Tag Archives: 2014 Oilers

Oil Grade: Incomplete

2012 NHL Entry Draft - Round One So as always, I have to talk about the Oilers.  It seems like there are just certain times of the season they come up.  Pre season, awful start, some sort of mid season humiliation, end of the year (January), and now.  This one isn’t going to be as harsh as some of the others have been though.

 

I actually am going to look at some of the major positives going on for this club, and make no mistake they’ve had a nice offseason thus far.  If you don’t believe so, let me run down the list.

 

We’ll start with the hiring, not really to the Oilers, but to the Oilers Entertainment Group.  Bob Nicholson is just another friend of Daryl Katz, friend of Kevin Lowe.  That’s just a fact.  However, this one actually plays to their advantage.  Nicholson despite being a friend of the “gang” has been on the outside looking in all the while running a very successful organization himself.

 

The big thing that Nicholson can do for this team will come in free agency, especially once they finally become an interesting destination for the top end UFA’s.  Nicholson is plugged into the top players, the top agents, and a call from him can definitely help sway some guys.  They have to start winning, and the new arena will help, but once those things are in place a guy like Nicholson could make a big difference.

 

Then the move I perhaps like most is what’s happened with the coaching staff.  Smith and Buchberger out, and while they were great Oilers it was clear they needed to be gone.  I don’t think they held anyone back, but a better staff was without a doubt possible and Craig Ramsay is a MAJOR upgrade.  Ramsay is one of the top assistant’s in the league.  Now we’ll find out how much talent the Oilers have on the blueline because this guy gets the absolute best from his D everywhere he goes.  And he is also running the PP and I expect a big improvement with it as well under his watch.

 

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Draisaitl fits what the Oilers needed perfectly

The draft fell the way I believe the organization was hoping with Leon Draisaitl being there for them at 3.  6’2, 210 and he isn’t done growing.  The size is awesome, I’ve been pounding the table for this team to get big down the middle since this rebuild started.  The playmaking is awesome, this kid has amazing vision.  But for me, the intelligence is what might be the most intriguing asset of all.

 

Listening to him get interviewed on Oilers Now yesterday, it blew me away how sharp he is.  No doubt, he’s still grasping English, but that just made the interview all the more impressive.  He’ll make the team this fall, and as long as they really shelter him (soft minutes, 2nd unit PP) he’ll be a big addition for the club.

 

MacTavish didn’t stop getting big at the draft either.  I don’t like the AAV on Nikita Nikitin’s contract, but it’s only 2 years and he is an upgrade.  6’3, 217, and can both move the puck and shoot the puck.  They were BIG on getting him and without a doubt Scott Howson was pushing for it (who acquired Nikitin as the GM in Columbus).  So it’s a pretty good sign that someone who knows Nikitin well was so big on getting him.

 

Of course if you read my stuff, you’ll know that I simply loved the Sam Gagner trade.  He had to go, an absolutely awful fit with this club and has been for a long time now.  Trying to force him into the 2nd line center role on this club like they have for the last 4 seasons I really believe has made them as bad as they are.  He can’t win a draw, he’s horrible defensively, he was weak on the puck, and he wasn’t even putting up 50 points a season while being this awful in his all around game.

 

The Arizona Coyotes are either going to get a rude awakening on this kid, or they’re going to work a miracle.  Ask yourself this: Was the effort ever lacking with Sam?  I’m guessing your answer is no.  So why is he all of a sudden going to turn it on in Arizona?  I can’t believe they wanted him, he is the complete opposite of the type of player Dave Tippett thrives with.

 

But anyway, he’s gone and Teddy Purcell is in.  DO NOT expect Purcell to hit anyone, he won’t.  He will protect the puck well, he should be good on the wall, and he can really shoot it.  40-50 points would be a good season and once again he brings size that this team desperately needed.

 

Then on July 1st, Mark Fayne (6’3, 215), Benoit Pouliot (6’3, 205…although supposedly he hasn’t put on a pound since he was 18…), and Keith Aulie (6’6, 228).  BIG.  This team finally got some size.  They still aren’t a big team, but they have some heavy for the first time since 06.  I don’t love the Pouliot contract, but the analytics guys have actually sold me on him.

 

Never a fan, but I’m guilty of not paying attention to what he’s become which is a very effective and elite 3rd line player.  His analytic stats are awesome, he makes the guys he plays with better.  5 years is about 2 years too long, and 4 million per is about 1 million more per than maybe he should get, but he’s a perfect fit so I can live with overpaying for a guy who is such a great fit.

 

As for Fayne and Aulie, I love both signings.  Fayne doesn’t just bring size, he’s really smart in his own zone and like Nikitin can really move the puck.  I see Fayne the same way I saw Willie Mitchell about 10 years ago.  Not real physical, not going to put up good offensive numbers, but Mr. Dependable in his own zone.  And Aulie simply is low risk/high reward.  He could be a top end shutdown guy in this league, but it takes guys like him longer to figure it out.  A perfect example is Hal Gill.  Hal Gill in Boston and Toronto wasn’t good.  But finally with Pittsburgh around age 33 he started to figure it out and became an elite shutdown man.  Aulie will need to figure it out quicker than that but has the ability and again brings serious size to a team that is desperate for it.

 

And the thing is that while the blueline still lacks that stud guy, the mix is SO much better than last season.  MacTavish went nuts on bringing in small puckmovers last year, and they got badly exposed in their own zone all season long.  Teams would eat the Oilers alive on the cycle.  Now they have a legit shutdown pairing with Nikitin and Fayne.  They can break up a cycle and move the puck up ice which is huge.  It’s far from great, but massively improved.

 

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He wouldn’t be cheap, but O’Reilly could make the Oilers a playoff team

So you’ve read over 1,000 words so far and are wondering why the title is what it is.  It’s simple, they still don’t have that big 2nd line center they need.  Patrik Berglund?  Artem Anisimov?  Swing for the fences with Ryan O’Reilly?  I think all 3 are possible.  Berglund and Anisimov wouldn’t cost a guy like Yakupov which would be huge for the Oilers.  All season I really believed the Oilers were going to have to trade Yakupov to A) get bigger and B) get better down the middle.  O’Reilly on the other hand, that might take Yakupov (if they prefer a forward) which I would still do because Ryan O’Reilly is an elite 2nd line center who you win Cups with.

 

But Berglund…if the Blues are at least willing to deal him, wouldn’t cost Yakupov (or Eberle for anyone asking…Eberle ain’t getting dealt people, deal with it).  I would guess Bogdan Yakimov would intrigue the Blues because he’s their kind of player (serious size).  It would take more than Yakimov, but he would likely get Doug Armstrong’s attention.

 

Anisimov I believe is very expendable for the Jackets, but the problem is that they’re such a team team that I have trouble seeing what they would want.  But with Johansen, Dubinsky, Jenner, and Wenneberg possibly stepping in this season, they’re set at center.  Anisimov has good analytic numbers, pretty good in the dot (over 49%), good speed, and the size at 6’4, 200 lbs.

 

And finally O’Reilly who does sound like he will be dealt.  Avs beat writer Adrian Dater basically is guaranteeing O’Reilly will be dealt, he just doesn’t know if it’ll happen this summer or next.  But I don’t see why the Oilers aren’t hard after him if he is available.  Yakupov?  Makes sense for the Oilers, don’t know how the Avs would feel about him.

 

They SHOULD want D, so maybe a package of Petry, Lander/Arcobello, and a prospect like Jujhar Khaira?  Maybe they demand Marincin…I would be hestitant to do that.  Marincin is already a number 5 guy with serious upside.  But the Oilers do have the pieces to make a deal with the Avs happen and get that much coveted 2nd line center.

 

You might ask “so what happens once Draisaitl is ready to be the 2nd line center in a year or two?”  Well last time I checked, teams with 3 great centers don’t suck.  You win being great down the middle in this league and Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl and O’Reilly would have the potential to be one of the best trio’s at center in the league.

 

So that’s why it is currently incomplete.  You can’t go into this season with Draisaitl, Lander, or Arcobello as your number 2 center.  So you pretty desperately need a guy.  Now, if they get that guy, and he has nice size, then I believe MacTavish gets a B+, if not an A- for his offseason.

 

But if they once again fail to land a 2nd line center, as they have failed to do the last 3 offseasons, then that grade really plummets.  It could be the difference between contending for a playoff spot, and another 2nd half with nothing to play for at Rexall.

 

Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups

You Can’t Fix Apathy

 

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I don’t recall where I first heard this to be honest, but it is so damn true.  If you break up with someone and you’re yelling and screaming at each other, you may hate each other, but hate is fixable because you still care.  Otherwise why are you even bothering with it?  But if you breakup with someone and forget they exist as soon as you press send on that text (at least that’s how I breakup with girls….) that isn’t fixable.

 

May as well talk about the Oilers mess some more!  Why not?  It’s so easy to pick apart.  You know that piece last week was over 4,300 words.  Far and away the longest piece I have done that wasn’t a mock draft or a season preview.  But this one isn’t so much ripping on the organization, it is more so a comparison of two fan bases and how to get the front offices attention.  And for once in my life, I’m going to praise the most mocked fan base not just in this part of the world, but in the league.

