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.

 

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