Trying to Figure Out the Long Term Plan

Photo by Ian Kucerak/Postmedia

Before I start today, we have a pretty big event coming to my hometown of Lloydminster on September 28th.  Eight alumni each from the Oilers and Flames will square off in the Boundary Battle of Alberta with all proceeds going toward Project Sunrise which is a terrific mental health initiative.  The event is already sold out (I believe tickets went in something like six hours, ridiculous), but why go sit in the stands when you can play in the game?  Not sure where it currently stands, but when the event was announced they had four spots available on each team for $1,000.00.  The first two names are being announced today (perhaps already have been by the time this gets posted) will be Sportsnet colour analyst and former Oiler Louie Debrusk, and former Flames defenceman, two time Stanley Cup champion, over 1,100 games in the NHL Jamie Macoun.  Both guys have reputations as being among the most genuinely great people ever to suit up in the league.  We’re not talking about guys who if you pay a grand to play next to them they’re going to treat a guy like shit and then get the hell out of there when the game is done.  Great guys with a couple thousand or so stories from their years playing hockey to tell (a lot of which I’m sure can’t be shared in public settings…).  It’s a great start to the list and I know that more great names are still to come, so if you got the dough it’d not only be worth your money but it goes towards a terrific cause.  If you’re interested, send me a DM on Twitter (@TJ_Soups) and I should be able to get you in touch with the right people to make it happen.

 

Now, how to transition from something damn good to something terrible…I’m kidding, it’s not terrible.  But if you’re impatient, as all Oilers fans should be, it’s a very hard truth to hear or read, but it’s a fact.  And the fact is that this is at least a one year rebuild for the Oilers.

 

I’m guessing very few Oilers fans, even those who view themselves as the “elite” fans, were aware of this.  Or perhaps they were trying to convince themselves otherwise.  To me, it was obvious from the moment they fired Peter Chiarelli that it would take a minimum of 18 months to undo the knot that Chiarelli tied.  I’m not a big Ken Holland fan, but it was going to take damn near a miracle for anyone to step in and turn this team into a playoff contender.  Even in trying to construct a roster myself, assuming UFA’s would sign, assuming GM’s would take my trade proposal’s, what I pieced together still wasn’t going to be anything of a sure bet and really isn’t far off what Holland has done.

 

What I find funny though is seeing people mock signings like Joakim Nygård, Gaëtan Haas, and Josh Archibald and I can’t help but think just how moronic people can be.  What is wrong with these signings?!?  Sure, they aren’t the BIG moves people want, but they’re low risk, rationale moves that this club has been begging for since…2008?  2006?  And yet the moment they’re announced, people can’t wait to shit on them.  At least you can see a plan here with Holland and it’s to put out a much faster lineup, which is one thing I was clamoring for entering the off-season.

 

But those type of moves again suggest that this is going to take a year.  Not to suggest that they’re looking to tank this season or anything along those lines.  They’re not.  They’re trying to put together as good of a lineup they can, but without killing the gains they’re making on the cap over the next few seasons.  You can’t quick fix this.  Did anyone notice it cost the Leafs a first round pick to unload a year of Patrick Marleau?  I’d guess Kris Russell would have cost a second, and can you imagine what it’d then cost to shed the rest of the Lucic deal?!?  No thank you.

 

So it is going to take some time.  And how much more damn patience are us Oilers fans going to have to display?!  Well, if you want them to put together a perennial playoff team, give them a year.  Obviously, we all want them to make the playoffs this season.  But we as fans need to have the mindset that they won’t and what we’ll see is more of what we saw last season.  For our mental health, this is a much better approach then demanding they make the playoffs ASAP.  And we must remind ourselves, we want to win Cups, not be what the Minnesota Wild or Columbus Blue Jackets have been.

 

As it currently sits, they’re going to have close to 25 million in cap space next summer.  So that’s a nice start, but it’s not just that.  A year from now, Kris Russell is much more movable with only a year left on his deal and a no-trade list that shrinks from 21 teams to 16.  I also believe that after he gets his signing bonus (whenever that is as it’s been disputed a lot in the media) Milan Lucic will be much more movable.  After his bonus is paid, Lucic will only cost 1 million dollars for the 20-21 season.  Now, before you say “yeah, but then he still has another two years left after that at a combined 9 million and a 6 mil a year cap hit”, remember that after the 20-21 season the CBA is up.  Teams are getting compliance buyouts.  At least two, maybe more.  Is he movable without penalty?  No.  But he’s much more movable, and in a year from now, Holland will have more assets stockpiled and a chance to be more aggressive.

