Summer Fill: Catching up with the Edmonton Oilers via Copper & Blue
Here on SB Nation, our hockey writers have decided to temper the off-season by posing questions to each other about our teams - a roster aspect, a quirk, an ongoing controversy, whatever. In 2009 we were paired up with Winging It In Motown and discussed the economics of Detroit hockey in a down-economy as well as other Detroit Red Wing issues.
This year, the SB Nation Summer Fill is back and we've been matched up with Derek Zona and company from The Copper & Blue, the premiere Edmonton Oilers fan site. R interview is posted on the Copper & Blue site.
We asked a couple of questions regarding management, the young core of players for the Oilers and just what is up with Rexall Place (the home venue for the Oilers). Derek, along with staff members Benjamin Massey, Jonathan Willis, Scott Reynolds and Bruce McCurdy, rose to the challenge.
Also make sure you check out Copper & Blue's interview with me about the state of the Lightning.
Just to preface the answers: Each Copper & Blue staff member who answered each selected question are identiffied before their response.
Raw Charge: Pat Quinn amscrayed after 2009-10 and Tom Renney has taken over the Oilers. What's the thought on this? Are there any concerns that this is the third head coach in three seasons for the Oilers?
Scott: Any discussion about the coaching staff begins with the fact that Pat Quinn was a terrible bench coach last season. He matched lines occasionally, but wasn't committed to it, and often put players in a position where success was unlikely. Take J.F. Jacques, for instance. Jacques started his fifth professional season with 60 NHL games behind him and a grand total of one (1) goal. Quinn started they year with Jacques on the first line beside Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. And take Taylor Chorney. The young defender had struggled defensively in the AHL. When he was brought to Edmonton because of injuries, the coaching staff started him in the defensive zone more than any other defender on the team. In fact, Chorney had the fourth most difficult ZoneStart in the entire league! It wasn't a recipe for winning, and it wasn't a recipe for development either.
When the 2008-09 season finished, fans were ready for a change. I actually liked Craig MacTavish, but even I could see that. Heck, even MacTavish could see it. The team then decided to hire Pat Quinn. Moving away from Quinn after just one year is, essentially, acknowledging that the Quinn hire was a mistake. And since that's true, I don't think there's any concern that the Oilers are on their third head coach in three years. Each time there's been a change, it's made good sense. As for Renney, I think he's a good coach. A lot of Oiler fans (especially on the internet), like to talk about territorial advantage and often rely on Corsi numbers to talk about winning sustainably. Renney's teams in New York generally excelled in this area, even if it was partly because Renney just liked his guys to put the puck on net. At any rate, I'm confident that Renney will make this team better. The biggest concern is that he was a part of last year's awful coaching staff, but Renney's track record in New York is enough to buoy hopes.
Raw Charge: Was there a perception in Edmonton that Quinn wouldn't last? Especially after remarks early in the season that said, "I don't understand players of today" ?
Scott: It became clear early on that Pat Quinn was a bad bench coach, but his interviews were almost always good listening. Those remarks came in the middle of an awesome rant about how Jarome Iginla was a dirty player for tripping Sheldon Souray headfirst into the boards, so as you can imagine, the reaction of most of the fanbase was overwhelmingly positive. Taken in context, the quote certainly isn't an admission that he's incapable of dealing with today's players: "To poke his feet out and pile on top of him? Somehow they never deal with that crap — and they won’t let the vigilante stuff deal with it somehow. I don’t understand the players of today. If that had happened in the old days, he would have got hit over the head with a stick right after. That’s the way you used to deal with it. Now you can’t touch him. It was a pretty dirty play, in my opinion." That's a pretty darn good reaction. You can tell because he got fined.
Raw Charge: How has Renney presented himself differently than Quinn this off-season? Has he hinted at a difference in approach with the team than how it operated under Quinn?
Ben: The main differences have been in their approach to the media rather than their approach to the team. Quinn, whatever his position in an organization, has been infamously gregarious. Renney plays his hand much closer to the vest, and as a result whatever differences we perceive in approach are largely differences in what they tell the world.
So far, Renney's given us very little to go by. What there has been has largely centred around the usual pillars you'd expect from a new head coach in his position about rebuilding and nobody's job being safe and seeing what the kids have and so on. Unfortunately for those of us who love to play armchair coach, Renney hasn't given so much as a hint regarding his tactical approach or the roles he's going to thrust his armful of unblooded pups into. Perhaps this is understandable given the early stage of the season and the fact that, with free agency and trades still very much a factor, Renney might not even know what raw material he has to work with. But it does leave fans rather on tenterhooks.
The best we can do is offer our educated guesses, but those aren't promising. To pick a particularly grating example, we know Renney was in charge of the defense last year and that the defense was coached perplexingly - our two worst defensemen, Jason Strudwick and Taylor Chorney, spent a disproportionate amount of their time taking faceoffs in their own zone. How much of that was Pat Quinn setting the team strategy and how much was Renney's own initiative is the sort of thing only time can tell.
Raw Charge: With Taylor Hall, Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson, and Jordan Eberle, the Oilers have a trio of highly projected young talent. Who else in the Edmonton system should the league keep an eye on?
Derek: Given the amount of time I've spent chronicling his development, I'd put Teemu Hartikianen into the "ones to watch" category. Curtis Hamilton's draft stock plummeted because of collarbone injuries and he has all of the skills to be a wonderful all-zones player. Brandon Davidson is a kid that is coming from way back as his family didn't have the money for him to play high-level bantams, but since he's been discovered, he's coming on fast.
