Just like the last blog, before I get rolling I’m going to talk more on the Boundary battle of Alberta game because now we have a second game to talk about! The first game not only sold out in incredible time, but the roster spots also were snatched up quickly. Tickets go on sale tomorrow morning (Tuesday, July 30th) at 9 AM and can be bought either at LHRF.com or at Boundary Ford in Lloydminster ($25.00 per ticket). Also, with a new game comes new roster spots so there are now eight spots (four per team) available for $1,000.00. And the two latest names to get added to the list of players playing in this game were announced Friday. Mark Fistric for the Oilers, and Mike Commodore for the Flames. Fistric was dealt to the Oilers just after the lockout ended and the season began in 2013. At that time the team was getting pushed around and needed someone who could push back and Fistric did just that. Every game he’d play there would be someone from the opposition laid out, one of the last true crushers the Oilers have had. A 1st round pick in 2004 by Dallas, Fistric spent six seasons in the Stars organization before joining the Oilers and then spent the final two years of his career in Anaheim with the Ducks. His style was very similar to Commodore’s, who took a full four seasons to truly establish himself in the league. But he finally did during the 2004 run to the Cup final for the Flames. Commodore became a fan favourite during that time and continued that after he packed his shit and was dealt from the Flames to the Hurricanes prior to the 05-06 season (see what I did there?!), in a move that turned out terrific for Commodore as he was a key contributor in the Canes Cup winning team (still pains me to say that as an Oilers fan). Like Debrusk and Macoun, it’s an amazing opportunity to play with genuinely good guys who played in the league and have about a billion stories to tell. These aren’t guys who are going to “big time” anyone. They’re going to be an absolute blast to play with, and again all this money is going towards Project Sunrise which is a terrific mental health initiative, so you’re not only paying for one hell of a good time, but you’re helping end the stigma which is something I’m personally all in on. If you’d like more info on how to play in the game, call the Lloydminster Region Health Foundation at 306-820-6161. The extra game added will also be on September 28th, this one starting at noon MST.
Well Ken Holland sure got back into Oilers fans good books since the last blog I wrote! Getting James Neal for Milan Lucic, even in the absolute worst case scenario is still a huge win for the Oilers. Even with the money retained, the Oilers would still open up 3.3 million per season on the cap. Lucic on a buyout would have only opened up 500k in two of the next three seasons, only 2 million in the other. And that’s the worst case scenario. I actually believe that everything I’m hearing and reading on what happened with Neal last season and what he’s been doing this off-season, he sounds like a solid bet to rebound this season, not to mention he’s a terrific fit for the team. Would I put the chances that Neal bounces back high? No. Maybe 45-50%. But the chances Lucic could help the Oilers were down to about 5-10%. It is a sure win, with the potential to be a home run.
So now that fans are satisfied, the Oilers are ready for camp to open in a little under seven weeks…right? If this is what Holland entered camp with, I believe most rationale fans would be ok with it. He’s improved the team speed, he hasn’t ruined the cap situation, I still don’t understand the Sekera buyout at all over possibly moving out a guy like Kris Russell, but it is debatable and he did at least open up a spot on the blueline for Caleb Jones to step in. But the thing is that he still has some moves he can make to improve the roster further.
Starting with Matt Benning, and this conversation always drives me nuts. I’ve wanted the Oilers to explore moving on from Benning for a year now, but when I lay this out for people they don’t ever seem to understand why. I don’t dislike the player. Matt Benning is very worthy of being an NHL player, might even be capable of playing in a top-four role if given the proper D partner. But he’s not a fit for the Oilers at all. This blueline is overrun with D-men who lack skill, speed, and/or a high-end ability to move the puck. Couple that with the fact that they have three kids either needing NHL minutes or are close to ready for them who play the right side in Joel Persson, Ethan Bear and Evan Bouchard (all of whom are better puck movers with at least as good of skating ability) and it just makes it so obvious to me that Holland should be looking to use Benning to secure another forward.
We all thought that player was going to be Connor Brown. Could it still? The Sens still aren’t too deep on the blueline and have a lot of young forwards ready to crack their lineup. Marcus Sorensson from the Sharks might make sense, Calle Järnkrok from the Preds, there are a few options out there which might make sense.
You could also move Ethan Bear. It is a similar situation to Benning in that it’s not the best of fits, especially if Benning is staying. Bear has similar skating issues in that he can move well enough to play in the league, but maybe not well enough to help an already average skating team. Another case for Bear is that while he’s the cheaper cap hit and moves the puck extremely well, that also might make him a bit more valuable on the market.
In both cases, they are pieces which could bring back what is really needed which would be complementary wingers for the top two lines or a third-line centre. When I say complementary wingers, I’m not talking about top-six wingers, but rather wingers who can play with top-six guys. If you assume that four of the top six are McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and Neal, then you really just need to find a couple of players who can hang with those guys.
Of course, the one wildcard in all this remains Puljujarvi. To me, it’s very unfortunate that him going to Europe to play was really just a bluff from his agent, Markus “I’m hell-bent on destroying my client’s career” Lehto. I wouldn’t have wanted him over there for one year, I wanted two. But neither seem likely all of a sudden and now we’re hearing more and more rumours that Puljujarvi is going to end up back with the Oilers come September. It’ll be interesting to see if he does end up back with the team what he’s going to look like. On one hand, the double hip surgery should help his skating long term. Not that his skating was shitty, but he still looked as though he really lacked strength and his agility wasn’t where it could be. But on the other hand, I’m going to be surprised if he’s ready to roll. I’m sure that a two week conditioning stint in Bakersfield to start the season would be possible, but that won’t be the cure.
IF he’s back, he needs patience. Patience from the organization, patience from the media, and patience from the fans. He needs to play and stay on the third line. I still strongly believe that once this kid starts getting some real traction that he is going to flourish. To what level? Remains to be seen. I don’t think it’s far fetched that he still ends up reaching his full potential, but obviously at this point, nobody is going to set that as an expectation.
After the Lucic trade, fans are feeling much better about the Oilers entering the season. But the reality of the situation is that things are still very bleak entering next season. Thanks to the scenario in goal, it might be hopeless. But there are still bullets to fire that can improve this squad without hurting the future of the team either in terms of future cap or future assets.
Nobody should be expecting them to make the playoffs this season, but we all want/hope Holland and company do everything they can (without sacrificing the future) to give them the best opportunity to do so.
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