 

You also have to go back to the draft with what I still find to be a completely bizarre use of the 8th overall pick in the draft selecting Philip Broberg.  It’s not just that it was a reach, it’s the lack of justification which came with it.  The Oilers strength in their system is the blueline, and specifically on the left side.  Add to that, Klefbom is young and locked down for four more seasons at an extremely team-friendly number, and Nurse is already a top-four D-man at 24 years old.  They already had 10 D-men 26 and under who are either on the roster or on the cusp.  Another seven defencemen in Europe, NCAA, or in the AHL.  A kid like Broberg just couldn’t have been less of a need.  BUT…

 

You have a lot of power to make trades when you’re deep on the blueline, and you will save on the cap.  Defencemen probably get overpaid more than any other position in the league.  If you’re developing them and locking them down at the right times, it can cut way down on cap mistakes.  Look at the Preds.  The only bad deal they made with their D-men was matching the Shea Weber offer sheet, which they made up for by moving him for P.K. Subban.  In turn, they’ve been able to pretty much do whatever they’ve wanted to the last few seasons.

 

The Broberg pick combined with the cap space coming up had me wondering if there wasn’t something to all the smoke around Taylor Hall possibly making a return.  Those rumours won’t go away.  And it would be one thing for them to be coming from people with zero credibility, but Elliotte Friedman has hinted at it before.  It was around the trade deadline where he said it on a podcast (can’t remember which it was, but not his own), and also talked about it on Oilers Now when asked days after.  Bob Stauffer has hinted at it a lot for several months now, and from all accounts has remained in close contact with Hall since being dealt.  Back to Friedman, who has also talked recently about Hall’s desire to play in a market where it really matters.

 

But the problem is that while fans would hear 25 million and believe they can easily go out and sign Hall for 12 million a season, they can’t.  Well, they COULD, but we’re talking shedding all of the 10 million of dead weight on the cap that Russell and Lucic eat up, AND you’d have to move out Darnell Nurse who is looking to be in line for a contract extension worth 6-7 million per season if his numbers can stay in the 30-40 point range.  Then you still likely have to go get a goaltender to be a 1B with Koskinen (if not a 1A), and even with Nurse in the lineup, you have to upgrade the blueline.  Sure, they have a lot of kids who will likely see some quality NHL minutes this upcoming season, but will kids like Jones, Persson, Bear or Lagesson be ready for top-four minutes after next season?  HIGHLY unlikely.

 

But the thing about the Oilers is that they don’t need another star like Hall.  Filling the holes they have better would take this team from the outhouse to the penthouse.  Mikael Granlund, Alex Galchenyuk, Chris Kreider, Robin Lehner, Jared Spurgeon, Sami Vatanen, Justin Faulk, there are a lot of guys who might get to the open market who would be great fits for what the Oilers really need.

 

Giving them a year to focus on a build rather than to be dusted in five by the Sharks would also give them a chance to really implement a lot of kids to save even more cap space.  Benson, Jones, Persson, Lagesson, Yamamoto, and Bouchard are all kids who are either going to push for spots on the roster or should be ready to go for the start of the 20-21 season.

 

So this very possibly could be what their plan i.  If so, I believe it’s fair to say “ok, one year build, next year playoffs, the year after that is when they’ll be able to put out a true contender”.  For those of you fearing a McDavid trade request if this is the case, he’s not going to ask out if they have a very legitimate plan.  You can miss the playoffs trending up and miss the playoffs trending down.  Sure, shit could hit the fan once again this season and be a nightmare and if that’s the case then he just may finally snap.  But more than likely they’ll be more competitive this season and if they do miss the playoffs they’ll at least do so trending up.  The kids gain experience, the system gets stronger, the cap space increases, and the organization at least has a GM who isn’t going to piss away any asset or cap space he can get his hands on.  That’s a BIG improvement over how things have been here.

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