 

That would be the Vancouver Canucks and their fans.  Now, the Canucks are a pretty big mess as well.  The Aquilini’s are proving to be a real side show as owners of the team, and now Trevor Linden who has exactly zero games of front office experience, zero days as any kind of executive in any type of business, is now the President of Hockey Operations.

 

Like most hockey fans, not just Canuck fans, I LOVE Trevor Linden.  But this is 100% a PR move.  And yesterday I spoke in my piece on the Avalanche how that is simply not how you run a team even though it has worked out for them….well I believe it will inspire a lot of spin off’s around the league and we may already be seeing this in both Vancouver with Linden and Toronto with Brendan Shanahan coming in next week.

 

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It’s gone from THIS…
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Not quite to this, but pretty bad in short order in Vancouver

Now, while I don’t like the move by Canucks ownership, a serious change was brought on by the fan base.  How did they do this?  Apathy.  Fans quit going to Canuck games this season.  The day Gillis was fired I believe was the day before the deadline for season ticket renewals, which were rumored to be way down.  Chanting fire Gillis at Monday nights game might look like the reason on the surface, but it was the apathy shown by the people who weren’t in the building and they showed no signs of returning any time soon.

 

Which leads me to the Oilers.  The problem this fan base has is that they’re too passionate about this team, and won’t stop paying for the tickets.  Booing the team, throwing jersey’s on the ice, putting “fire Lowe” signs up around town definitely make the organization look bad nation wide and allows the national media to destroy them, but it doesn’t get Katz attention.

 

Oh sure, he comes out with some fake and completely insincere apology in the newspaper and hopes it gets people to simmer down.  But the reality is that it’s embarrassing but it’s not really hurting him.  What would hurt is if fans acted more like they did last night.  Last night I didn’t notice any booing (not that I watched a lot of the game), but the fans didn’t care.  Seats were still filled, but it is a start.

 

I’m sure right about now a die hard fan is reading this and saying “I’ll never bail on my team”.  Well wouldn’t you bail on a friend or a girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse who constantly screws you over and treats you like garbage?

 

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m well aware that I’m the guy who says they have to stick with MacTavish and Eakins right now because there has just been WAY too much turnover that has really hurt this team over the last 2 summers.  But most fans don’t see things this way, and they demand change.  Well then ACTUALLY do something that will force change.  If Daryl Katz starts losing his season ticket holders, THAT is when he’ll start paying some serious attention to how his organization is being run.

 

Kevin Lowe should have been fired a loooonnng long time ago.  He is the root of this mess, yet Katz hasn’t cared and just let him run the organization further into the ground.  Why?  In part because the building was full every night and remains this way even after they’ve become the worst franchise in sports over the last 5 years.  Not hockey, sports.  Oiler fans, if you want change start thinking with your heads, not your hearts and hit the organization where it hurts.

 

Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups

Deep Ice Horizon Pt. 2

 

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Another Oilers piece.  I’m thinking about having just an Oilers section.  But then having just an Oilers section makes me a homer and I don’t know that Oiler fans would say I’m too kind to the team.  Usually when I write about them, I rip everyone apart from the players to the coach to the GM to 6 rings to the pharmacist.  Well good news…just kidding.  There is no such thing as good news when it comes to the Oilers these days.  Also the reason this is “Deep Ice Horizon Part 2” is:  A) I feel it’s the best title I’ve ever come up with…and nobody noticed….and B) this is a much bigger disaster now than it was last March when I wrote Pt.1.  So settle in because I’m about to go through this mess with a fine toothed comb.

 

First of all they aren’t firing the coach so just get used to him.  They can’t fire the coach.  So many fans want Eakins to be fired.  That would be brilliant wouldn’t it, giving these kids who pout about everything and refuse to buy in another new coach.  Essentially you would be saying “hey boys, it’s NEVER your fault so any time you want a coach gone you just refuse to buy in and play terrible”.  Just a terrific message to send…

 

Eakins hasn’t done a good job this season, that isn’t lost on me.  But as I’ve said a ton this year, he was the hottest coaching candidate last off season for a reason.  The Stars, Rangers, and Canucks all wanted this guy.  And do people forget the start of the season when he had this team playing an in your face style and outplaying teams?  It is tough to get guys to buy in when your AHL goaltenders are letting everything in the net and there for your system is failing to produce wins.  If they had the goaltending they have now at the start of the year this team would be in a lot better shape.

 

He also has no D to work with, no size in his top 6, and has no center’s who he can turn to in any situation.  All the fans know this information, yet a lot of them still want to pin it all on Eakins.  This team is no different from the 2012 team under Tom Renney, or the 2013 team under Ralph Kruger, they’ve just had a few more bad bounces and worse goaltending.  But they were getting destroyed and showing zero heart in 2011, 2012, and 2013 as well.  At what point do you stop blaming coaching?

 

Something that I went off about on twitter a week and a half ago was this absolutely moronic theory that they have “drafted wrong” and that is why things are the way they are.  Ken Campbell, P.J. Stock, guys….shutup.  You have good gigs, don’t ruin them by making jack asses of yourselves by talking about something that you quite obviously have little knowledge of.  Nobody was taking Seguin over Hall by the time the 2010 draft rolled around, and let’s not forget the Boston Bruins couldn’t get Seguin out of town fast enough last June.  And at the time they took Seguin, Landeskog was nowhere near the top 5 for the 2011 draft.  It was Larsson, Couturier, and far behind (in June of 2010) was Nugent-Hopkins.  Yakupov…I’ll get to him.

 

I’ve said this in the past but it can’t be stressed enough that the Oilers current issues stem from the teams draft record under the 6 rings (Lowe)-Pendergast error…era.  When the Oilers finally decided in 2010 that they needed to change the way they did things and rebuild the entire organization they had one guy to build around, Ryan Whitney….who wrecked his ankle in December of 2010 in the midst of a career year and is now in the AHL.  So this situation was as bad, or maybe even worse, than an expansion team.  They’ve had no quality veterans to carry the load.  Shawn Horcoff was never the same player after shoulder surgery in 2008.  Ales Hemsky always had elite skill but seemingly lost the passion to play in Edmonton.  Sam Gagner….I’ve picked apart his game enough on here.  Anyway you get the point.

 

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O’Marra busting has hurt the Oilers more than other busts

I’ve said for a few years that if just ONE guy would have panned out it would be such a game changer, and that was Ryan O’Marra.  6’2, 205, RH shot center who was known for his 200 foot game when he was drafted.  If only he had just panned out.  You can have your Gagner’s, Plante’s, Cogliano’s, Schremp’s, Pouliot’s, have’em all.  Just O’Marra, they would have such a vital piece to the puzzle right now.

 

This next part my be painful but I don’t know how many fans have thought about this before….they also could have the best duo in hockey right now if it wasn’t for Lowe and Pendergast being so incompetent.  Getzlaf and Perry should have been Oilers.  This isn’t a case of “Datsyuk and Zetterberg could have been on our team had we just been the team to take them in the 4th round”.  No no, this isn’t fantasy this should have been reality.  Let’s start with Getzlaf.

 

Oiler fans always refer to Parise when speaking of the 17th pick in the 03 draft.  But Getzlaf was still on the board and Getzlaf was the highest rated player left on Bob McKenzie’s board (8th I believe).  The Hockey News had Getzlaf ranked 9th.  CSS had him ranked 5th out of the North American skaters.  Marc-Antoine Pouliot put up 73 points in the Q at a time when the Q was easier to score in than….well you can think of a good joke.  Getzlaf put up 68 points in the WHL and the dub at that time was far and away the toughest league to score in.

 

The Oilers were looking for a big, RH shot center.  Yet they trade down to get an extra 3rd (J.F. Jacques).  Yep, this is fact.  They select Pouliot at 22.  6’2, RH shot center….remind you of anyone?  To pour salt in this wound, Kevin Lowe was on record prior to the 2002 entry draft as saying “when all things are equal, take a Western Canadian kid”.

 

So had they just stayed at 17 and picked the kid best suited to fill their need, they would have got Getzlaf.  So then how could they have got Perry?  They didn’t have a pick in the 23-28 range in that draft.  Right, this wasn’t on draft day.  This was later that December and this wasn’t a case of they COULD have had Corey Perry.  No no, they HAD Corey Perry.  Mike Comrie was dealt to Anaheim for Corey Perry and a 1st round pick (ironically used to select Ladislav Smid).  This is a fact.

 

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Who knows where the Oilers would be with these two

The deal was agreed to by both 6 rings and Anaheim GM Bryan Murray.  So what happened?  Well for those of you who don’t recall, 6 rings had 2nd thoughts and went to Comrie and asked for him to pay the Oilers 2.5 million to make the deal move forward.  Yes, this ACTUALLY happened for those who don’t recall (the 2.5 mil was his signing bonus from the previous contract).

