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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