Click click click click. All about getting those clicks! So this piece isn’t about the NFL, it isn’t about the NBA, it isn’t even about another NHL team and their success. Nope. The large majority of my audience are Oiler fans and so I’m going to discuss the Oilers again. And even though they’re still kind of/sort of alive in the playoff hunt and Connor McDavid due back after the all-star break (I’m guessing the day they announced that he was actually cleared, but obviously you understand it), and in a sick sort of way I am kind of fascinated as to how the Oilers ended up on this run of being the worst franchise in all of sports (yes, including the 76ers). And when I look at it, the root of this problem all goes back to Kevin Lowe and Kevin Prendergast. They are still to blame after all these years.
All Oiler fans always look at who to blame. Steve Tambellini, Craig MacTavish, Dallas Eakins, Ralph Kruger, Chris Pronger, on and on and on. Not to say that they haven’t pointed the finger at Kevin Lowe a ton. They definitely have. But it’s nothing that Lowe did recently. This all dates back to his days as the Oilers GM, and his running mate, head scout Prendergast. It’s these 2 who combined to run this ship completely into the ground.
My first question is…what the hell happened?!? In the early-mid 2000’s the Edmonton Oilers were known for being a very hard working team with little talent but with guys who did all the little things right. Big, tough, play a complete game. In the 80’s it was always deemed that playing “Oilers hockey” was to be fast, skilled and tough. In the 2000’s playing “Oilers hockey” was to be fast, gritty as hell, and playing a 200 foot game. Oiler fans at this time got so frustrated with the team because while the work ethic was there, the finish never was. PP always struggled, they never really had a true top line, they rolled 4 lines and the 4th line was normally the best in the league.
Kevin Lowe watched THAT team go to the 2006 Stanley Cup final, and I hope I’m not being a homer here but let’s be honest: If Dwayne Roloson doesn’t get hurt, the Oilers win that Cup.
He basically built a would be Stanley Cup champion. And while the exodus was on in the summer of 06, why in the hell would you go away from building your team that way? Yet Lowe did.
Then, the 1 guy who wanted to stay, the guy who was the heart and soul of the team, Lowe decides to not give an extra $500,000 per year to, and thus deals Ryan Smyth for a package of guys who ended up giving the organization absolutely NOTHING. Lowe maintained after the trade that they were going to be a big buyer in the 2007 offseason. They struck out early in free agency though, and though I cannot remember who was interviewing him, Lowe admitted that had he known prices were going to be high in free agency (since they never are…) he would have signed Smyth to the extension. Holy f*** that is embarrassing management…
Anyway, while it’s pretty clear Lowe lost his marbles the minute Chris Pronger’s trade demands went public in the summer of 2006, it wasn’t just that which got the Oilers to the place they’re currently in, and he didn’t lose it but rather never had it.
One of the first things that always blows my mind was the decision to essentially do away with developing prospects. Kevin Lowe coming out of the 05 lockout made the decision to do away with a farm team. Think about that. He actually made the decision to put his prospects futures in the hands of other teams. It wasn’t until the 10-11 season that the Oilers had their own farm team. They had an affiliation for a couple years in Springfield, but they didn’t own the team. So it was basically a joke. But in an era that it became CRUCIAL to develop your prospects, Lowe decided to do away with it.
Another thing is the 2003 draft really haunts the Oilers. Arguably the best draft in NHL history, and they came away with 1 guy who played over 300 games (Kyle Brodziak). Conversely, the San Jose Sharks came away with 4 guys who played over 600 games. The Blackhawks walked out with Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford and Dustin Byfuglien. Then of course you have the Anaheim Ducks.
Why are they special? It’s not because they got 2 studs. Nashville did. Philly did. I’ve laid this out on here before, but it’s because Kevin Lowe very literally should have had both Getzlaf and Perry. Had he not tried to get cute and trade back from the 17th pick, the guy they coveted (big 2 way RH shot centre) was there for them in Getzlaf. I can’t find the rankings, but I believe Getzlaf was 12th on Bob McKenzie’s list (from a page I found…not a TSN page…dated June 18th, 2003). He was the 2nd best player left on Bob’s list (Parise was 1st). But of course they traded back because Lowe and Pendergast always thought they were the smartest guys in the room.
Later that year, the Mike Comrie mess came up. Bryan Murray and Kevin Lowe had a deal done for Comrie that was going to see the then Mighty Ducks 1st round pick in 04, along with Corey Perry for Comrie. Lowe got cold feet and then asked Comrie to pay his bonus money back to the Oilers to complete the deal. The deal he did netted the Oilers Rob Schremp and Jeff Woywitka (later moved in the Chris Pronger trade). Getzlaf and Perry….wouldn’t have sucked seeing them as Oilers!
Maybe the biggest problem all these years later however (and the point of this piece) was how Lowe completely ignored the blueline. As everyone knows, the Oilers blueline has been horrific since the 2009 season (when actually they had the second highest offensive production in the league from their blueline).
