The Edmonton Oilers have had a dismal and disappointing season to be sure. In a year where much more was expected, they have fallen flat on their collective faces.
Unfortunately in a final month of games where they are simply playing the stretch, the much maligned Oilers management still has work to do.
There is evaluating left to do and some decisions made before going into the offseason. While it is dangerous to base decisions on this time of year, there really isn’t much of a choice.
This is not a list of what their needs are or who they should target in the offseason, while there is certainly much to talk about there, it is a topic for a future article.
These are the five main areas for Craig MacTavish and his staff to get some clarity on while there are still games being played. Areas that could still affect the focus for the offseason.
Is Ben Scrivens the Future No.1?
The Oilers have not had a legitimate No.1 goaltender in some time and it has been a question that has plagued the team for the last number of years. Many had hoped Devan Dubnyk would grow into the role, and it just never happened.
One thing that can be said for MacTavish, he hasn’t been idle trying to address the position, using a record six different goaltenders this season. Currently the team has Scrivens and Viktor Fasth, both acquired within the last couple of months. They are certainly an upgrade to the tandem who started the season for the Oilers, but are they enough?
It certainly has looked like Scrivens will be given the opportunity this season as well as next to prove he is a legitmate top netminder. Perhaps not a question to answer by the end of this season, as they have given him a new two year deal, but the Oilers have had enough of a goalie carousel and would love nothing more than one main man in Oil Country.
Scrivens has made a favourable impression in his brief time in Edmonton posting a .927 save percentage in 14 games and has given the Oilers a chance to win in most of his starts, despite being outshot in most of them.
The Defense: Who Stays, Who Goes?
A position of weakness to be sure. They have some good pieces on the blueline, the issue is that they are playing out of their depth. Justin Schultz is an excellent young defenseman with the potential to be an elite offensive player in the league. The problem is that he is not ready to be a No.1 and has been logging 23:26 of ice time for the Oilers. He should be in a second pairing and be allowed to grow into the role.
Andrew Ference and Jeff Petry are solid NHL defensemen. They also are not top pairing players and should be in a No. 3 or 4 role. Unfortunately they also have been asked to do too much on an Oilers team that is already one of the weakest defensively as a whole.
Those three, regardless of where they slot in, aren’t going anywhere so the question is; of the rest who stays and who goes?
They already shipped out Nick Schultz and lost Corey Potter to waivers so that leaves a group of Philip Larsen, Anton Belov, Mark Fraser, Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin to ponder.
The latter two are prospects and will be in the organization be it Edmonton or Oklahoma City. The other three are all free agents with Larsen an RFA. Fraser will likely be brought back on a short term deal as he provides toughness and is familiar with Dallas Eakins. Belov is the wild card as he has been inconsistent and enigmatic in his first year in North America. The team will also look to bring him back on a short term deal if the money is reasonable.
Ideally the team would like to bring in a couple a of top pairing guys and have two or three of those previous names fight it out for depth positions. Their play over the next month could seal their fate one way or the other.
Are Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin Ready for Prime Time?
Further to the previous question, where will Klefbom and Marincin slot in? Both have played relatively well in their time with the Oilers to give them a better than average shot of a full time role in 2014-15. Of course what the team does in the offseason will impact that.
Marincin has been up more and played in 34 games averaging 18:32 and has been a +2. That may not sound impressive until you realize he is the only player on the roster with a plus rating. If he continues with his current rate of play he will have ensured himself a spot on next year’s blue line.
Klefbom has only been up 7 games and had more sheltered ice time. He has been good in limited minutes, but hasn’t played enough just yet for the team to know what they have. He will have the remainder of the year to show the Oilers brass he is worthy of being a first round selection by the team.
Anton Lander: Future Oiler or Just Really Good AHLer?
Lander has had an excellent season in Oklahoma City. He’s been the team’s best player, has been named captain and has played in all situations. The Oilers are hoping that will allow him to realize his potential at the NHL level.
He has been given opportunities in previous years only to be returned to the AHL. He made the Oilers in his rookie season, playing in 56 games in 2011-12, however was sent back part way through the year and only managed to het into 11 games in 2012-13.
Known as a two way centre that plays hard and brings both skill and intangibles, he has yet to put it all together in the NHL. However there has been a noticeable improvement in his game this season both in terms of leadership and offence and has led the Barons with 48 points in 43 games.
He has been up for 17 games so far and will have the rest of the season to prove he is worthy of a full time role with the Oilers going into next season.
Optimism or Pessimism?
One of the most important questions, will be how the team ends 2013-14 and the attitude going into the offseason.
Coming into this season there was a sense of optimism and anticipation. With a new leadership group of MacTavish and Eakins preaching a change of culture, this was going to be the year the team took a leap forward.
Not only have they not done so but they look to have even taken a small step backwards. There have been signs of improvement lately and aside from an embarrassing 8-1 loss to Calgary on Saturday, the team had been playing some if it’s best hockey.
Additions in goal of Scrivens and Fasth, an injection of sandpaper with Matt Hendricks and Mark Fraser as well as the health of other players have given a glimmer of hope going forward.
Will Oilers fans be too jaded at this point, or will there be enough positives at the end of April for some optimism for 2014-15?
There isn’t much to play for in the last month of games in terms of the standings, but one would hope they respect the fans of Edmonton to provide them some hope for the future in their remaining games.
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Carl covers the Edmonton Oilers for THW as well as providing additional prospect coverage. Follow him on twitter @carlTHW, connect on Facebook or contact at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions, comments or if you’re interested in him writing for you.