The 2014-15 season has mercifully come to an end for the Edmonton Oilers, a year that saw them reach historic lows in terms of their record. The Oilers came into the season with little expectation, but also with the assumption that things couldn’t really get worse. Well, they did, although baby steps seemed to be taken after Dallas Eakins was fired in December. We still don’t now if the team plans to keep Todd Nelson on as head coach. He got more out of the players the Eakins did, and it presents the classic problem: is the coach not capable or are the personal not good enough?
Now, the Oilers have a to wait a few days to find out where will they pick in this year’s draft. The odds give them 11.5% chance to selected number one, and get the rights to young phenom Connor McDavid. It’s best not to hold out hope for that, but it could happen. The bigger question is, will the Oilers start to see some improvement, or is next season going to be more of the same? There are three major issues with this Oilers lineup, to go along with one giant overriding problem.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Oilers have struggled in net. They used five different goalies this season, though poor Tyler Bunz and his one period of play shouldn’t really count. Ben Scrivens got the lion’s share of the workload, starting in 53 games and winning 15 of them. He posted a 3.16 goals against average and .890 save percentage. Not sparkling numbers by any means. I don’t want to pile on Scrivens but he constantly found himself out of position, giving up rebounds, and not being able to recover in time to make saves. On a bad team, sometimes the goalie gets a slight pass because the defence hung him out to dry, but Scrivens’ bad positioning, and his propensity to go swimming around the crease isn’t the fault of the defenders.
Viktor Fasth put up worse numbers, starting in 24 games and winning six. I look at Fasth as being a decent back-up, but his 3.41 GAA and .888 SV% don’t inspire a lot of confidence. But, I still feel more comfortable with him as oppose to Scrivens. Richard Bachman actually put up somewhat decent numbers in his seven appearances this season. (2.84 GAA and .911 SV%). The bright spot in the Oilers crease was the play of Laurent Brossoit. He only made one start but he was lights out. Could he be a part of the future here? I think so. But in terms of saying they should go with a combo of either Bachman/Fasth or Bachman/Brossoit, I’m not so sure. The patch-work goalie experiment needs to end.
Possible Solutions via trade/free agency: Cam Talbot, Robin Lehner, Cam Ward, Antii Niemi, Karri Ramo, Jimmy Howard.
2. Center Ice
We’ve seen a lot of growth from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins before he got hurt this season. He was putting up points to the same degree as many a first line center in the NHL. I’m not going to say with all certainty that RNH is the right top centerman for the Oilers, but he’s not the wrong one either. He is showing he can hold his own against tough competition. Would I like to see him slotted into that number two centerman spot? In a perfect world, yes. Excuse while I enter into dreamworld: Imagine, for a moment, that the Oilers traded for a guy like Eric Staal, who is rumored to be available for Carolina. He jumps into that number one role, while RNH continues to develop with less minutes in the number two spot. They re-sign Derek Roy and have Anton Lander on the forth line. That’s a decent centerman group. Okay, I’m back into reality now.
(I didn’t forget Leon Draisaitl. But I’d like to see him start on the wing, similar to Alex Galchenyuk in Montreal). Back to Roy, the Oilers would be well served re-sign him. He had amazing chemistry with Nail Yakupov, and he seems to be that calming veteran presence that the dressing room sorely needs. He has expressed an interest to stay in Edmonton, and he won’t cost an arm and a leg. That’s an easy one for me. As for Lander, his 20 points in 38 games surprised me. He didn’t log a ton of minutes but he didn’t look out of place either. He’s certainly a guy that is a part of their bottom-six moving forward.
In terms of what’s available through free agency, the pickings are slim. That’s not to say they wouldn’t bring in a guy like Antoine Vermette for example. And just to go back to the imaginary Eric Staal trade, that’s a tough deal to make. The Oilers don’t really have a lot of viable assets to move, and the guys that carry the most value are the ones they need to hang onto. Does that mean we won’t see a blockbuster trade? I have no idea really, but Craig MacTavish did recently express that Taylor Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov are all safe and won’t be traded. That doesn’t mean much to me because GM’s lie all the time, but we’ll see. And what if they move up in the lottery and draft either McDavid or Eichel? Well that’s a totally different story.
When the Oilers traded Jeff Petry for peanuts at the trade deadline, it signified one of the major problems in Edmonton throughout their rebuild. They develop homegrown talent very poorly, they don’t build properly around them, they don’t create an environment in which players can thrive and grow, and thus they don’t use them in the right role for which they are suited. The Oilers didn’t see Petry as part of the future. That’s their choice. He’s not a top defenceman but he’s not a terrible one either. They needed him to play top-two minutes because they had few other options and it was too much for him. He was never going to succeed under those circumstances. If you want to know why the Oilers have a bad reputation in terms of developing draft picks, he’s a good example.
The defence overall has been pretty terrible in Edmonton, starting with their captain. I understand the desire to bring in veteran experience. But Andrew Ference isn’t a very good player. Sure, he looked fine sheltered in Boston, but his flaws were exposed playing tough minutes on the Oilers. Then there’s Justin Schultz, who may be best served as the next Brent Burns (defenceman turned winger). Schultz doesn’t like to shoot the puck, yet he was billed to be a powerplay quarterback at one time. Is he victim to misuse as Petry was? Possibly, or maybe he’s just not that good.
The Oilers have Darnell Nurse in the system, but he’s still a raw talent and really needs to be sheltered if he makes the team next season. Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin aren’t terrible, but Nikita Nikitin was a disaster. In terms of what it will take to fix the defence, it’s definitely a work in progress. I stand by my opinion that the Oilers should draft NCAA blueliner Noah Hanifin, but even if they do, that still leaves some holes to fill.
Possible Free Agent Signings: Mike Green, Paul Martin, Christian Ehrhoff, Andrej Sekera, Cody Franson.
Let’s face it. I can go on and on about the problems on the Oilers roster, but the one that is most glaring to me is the management team. Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish aren’t making this team better. MacTavish said that he feels the team is “visibly better”. Now is he just saying that as to not throw people under the bus, or does he actually believe it? If MacT thinks this team is on the right track, I have serious reservations about his ability to build an NHL roster.
I understand you can’t just trade everyone. I understand they do have a lot of good young talent. But the three problems I outlined happen to be the most important on any team. Does Oilers management have the wherewithal to start improving these areas? I stand by my belief that it’s time to clean house from top to bottom in terms of the GM and all his assistants/advisers. Even the scouts may need to go. The Toronto Maple Leafs just fired everyone. It’s possible to do that. The Oilers haven’t made the playoffs in nine years, and they actually got worse this season. But maybe we just need to be patient, right? Okay I couldn’t type that with a straight face.
Marcy, a former hockey player, is a hockey correspondent on CTV News and TSN radio. She began her career as a Sports Journalist in 2009 and has been part of The Hockey Writers since 2010, where she is currently a senior writer and editor.