Glen Sather, for as much praise as he gets for building the greatest offensive squad the league has ever seen, he has always made sure the blueline is solid. Lowe on the other hand essentially ignored it. When Sather left after the 2000 season, the Oilers had one of the best young bluelines in hockey with Roman Hamrlik, Janne Niinimaa, Jason Smith, and Tom Poti (at the TIME it was). 3 years later, Lowe had moved out all 3 of those 4 and only got 1 young D-man back. Combine that, with this fact:
In Kevin Lowe’s entire tenure as GM, the Oilers ONCE used a 1st round pick on a defenseman, and never their top 1st round pick. Alex Plante 07 went 15th, their second 1st of that draft. From the 2000 draft until the 2008 draft. Believe it or not this is off the top of my head (those who know me, know this is true). Alexei Mikhnov, Ales Hemsky, Jesse Niinimaki, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Devan Dubnyk, Rob Schremp, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner, Riley Nash, Jordan Eberle. The only time they ever used their first pick on a D-man was in 2006 when they took Jeff Petry 45th overall, whom Craig MacTavish went on to completely f*** up.
Lowe did trade for D-men. But as we all know now, the trade market in the NHL really started drying up around 2010 or so (ironically right when the Oilers rebuild began). So Lowe could no longer go pull a Chris Pronger or Lubomir Visnovsky out of his ass.
Why has Calgary’s rebuild gone smoothly? Giordano and Brodie. The Flames have always put much more of an emphasis on D whether it be the Darryl Sutter era or the Jay Feaster era or the current Burke/Treliving era. It’s happening in Toronto too. Rielly, Gardiner, say what you want about Phaneuf but he’s an established top 4 guy. And it’s pretty tough to pin it on Steve Tambellini or Craig MacTavish that they didn’t try to draft and develop D-men.
Name the draft where Tambellini should have taken a D-man with his 1st pick. 09? They got what looked to be a gift when Paajarvi fell into their lap at 10. Save your “Ryan Ellis”. Ryan Ellis is hid behind a couple of studs in Nashville and doesn’t have the quickness at his size in my opinion to be anything more than a number 5 while being a PP QB. 2010? You weren’t passing on either Hall or Seguin. 2011? How’s Adam Larsson working out? 2012? How’s Ryan Murray working out?
Steve Tambellini, while he was anything but an aggressive GM, did appear to make a deal for a damn good D-man. People forget (except those who read this shit because I always remind you) that Ryan Whitney was playing tremendous hockey in his first 54 games as an Oiler. He had 27 points in 34 games to start the 2010-11 season. He was ridiculed for playing a soft game in Pittsburgh and Anaheim, yet seem to be shedding that label with the Oilers. Then game 35 happened and essentially ended his career. He had the foot injury, was out for the rest of that season, and never could get his skating back to the level it was at.
By this point you’re probably saying “trade one of the kids for D”. Well, for starters as you should know by now trades just aren’t easy to do in the league in the last 5 or 6 years. Add to that, in a deal for a defencemen worthwhile you normally need a decent young D-man going back the other way and they haven’t had that. But it always makes me laugh when so many in the media get on the Oilers for this and then don’t have an answer as to what the deal was that they could have done. EVERYONE wants to say how they need to deal their kids, but nobody has EVER suggested what should be coming back. It is almost as if the media just wants big trades so they have something to talk about….
Also, as much as everyone rips on the Oilers scouting, if you look from the 2010 draft on Stu McGregor and company did a decent job. Not GREAT, but much improved. The only time you can really point to them messing up was when a large portion of the war room wanted to take Boone Jenner 31st overall in 2011, yet they took scout Frank Musil’s kid David instead. But even in that case, the fans weren’t crying at the time. David had been projected to be a top 5 pick in that draft the season prior, and we all knew even with taking Klefbom the night before that the blueline and goaltending needed to be the focus on day 2 of that draft (which it was). The scouts still walked away from that draft with Nugent-Hopkins, Klefbom and Tobias Rieder. Pretty good haul.
It all goes back on Lowe and Prendergast. Don’t get me wrong here, Craig MacTavish without a doubt didn’t help matters and made a horrific hire in Dallas Eakins along with wasting a ton of cap space on 5/6 defencemen. Justin Schultz has been a complete bust, they screwed up Jeff Petry, lots has happened since Lowe and Prendergast were running the show. Would they have returned to the Cup final since 06? No, but they wouldn’t have been the laughing stock they’ve been. In an era where you desperately need to have home grown D, the Oilers have had nothing.
Just now, we are starting to see things change on that front. Nurse and Klefbom are pillars. Brandon Davidson has been properly developed and looks to be at least a solid number 5 guy moving forward. This season they’re having a great year with kids developing on the blueline. William Lagesson, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear and Ziyat Paigin are all having real good seasons. Maybe not ironically however…none of these players are really on the Oilers watch just yet. Still, it is a very encouraging sign that 5 of the last 7 defencemen they’ve drafted are really trending up, and the other 2, Ben Betker and John Marino, are 2 guys that I personally really like as prospects.
This season really sucks for Oiler fans, because on one hand things are finally looking up. It isn’t just hope, they’re improving a lot in every area. Better in net, better defensively, they aren’t quitting on games, they’re playing a bit more gritty. But on the other hand, McDavid got hurt, Klefbom got hurt, and they’re once again at the bottom of the standings.
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