, assuming a healthy roster, the forward depth chart looks something like this, with players listed at their 'natural' position. Parentheses mark current AHLers, square brackets possible signings in the system. (The Oilers site still lists Thoresen. Oops.) I haven't included every single guy who's laced up skates this year and lines up at centre ice at the start of a game, just the guys most likely to get called up or signed for 2008-09.
Centre (11): Horcoff, Gagner, Stoll, Cogliano, Brodziak, Reasoner, Pouliot, (Schremp), (Trukhno), (Spurgeon), (O'Marra)
Left wing (7): Penner, Torres, Moreau, Glencross, Sanderson, (J-F Jacques), [Bumagin]
Right wing (7): Hemsky, Nilsson, Pisani, Stortini, (McDonald), (Goulet), [Mikhnov]
That's a lot of centres. The situation is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that some guys like Cogliano seem pretty well suited to playing another position, but still, that's way too many bodies for too few many roster spots. Then there's the already-problematic reserve list. Others have looked at likely budgets and cap numbers for next year, so I won't redo their work. Plus, it's safe to assume that everybody who's still wanted can fit somehow. Obviously the blueline decisions will play into things, but the logjam there isn't as bad.
Left wing has always been the weak spot for the Oilers, and next season shouldn't be much different. Penner's a lock, Glencross's spot is his to lose after the last 20 games, Moreau isn't likely going anywhere but has turned into glassman, and Torres has a spot too, but is streaky as hell. Jacques can't buy an NHL point, and Glencross took his spot anyway.
On the other side, Hemsky and Pisani are always a lock, Nilsson (as of Friday) has a new contract and won't be going anywhere soon, and Stortini's got a fairly unique role. Just like centre ice, only not quite as jammed.
Sanderson and Reasoner are unrestricted free agents. It's a good bet that Sandy's gone next year - another old warhorse retiring with a partial mediocre season as an Oiler - and it's hard to make a strong case for Reasoner to return. I love the guy, he'll do anything he can to help the team and his return to form after his injury and clearing waivers is heartwarming, plus he's funny as hell (what American college guy isn't?) but business is business. Brodziak can likely fill Reasoner's spot, with Cogliano taking Reasoner's slot on the penalty kill, and hey, Greene's still around for the resident-American-funnyman. MacTavish has a soft spot for Marty - and with good reason - so it's possible he gets a contract anyway, but unless Brodziak takes a step backwards, it's unlikely he'll see much more than 4th line + PK duty at best.
Schremp needs NHL time or a trade next season. He's probably not a terribly valuable asset right now, but he's got to be worth something to somebody. It seems pretty clear based on his play and comments by various coaches that he's just not going to work either as a centre or a winger on the bottom set of lines, which means he needs to bump both Gagner and Stoll. And since we're talking Gagner, the Conga Line (I like that one best, Young Guns and Kid Line are all passe) is busted up, so he'll need to be better than Cogliano too.
What would I do, if I were KLowe? Give Gagner, Nilsson, and Cogliano training camp and the first bit of the season to prove this season wasn't a fluke. Horcoff, Hemsky, and Penner played fairly well together before Horc went down, and Penner looked lost after that - give them a shot too.
That leaves the bottom six. Stoll gets a mulligan on this season, as does Torres - both of them can play tough minutes, put Pisani on their other wing and there's a nice checking line. Fourth line is tough, Moreau needs to play but Glencross deserves a spot too, and Stortini was surprisingly effective down the stretch. Brodziak, Reasoner, and Pouliot all could be effective centering that line. Still, let Reasoner go, let Brodziak and Pouliot fight it out for the 4th centre position. Give Schremp a long look during TC with some good linemates (Gagner and Moreau maybe, since he did a good job babysitting Hemsky), and see if O'Marra can play a checking line role. Dark horses are Lowetide's favourite Trukhno and Spurgeon. But I'd be pushing hard to move some of those players at the draft; maybe Lowe can find a place for Reasoner after all, even if it is part-time PB duty and injury insurance.
However you cut it, it should be an interesting season, even if Lowe makes no changes. The team hasn't been good the last couple of years, but this doesn't feel like a reprisal of 1994, with one or two bright spots and a bunch of has-beens and never-will-bes.
(Update: wrong timestamp, the original one got put on. Sorry if this shows up in your RSS readers twice.)