Taylor Chorney wasn't expected to play for the Oilers this season. Thanks to some untimely injuries and illnesses, he's been called upon to do a lot more than just play. He's been expected to play a lot.
With the Edmonton Oilers, Chorney has been averaging over 14 minutes per game since his arrival. Before joining the club, his less than stellar plus/minus in the minors gave reason for strong concern; but he plugged himself right into the fold, playing key minutes in all situations and now sits at an extremely respectable even plus/minus.
In fact, Chorney has been such a pleasant surprise, he's been asked to take critical shifts in games where both Denis Grebeshkov and Tom Gilbert have warmed the bench.
The problem is, in the absence of Sheldon Souray, Steve Staois and Lubomir Visnovsky, the Oilers are still riding heavily on both Grebeshkov and Gilbert to play unfamiliar and more defensive roles.
It's in Grebeshkov's and Gilbert's inability to be strong defensively, that the Oilers have struggled in their own zone. Much like Gilbert and Grebeshkov, Chorney is more offence than defence and the Oilers are hanging on by a thin thread.
As Edmonton's missing veteran defencemen start to return, Grebeshokov and Gilbert will move back to more familiar duties, the Oilers will have too many defencemen, and Chorney would have naturally been sent back to Springfield to complete his season.
The key term being "would" have.
In a salary cap driven NHL, Chorney is a great weapon. He's proven to be a NHL calibre blueliner and essentially made one of Denis Grebeshkov or Tom Gilbert expendable, especially considering their inflated salaries.
Taylor Chorney will earn, $735,000 this year, and $785,000 next season, before becoming a restricted free agent in 2011/2012.
For an Edmonton Oiler team pushing the cap, contracts similar to the one Chorney has, is one that the Oilers cherish going forward.
To become successful and retain the services of a Sam Gagner or to attract other often expensive free agents, the Oilers need Chorney to do what he's doing at an affordable price.
The question becomes, where do the Oilers go from here?
Denis Grebeshkov has been known for a couple things over his NHL career. He has unbelievable offensive skill and an equally unbelievable knack for turning the puck over.
What has kept Grebeshkov so valuable, is the need around the NHL for offensive defencemen and his ability to provide more offensive upside than he does defensive downside.
Grebeshkov makes $3.15 million this season and becomes an RFA at seasons end. Every year, the Oilers struggle to fit him into the fold at the right dollar amount and every year, the whispers of the KHL tend to get a little louder.
Grebeshkov is the type of player you can't build around (even if he has the talent to do so), because you have no idea what your future will be with a player who refuses to sign more than a 1-year term. I don't see that as a direction the Oilers should aspire to go.
While Tom Gilbert provides much of the same skill set as a Denis Grebeshkov would, his future with the Oilers is on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Edmonton knows exactly what they have for the next five years in Tom Gilbert. They also know exactly what they'll be paying him over that term.
Taylor Chorney's numbers compared to Gilbert's numbers, make Tom Gilbert immediate trade material if another NHL team comes knocking with a fair offer. For a defencemen who gets you 40 points a season, another team will.
Despite Gilbert's slow start, he has GM's in many cities keeping an eye on his progress and some have expressed interest. Don't be surprised if Edmonton considers a few of them. Drew Stafford from Buffalo was the latest in a series of rumours that often pop up.
One thing seems certain. When Sheldon Souray, Steve Staois and Lubomir Visnovsky return, one of Chorney, Gilbert or Grebeshkov will be leaving.
With Chorney's plus/minus, his ability to not only pass the puck from the zone, but skate effectively with it, and all under a salary that works in terms of Oiler dollars spent, it makes him what the Oilers wanted in Grebeskov and Gilbert, just at a cheaper price.
Chorney's in...somebody else is out.