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

Welcome to Oil Acumen. All Oilers, all the time... Occasionally other stuff.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

07/11/11 11.7 Odds & Ends: Fraser and Injuries, Hemsky, Hannan

Dean Lombardi

By now you're all aware of the fact that Dean Lombardi has publicly blasted the Oilers for trading him an injured Colin Fraser. We can be fairly certain that Steve Tambellini didn't knowingly do this, because it doesn't really do him any good. Tambellini doesn't want to earn a reputation that will make it hard for teams to trade with him, and Colin Fraser was not a guy who had to go because he was handcuffing the team.The Oilers' doctors cleared Fraser to play, and the Kings' doctors insist that he needs surgery. This brings up an interesting thought on the quality of Edmonton's medical staff.

Without specifically calling out any doctor in particular, one has to wonder why the Oilers have seen such a high rate of players being re-injured. Sheldon Souray and Ales Hemsky are two players who have experienced this while playing for the Oilers. Both played while their bodies were clearly not fully healed, and minor contact reinjued them. Hemsky has done this multiple times this season alone; first with his groin and then his shoulder. Souray alluded to this phenomenon when he came out and asked for a trade, saying:

"I wasn’t even ready to play when I came here, but it was like, ‘We signed you, you go out and play.’ I hadn’t been cleared to play yet, but I was being questioned by the organization:‘When are you going to be able to play?'"

The organization denies these claims, but Souray was eventually cleared to play by the medical staff, only to reinjure himself.

There have been other examples recently as well. We can only speculate, but what would have happened if Fraser wasn't traded and the season started tomorrow? Colin Fraser would apparently have been cleared to play, and the chances of him aggravating an unhealed injury would have been high. Part of this comes from the players themselves lying about how hurt they are, but in the end the medical staff has to be competent enough to make the right calls on a player's health.

If Steve Tambellini has no motive to ruin his reputation around the league by lying to Dean Lombardi, that leaves the medical staff that examined Fraser as the culprits. How can there be such a chasm between the opinion of two medical staffs? And what would have been the status of other injured Oilers if they had been on another team?

Other Headlines:

Speaking of Ales Hemsky, there have been some more rumblings that the Oilers might trade the skilled winger. Or, probably more accurately, the team is getting calls about him because he's seen as being potentially available.

Hemsky's recent comments about the direction the team is going and about the city of Edmonton are encouraging signs that he wants to stick around long term. Chances are good that Oilers management wants that as well. There isn't much top-end talent to be had right now, either by trade or free agency and the Oilers have Hemsky locked up for another year. That means that they can sit back and ask whatever they want and if teams don't like it, the Oilers will just keep #83.

The fact is that if the Oilers were to trade Hemsky they would have to replace him somewhere down the line. Aside from Linus Omark, who is as yet unproven in the NHL, there isn't anyone to really take over for Hemsky in the Oilers' system. Hemsky is to Edmonton what Marian Hossa is to Chicago, in that he's the type of winger that could put the team over the top one day, even if he's been passed at that time by Jordan Eberle. The only reason to trade Hemsky right now is to diversify the attack and/or plug holes. If the trade massively upgraded the Oilers' defense, then the team could live without Hemsky; otherwise he isn't going anywhere. The organization seems determined to make a drive for the playoffs next year, so moving Hemsky for picks in next year's draft looks like a big time long shot, unless the team flounders next year.

Scott Hannan and Ryan Smyth
 Just because a player isn't signed by the middle of July doesn't mean that he won't get signed. Teams must be low-balling Scott Hannan right now, since he has slowed down some in the last few years. There has been a little speculation that the Oilers could target the 32 year old defenseman, and having Ryan Smyth back obviously wouldn't hurt in that regard. There are things about this move that would make sense.

Hannan is a plus-25 over his career, while shutting down some of the best players that the opposition hurled at him. He's nowhere near the player that he was when the above picture was taken, but he would be a steadying force on the Oilers' blueline. Defense is the one area where the Oilers are still really working out the kinks, and the team is without a tested shutdown player on the backend. Hannan solves that problem, temporarily of course, and would be a decent enough stop-gap until a long term replacement like Colten Tuebert is ready for duty.

On the other hand, it basically guarantees that Jeff Petry will start next season in Oklahoma, since he would have to fight his way past Whitney, Gilbert, Smid, Peckham, Barker, Sutton and potentially Hannan. He would be a good first call up though, and when he's on the farm Petry would be munching up big minutes.

The good news is that if the Oilers decide that they want to go in this type of direction, there are plenty of free agent defensemen who fit the bill as veteran stop-gap types. Also available are Brent Sopel and Bryan McCabe. Sopel won a Cup with Chicago, so he might be open to playing for a team that has finished 30th in back to back years. His shot blocking skill is something that would be great to instill in the rest of Edmonton's blueliners. He's 34, but he can still be effective in his role. McCabe still managed 28 points in 67 games last year and he comes with a booming shot from the point, depsite his 36 years of age. He's never won a Cup though, so he'll probably try to sign with a contender if one will have him.

If the Oilers don't decide to add a defenseman, it will be an interesting experiment with the blueline in 2011-12, but in the end it could pay dividends to give ice time to younger players. We'll see what direction management decides to go, and how serious they are about playoffs next year.

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