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.
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.
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.
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