a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Saturday, 2 July 2011

07/02/11 45.0 Massive Upgrades

Eric Belanger

Let me start this post by advising all the men out there not to search for pictures of Eric Belanger on Google. You're going to do it now, of course, but I warned you.

So Tambellini was pulling the wool over everyone's eyes. He managed to pull of some drastic moves and hugely upgrade the bottom-six forwards on this Edmonton Oilers team. Not only is this fantastic news for the team's on-ice product, it's also a boon to the city that players are starting to choose Edmonton because they can see what is coming here. Let's look at this in terms of who these new acquisitions are replacing and judge them based on how much of an improvement that they are.

Eric Belanger: A previous post on this blog stated that there was very little chance that Belanger would sign in Edmonton. Then wham, the signing came over the wire and hit Oilers fans like a slippery fish. Apparently Belanger's comments about Winnipeg don't extend to Edmonton as well, which is more great news for the reputation of the city.

Belanger presumably replaces Colin Fraser on the roster, which almost needless to say is a tremendous improvement. Fraser had 3-2-5 in 67 games and was a minus two, while averaging 10:16 of ice time per game. He was also just 44.6% in the faceoff circle. Belanger had 13-27-40 in all 82 games, was plus-11, 55.3% on draws and averaged 17:20 of ice time per game. He also scored one goal shorthanded. The Oilers have a player in Belanger who can kill penalties, win important faceoffs and give them some flexibility in that regard beyond Shawn Horcoff. At $1.75 million for three years, he's affordable for the amount that he brings, although he will be 36 when the deal expires.

Ben Eager: Eager is exactly the kind of player that the Oilers lacked. He's a pest. He doesn't really replace anyone on the Oilers' roster because this player type was virtually non-existent since Zack Stortini has been gone. This blog suggested Jarkko Ruutu for the Oilers, but Eager is an even better option. At 27 years old, Eager should still have plenty of hockey left in him. He scored 7 goals and 10 assists in 68 games last year, splitting time between Atlanta and San Jose. When the Oilers make the playoffs again, this player will be even more valuable than he can be during the regular season. If Eager is Stortini's replacement, it's an improvement. Stortini has managed just 14-27-41 in his 256 NHL games (0.16 p/g), while Eager has 34-35-69 in 323 games (0.21 p/g).

Darcy Hordichuk: Hordichuk had ten fights last season, and he's been brought in to add toughness to the lineup. He only averaged 5:04 in ice time last year and he won't score much either at 19-19-38 in his career of 495 games. However, he should be a little more serviceable than Steve MacIntyre, who wasn't trusted to play at all by the Oilers coaching staff. He only gets a one year deal to see how it goes, which is probably best. Hordichuk has bounced around the league a bit lately, so it will be up to him to show that he can be useful enough to stick.

Andy Sutton: The kind of year that Kurtis Foster had means that fans would be ready to see him moved for anything, but Sutton is a big strong defenseman who should be able to help out. In fact, he's 6 foot 6 and 245 pounds. Despite being 36, there are things to like about Sutton. He's a solid defender who was a plus player last year. Also, his big nastiness will be on the ice for a regular shift, unlike the Oilers' previous muscle. Sutton should help the team's toughness and will be a decent mentor for a player like Theo Peckham.

Cam Barker: This signing was being talked about in the media before Barker had even been bought out by the Minnesota Wild. He's a reclamation project who should be highly motivated to prove that he can still play at the level he did in 2008-09, when he managed 40 points in 68 games for Chicago. If that happens the Oilers will have found themselves a steal in the former 3rd overall pick, but there are plenty of question marks around him. The money - $2.25 million - is much too rich for this player. It's only a pay cut of around $750,000 from last year when he was bought out, and it's the same amount of money that the Oilers just gave Ladislav Smid. Smid is now an Oilers veteran who, while not perfect, was a better player last year than Barker was. Thankfully the deal is only for one year, so if Barker can't play the Oilers wont be tied to him.


Most of these signings are improvements over a player that is no longer in Edmonton. While they may be baby steps in some cases, the team is no doubt better than it was last season. It will be tougher and grittier (for real this time), and that's something that the team has been in dire need of.

The Oilers are now starting to eat up a little bit of that cap space they had. There's still $9 million available though, and Sutton, Hordichuk and potentially Barker will be gone next year, which frees up an additional $5.2 million. Also, the buyouts of Nilsson and Souray are eating up some space, but Nilsson's buyout is over after next year and Souray's the year after that. However, Hemsky and Smyth will need new deals after next season, and so will RFA Devan Dubnyk.

The Oilers defense is probably not set yet, but expect any changes there to come via trade. The Oilers won't want to add another contract and there aren't any real impact defenders left on the market. If they can, the Oilers may try to move out Tom Gilbert and his $4 million cap hit, and the market will be decent because of the lack of available defensemen.

Steve Tambellini has been a busy man, but he probably isn't done just yet. Should be an interesting summer, and one that will leave Oilers fans itching for the start of the season.

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