With the '13-14 season set to kick off with realigned divisions, the Oilers are set to take on new division rivals Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and San Jose. What does this mean? That they will be facing the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Anze Kopitar, Martin Hanzal and Joe Thornton with more regularity than ever before and that's just the first line centers!
All four teams have bigger and/or grittier core players than the Oilers do and if we play each team six times a season we will play over a quarter of our '13-14 regular season games against them. We will be playing more regularly against the likes of Perry, Ryan, Getzlaf, Etem, Beauchemin, Allen, Souray, Steckel, and Smith-Pelly the Ducks don't have a shortage of big and hard to play against players.
Then you have LA with Kopitar, Brown, Richards, Carter, Clifford, Nolan, King, Doughty, Greene and Stoll leading their charge of playoff tested and proven players.
Next up Phoenix with Doan, Hanzal, Vermette, OEL, Boedker, Morris, Korpikoski, Stone and Klinkhammer who make life miserable for the opposition with their physical play, size and stifling defense.
Lastly San Jose with Thornton, Marleau, Couture, Wingels, Burns, Stuart, Shepherd and Burish who as a whole isn't as physical as the other three teams that I've listed, but they have a lot of size in their top six and present match-up problems for our team in their current form.
As I see it Mactavish needs to move out guys like Gagner and Hemsky and beef up our forward core. While Gagner did show some improvement this season he is still a player type that we have in droves and in my opinion the player that has the lowest upside in that group. Hemsky on the other hand is even easier to cut ties with with the emergence of Nail Yakupov late in the season.
Next up we have our bottom six. Unless Mactavish buys out Horcoff like he should from where I sit, Horcoff will once again be the "anchor" of our third line, the question is will he be an anchor in a good sense or just a flat out boat anchor that drags the line down. Mike Brown is signed through next season and brings some much needed toughness to the team. Anton Lander might well be ready to take over as the fourth line center punting Eric Belanger clear off the team.
With Horcoff and probably Ryan Smyth returning that is 33% of our bottom six that does not play a very physical brand of hockey. Lander and Brown add varied amounts of grit and that leaves just two more spots in the bottom six. Ideally we'd be pushing hard to sign both Bryan Bickell and Cal Clutterbuck. Adding those two would make us a much tougher team to play against even if we roll out with cream puffs like Horcoff and Smyth in our bottom six.
For the top six ideally we could add a bigger and better defensive center than Gagner and/or a guy like Lucic to flank Gagner and Yakupov. This team simply cannot stay as small and weak down the middle and in key positions if we expect to hang in there when things get hairy out on the ice. It's time for MacT to go to work and it's time for Hemsky, Gagner, Horcoff, and Smyth to find new places of employment if MacT's first priority is winning in short order.