 

So for all those media members who are looking for the answer as to what has gone wrong, well that’s what’s gone wrong is the people running the show from 2000-2007 failed miserably.  Management for the Oilers is such a shit show, but it is undeniable that they’ve had some awful breaks since June 17th, 2006.  Like nobody around the league saw Ryan O’Marra being a bust, he was one of the safest prospects in hockey when he came over in the Ryan Smyth deal.  The flip side to that is you have to be good to be lucky.

 

We should have expected this process to go longer than others have though.  You can’t pin it on Oilers management that the Western conference has become a complete beast of a conference during this rebuild.  It was the media that hyped this group through roof as the “next big thing” in this league and in doing so put a huge target on their backs, not Oilers management.  It isn’t on Oilers management that Edmonton as a city is a tough draw for UFA’s or players with NTC’s.  So while some members of the media want to crush them for their failure to do this, who was the guy that they had a chance to go get and failed to do so?

 

Where I’m going with all this is let’s just try to pin the right stuff on the right people.  Craig MacTavish isn’t to blame for this, he’s just been stuck with this mess.  MacTavish made one crucial mistake which was uttering the now immortal words “bold moves”.  That immediately got a lot of fans hopes sky high and expecting big things.  He’s done a real solid job thus far but he still has so much work to do.  He has to add at least 2 big bodies in the top 6 (1 of the 2 has to be a center), and he has to overhaul this terrible blueline.

 

One of the guys who likely will be moved to help acquire these pieces is Nail Yakupov.  I’m about to piss off just about the entire fan base with what I’m about to say.  A friend of mine, let’s call him Jonas W….no that’s too obvious….J. Wells, is going to come unglued on me once he reads this.  Well, truth be told he’s already livid that I wasn’t harsh on Eakins.  But this is where I’m at.  I don’t know if I dislike Yakupov, but I’m officially sick to death of the apologists for him in this fan base.  The kid has been SHIT this season.  It’s not on the coach, it’s not on his teammates, it’s on him.  Now if he was putting up good offensive numbers while getting benched and raked over the coals for his defensive play then fans might have an argument.  But he has been flat out TERRIBLE.

 

Yet all you hear from just about every fan is that it’s all Eakins fault and it’s because the team is such a mess and on and on and on.  It’s everyone’s fault but Yakupov’s.  I was talking to an Oiler fan about what Darren Dreger said/reported about him a few weeks ago and the fan shot back “yeah well Dreger is f***** clueless”.  No, he’s actually one of the top insiders in the game.  I’m of the opinion that most fans just don’t want to admit that the OWNER (the pharmacist) made a poor selection for this hockey team (of course I’m referring to the rumor that Katz overruled his people who wanted to take Ryan Murray and instructed them to take Yakupov).  He plays like Ovechkin, but the problem with that is he doesn’t posses Ovy’s size, speed, or shot.  And even with all those qualities, Ovechkin has the leagues worst +/- and has never led his team anywhere.

 

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I believe Yakupov won’t be in Oiler silks come next fall

Yakupov is by no means a poor skater, but to play the game he wants to he has to have game breaking speed and he simply doesn’t.  He’s got a great shot, but has no clue how to find dead spots in the offensive zone to get a look.  His hockey IQ is awful, he’s clearly never had to think the game.  And yeah he’s willing to throw hits, but he’s too small for them to have much impact.  Couple all of that with just horrendous defensive play and it makes for a kid who has hurt the Oilers all season, not helped and a kid who I believe will be packaged this summer in an attempt to find a guy who’ll improve the team either on the blueline or down the middle.

 

I can honestly say I was one of the very few on board for the Oilers taking Ryan Murray at the 2012 draft.  Ryan Murray isn’t going to be anything special, but intangibles get underrated by a lot of fans, and the whole “take the BPA” theory doesn’t work anymore.  It is too difficult to make big trades these days to simply take the best player and then make trades later so the pieces fit.  Now, there is the argument that they wouldn’t have landed Justin Schultz had they taken Murray or Griffin Reinhart.  I’ll listen to that logic.  But on draft day 2012 they were DESPERATE for D-men.

 

Now, Murray wouldn’t make this team much better right now.  But I have zero doubt Murray holds more trade value right now, and if a team were to move a top end defenseman they would be more interested in a kid like Murray coming the other way than Yakupov.  Does everyone forget that there were strong rumors prior to the draft that if the Oilers passed on Yakupov that he would fall to 5th?  Because that was out there.

 

And of course there is the issue of Igor Larionov.  Hall of fame player, bit of a child when it comes to his prize client.  I’ll never forget him declining an interview I believe for the TEAM 1260 on draft day and saying “if Edmonton doesn’t have time for us, then we don’t have time for them”.  Then this season he has to come to Edmonton to talk to the coach about his ice time….his ice time that he was seeing more of than the previous season.  Also, I would suspect Larionov will want his client to get the same deal as Hall and Nugent-Hopkins got, and I can’t see the Oilers wanting to continue that trend.  I fully expect Yakupov go to a team where he fits better, has better leadership, and starts lighting it up.  But you don’t win because of players like him, and he doesn’t make this team better.

 

I completely understand why the fans love him.  He shows an effort most nights (although not all over the ice), and he’s a fun loving kid.  That’s engaging.  But the latter can also be a huge distraction weather people like it or not.  The celebration after the Kings goal last season was a huge distraction.  He flashed 3 fingers to the crowd last year when he recorded his first hat trick in the last game of the season (score was 6-2 at the time).  I don’t have an issue with that stuff, but coaches and players do whether we like it or not.

 

Subtracting Yakupov and Gagner from this club is going to be addition by subtraction as long as they’re replaced with veterans who have size and play a 200 foot game.  A kid like Arcobello isn’t big, but signing him to a 1 way deal was a very smart move because the guy plays a good all around game, is hungry to prove his worth, and can play in all situations.  He can play on your 4th line, 3rd line, or 2nd line and contribute.  But Arcobello won’t be replacing either guy in the lineup.  It’ll be guys with size, experience and who can play a complete game.

 

Then you have Justin Schultz.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens with his contract situation this summer.  Thanks to perhaps worst management than what Edmonton has had in Carolina….Jim Rutherford decided earlier this season that on his way out the door he would stick his franchise with an albatross of a contract by giving Justin Faulk a 6 year deal for nearly 5 million a season.  Faulk, who has only 6 more points than Schultz having played 58 more games in his career got 6 years and nearly 29 million.  This is just getting stupid with locking down these kids just because they’re capable of tying their own skates.

 

But I’m sure Schutlz agent will be understanding that Faulk’s deal was just a case of one idiot GM going overboard on a players worth and he won’t look to get the same deal for his cli….oh right, Don Meehan is Schultz agent.  Well, congrats to Meehan and the entire crew at Newport Sports for the upcoming fleecing on the Schultz deal.

 

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Oilers could be in a tough spot working on a new deal for Schultz

Seriously though, MacTavish will just have to do a bridge deal with Schultz and there is nothing wrong with that.  A 2 or 3 year deal for 3 mil per is MORE than fair.  I haven’t been as hard on Schultz as some this season.  He’s a number 4 D, forced to be a 1 or 2 depending on the night.  He was playing hurt in the first half, and he’s really picked up his defensive game in the 2nd half.  The offense will come so people can relax about his numbers, and when an actual blueline is finally around him and this team has more than 2 or 3 forwards willing to play 200 feet, I’m sure he’ll thrive.

 

One thing this organization has done a much better job of is drafting and developing and they’re on the cusp of that really starting to show.  Marincin, Klefbom, Lander, Fedun, Pitlick and Arcobello have all come up this season and looked like pretty useful guys for this club.  They have a lot of quality guys in the organization so I thought I would take a look at their top 5 most important prospects.

 

Just to be clear here, we aren’t talking 1st round picks.  If we did, Nurse is obviously at the top and Klefbom follows him, and whoever would be the 1st round pick would likely top both of them.  And most important prospect doesn’t mean top prospect.  Marc-Olivier Roy might be the BEST prospect out of the kids picked in rounds 2-7, but another winger that doesn’t bring much size to the table isn’t high on the priority list for this team to have.

 

hi-res-172596668-bogdan-yakimov-83rd-pick-overall-by-the-edmonton-oilers_crop_exact1. Bogdan Yakimov  C  6’5, 210 – I’m going to guess most wouldn’t have him as the most important kid on this list.  I do.  Not so much because if he doesn’t pan out the organization is in trouble.  My thought process with Yakimov is that if this kid can reach his full potential, the Oilers would have a piece to the puzzle that I believe they’re more desperate for even more so than a top D-man.  Some think he has a chance to be a Martin Hanzal type.  Nobody should EXPECT that out of him, but that would be the perfect guy to play behind RNH.

 

moroz2. Mitch Moroz  LW  6’2, 208 – they need him to be what Ethan Moreau was 10 years ago.  I believe that season Moreau was the team MVP with 20 goals.  He was a big, physical, 3rd line player who could have easily been used in their top 6 if they had a team built like this one is now.  Things got pretty ugly with Moreau at the end, but pre 2008 you couldn’t find an Oiler fan who didn’t LOVE the guy.  I’ve heard others compare Moroz to Ryane Clowe, either would be a perfect fit.

