Mitigating a loss: No one – least of all me – will tell you that Taylor Hall undergoing his first major surgery at the tender age of 20 years old is a good thing. The news is the realization of a fear held by many fans that his style of play wouldn’t lend to many 80 game seasons or a particularly long and productive career for that matter. Perhaps equally disheartening is that he’s had a problem with that shoulder for awhile and the Oilers drafted him in spite of this and also had him play nearly a full season with him in constant discomfort. Oh, yes, I was going to get to a postive, right? Well, heading into this entry draft there was every reason – and perhaps is still – to believe that the Oilers would draft a defenseman with their first round pick no matter what slot their eventual destination. Now, maybe this is stretching that theory just a little too much given that the Blue Jackets have held a death grip on first overall for some time and thus are in line to take consensus number one pick, Nail Yakupov, and perhaps the Oilers would move from their draft-for-need leanings should such a talent be available. As it stands, however, the Oilers are 29th in the league and if things held true in the lottery they would have to go off the board in order to avoid Mikhail Grigorenko. With Alexander Radulov returning from a self-imposed, albeit tax-free, exile in the KHL and the Capitals fretting about the 2013 season availability of prized prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov it may be topical to wonder if the Oilers aren’t doing the right thing by avoiding a similar headache and perhaps, yes, it would be better to look at all the defenseman that are available this June. However it seems the Oilers have always had a plan to take a defenseman in a move that declares they believe they have enough forwards.
Enter Hall’s first major injury.
Will this change the Oilers mindset heading into June? I’m not so sure. In moving a mobile and distributing defenseman in Tom Gilbert for a stay-at-home sort in Nick Schultz the Oilers appeared to practice a spin-off of planned obsolesence where they purposely thinned their own product so they’d have an excuse to make a move to address it at a later date. I know this doesn’t make any sense but when you look at the big picture it would appear the best way to augment the backline was either through trading a young prospect or a draft pick for an expiring or perhaps poorly structured contract with say two years remaining; or perhaps just snatch from the free agent market without having to deplete the in-house stock. But that isn’t the way the club attacked the problem and now with so much obvious talent up front and so much flotsam and jetsam supporting them it would make sense to the common fan that the Oilers pick one of the many available defenseman all the while avoiding those damn enigmatic Russians. Of course this is foolishnees and drafting young Grigorenko and later holding an auction for his rights in return for defensive help seems a much better bet for producing immeadiate results from the backend rather than suffering through 200 games of a young defenseman learning the league and waiting for the game to slow down.
Note: all of this could become a moot point. Of the Oilers remaining six games only three are what I would consider tough; a home-and-home versus a playoff contending Kings team and a home game versus same Stars. The other games are a home-and-home versus the Ducks and the last game of the season at Van against a team that isn’t likely to be competing at a top level. I expect the Oilers to pass the lemming Wild without even looking at their remaining sked – I just checked and it’s brutal – and I predict the Oilers end up third overall with a slight chance of reeling in the Ducks should they win both the aforementioned contests. In any case, the best player available option may be removed from the Oilers MO but if it isn’t then the news on Hall should, in theory, give them a reason to reconsider the opinion that the forward cupboard no longer need attention.
A win for Sam Gagner: I must admit that I don’t watch junior hockey for the same reason that I didn’t watch a lot of AHL action – and still don’t – unless the Oilers affiliate is in action: it’s not top rate hockey and there are too many poor players and/or mistakes on the ice. When the Taylor/Tyler debate raged I went on nothing more than the idea that if there’s a chance to draft a big right-handed centre than I don’t believe you should pass up that chance. We are two years into the respective careers of Hall and Seguin and with the latter being an avowed winger that eliminates what I saw to be his biggest advantage; when you also consider the quality of linemates and the team he plays on that also colours his numbers and outside of that pesky longterm injury thing, I give the advantage to Hall. But, do you know what would increase both Hall’s value and position in this argument even more? If he played centre. I’m neutral on Sam Gagner. I’m not a huge fan but I am far from a huge critic. The eight point game was great and he seems like a good kid and I don’t wish him anything but success. Also, despite the 360 GP he has logged to date his age of just 22 yearsmeans there’s conceivably room for him to grow in areas like putting on muscle mass and improving his faceoff skill and his skating and becoming a better all-around player. Still, I’m not convinced that you can win with Gagner and Nugent-Hopkins down the middle and I’m convinced – as I’m sure are most – that it’s easier to find quality wingers than pivots. So, when I look at the depth chart I see the Oilers starting out with two combos and going from there: Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle; Hall and Hemsky. From there you plug in the Paajarvi, Omark and Hartikainen types, you move Smyth up from his post with Horcoff or you go the free agent route like the Pens used to do with guys on value contracts like Bill Guerin in the past or Steve Sullivan in the present. This frees up Gagner to be dealt for help with the defense corps or perhaps even the netminding. Sadly, I don’t think this has ever been considered by the Oilers. It makes so much sense that if they even considered it for just a minute they would have pulled the trigger and slotted Hall as a centre and moved on from there. Rightly or wrongly – and I’m trying to think of a time when such a talent as Hall was bungeed from position to position – they have decided Taylor is a winger and it’s because of that decision that Sam Gagner remains. And now that a full 2013 season from Hall is in doubt Gagner’s position with the club could be even further cemented