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

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Sunday, 15 July 2012

07/15/12 Oh, How The Depth Chart Has Changed

A lot has changed since the 2008-09 season. It's hard to get a grasp on all the players that have come and gone without looking back at the depth chart and seeing how it has transformed. In 2012-13 the Oilers will do battle with a group that is in many ways superior to the class of 2008-09.

Here's the Oilers forward group that started 2008-09 as ordered by position and ice time:

Dustin Penner Shawn Horcoff Ales Hemsky
Robert Nilsson Sam Gagner Erik Cole
Ethan Moreau Andrew CoglianoFernando Pisani
Liam Reddox Kyle BrodziakZack Stortini
Steve MacIntyre Marc-Antoine Pouliot
JF Jacques Gilbert Brule

Rob Schremp

Ryan Potulny

Of that group, only Horcoff, Gagner and Hemsky remain as Oilers, and for good reason. Only Penner, Horcoff, Hemsky, Gagner, Cole, Cogliano and Brodziak are still full-time NHLers. The Oilers weren't particularly deep on either wing, though the center position was reasonably serviceable.

Hemsky led these players in points with 66, Horcoff was second with 53 in 80 games, and beyond that it there wasn't much offensively. Dustin Penner had just 37 points that season and the Cole experiment flopped with him collecting just 16 goals and 27 points in 63 games as an Oiler. Ales Kotalik and Patrick O'Sullivan would be added to this group at the deadline and finished third and fourth in scoring respectively by Oilers forwards with 43 points apiece. The move came to nothing as the Oilers missed the playoffs, and it proved to be the last time either player had seasons that could be called respectable.

By contrast, here is an estimate of the Oilers' 2012-13 forward depth chart:

Taylor HallRyan Nugent-Hopkins Jordan Eberle
Ryan Smyth Sam Gagner Ales Hemsky
Magnus Paajarvi/
Teemu Hartikainen
Shawn HorcoffNail Yakupov
Ben Eager Eric BelangerRyan Jones
Lennart Petrell Anton Lander
Darcy Hordichuk

A few years of finishing at the bottom will have that effect on a team. Gagner has never quite been able to establish himself as a number one center, but he still fits nicely into the number two slot. The Oilers are now deep on both wings and at center they have players who nicely fit the mould for slots 1 through 5. Left-shooting Nail Yakupov may see himself shifted to the port side when he reaches the NHL, and Ryan Jones could comfortably slide up to the third line. The Oilers' high-end talent has pushed some good players down a slot or two in this chart, which is the opposite problem that they had in 2008-09 when players were being forced up and outside of their abilities.

The defense is a bit of a different story, however. First, here's the chart from 2008-09 ordered by shooting direction and ice time:

Sheldon Souray Tom Gilbert
Lubomir Visnovsky Steve Staios
Denis Grebeshkov
Ladislav Smid
Taylor Chorney
Jason Strudwick
Theo Peckham

Yes, that's all the defensemen the Oilers used in 2008-09. Only two right-handed shooters in the bunch, which meant that Visnovsky, Smid and Strudwick had to occasionally play on the right. Despite that, this group is fairly solid. This was the year that Souray played 24:50 per night in 81 games and scored 23-30-53. Visnovsky only got into 50 games but he was solid, and the others were decent as well. Denis Grebeshkov made his mark, playing 21:10 per game with significant ice time in all three situations, but money and the Oilers' decline would ultimately determine that he wasn't a fit. Smid and Peckham are the only players from this group who are still with the Oilers, and Peckham's future is very much in doubt.

And now, the 2012-13 defensive depth chart:

Ryan Whitney Jeff Petry
Ladislav Smid Justin Schultz
Nick SchultzCorey Potter
Andy Sutton Taylor Fedun
Theo Peckham

There may be more used due to injury or trade, but so far that's how things shake out for the 2012-13 season. This lineup is younger and brings much more uncertainty than the 2008-09 group. Smid has established himself as a legitimate second pairing defenseman at worst, which is fantastic for the Oilers. Nick Schultz will give his team 18-20 quality shutdown minutes per game, and Sutton can do the same for 15 minutes or so.

Aside from those, this group is a question mark. If Ryan Whitney is healthy he's as good as Souray (though with a somewhat different style), plus he's younger and cheaper than Souray was at the time. Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz would be the Visnovsky and Gilbert of this group, which is a bit of a stretch at this point. It's fair to say that 2012-13 is as deep and its high-end potential may be slightly higher than that of 2008-09, but it's much less certain to live up to that potential.

What's more, there is a big decision coming after next season with Ryan Whitney. If he can get his game back the Oilers will be a better team, but he'll also be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and is still young enough to cash in. If Whitney doesn't get his game back, or leaves for greener pastures, the left defense depth chart looks much weaker and brings next to zero offensively.

Finally, in goal the Oilers are completely different. From 2008-09:

Dwayne Roloson
Mathieu Garon
Jeff Deslauriers

Roloson's 0.915 save percentage and 28 wins led this group by a mile. Once anointed as the Oilers' new starting goalie, Garon had a 3.17 GAA and 0.895 Sv% in his 15 games of 2008-09 in Edmonton. Garon made ending the three-headed goalie monster an easy choice, and it worked in his favor. He ended up winning the Stanley Cup as Pittsburgh's backup later that year. Roloson was allowed to walk away as a UFA after the season, rejecting a one year $3 million contract from Edmonton to sign for two years in Long Island for $5 million. Deslauriers also walked as a free agent in 2011, after the Oilers decided to rest their future on former 14th overall pick Devan Dubnyk.

And that's where we are today:

Devan Dubnyk
Nikolai Khabibulin

In the end the Oilers would have been slightly better off giving Khabibulin's money to Dwayne Roloson. Since leaving Edmonton, Roloson has posted a total 0.903 save percentage, while Khabibulin has been a 0.900 save percentage goalie over the same span. Of course, an injured and ineffective Khabibulin is a big reason why the forward depth chart looks like it does today.

Devan Dubnyk did end up being the better bet than Jeff Deslauriers, which is a decision that was not always clear. Since 2008-09, Deslauriers has played 48 games in Edmonton and 4 in Anaheim, earning a 0.900 save percentage with the two clubs. Dubnyk has played 101 games in Edmonton, and has posted a 0.910 save percentage on some poor Oilers teams.

Deslauriers will be the backup in Anaheim next season for a $612,500 salary, while Dubnyk is poised to take the starting role for $3.5 million. It's up to Dubnyk to earn his starts and his money, but the Oilers saw something in him that made him the choice over Deslauriers, and that was the right choice.


The forward depth chart has seen a dramatic transformation over these past few years. Though finding defense has proven elusive for the Oilers of late, it truly is game-breaking forwards who have been lacking over the last two decades. That's no longer a concern. If this team is to contend some day, management will need to made adjustments and hope that their players pan out, but they are in a much better position for 2012-13 than they were in 2008-09.

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