To go along with our '30 in 30' Off-season feature, we'll be asking a blogger from each team some of the burning questions surrounding their club this summer.
RLD: 1. Would you draft Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall #1 overall? Derek Zona: I have no idea. I'm not able to talk to them or quiz them, so I don't know anything about their intelligence, their hockey sense, their overall personality. I don't have access to game tapes, so I can't tell you specifically about their strengths and weaknesses, nor can I project what either player will be. All I can do is go by the scouting services and it seems like they have the players in a dead heat.
I do know that Hall's playing style concerns me. He leaves himself prone to take huge hits, and that's by kids his age and general size. I've seen him play eight times and he's taken enormous hits in five of those games. That playing style doesn't translate well to the NHL and if he can't change it, he's going to get lit up by men four inches taller and thirty pounds heavier on a regular basis. I fear for his long-term health.
RLD: 2. Which prospect has you more excited: Jordan Eberle or Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson? DZ: Pääjärvi, and in my mind, it's not that close. Eberle is a cerebral player that relies on positioning, intelligence and pluck, and he may or may not have the physical abilities to play the NHL game. Pääjärvi is a physical specimen with amazing skating skills and a wonderful ability to finish. His skills are probably still a bit raw, but his game has already been proven against men in the Swedish Elite League. He has the game to be an outstanding player in the NHL. The Copper & Blue staff did a series where we ranked all of the players under 25 in the organization and the only player that I ranked higher than Pääjärvi was Sam Gagner.
RLD: 3. Is Steve Tambellini the right GM to turn things around? DZ: It depends on what kind of timeline you're talking about. Tambellini moves at his own pace, and erosion moves faster. He has yet to do anything truly special and his best move since coming to Edmonton was duping Darryl Sutter into taking Steve Staios off of his hands. What's more concerning to me is Tambellini's support structure. In back-to-back years now, Edmonton bloggers have caught the Oilers' CBA and Salary Cap guru in the midst of serious gaffes, gaffes that should be firing offenses. And there is always the spectre of Kevin Lowe hanging over the organization. His predilection for trying to land superstars, no matter the cost, is something that scares everyone that roots for the Oilers.
RLD: 4. Which free agent(s) should the Oilers target this summer? DZ: The two highest priorities are going to be the the same free agents that they should have targeted the last two summers: the most cap-friendly center that is able to win faceoffs and kill penalties, a la Dominic Moore, Matt Cullen, Richard Park, Jim Slater, Eric Belanger or Manny Malhotra. A cheap left wing that isn't completely over his head against tougher minutes or one that has penalty killing abilities so either someone like Alex Tanguay in the former category or someone like Stephane Veilleux in the latter category. The Oilers have a boatload of young forwards that can't handle the tasks outlined above and only three or four forwards that can handle those tasks.
If Sheldon Souray is traded at the draft, as he's expected to be, then the Oilers are going to need the most affordable second minutes defender with penalty killing experience in the class of Henrik Tallinder, Jordan Leopold, Zbynek Michalek, and Dennis Seidenberg. They're also going to have to find a low cap hit bottom pairing defender that can move the puck to pair with Ladislav Smid, guys like Kurtis Foster, Brian Pothier, and Carlo Colaiacovo fit the bill. They're also going to need a cap-minimum bottom-pairing defender for depth, and I'm expecting them to find on in the European leagues.
To do all of this, they're going to have to first find some cap space. Their cap liability for next season is around $42,000,000 and they have restricted free agents to sign in Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Gilbert Brule, Marc Pouliot, Devan Dubnyk, Ryan Potulny and Theo Peckham. An educated guess on their contracts adds about $10,000,000 to the cap. $5,000,000 isn't going to be enough cap space for the five players I talk about above. There is hope in Edmonton that the Oilers will use the new AHL franchise the Oklahoma City Barons to hide some of the dead weight in the cap, but I don't know if Tambellini is willing to do that. Most of next season hinges on what Tambellini chooses to do with the roster dead weight.
RLD: 5. What is one reason why Oilers fans should be optimistic about the future instead of pessimistic about the present? DZ: I'm not a big fan of "the future". The Edmonton Oilers have been selling "the future" since 1992, and it causes fans to overlook the travesty of the present. There are things that Oilers fans should be optimistic about in the here and now. Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky are legitmate top-line offensive forces. Sam Gagner is a wonderful player already at the age of 21. Tom Gilbert, though constantly berated in Edmonton because he doesn't "HIT SOMEBODY!", is an excellent defender and his subtle skill is constantly overlooked. Ryan Whitney looks like he may have found a home in Edmonton and his name is being whispered as the next captain of the Oilers. There are some very good things about this team, but years of mismanagement have saddled the team with some very bad things and it's going to take a deft management hand to fix the mess. Thus far, Steve Tambellini has yet to show that he has that deft hand, but we'll likely know by day three of free agency.
We thank Derek for taking time out to answer these burning questions in Edmonton! You can catch his work over at SB Nation's Copper and Blue, and I recommend following him on Twitter as well.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.