 

jujhar-khaira3. Jujhar Khaira  C/LW  6’3, 215 – Pretty similar to Yakimov.  I do think there is still some question as to whether Khaira will play the middle or the wing in the pro’s, but he has real good size and while he isn’t overly physical he plays a real heavy game.  A Patrik Berglund type would be perfect and I’m not talking about Berglund when he first came up (47 and 52 points in 2 of his first 3 seasons, 38, 25 and currently 32 in his last 3 seasons).  Berglund plays both the middle and the wing for Hitch.  A very effective and heavy top 9 player.

 

20130704_chase6444. Greg Chase  C/RW  6’0, 204 – This kid has exceeded the expectations of the people who thought the Oilers flat out stole him in the 7th round last year.  85 points in just 68 games, and then played terrific in the Hitmen’s 6 series against Kootenay.  He’s in players faces, gritty, and as 85 points indicates he has some offense to his game too.  An Andrew Shaw type would be perfect.  Anything more than that is gravy.  And again you shouldn’t EXPECT that out of Chase, he still needs to improve his foot speed, but I believe he can become that type of player.  Played his first AHL game last night, had a goal and was the 2nd star.

 

1297542052935_ORIGINAL5. Laurent Brossoit  G  6’3, 202 – He has the pressure of being the main piece in the Smid deal who most believe they could have got more for.  Not a lot of people who watched him with the Oil Kings are big believers that this kid is much more than a puck blocker.  I say it much too often, but I want a goaltender who makes saves, not one who blocks pucks.  Looking at Scrivens and Fasth I would suggest MacTavish sees it that way too.  Add to that, this organization really lacks depth between the pipes.

 

All these kids except Chase will be in OKC next season which is a big plus for the Oilers as it’ll just give them a lot more depth.

 

As for the draft and what to do.  Bob Stauffer and I might be the only ones to think this way, but I 100% see the logic in taking a center over Ekblad should they go that way.  The Oilers blueline is a mess right now, no doubt.  But Schultz turns 24 this summer.  Between him, Marincin, Klefbom, and Nurse…not to mention the guys like Musil, Gernat and Simpson who are total wild cards but show promise, the Oilers moving forward are pretty set on D.  You can never have too many D, there is no debating that and the idea of Nurse and Ekblad as their top pairing in five years makes me drool.  But it is far from the obvious pick like so many fans and media want to make it out to be.

 

There are a lot of downsides with Ekblad.  A) is he dominating because he’s developed much quicker physically than the other kids his age?  B) D-men taken in the top 5 of the draft more often than not don’t live up to their billing.  C) as I’ve hit on already, moving forward their is a much bigger need down the middle than there is on D.  So it’s not as easy as “well our current blueline is terrible, let’s pick a D-man”.  But then again, with a system rich on D it’ll make it a lot easier to swing a deal for that 2nd line center as opposed to when they took Yakupov.  I was one of the idiots who said taking Yakupov should allow them to trade for their needs later on.  Wingers are a dime a dozen, even ones with the talent that Yakupov possesses.

 

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Most think Ekblad, but center might be the greater need moving forward

So while Sam Reinhart doesn’t bring the size you might want down the middle, he’s not anything small (6’1, probably 205 once he fills out) and is extremely intelligent on the ice.  As I’ve said in the past, he reminds me of Toews.  A poor man’s Toews, but would be an incredible 2nd line center.  Draisaitl whom the rumors suggest they love, has the size they covet (6’1-6’2 and already 205), but has looked lazy at times and bad in his own zone.  Sam Bennett is just slightly smaller than Reinhart but plays a big game.  Doug Gilmour is usually the comparison, Mike Richards is another guy I’ll use.

 

You also have those out there who’ll want them to deal the pick, but as I’ve said in a lot of other pieces weather it be on the Oil or my mock drafts, the value isn’t there for top 5 picks.  The GM who wants to trade in will claim it’s too big of a risk, and there for won’t give up much quality.  Tampa Bay traded out with Philly in 02, they got Ruslan Fedotenko.  Should the Oilers deal the 2nd pick for Troy Brouwer?  The return isn’t going to be Subban or Doughty or Weber like some people believe it would be.

 

There also is the state of mind that “you’ve come this far, why not take Ekblad and just wait out 1 final season to land Connor McDavid?”  And honestly, I get that.  The fan base obviously doesn’t want to hear that, but you’ve waited so long, what is 1 more season to finally land that once in a generation type talent which would take your potential from “could challenge for a Cup” to “will win multiple Cups”?  I’m not saying I’m on board for it, and I doubt they’re this bad again next season, but I will say it would be well worth it.  And it’s not like it is just McDavid in that draft either.  Jack Eichel isn’t far off McDavid at this point.

 

I’ll say this in closing this book on the 2014 Oilers….don’t expect anything big this summer.  Realistically I believe you’re looking at a couple of UFA signings on D (Nikita Nikitin and Matt Greene come to mind), and both Gagner and Yakupov being shipped out of town but it is really tough to say what they would get in return.  I do believe Yakupov packaged with one of Marincin or Klefbom and another piece could net something big, but only if a team needs to move a guy.  Eric and Jordan Staal reportedly could be had this summer, but then you have the hurdle of both having NTC’s and I doubt either would have interest in coming to Edmonton after this season even with all the talent and a new arena on the way.

 

It’s bleak, no other way to say it.  I don’t want to be known as a homer, nor do I want to be known as a pessimist, just a realist.  And the reality is barring an off season where the top 6 gets a lot bigger, a legitimate top pairing is brought in, and a true 2nd line center is landed this team might improve but in such a difficult division and conference I just don’t see them making the playoffs for a 9th straight season.

 

Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups

No Canada

 

Congrats to the Montreal Canadiens on making the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.  You will be the only Canadian team to make the Stanley Cup playoffs this season, there for making you the best Canadian based team in the leauge.  Congrats, that is the equivalent of being the slimmest person who needs lap-band surgery.  Not that the Habs are in anyway bad, Marc Bergevin has done a great job there.  But they’re in the East, likely won’t make it past the 2nd round, and the rest of the Canadian teams have been garbage.

 

So what lays ahead for these 6 teams?  Will they make the playoffs next season?  ANY of them??  Many questions, and I don’t have all the answers because I’m just a douchy blogger….but I’ll try to answer a few.  So let’s start this off and I want to start with the Flames.

 

Now some might look at this and say I’m just an Oiler fan looking to trash the Flames.  I’m really not.  Full credit to them on a season that I didn’t think would happen.  I thought they were a sure fire top 2 pick team at the start of the year.  Bob Hartley should be a Jack Adams candidate in my mind.  But having said all of this, the Flames future doesn’t look too bright.

 

Now a Flames fan would likely tell me that it’s better to develop that winning culture, rather than be at the bottom and become who the Oilers have become.  Well, the Oilers are where they are because of their horrendous management.  The first year of their rebuild a lot of the media were raving about how great their room was at the end of that season despite being 30th overall.  With no expectations comes no pressure.  I guess you could be the Minnesota Wild who were a good non playoff team (whatever that is) from 09-2012.  Even after signing Suter and Parise to pair with all their young talent, they look like they’ll be a team stuck in no man’s land (make the playoffs, no shot at a Cup).

 

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Monahan is a great start, but the Flames still need a lot of work

But it is THIN for the Flames after Monahan.  They like the Oilers were, are stocked with small wingers, which really has been the Oilers major downfall.  They might snag a centre (Canadian piece, Canadian spelling) with what looks to be the 4th or 5th pick.  So they might get another high end centre with that pick which would be great.  But they still don’t have much coming on the blueline and while Mark Giordano isn’t old, he’s not that young either.  Maybe T.J. Brodie or Tyler Wotherspoon really overachieve, but you can’t depend on that happening.  But the Avs have been successful at least for this season being loaded down the middle with nothing on D so who knows.  To me it is vital that they end up 27th overall or worse to ensure they land one of Reinhart, Bennett, Dal Colle or Ekblad.

 

Entering the season the Sens looked like they were the most well setup Canadian team.  They had more depth in their system than the Oilers, they had more high end skill than the Leafs, and they seemed to be way better coached than the Habs.  I’m stunned at how their season has gone.  But now people will jump off their bandwagon and talk about what a mess it is.  At the draft when the Ducks use that top 10 pick, I’m sure the story will be how the Sens wish they had that trade back.  Well weren’t people just saying in July how the Sens fleeced the Ducks and then when Ryan was left off the Olympic team that it was such a mistake?  So which one is it?

 

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Spezza might be on the move, but the Sens still look real good down the middle for years to come

I still think this team is the best Canadian team moving forward, even better setup than the Habs.  Moving forward they’re great down the middle with Turris, Zibanejad and Lazar all under 25, Karlsson is a stud on D and they have some depth with Cowen, Ceci and others.  Robin Lehner needs to relax in net but that should come with experience and when it does he’ll be a star.  Add all this to Paul McLean who has had a rough year but I think he’s a top end coach in this league.  Maybe they move Spezza this off season, but if they do they’ll get a nice return and should be fine.  He puts up great numbers, but just seems to refuse to be the all around player you need your 1st line centre to be.

