There are really only two positions in hockey: centre and defense. I know many of you will disagree and point to very good quantitative evidence that I am wrong. Most likely someone is typing up a reply about the existence of wingers and goalies. Actually, who am I kidding . . . no one is replying since that means someone would be reading this blog.
As an Oiler fan and a rearguard, when I used to play the game, I tend to focus on the Oilers’ blue line (or lack there of). It is hard to not believe in wingers since the return of the Mullet and the holy trinity are joined by Omark and Hemsky—plus a little dash of Eager and randomness (see Jones’ contract). I wouldn’t keep Harkitainen if he be use to unload The Boozen’ Wall; like the fat man / skinny girl let slip a few weeks agao. Man, we could have got a third round pick back, too: stupid, stupid Tambo. I mean I would love to love wingers right now, but I couldn’t care less. Omark is awesome and if they trade him they are an addled mind (price tag & talent). It is hard to give a shit about the goalie position either: unless the Boozen’ Wall goes to jail . . . oh I have never hope for anyone to go to jail before him (and I still think it is a terrible place that we should not send anyone!). PS: he is in jail and that does not seem to be solving the problem either. This leaves only centres to talk about . . . and this sucks.
He is the de facto number one centre: for now. Long term he is either going to be traded to fill a whole at RH defense or in the crease—any handed is fine for the ‘tender. The other route is that Sam and The Nuge form a top two set of centres . . . very shifty & very cerebral, a perfect core for a puck possession team with a couple elite talents on the wings.
Gagner is in real danger of losing first unit PP time and some easy offensive zone draws to The Nuge. I not would be surprised to see them with even PP minutes by the end of the season. It is essential that Gagner steps up and plays well against tougher competition this year. I’d like to see what he could do with Ryan Smith as his left winger and one of those talented RWers (read not Jones).
Horcoff & Beleganer
Horc might be a bit over paid but there is nothing we can do about it; Beleganer is signed to a value contract at under two million.. I just combine the captain’s and the new guy’s contracts together and come up with 3.625 million for 3 season per defensive centre. It is kind of still expensive and there is that final season of Horcoff’s contract, but at least there will be a couple centres in their early 30’s dress in Blue and Orange silks. I think we can expect about 120 to 130 games per season for the next three years between the pair old pivots.
I think they will take the lion share of defensive zone draws and the PK minutes. I could see one of them lost this job over the next few years; if Gagner adds a penalty-killing element to his defensive game or The Nuge takes over some of the harder minutes. Other then that they fit a specific role (defense) and have a decent two way game. They can chip in a few points and are a lot more dangerous around the net then most teams two top defense-first centres. I would pencil both these centres in the ‘bottom six’ even if I expect them to get a lot of minutes at the end of tight games and be mainstays on the penalty kills.
Here is the wild card. He gets his 9 games—and even if he does stay with the NHL team, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go play the world juniors. I think he stays but gets sheltered minutes kind of like Segiun did this year but different. I think The Nuge is going to get powerplay time; most likely beginning on the second unit. I would not think it is unfathomable that Renney would protect him late in the games. The coach running the other three more veteran centres at evens, and The Nuge getting power play time and the occasional shift. If we could break down qual-comp by period, my guess is the former first overall doesn’t get protected as much in the first period or two of games, but in the third—if everyone is health—he often goes a while sitting on the bench between shifts.
I say he makes the team because he gets the ‘push’. The Nuge has some very real competition for ice time with the three centres above him . . . maybe too much? What really is going to affect his fate is the amounts of injuries the Oilers’ suffer at this position.
Most folks write Brule off. He is damaged.
I think he will come back with a little bit of vengeance and fight for 4th line minutes. He needs to come back as a professional and accept the press box at the beginning of the season, and chip in when needed. He keeps players like Lander and VV down in the AHL until the bodies start adding up in the wounded tent.