EDMONTON - Remember the quote from Edmonton Oilers coach Tom Renney to your agent when he was hired?
“It’s a 1-3-5 year plan,” he said.
“Contending in three years. Winning it in five.”
So picture the 2015 Edmonton Oilers proceeding on the ice at the new downtown arena for their 2015 team picture.
Who is in it?
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are definitely in that picture, sharp, clear and totally in focus.
Ladislav Smid, Tom Gilbert, Jeff Petry, Sam Gagner, Magnus Paajarvi, Anton Lander and Devan Dubnyk are probably, or possibly, in that picture too, but not quite as clear or in focus.
That’s maybe seven to 10 guys.
That’s not even half your team.
Sure there are other maybes — Ryan Whitney, if he ever can keep his feet healthy long enough to get back to being that terrific player he was for that stretch when he skated without pain. Maybe Ryan Jones, who would only be 30 then. Maybe Corey Potter. Maybe a couple of the guys who have been up and down from Oklahoma City this year.
Several other players are projected for that team picture, like last year’s first round draft choice Oscar Klefbom — who will still be playing in Sweden next year — and whoever the high first pick is this year, as well as drafted players in junior and college this year and playing their first year of pro in OKC.
But this is February in Year II. And it’s time to consider who probably WON’T be here.
Not Ales Hemsky. Not Nikolai Khabibulin. Not Eric Belanger. Not Andy Sutton. Not Ben Eager. Not Cam Barker. Not Darcy Hordichuk.
Shawn Horcoff, although he’ll be on the last year of just about the dumbest deal financially in Oiler history, is totally untradeable now (making $6.5 million this year with a salary cap hit of $5.5 million through to 2014-2015) will only be getting $3 million in the final year of his contract. Certainly he’ll have to reinvent himself as a third- or fourth-line centre the rest of the way.
Although every fan in Edmonton would want Ryan Smyth to be there, he’d be 38. He’s up there with the kids in scoring now, but he has a lot of hard miles on him.
The point is that GM Steve Tambellini has to do something about those other guys who aren’t going to be in that 2015 team picture. And Monday he announced he’d extended Sutton’s contract for a year.
That’s a bit mystifying.
Sutton will be 37 in less than a month.
When he hasn’t been suspended or a healthy scratch, like he was for a game last week, Sutton has had the kind of season which has just been good enough to show that he’s still a solid enough, big enough, tough enough player defensively to have been able to get something decent for at the trade deadline. (At the same time, he’s been excellent in the dressing room and very much the kind of guy the Oilers wanted to build a bridge to the future with.)
It almost certainly telegraphs that Cam Barker is outta here at the end of the year and possibly that Theo Peckham is on the bubble as of this moment as well.
But it leaves a lot of guys with NHL contacts on defence for a team that is defensively challenged.
Doesn’t this deliver the message that the Oilers’ brain trust doesn’t expect to be able to dramatically improve the defence until 2014 with Klefbom, developed talent or free agency?
There is no evidence the Oilers will attempt to sign a top-two defenceman until the team has put itself in position to be a contender, and that sort of player would be licking his lips to play here.
The big-picture plan remains to put all the parts together and use free agency to complete the package going into the new arena during the projected years this team would be a Stanley Cup-calibre team.
It’s just that without dramatic improvement on defence, being “contender” in Year III of Renney’s 1-3-5 plan isn’t any more clear than his or Tambellini’s own faces being in that team picture.
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