James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Highs and Lowes

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Kevin Lowe wasn't as important to the dynastic Edmonton Oilers of the 1980's as Wayne Gretzky. He wasn't the steely, terrifying and versatile leader that Mark Messier was. Lowe didn't possess the genius of Paul Coffey, the grace of Jari Kurri, the "clutch factor" of a guy like Glenn Anderson or the Hall of Fame-worthiness of Grant Fuhr.


Still, he was a key part of the Oilers teams, collecting a Stanley Cup ring for every finger on one hand (and then getting started on his other hand via the New York Rangers' 1994 championship). He'd like to remind you of that. I guess it's relevant for me to mention that, too.


Why, you might ask? Well, Mr. Lowe happens to think that's awfully important when you discuss his work as the general manager (oops, I mean general manager turned president) of the modern day Edmonton Oilers.


PRESSING MATTERS


During a hilariously contentious press conference, Lowe announced the firing of GM Steve Tambellini, the promotion of Craig MacTavish to that position (along with the promotion of common punchline victim Scott Howson to MacTavish’s spot) and the notion that his six Stanley Cup rings as a player somehow justifies the comedy of errors he’s presided over in two prominent management positions.


It was hard not to imagine him screaming “I drive a Dodge Stratus!” when things grew especially tense.


For me, the highlight of the conference came when Lowe tried to cement his brilliance by waxing nostalgic about the Oilers team that was “within a period” of winning a Stanley Cup ... only to be reminded that those events happened seven years ago.


(Really, one could argue that sports teams age almost in dog years, so the fact that he wasn’t even humbled off of his smug perch after that mishap showed how blameless he truly considers himself. Also, that team lived off of Chris Pronger and luck, anyway ... )


FANTASY SPINS


OK, so while the press conference was almost as entertaining as a dominant shift by Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall, the question is: how might this impact fantasy teams?


The short answer is that it’ll probably be more of a long-term, keeper league concern. Perhaps MacTavish will find a way to boost the rest of the team along with its stars (Tyler Dellow discusses how poorly the team’s second and fourth lines have been playing), which really might mean that the underrated work of Devan Dubnyk might not be as regularly wasted because he might get more frequent goal support. But the development for the team’s slew of prospects - which is hard to gauge - will matter the most.


It’s difficult to shake the perception that promoting guys already within the organization qualifies as “good old boys club” behavior. With that in mind, maybe some of this next bit wears off, but I still think there’s at least a little potential to wring out of it ...


AUDITIONS


Here’s a look at the guys who must be cognizant of the fact that they have precious little time to convince MacTavish to either a) re-sign them (with a big raise!), b) avoid dropping the compliance buyout hammer on them or c) not trade them.*


Sam Gagner - In the simplest terms, the 23-year-old is having the best season of his NHL career. He might just match his typical 40-ish point output in 41 games after taking full seasons (albeit not 82-game ones because of injuries and what not) to do so.


Still, as a pending RFA on a team full of young players who are about to get raises and veterans making too much money, Gagner might be expendable. Either way, he has every motivation to try to convince the Oilers - or someone else - to pay him a ton of money.


Ales Hemsky - His $5 million cap hit expires after 2013-14, but if anything, that makes him a movable piece. His injury history could give MacTavish that extra push to bargain for the depth he yammered about frequently.


Nikolai Khabibulin - The aging goalie is in the last year of that ludicrous deal he received, so he’s fighting for his career. He hasn’t won a game since March 26, so who knows how many chances he’ll get ... unless they want to lose, of course. (Which they kinda should.)


Ryan Whitney - Like “The Bulin Wall,” he’s in desperation mode. Someone in the league is likely to take a chance on him in the summer regardless of his play - his point production will sucker someone - but it’s just a matter of how much of a pay cut he’ll take.


Magnus Paajarvi - His days have to be numbered, right?


Jump for thoughts regarding Monday’s other developments.


* - Now, don’t get me wrong ... if MacTavish is smart - and more than a few people seem to think he could be - he won’t let a couple weeks of hockey swing too many decisions. Still, you never know, especially with the one-step-forward, two-steps-backward Oilers.



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James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
Email :James O'Brien



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