 

Of course 1st line centre has been a hot topic of conversation in Toronto all year.  I whiffed on them, I had them to make the playoffs comfortably, and a month ago it looked like they would.  Yet here we are, they’re all but eliminated and the city is in full panic mode about where this team is going.  They aren’t bad setup though.  They have some good pieces in place like Bernier, Bozak, Kessel, JVR and Rielly.

 

If I were Dave Nonis I would be using my 2nd compliance buyout on David Clarkson this summer.  This is  the last year teams will get to use their compliance buyouts (if they have any left, remember it is 2 per team), so why risk it?  If this is what he is, he’s a 2 million dollar player getting 5.25 per.  While the cap is expected to rise to 68-71 million, that is still a terrible contract.  They also need to upgrade down the middle.  I’m one of the few who was on the Tyler Bozak bandwagon before they re-signed him last summer.  But he’s not a legit number 1 guy.  He’s a real solid number 2, but not a number 1.  He reminds me of Craig Conroy and Shawn Horcoff.  Both were 1st line centre’s on teams that made surprise runs to the finals.  They had great all around games and could be used in any situation, but weren’t offensively gifted enough to be legit number 1 guys.

 

Jake+Gardiner+Nazem+Kadri+Boston+Bruins+v+3f72kRbto6el
If the Leafs take a run at Eric Staal, Gardiner and Kadri would be a good start of a package going to Carolina

I have no clue what might happen in Carolina this off season, and I do think the Staal brothers preference should they be asked to waive their NTC’s would be to go somewhere together if it’s possible.  The Leafs actually would have the cap space to bring in both, but they only have the assets to get 1 of them.  So I do think they’ll take a run at Eric.  Kadri, Gardiner, Stuart Percy and their 2014 1st would be a pretty good deal for both sides.  Some would try to tell me how they would have to move Rielly in the deal.  No they wouldn’t.  IF Carolina has a fire sale, teams won’t give their top end guys.  It just NEVER happens.  Didn’t happen for Nash, didn’t happen for Thornton, didn’t happen for Heatley, didn’t happen for Pronger any of the 3 times he got moved after the 05 lockout, it just NEVER happens that way and I wish people would finally figure this out.

 

More realistic this off season is a few UFA signings like maybe Joni Pitkanen?  Andrei Markov?  Either would be a nice addition at the right price obviously.  It isn’t a great year for UFA’s though.  So maybe let’s look at the draft situation and they appear as though they’ll pick 10-12.  As it stands right now (much will change between now and late June), Jared McCan is a possibility in that range.  He’s nothing flashy, but a real solid all around centre who has potential to be a Patrice Bergeron type.  If not him, maybe Roland McKewon who is a RH shot D-man playing for Todd Gill and Doug Gilmour in Kingston.  Either guy would be a real good addition.

 

Of course the Leafs slide has been masking the mess of late in Vancouver who are right there with the Leafs in the standings.  It could be an entertaining off season in Vancouver.  I don’t think they should rebuild per say, but they could stand to be renovated.  The Sedins aren’t going anywhere after signing those extensions before this season.  Gillis has to go, Torts should also go despite the 5 year deal.  That would be a good start, but then the question is who replaces them?

 

George McPhee might be out of a job in Washington.  He’s done a good job stockpiling talent in Washington, although not a good job in pulling the trigger on the deals he needs to.  Paul Fenton in Nashville has been talked about for many job openings the last few seasons.  Would ownership be interested in brining back Steve Tambellini who spent a lot of years in the Canucks organization including 3 with this ownership group as the assistant GM to Dave Nonis?  He was horrendous for the Oilers so they better not.  Speaking of Dave Nonis, Dave Poulin is another candidate.  Brad Treliving in Phoenix, Rick Dudley in Montreal (who is a Torts guy if they insist he stays coaching), lots of possibilities.

 

ryan-kesler
Moving Kesler will net a good return and could be a blessing in disguise for the Canucks

As for replacing Torts, well that would all depend on who the GM is obviously, but I think they have to bite the bullet and get rid of him and allow the incoming GM to select his own guy.  The incoming GM will also have the pressure of moving Ryan Kesler as soon as he gets the job.  He doesn’t HAVE to, but he will get a great return for a guy who is one of the best 2nd line centre’s in the game but can’t stay healthy.  If the Pens offer Sutter, Pouliot and their 2015 1st I would be jumping all over that.  Sutter could take some pressure off Bo Horvat who’ll almost certainly step into the lineup as either their 2nd or 3rd line centre.

 

 

Other moves need to be done too.  I still think they can get something for Alex Burrows.  Time to go, the guy doesn’t have a good contract moving forward and even though he’s broke out lately, for the duration of his contract I’m betting you see more of the guy who had the enormous drought this season then Burrows circa 2011.  Alex Edler is another guy who should go.  He has never been the same guy since the Kings torched him in the 2012 playoffs.  Prior to that he was coming off an incredible season and looked like he was developing into a legit number 1 D-man.  He’s still a top 4 guy, but he needs a change of scenery.  They just have to guard against getting too young.

 

A team who is along the lines of what I’m thinking for young but not too young would be the Winnipeg Jets.  Now the Jets don’t get a lot of attention, and they’re really well run by Kevin Cheveldayoff.  But they still face a pretty steep hill to climb in the meat grinder known as the Western conference.  The one thing they MUST do is upgrade between the pipes.

 

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Next season, Pavelec should be replacing a legit starter on bad nights and not be the guy who constantly gets replaced

I’m one of those people who believed Ondrej Pavelec was going to become a top flight NHL starter.  Well it hasn’t happened and it is time to pull the pin on that idea.  He’s a solid backup.  But this team has no idea what he will give them night to night.  Jonas Hiller is a UFA.  Would he go to Winnipeg after so many years in the California sun?  Maybe not, but then again if the Ducks decide they can thrive with Frederick Anderson and John Gibson in goal what would be his other choices?  There aren’t a lot.  Maybe Minnesota….which isn’t much different from Winnipeg.  Maybe Jaroslav Halak is the answer?  Or maybe he re-signs in Washington, which would make Braden Holtby available.  They’ll have options and they have to take care of this problem.

 

 

They also could stand to upgrade their blueline.  There is talent on their back end, but obviously the biggest (literally) enigma is Dustin Byfuglien.  Teams will have great interest in the big man if he’s available, weather they’re looking to add size up front or some offence from their blueline.  I would be looking for another top 4 D-man in return, but perhaps a LH shot.  If Mark Stuart could be their number 5 D-man they would be in pretty good shape.  Bogosian on their top pairing, Trouba on their 2nd pairing, it could take great shape but they need to have the right guy coming back to do that deal.

 

I do love their size up front.  A key for this team next season will be if Mark Scheifele can take another step after a real good rookie season.  If he could handle the 1st line centre duties that would be a huge positive for this club.  Having said that it is likely much too soon to put that kind of pressure on him.  But still, their top 6 is Ladd, Wheeler, Kane, Scheifele, and maybe Byfuglien if Maurice chooses to put him up front all of next season….and if he’s not dealt.

 

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Still too many issues to count, but the Oil may have found something with Scrivens

And finally, the Oilers.  I don’t need to spend much time here on the Oil because I have another piece coming out all dedicated to their shit show season and what they have and what needs to be done and so on and so forth.  But I will say, the Colorado Avalanche were in the 4th year of their rebuild last year and finished 29th.  If the Oilers don’t literally have AHL goaltending to start this season they might not be anywhere near this mess.

 

 

 

I said it earlier, they had expectations where a team like the Flames didn’t.  So it’s pretty natural for these guys to just want this season to be done with already.  Come next fall barring 1 or 2 blockbuster moves, expectations will be extremely low and that will help them out a ton I’m certain.  They aren’t in anywhere near as bad of shape as they appear to be or as the Eastern media in particular make them out to be.  A shit show without a doubt, but it is fixable.  Having said that, don’t expect playoffs yet again next season.  A) the Pacific is too tough.  B) the West is too tough.  C) MacTavish won’t be able to pull multiple rabbits out of his hat.

 

This was an awful year for NHL teams in this country, that’s all.  The Oilers, Canucks and Leafs turned into shit shows, the Jets are what they are, the Flames are better than expected but still bad, and the Sens had an off year.  But I’m saying it right now, 4 of these teams can join Montreal in the playoffs next season (Canucks, Leafs, Sens and Jets).  The Flames will still need some time I believe, but they’re on the right track.  And while the Oilers get mocked for their rebuild taking time people forget that the Blues took 7 years rebuilding so it’s still too early to call it a failure.  Things will turn Canada….they can’t get worse!