But the one player that nearly everyone in Edmonton has in the back of their mind as not only a future NHL player, but probably a future NHL Captain, is Anton Lander. As an 18-year-old, Lander wore an 'A' for the Swedish Elite League's Timrå IK last season. He's not a high-scoring player, and likely won't bring much offense to the NHL, but he's a natural-born leader and people naturally gravitate to him and follow him. When we spoke with him in March, our Swedish interviewer found himself taken in by the young star:
He sat down and shook my hand and asked what I had and went and bought it. He showed a genuine appreciation towards me and acted genuinely interested in me as a person. It was almost like it was his pleasure to meet me and not vice-versa. It is difficult to accept but it feels like he has the ability to make others feel important around him.
His teammates will run through a brick wall for him, he's wearing an 'A' at eighteen, and he's an excellent defensive player. He's on his own timeline to come to North America, but Oiler fans remain patient, knowing that they are going to get an extremely mature young man when he decides to make the jump.
Raw Charge: With young talent comes the need for strong veteran presence to guide them. What is the current state of veteran leadership on the Oilers, and will they be capable of helping nurture/influence the kids?
Jonathan: Sparse. Up front, the veteran leadership consists of the trio of Horcoff, Hemsky and Penner. Penner's been a frequent target of criticism in years past, most of it related to his perceived indifferent play, while Hemsky isn't exactly renowned as a leader either. On the back end are more veterans, with Ryan Whitney and Jason Strudwick likely tapped for leadership roles. If there is a need for a strong group of veterans to guide a rebuild, than the Oilers are in trouble.
Raw Charge: Speaking of veterans, what's the status of Sheldon Souray with the club?
Derek: Separated, while the lawyers work out the details of the divorce. Souray and his team, like many agents continue to do, misread the market something terribly when they pulled off their season-ending trade-demand. No one wanted an injury-prone defenseman carrying a five million dollar cap hit, especially when Tomas Kaberle was available. The Oilers waived Souray, but there are very few teams can even afford to just add that much salary. If they Oilers are going to move Souray, they're going to have to take back a significant salary.
There have been questions in Edmonton as to whether he will report to camp and play until they find him a home, but as his team has stressed over and over again, this is an irreparably-damaged relationship and he still expects to be traded.
Raw Charge: Very few teams have been willing to tender offers to RFA's, but the Oilers have done it twice in recent years with Dustin Penner and Tomas Vanek. Why have the Oilers willingly gone that route? Are you surprised more clubs aren't trying this?
Jonathan: The Oilers have willingly gone the RFA route out of a combination of desperation and stupidity. Under Kevin Lowe's tenure, the post-lockout thinking seemed to be that the team desperately needed a superstar; it had worked with Pronger and thus became the model of choice. Unfortuantely, free agents weren't attracted to the Oilers, and thus in his quest for an impact player Kevin Lowe went the RFA route. The Vanek offer sheet would have crippled the franchise's ability to add good young players (four first round picks would have gone the other way) and the Penner signing hasn't gone has planned. With all of that said, I am surprised more teams haven't gone the RFA route, because there are definitely targets who make sense - just not the guys the Oilers lined up when they lined them up.
Raw Charge: Marc-Antoine Pouliot signed with the Lightning this off-season, what is one thing that Lightning fans should know about this guy?
Ben: As the resident members of the Marc Pouliot fan club, it's only natural that I answer this question. In truth, Pouliot isn't a remarkable player but he is a fairly good one. A decent faceoff man with good, not great, physical attributes. To the extent that he has any plus offensive attributes, he's a pretty good playmaker who can lay some surprising passes onto a teammate's stick if given time and space. His shot is fairly accurate but lacks power so it won't fool anyone: he gets his handful of goals more by smarts and positioning than raw Sakic-esque ability. Between that and his injury history (which is an ugly one), more than one Oilers fan has cut him loose. Watching him, you're not going to nod your head and say "this kid's a player".
The one thing to know about Marc Pouliot, essentially, is that he is a player after all. He hasn't got any overwhelming skills but he has a large selection of fairly good skills along with an excellent hockey brain. You'll be able to count the number of times you see him out of position on your fingers. If you try the same trick with the clever chips he makes or the well-placed plays to clear the zone, you're going to run out of hands and feet. He's one of those headsy players who've been filling out third and fourth lines for contending NHL teams since the dawn of time. At the league minimum and a two-way deal, the Lightning are taking no risk on a player who's proven he can outscore modest opposition at an NHL level, and guys like that aren't usually as cheap as Pouliot's proven to be. My advice isn't even "be patient", because unless he gets hurt again you won't have to be: my advice is "let his results, not his highlights, do the talking".
Also, he's usually good for one dandy middleweight fight every season. That's always a highlight.
Raw Charge: Rexall Place has become the 2nd oldest and 2nd smallest venue in the National Hockey League by way of the closing of the Igloo in Pittsburgh. Have there been any discussions or are there any plans to replace the Place any time soon?
Bruce: Certainly there are ongoing discussions, and while "plans" might be overstating things there is certainly a "vision" for a downtown mega-complex with a new arena at its core. Early negotiations have been somewhat fractious, and matters are not accelerated by this being a civic election year. Oilers' owner Daryl Katz has committed $100 MM to the funding model, although the direction of that commitment has wavered from the arena proper to the larger complex and back again. Still, that's just a fraction of the expected cost of the project, which most frequently has been estimated in the range of $400-500 MM for the arena and another $1 BBB for the complex of hotels, office towers, stores, and housing. It seems highly likely that a casino will be part of the mix before the dust settles.