MacTavish Asks Oilers Fanbase for Patience (Again)

Earlier today Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish addressed the media in his end of season press conference and once again painfully preached patience to an Oilers fanbase that hasn’t seen a playoff game in almost a decade.

“I think we can be a competitive team, for sure, but we’ve got to make additions there. For me, it gets to how much we’re going to pay in terms of developing assets for proven assets that are declining assets, potentially declining assets. The minute that developing asset intersects with that declining asset, that’s when you regret it.

That’s really the gist and the crux of our decision making now going through to next year, because make no mistake, we have the assets that we can go out and acquire more proven players. But these players are going to be, in all likelihood, declining players and is that going to be the best strategy for our hockey club?”

The main takeaways for the fanbase is as follows.

Need To Play Better Team Defense

During the player exit interviews the sentiment was clear — the team needs to have a stronger commitment to team defense for the Oilers to have any inkling of success next season. There is always the possibility of MacTavish making a play on the market and acquiring a veteran top-four defenseman via trade or UFA signing but he seems opposed to trading assets in terms of prospects and draft picks on a declining asset. If the Oilers make a play on the market expect them to be age conscientious.

“Do I envision a scenario where a proven top one or top two defenceman becomes available? Potentially. I think there are going to be some very unhappy teams here in the next couple of weeks.

There are going to be some teams that are up against a very tight salary cap and that’s going to create an environment where they could potentially be looking to off-load some high-end assets and we’d be in a position, because of some of the developing assets we have, that we’d be able to acquire them, and the money that we have.”

Even with the Oscar Klefbom and Justin Schultz pairing, management needs to address the defensive core but needs to find a balance between the developing assets in the system (ie. Martin Marincin, Darnell Nurse, David Musil) and possible diminishing assets. The underlying truth here might be that players like Nikita Nikitin, Mark Fayne and more importantly Andrew Ference will be phased out as the younger group comes along and gets support so they don’t fail.

Nothing but praise for Klefbom who is developing strong and the internal belief is that he’s a growing prospect and maturing at a rate they are happy with. In a nut-shell he’s a well-rounded prospect who just needs experience. MacT even went as far as saying we need more Klefbom’s

That said Schultz apparently wasn’t happy with his season.

MacTavish feels Schultz knows his strengths and his weaknesses now and where his focus needs to be. Although with the Oilers playing a majority of the time in the defensive end it doesn’t bode well for his defensive game. In MacTavish’s eyes Schultz is making steps in the right direction and its just going to take time before fans witness the finished product.

Goaltending Is A Work In Progress

Goaltending is still up in the air with Ben Scrivens likely returning next season. It’s clear Viktor Fasth will likely walk this summer and a number of goalies are on the UFA market or there are situations in the league where goalies are available.

Teams will inquire about Cam Ward (Carolina) and lot’s of offers will be made to UFA’s like Antti Niemi, Devan Dubnyk etc.

The Oilers have prospects and draft picks they are open to moving to address the goaltending, but in the end the team needs to play better defensively and give their goalies a chance instead of hanging them out to dry as they have over the past few seasons.

This is all apart of the learning curve as the Oilers transition from an older to younger group of players, albeit inexperienced.

Nurse & Draisaitl Likely Starting In AHL Next Season

Fans shouldn’t expect Darnell Nurse or Leon Draisaitl to start on the main roster next season. Albeit when MacT said this he stressed he didn’t want to say no in a press conference but the supporting answers all hinted towards Nurse and Draisaitl starting 2015-16 in the AHL. Both need to prove themselves as experienced and reliable players and not just developing prospects.

Don’t Expect Ference Buy-Out This Summer

As much as fans are frustrated with the play of Oilers captain Andrew Ference it doesn’t sound like MacT is in any hurry to buy-out the struggling defenseman this summer. Ference, now 35, signed a $13M/4Y deal and has failed to live up to being a difference maker on the ice. Off the ice Ference has been great for the community but being very conscientious about recycling plastics hasn’t done well for recycling the Oilers on-ice product and his piece in it.

In the presser MacTavish was asked point blank about the progression of the leadership group and where the young core fit and he defended the job that Ference is currently doing. The message to the fans is that the young core is progressing but they won’t be thrusting the captaincy on any of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or any of the young core. Ference is here to stay much to the chagrin of the fanbase.

In the end it seems the logical process is to let his contract run out at the end of the 2016-17 season when he will be 37-years-old. $3.2M is a lot of money to be paying a third-pairing defenseman, but that contract isn’t going anywhere — by management’s choice.

No Commitment to Nelson

If there is one thing that is for certain it’s that although management admires the work interim head coach Todd Nelson has done since January sporting a 17-25-9 record, the management group has no real commitment to him at this point in time.

After the emotion dies down the team will take the due process to investigate the marketplace and look at the available coaches which reads off like a who’s who of coaches. Mike Babcock (Detroit), Todd McLellan (San Jose), Dave Tippett (Arizona) and Dan Bylsma (unaffiliated) are believed to be available this summer and it’s worth investigating.

The best Dallas Eakins could do before he was relieved of his duties with this group was 7-19-5. Comparatively speaking if MacTavish let Eakins finish the season the team would have finished with 44 points, 30th overall by a country mile in comparison to the Buffalo Sabres who finished with 54. The Oilers would still have been bad under Nelson as they collected 44 of a possible 110 points.

As much as the fanbase has grown to like Nelson, it’s owed to them that the team at least evaluates the marketplace before committing to him.

Lower Your Expectations For 2015-16

If there is one major thing to take away from the press conference it’s that next year is unfortunately another development year. Expect modest growth and not to expect draft choices to make a major impact on the team next year (Draisaitl, Nurse and the upcoming 2015 1st rounder).

The blueprint is building a three-line puck possession system with a dependable fourth-line. The building pieces are in place. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Benoit Pouliot make up the basis of the three-line offensive group with Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks making up two-thirds of the fourth-line.

That means the hunt is on for a second-line center, which could be filled internally by re-signing Derek Roy.

The third-line is a work in progress and depending on how young the Oilers want to be and how much of a natural internal progression the team wants to take.

As much as fans tire of hearing it, this is a deep draft coming up with quality players from top to bottom. It’s time for the scouting department to earn a paycheque and cash in for the organization when it matters most.

The marching orders are to build long-term success and there is no blame from management this time for the fanbase becoming impatient. It comes with the territory of being in a passionate market but good things are around the corner whether the fans want to believe it or not.