 

Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups

We’re Getting Owned

 

I keep running out of titles for the Oilers pieces.  But this one feels pretty good so I’ll roll with it and see if this comes together the way I’m hoping it will.  Now, ironically I started this piece on Sunday night.  I had no clue what was coming on Monday afternoon.  And then I debated doing anything because let’s face it…not like everyone doesn’t know what a sh*t show it currently is in Edmonton.  But in the end I just couldn’t resist but run my mouth about the team I love to love and hate.

 

Whether this is on owner Daryl Katz, or on President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe, the fact is that things have gone unbelievably awful since this combo came to be in the summer of 2008.  The Oilers at that time were coming off a thrilling playoff push that came up just short.  They went from 14th in the West at the trade deadline and all but dead to finishing 9th and not being eliminated until game 81 was over.

 

On one hand I find myself agreeing with most others in that Kevin Lowe needs to be fired ASAP and Katz needs to bring someone in who is actually qualified to run an organization.  It is no secret that Katz and Lowe were good friends prior to Katz buying this team, and all Katz has done essentially is just let his buddy sit back and run things into the ground.  Is that how Daryl made his billions with Rexall?  Letting his buddies run the show and doing whatever they wanted?  I somehow doubt it.

 

But while that is the simple answer, what makes this so much more complex is that this organization is DESPERATE for some stability.  This is a first year GM, who while he hasn’t made the “bold moves” he promised when he was introduced as GM, he has made more good moves than bad.

 

The David Perron deal that I honestly thought was a bad deal at the time for the Oilers because they got smaller and figured they overpaid for a guy the Blues pretty much had to deal…as usual in 2013 I was horribly wrong.  The Andrew Ference signing has been solid.  I know some people don’t like that Ference had as big of an impact on the team as they may have expected, but if you expected him to magically turn this blueline around you’re an idiot.  This blueline in general isn’t that bad, but without a legit number 1 and no help from the fowards defensively they are improperly slotted and hung out to dry.

 

While I believe he could have got more for Smid (I’m not in anyway a believer in Brossoit, but he has been good thus far), the fact of the matter is that this team had 3 guys who were 4/5’s and moved the one who was the worst puck mover and probably had the lowest IQ of the 3.  The Bryzgalov signing has been well worth the risk from all accounts (although didn’t help), and the way I seen last week’s moves was that he gave up a 3rd round pick (that he’ll get back at the trade deadline) for an upgrade in net and to get bigger.

 

Now there is no doubt the move that has looked like his worst thus far is the hiring of Dallas Eakins.  I’m stunned at how poor of a job Eakins has done to this point.  He was the hottest coaching candidate this offseason, everyone around hockey was a big believer in this guy to become one of the top head coaches in the league.  He was known in the AHL for being amazing at making in game adjustments.  Yet in Edmonton he has completely failed….to this point.  Maybe I’m bias because he is the type of coach I like (no BS, grinder, detail oriented, etc), but I’m not ready to throw in the towel on him and again I don’t think they can.  These players desperately need stability especially behind the bench.  Now that doesn’t mean you can’t make some changes.  Buchburger and Smith need to finally be shown the door.  I would guess MacTavish will attempt to bring back his old buddy Charlie Huddy who did an incredible job not just with the D core’s he had in Edmonton, but everywhere he has been.

 

But then I come back around to the Katz and Lowe show and just what a mess that is.  Rumors of them hiring a PR firm to go onto Oilers message boards as Oiler fans and defending management.  And of course the “apology letter”.  Talk about a guy who just doesn’t have a “get it” quality.  Kevin Lowe is indefensible right now, and here he is coming out telling fans how they need to cut Lowe some slack.  No they shouldn’t, the organization has made the playoffs 3 times in what will now be 13 seasons with him in the front office.  That is so far beyond ridiculous that the man still has a job that…I don’t even know what to say to be honest.

 

Lowe should have been fired a few times by now, yet he not only remains at the head of the Oilers organization but it would seem that he has total immunity.  They’ve been the worst organization not just in the NHL but in pro sports since Katz bought the team and let Lowe completely ruin the franchise.  And while it might be unfair to pin it all on Lowe, this organization has seen GM’s come and go, seen PLENTY of coaches come and go, and hardly anything has changed with the exception of Kevin Lowe.

 

So really there is no easy answer.  A new head of the franchise would either be another Oiler favorite of Katz and the same old, same old would occur.  If he shocked us all and actually picked someone competent, it would likely mean a house cleaning and the kids who have already had to go through 3 coaches in 4 years would be subjected to their 4th coach and 3rd GM in 5 years.  There already is a theory out there not just from Dallas Eakins that this club is so dysfunctional on the ice because of all the turnover.

 

Believe it or not there are a couple of things Oilers fans can hang their hats on this season.  No, not with this club in general.  But we’re FINALLY seeing this organization draft well and pump out some prospects.  Mark Arcobello, Martin Marincin, Tyler Pitlick, and Taylor Fedun have either come up and stuck with the team this season or in the case of Pitlick and Fedun looked solid while here.  Add to them, in their 1st season in the AHL both David Musil and Martin Gernat have been better than expected this season in Oklahoma City.

 

Not a big accomplishment for most organizations, but developing players has been the number 1 issue for this franchise in the last 5 years.  Of course this finger can be directly pointed at Kevin Lowe, when for some reason he decided player development wasn’t important for the Oilers.  They didn’t have an AHL team of their own from the 05-06 season until the 10-11 season.  Add to that they never had a director of player development.  Words can put into context how utterly stupid this was, and really is the main reason this team is where they are right now.

 

They also under MacTavish are looking like they want to quit rushing players into the league.  Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner, Magnus Paajarvi, Anton Lander, and Ladislav Smid were all kids who were in the league WAY too early.  They all needed to start their rookie season’s at the AHL level and instead were rushed on to the team, with the exception of course being Gagner who should have been sent back to London at least for the 08 season.

 

Of course they also have a lot of kids yet to enter the AHL that fans should actually be pretty pumped about.  Mitch Moroz is having a great season for the Oil Kings and if I had to project it right now I would say he is on pace to be an Ethan Moreau type, but will need at least a full season in the AHL before he is ready.  Bogdan Yakimov and Anton Slepyshev were both very good in the WJC this year.  Yakimov is the big 2 way center the Oilers have been so desperate for since….well forever!  Too soon to say he can be a 2nd line C, but he is expected to sign this offseason and play in Oklahoma City next year.  Slepyshev will still be difficult to get over here, especially if they end up moving Yakupov in a deal.  And finally Greg Chase has been great for the Calgary Hitmen this season.  Chase still has another year in Calgary (by a day), but I would guess that at least the hope with Chase is that he can become the Oilers version of Andrew Shaw.  Again, I don’t know if this would be anything to be excited over for most franchises, but for this team getting back to being a competent NHL team is huge.  Yes I know, it’s sad.

 

Finally, the Oilers can’t screw up this 1st round pick if they place 30th.  A top 2 pick in this draft would land them a player they desperately need….should the top 2 remain the same (I guess Bob McKenzie will shed some light on that later tonight).  Aaron Ekblad has top pairing ability and Oiler fans are drooling at the thought of having Ekblad and Nurse anchor the blueline in 4-5 years.

 

And I’m just as high on them picking Sam Reinhart, although for the fans who want to put everything into black and white terms “the Oilers don’t need ANOTHER forward!!!”  Well, they need a 2 way center who will be 6’1-6’2, 210-215 pounds who is essentially a poor man’s version of Jonathan Toews.  I don’t think fans realize how difficult it is to find a great 2nd line C, how vital it is to have a great 2nd line C, and how much better defensively THIS TYPE of 2nd line C can make a team.  The game is played 5 on 5, not 3 on 2 and the biggest issue on the ice for the Oilers is that they hardly have any forwards who know how to play in their own zone.  He is also a RH shot which coaches love to have in the middle.

 

So to sum that part up, the Oilers can’t go wrong with either kid.  Now simply people will say that the Oilers should deal that pick.  A) who says you have to rush a kid into the league?  And B) teams won’t give up anyone of serious value for high end picks which is why there hasn’t been a player for pick swap in the top 5 of the draft since 2002 (the Flyers also gave the Lightning two 2nd round picks, but essentially the 4th pick for Ruslan Fedotenko).  Would a 3rd line winger turn the Oilers around?  Come on.

 

In my opinion they will need to package up your prospects and either Yakupov or Eberle with those prospects if you want to go after a Shea Weber for example (whom some expect to be available this summer).  For Weber I would guess you are looking at giving up one of Yakupov or Eberle, one of Marincin or Oscar Klefbom, Jeff Petry, a B level prospect like Teemu Hartikainen (currently playing in the KHL) and maybe something still on top of that.  Steep price, but the Oilers can afford it and need to pony up and do a deal like this.  Don’t give up something you desperately need like an Ekblad or Reinhart.  If they weren’t to have a top 2 or 3 pick, then maybe you think about it.  Nick Ritchie and Jake Virtanen are 2 other prospects who fit perfect for the Oilers, but they likely won’t be top 5 picks.  If Sam Bennett moves into the number 1 spot as CSS currently has him, I would look to trade down a spot or two.

