The Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in similar situations after a terribly disappointing playoff run that saw neither franchise make it out of the first round. Both teams feel like they should have performed better and each respective organization is wondering what the heck went wrong.
The Oilers were slotted as favorites against the Winnipeg Jets but were swept in four games. The Maple Leafs were favorites over the Montreal Canadiens but blew a 3-1 series lead. Both teams are now surrounded by questions when it comes to the future of their rosters and whether or not the GMs and coaches have what it takes to usher these respective clubs forward.
It makes sense that fans and insiders might be making comparisons between the two clubs, but as similar as their situations appear to be, they’re actually incredibly different.
Wildly Different Questions About Leafs and Oilers Core
The overwhelming view from Oilers fans and media after losing for the second-straight year against a “weaker” first-round opponent is that there’s not enough depth on this squad. Critics suggest Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl did all they could but couldn’t push the rest of the team forward when up against a deeper Jets roster. It’s probably an accurate assessment, even if McDavid and Draisaitl were kept off the scoreboard for the first two games.
There’s absolutely no talk coming out of Edmonton that the team will consider trading any of their key assets. At most, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is potentially moving on, but there are questions about whether or not he should be considered part of the core and the Oilers may elect to keep him if the money is right.
The same can’t be said about Toronto and they are facing a potentially much different future.
As skilled as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares are, there are real questions in Toronto after a third-straight season where the players making the most money didn’t come through. Is drastic change is needed? Everyone is wondering if the Leafs can ultimately succeed with so much money invested into these four forwards and, in some cases, whether or not these forwards have the postseason goods.
For the Oilers, it’s about finding the supplementary pieces. For the Maple Leafs, it’s about whether or not the elite talent can be elite at the right times.
Leafs Building Strategy Being Questioned, Oilers Strategy to Unfold This Summer
While it’s not a good look that the Oilers failed to move beyond the first round, there’s optimism in Edmonton because this team has never really been built in the image of their new general manager Ken Holland. Holland has done an effective job adding pieces to the puzzle with little money, but the real meat of this team was not constructed by him and this summer will be Holland’s first crack and putting the pieces in place he wants to.
This is not to assume he’ll do a good job shaping the Oilers ‘ roster in his image (time will tell), but he’s getting his first real crack at it this summer.
On the other hand, this version of the Maple Leafs is 100% a Dubas-built team. He got the core players signed he wanted to, he moved money around and changed his philosophy — aiming at more experience, leadership and grit this past offseason — and he and Brendan Shanahan made big trades to offload players he felt the team could do without. He added the supplementary pieces he targeted and got many of those pieces to take incredibly low salaries for an opportunity to play with the Leafs and compete for a Stanley Cup.
Outside of a couple untimely injuries, there is no question, this Leafs roster was the roster the organization envisioned.
Next Steps for Oilers and Maple Leafs
For the Maple Leafs, the future is unclear. They will have to decide what they want to do now and there are going to be differing opinions internally. Will the ownership group of MLSE be on the same page as Dubas and Shanahan? Will the team stay the course or switch things up? Is it just small changes that are needed or it is finally time to move a key member of the team?
For the Oilers, there’s work to do, but it’s clear what the team needs: at least one top-six forward (maybe two), a third-line center and a replacement for Oscar Klefbom if he’s unable to go. From there, it’s about moving around a little salary, solidifying the goaltending, and getting a bit tougher to play against.
Edmonton has their core and a handful of players bubbling up and ready to take on bigger roles. Between McDavid, Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse, and to a lesser extent Evan Bouchard, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Ethan Bear, it’s what Holland adds around these pieces that counts. Dubas has already done what Holland is about to do. Dubas added to his core and it’s not worked. He now has to ask himself if his core is right and if so, does he has the courage to stick to what he thought was the right strategy? If not, does he have the stones to abandon his game plan?
It’s a huge offseason for both teams. That said, one has to wonder which GM will have a harder job to do and whether or not they can do it.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”