New Decade, New Faith, New Edmonton Oilers?

There are a lot of things to be thankful for if you’ve been an Edmonton Oilers fan over the past decade: the Oilers drafted Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the team made the playoffs during the 2016-17 season and the franchise has got some great building-block pieces in the defensive prospect pipeline that could be huge difference-makers over the next few seasons.

Unfortunately, with all the good came some bad. The 2016-17 playoff run was the only one since the magical run of the 2006-07 postseason and there’s real concern the Oilers are wasting some of the best years of McDavid’s and Draisaitl’s career.

While fans recuperate from their partying on New Year’s, and when the smoke clears and the dust settles, one of the first questions they might ask is, ‘Will this be a better decade for the Oilers organization? And, if so, how much better?’

Related: Oilers History: The Paul Coffey Effect

What Has to Improve for the Oilers

The Oilers need to stop accepting defeat as a way of life. Thus far, a better season in 2019-20, things are looking optimistic. That said, the last few weeks have seen the Oilers teetering on the edge of veering back to their old ways. The team started out like gangbusters only to lose a string of contests and drop out of the playoff picture.

Edmonton Oilers Zack Kassian, Darnell Nurse, Jujhar Khaira Leon Draisaitl
Edmonton Oilers Zack Kassian, Darnell Nurse, Jujhar Khaira and Leon Draisaitl (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Amber Bracken)

With their win against the Rangers to close out 2019, they’re back in the postseason standings, but the past decade was consistently a decade where the team used excuses like “rebuild” or “structural changes” and “patience” as key descriptors. These were just ways to ask the fans to understand that playoffs, for the most part, were a fairy tale. Starting in 2020, those are no longer acceptable adjectives to describe this franchise.

You can see it in the attendance issues this season. Fans have grown tired of empty promises and it won’t take long before the players do too. He doesn’t seem at all the type, but another three or four seasons of losing hockey and how long before McDavid hints that a change is needed? Considering how attached Draisaitl is to playing the McDavid, it’s logical to assume he’d follow suit. (It would be like Jari Kurri and Wayne Gretzky all over again.)

With the glass-is-half-empty talk out of the way, this new decade needs to start with a victorious attitude, one that screams losing is not “ok”. That might mean finding a rental this season, keeping strong players like Zack Kassian or Darnell Nurse or hunting for help in free agency.

Related: Oilers Need Kassian but Not at Any Cost

What Is Already Improving For Oilers

There’s already been a big change in philosophy in Edmonton when it comes to the way the Oilers operated. Some may argue positive things the old GM did while at the helm and that we should all cut him a little slack, but one of the big mistakes of the past decade was the hiring of Peter Chiarelli. One of the big wins was removing him from the GM position and bringing in Ken Holland.

Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland
Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Prospect Development

Within months, fans are now aware that recently drafted and still-developing prospects won’t be pushed into the NHL. Holland went out and signed a plethora of one-year contracts to ensure the over-ripening of young talent and in 2019, Jesse Puljuarvi was the prime example of how Holland simply won’t cave when it comes to doing the right thing for this team moving forward.

This trend needs to continue until those young players are ready to regularly contribute.

Pro-Scouting Is Better

Look at the players Edmonton brought in this year versus years past. Not every addition has been a real winner but over years past, things are moving in the right direction.

Holland isn’t tied to long-term deals, his short-term plans are more-or-less contributing and he seems to be able to recognize actual talent in areas the team needs help. From speed to depth and special teams, Edmonton added in areas where the team needed help in today’s NHL. The Oilers didn’t simply add because players were willing to come here.

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What Could Pose Problems for the Oilers

The cap situation is tricky and Edmonton has some money tied up for the next couple of seasons that make some of the decisions Holland needs to make more difficult. That includes not overspending on Kassian or too hefty a deal for Nurse. After that, things look promising.

Edmonton Oilers Darnell Nurse
Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

If Holland can navigate through the muck for one or two more years and remain competitive, he’s got long-term contracts in place that could look like steals, if they don’t already. As the cap grows, the McDavid and Draisaitl deals will look marvelous. Oscar Klefbom comes in at a friendly number considering how much he’s used and as these prospects enter the NHL, they’ll be on financially friendly NHL contracts with team control to boot.

Will the Next Decade Be Full Of Playoff Appearances?

Only time will tell where the Oilers will rank in terms of playoff appearances compared to other NHL teams. That said, it stands to reason the organization will do more than make one playoff appearance over the span of a decade.

Hopefully that starts this season.

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