 

But now I’m rambling on and playing GM.  The fact of the matter is that since 2008 the Oilers have been the biggest embarrassment in the NHL.  When they started the rebuild and people would point out how this type of rebuild doesn’t work for all teams, I was quick to point out that those teams (Atlanta, Columbus, the Islanders) all had brutal ownership/management.  Well, the Oilers rebuild doesn’t appear to be working (although I wouldn’t call it a failure yet, see Colorado who picked 1st last draft and started their’s a year before the Oilers), and the finger needs to be pointed at Katz.  Calling into pre game shows to tell everyone the coach isn’t going anywhere, allowing Steve Tambellini to let coaches twist in the wind for months before finally firing them, allowing Kevin Lowe to do whatever he wants and take zero accountability for the results, giving an empty threat to the city that he would move the team to Seattle while negotiating for the new arena (even though I defended it at the time), and now the letter.

 

How does he become a billionaire yet he can’t get this right?  Don’t know, but it happens all the time in pro sports (Daniel Snyder, Jerry Jones, Donald Sterling, there are plenty of them).  This guy is just a terrible owner at this point, and that isn’t fixable.  As fans, all we can do is hope that some people in this organization over come the way he is running things and pull this franchise from the ashes…but at this point it sure doesn’t seem likely.

 

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Words can no longer describe it

 

Humiliating.  Disgraceful.  Disaster.  I am running out of creative titles to describe how bad it has become for the Edmonton Oilers.  I used “Deep Ice Horizon” last year which was probably my best one (although you have to keep up on the news and recall the BP oil spill to get that one).  You know you are writing too much about a team and it’s faliures when you have run out of titles for pieces on how bad things have become for a team.  But here is another one, and it is over 2000 words so you may as well settle in, good thing most of you aren’t working today and you have an extra hour to work with this weekend.

 

The easiest way to put it is that things have just snowballed.  Out of the gate they looked like a different team.  Tougher, hard nosed, much improved in the dot, and determined.  But they didn’t get the goaltending.  That last up until the game on Long Island.  In that game Dubnyk was strong, but they didn’t have any finish and fell 3-2.  That was right around the time their PP started falling apart.  So they have the goaltending, but the bread and butter for a highly skilled team like this went to shhhhhhh….you know.  Now their confidence was still there despite the PP being so bad for the next few games.  They won 2 in a row, but even in winning it came off poorly as Dallas Eakins went a little overboard in crushing Lars Eller after the game.  The reason he was so ticked in my mind, was because Lars was SPOT ON about how the Oilers play.  Then they came home to face Washington, that’s when things REALLY started to fall apart on them.

 

They outplayed the Caps that night, and every bounce possible went against them.  A 4-1 loss.  The next game was in Phoenix and again they outplay the opponent.  But again they had a lot of bounces go against them, and didn’t get good goaltending this time out of Jason LaBarbera.  In LA the next night they really got pushed around, yet again they still had fight and lost in a shootout 2-1 after getting an incredible goaltending performance out of Richard Bachman.

 

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The Oilers got simply humiliated by the red hot Leafs on Tuesday night

They hit a new low in the last 2 games however against the Leafs and Red Wings and I believe the breaking point for this team came early in the 2nd period against the Leafs.  Trailing 1-0 early in the 2nd, Justin Schultz had a great scoring chance jumping up in the play and hit the post.  The Leafs took it up ice and scored.  They haven’t been the same since.  And I can understand it, as much as the fan in me wants to knock the teeth out of all their heads.  They finally said “we literally can’t get one bounce”.  And it’s true.  As much as all Oiler fans are fed up with all of this, so far this season this team hasn’t got ANY bounces to go their way!  I’ve never seen anything like this in hockey, at least not for this long of a stretch.

 

But while its all going horrific, and perhaps I just have homer goggles on, but I really believe everything has conspired against them during this time too.  Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying no wrong’s have been made here.  But at least trying to look at it without bias they really haven’t had things break their way.  First off, everyone in the league has heard the last 2 or 3 seasons how the Oilers are the next great club in the NHL.  They have been crowned by the Canadian media in particular as the league’s future champion.  While that’s flattering, it also puts a target on your back and something that I have really noticed the last 2 seasons is that the Oilers have been getting everyone’s best.  Don’t believe me?  Logan Couture went out of his way last season during a game against the Oilers on TSN to point out how sick he is of hearing about them during the summer.  So most nights they are getting everyone’s best.  Makes it pretty difficult to gain momentum, build confidence, etc, etc.  You watch some of Calgary’s games this season….not that they aren’t playing their balls off this season, but a lot of teams have clearly been taking them lightly.

 

Then there are the holes on the team.  Size, goaltending, good veteran’s to lean on, etc.  Nothing has broke their way on that front either in terms of being able to acquire those pieces.  It is real easy for the media to sit their and be critical of management for not addressing those needs, but when have they had the chance to?  For starters, it is pretty difficult to get UFA’s to come to Edmonton, which was one of the biggest reasons they needed to start “building it the right way” (remember when that term was constantly brought up Oiler fans?)  You also need the right UFA’s to become available.  They haven’t.  They chased David Clarkson hard this past summer who fit the bill for what they needed, and offered him more money and term than anyone else.  So what else were they supposed to do on that front?

 

Every good goaltender available this offseason was in their division.  So the Kings didn’t want any part of dealing Bernier to them because they had just become division rivals.  Talk about brutal luck there.  Word is the Oilers still tried hard to get him too.  And we know they were hard after Cory Schneider at the draft, but the Canucks were going to make sure if they were dealing him to Edmonton that the price was ridiculous.  How many goaltenders would you move Darnell Nurse, Martin Marincin AND a roster player for in this league?  Basically Mike Gillis was saying “you can have Schneider as long as you make your organization worse elsewhere”.  This isn’t a team that can afford to ruin their blueline to land a goaltender.  So the media can harp on management all they want for it, but while doing so perhaps provide an example of where they missed the boat last offseason, or in the last 3 offseasons.

 

Something else that isn’t helping is that in 2011 the Boston Bruins won the Cup.  In 2012, the Kings won the Cup.  Both won with size, goaltending, and strong defensive play.  The league started moving back towards the dead puck era of the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  Not good for young teams in the league, nor is it good for small skilled teams in the league.  The large majority of this style of hockey is played in the West.  Veteran teams and defensive teams are going to get the benefit of the doubt with officials in any league, not just the NHL.  The Oilers of course are neither, so it makes for a TON of garbage that they’re left to battle through.  That isn’t to make an excuse for them at all, but it is the reality of the situation.

 

Is the rebuild failing?  No it isn’t, at least not yet and we are actually still a long ways away from declaring it a failure.  The Hawks essentially were rebuilding from 2003-2009.  It’s paying off huge now.  The Kings rebuild took about 4 years before they were back to playoff regulars, but they had 3 seasons prior to officially rebuilding that were very disappointing so a total of 7 seasons getting things fixed.  The Avs actually are only a year ahead of the Oilers rebuild, but have had a few seasons where they were better than expected that might make it seem like they haven’t been going through the same thing, now sitting 12-1 after finishing 29th last season (although let’s be honest, that bubble is going to burst and burst pretty harshly for the Avs).

 

But the best example for the Oilers might be the St.Louis Blues.  Outside of an amazing (and may I add pretty flukey) run in 2009 that got them the 6th seed and swept by the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round of the playoffs, the Blues took 6 seasons to rebuild it.  Just rebuilding.  Started after the 2005 lockout and things were pretty rocky for a lot of seasons.  Ken Hitchock finally went into St.Louis and completely changed the culture.  Nobody seen that coming with that club, in fact I had a piece ready to go right around the time Hitch got hired about how the Blues rebuild had indeed failed.

 

When the Kings rose up in 2010, how many people had them doing so?  Not many.  The Hawks in 2009, was anyone saying they were the next Pittsburgh prior to that season?  Nope.  In 2006, the Pens were the Oilers.  They got Sid in the draft, added a whole wack of seasoned vets like Ziggy Palffy, Mark Recchi, Jon LeClair, and Sergei Gonchar, and they were going to be the hot young team.  06 for the Pens was much like this season has been for the Oilers.

 

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Prospects like Rob Schremp were essentially left in the hands of other organizations to be developed

The Oilers rebuild though is taking longer than we have all expected, but we should have known.  They had literally nothing to build around.  There have been expansion teams in better shape than the Oilers were at the end of the 2010 season.  No good vets to help the kids out (Horcoff was never the same after his shoulder surgery, Hemsky never was either, and Khabibulin was over the hill), for years they never even had their own farm team and put no money at all into player development.  You look at a team like Ottawa who essentially rebuilt in 1 season.  They had a 1st line center in his prime in Spezza, an established leader still playing good hockey when healthy in Alfredsson, got a gift from the Colorado Avalanche when they essentially gave the Sens Craig Anderson. amd they had a great farm system in place who had been doing a great job of developing their kids for years.

 

For the Oilers though, a lot of stench still remains from awful men in charge from past seasons, not this one.  Kevin Pendergast, Kevin Lowe, and Ralph Krueger all are in my mind the biggest reasons this team is where it currently is.  Pendergast screwed up just about every 1st round pick he ever had (of course the worst was 2003), Kevin Lowe is not only a joke today but completely lost his mind once Chris Pronger asked to be dealt.  And Ralph Krueger of course is the most recent one who I will touch on more in a minute.

 

I believe and will not be a long time backing off my belief that they actually have the right men in the right places now, despite Kevin Lowe being the joke that oversees it all.  Craig MacTavish is an incredibly smart man, anyone in the game will tell you that.  Dallas Eakins was the hottest coaching commodity this summer for a reason.  The guy is a leader, is a grinder, is a student of the game, and just will simply need time to fix all the on ice problems that have remained from the Ralph Krueger coached team.

 

How structurally flawed this hockey team is right now is because of him.  I actually didn’t think Steve Tambellini did a bad job while GM of the hockey club.  It was annoying how terrified he was to make moves, but for the most part during the rebuild he needed to be as patient as he was.  But the move he made that set this team back a year in their rebuild was hiring Krueger.  Just look back at how many of these I wrote about him and how the team was eroding structurally under his watch.

 

Krueger clearly thought he could get this team to play great hockey simply by using motivation techniques than getting his players to buy into a system and play good team hockey 5 on 5.  They regressed when it came to things like supporting the puck, defensive zone coverage, and power play entries.  In fact, the PP that Krueger was praised for, did nothing but fade as the season went on.  These are all big issues which have remained so far this season.  If you heard Eakins speak I believe after the Islanders game this season, he made a comment about how he didn’t realize the team was this big of a mess (I’m paraphrasing of course, but it was along those lines).

 

So what can I say?  It is bleek and while fans want blood, right now they’re handcuffed.  Things have become so bad that they now simply cannot move their 1st round pick.  Fans and media will say “they can’t use another pick, you have to move it for veteran help”.  Well the problem is, who gives up veterans who are worth while for teams high end draft picks?  The last time a top 5 pick was traded at the draft was 2008 (the 5th pick when the Leafs moved up from 7 to take Luke Schenn), and the last time a top 5 pick was moved for a player was 2002 (4th overall, Tampa got Ruslan Fedotenko and a 2nd from Philadelphia).  Again, a trade has to be there to make one and less and less trades are being made in the league these days.  I wrote about this after the draft when fans were livid that MacTavish didn’t make his “bold moves”, there are no short cuts to doing this.

 

Right now this team is in no man’s land.  It is completely unfair to the Oiler fans who have stood by this team and supported this and believed by now that this team would be among the top teams in their division if not the league.  They have changed GM’s, changed coaches a few times, there is seemingly no move to be made at this time.  There are bright spots though.  The blueline has a couple of gems on the way in Klefbom and Nurse, not to mention a ton of depth after them.  And a lot of key prospects are having great seasons thus far such as Mitch Moroz, Greg Chase, Bogdan Yakimov, Jujhar Khaira, and of course Darnell Nurse.  Mark Arcobello and Tyler Pitlick are kids who it looks like they’ve done a nice job of developing, and Ryan Martindale seemed to be figuring things out prior to getting hurt earlier in the season.  But that doesn’t fix things now and all fans want things fixed now.  I don’t have that answer, and I simply don’t see one coming.  Apparently it is always darkest before dawn….well it’s pitch black in Oil Country right now.

 

Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups

They need Drury, not Briere

 

Here we go again, ANOTHER Sam Gagner post.  Maybe the single most talked about athlete on this site.  Its not just me, all the other bloggers on here post about him too….

 

So Sam signed his new deal with the Oilers back in July just before they went to arbitration.  If you check this site daily (man alive I hope you don’t because I had not done anything in weeks seeing as how its the dead time of year in sports) then you might have seen where I wrote a piece on Sam the day he signed his deal.  It would have went up at 7 AM MST, and Sam signed roughly right before that I believe.  So it was all for nothing.  But I love writing stuff on the Oil because it gets the most response so here is another, and this time its more about taking the Edmonton media to task.

 

First of all I can’t stress enough that I like Sam Gagner.  It is impossible not to like Gagner.  He is a great kid, hard working, lots of heart in his game, lots of balls, he is just a damn likeable player.  So this isn’t a crusade against him that I have, its just calling it the way it is.  The best way to view sports is by removing the emotion.  Once you can learn to do that then things can become a lot more clear.  I’m still learning how to do this.  NFL I have it down, MLB I’m pretty good, NBA I’m pretty good, NHL….I still have the Oilers.

 

It is funny that both the Oilers and Gagner’s camp going into arbitration were using Kris Versteeg as a comparable.  I actually had been using that comparison for about a year and a lot of fans I said that to thought I was nuts.  But that is who he plays like, and Versteeg is just a nice 2nd line winger.  I don’t know how many times I have said Sam needs to be on the wing, not in the middle.  He doesn’t have elite speed and definitely doesn’t have the size to matchup against the better center’s in this league.  Especially in the West where size is basically king.

 

BUT….Sam is staying in the middle weather I like it or not.  Taylor Hall said in an interview with Bob Stauffer about 10 days ago that he is willing to play the middle until Nugent-Hopkins is ready to go, but that long term he prefers to stay on the wing.  VERY disappointing news to my ears.  I really believe Hall would thrive play center in this league, and it would make the Oilers better if he was in the middle and Gagner was on the wing just because Hall has more size and much more speed to handle the responsibilities.

 

But I digress, Gagner is the 2nd line center so the focus needs to be on him becoming the 2nd line center the Oilers need.  Most people don’t think it matters.  They think if you’re a 2nd line center than that’s fine.  Just get guys to fill the slots on the roster no matter how they play.  If Hopkins is a 1st line C, Gagner is a 2nd line C, Gordon is a 3rd line C and Lander is a 4th line C then the Oilers are set, no issue.  This is chess, not checkers (ohhhhhh baby I’ve been waiting to work that line in!!)  Nugent-Hopkins is only 20 years old this season, he desperately needs 2 way support down the middle, especially now with Horcoff gone.  Say what you want about Horcoff, but this team heavily relied on him and while I’m a huge Boyd Gordon guy I don’t know if he can replace what Horcoff brought to the table.

 

And once again I’m getting off the topic at hand.  Many of the media in Edmonton are saying something along these lines: “IF Gagner can become a consistent 50 point producer then he is a good 2nd line center”.  Actually, they would spell center the Canadian way and be better Canadian’s than I am eh?  But that’s what most of them say when speaking of Gagner.  That is so not the case.  The problem with Gagner is that he has never learned to play center.  He has finally improved his points per game (although still his career high is 49 points which happened in his rookie season), but he really hasn’t improved his play in the middle.  There is a difference between being a scorer and being a center.

 

Steven Stamkos is a perfect example of this.  Stamkos has tore up the NHL since his 2nd season in the league (albiet in the absolute worst division and weaker conference).  But he’s never been at 50% in the dot (although this year he came close) and he’s far from a guy who knows his way around his own zone so it can be tough for a coach to get him on the ice.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I wouldn’t take Stamkos on my team.  But if Tampa wants to start getting in the playoffs and becoming a legit threat, then he needs to learn how to play center.  And its ironic that he plays for Tampa, where his GM is Steve Yzerman.  Scotty Bowman struggled for years to get Yzerman to buy into being a center not just a scorer.  But once he did, the Wings started rattling off Cups.  3 in 6 years to be exact.

 

So what is this the 4th time I’ve gotten off topic and I still haven’t mentioned Drury or Briere?  The reason that is the title is because heading into the 07 offseason they were both UFA’s if you recall.  And all the experts were ranking Drury as the bigger fish to land than Briere, and me being young and dumb I thought they were idiots.  Briere was clearly the more flashy and talented of the 2 players, and he was 2 years younger.  So why was Drury SO special?  Because Drury knew how to play the middle and Briere scorer who happened to play the middle.

 

Now, Briere was in fact the better signing of the 2 as it turned out because Drury ran into injury problems and really slowed down after only a year or two in New York.  But that’s not the point.  The Flyers ended up putting Briere on the wing almost instantly and rarely used him at center when they had a fully healthy roster.  He is extremely clutch, but he’s one dimensional.  Drury was clutch too if you recall, and he could be used in any situation.  THIS is what the Oilers need Gagner to be.

 

The 50 point seasons will come, I have very little doubt of that.  My concern is the rest of his game.  Can he get over 50% in the dot (or even 48 for that matter)?  Can he become a better player from the top of the circles to the goal line in his own zone?  Can he start winning puck battles?  If he can become this type of player, then the Oilers can win with him as their 2nd line center.  If not, he’ll have value around the league, but he won’t have much to the Oilers because he just simply won’t fit.  He has to start at least showing signs of being this type of player this season.  If he doesn’t, then the Oilers brass will need to start thinking with their heads, not their hearts when it comes to Sam Gagner’s future with the club.

 

Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups