Oilers and Islanders Follow Similar Paths

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is one of a number of young forwards giving Oilers fans hope for the future. (Vincent Muzik/Icon SMI)

The Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders are in similar stages in their rebuilding plans, relying on growing groups of forwards that will attempt to carry their respective teams back to their former glory.

It is not just since the lockout either, where both teams have had remarkably parallel success, or lack thereof really, in the six seasons since the 2004-05 season was cancelled for the labor strike. Both teams have averaged 34 wins and 77 points per season and made the playoffs just once, though the Oilers had a much better time, making it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in 2006 while the Islanders were bounced in five games in the first round the following season.

Since the Oilers entered the NHL, coming over after rival league WHA folded at the end of the 1978-79 season, the two teams have had similar runs at similar times. The Islanders learned a lot of hard lessons at the end of the 70s about winning in the playoffs, but they were able to parlay that experience into one of the greatest dynasties the league has ever seen. While they were busy winning four Stanley Cups and a record 19 consecutive playoff series, Edmonton was busy learning lessons of their own.

Their makeup was very much the same in that time as the teams were led by some of the most prolific forwards in Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Mark Messier; top defensemen Dennis Potvin and Paul Coffey; clutch players Clark Gillies and Glenn Anderson and money goaltenders Billy Smith and Grant Fuhr. The two teams faced each other in the Stanley Cup final two seasons in a row in 1982-83 and ’83-84 and that was when the Islanders reluctantly passed the torch to Gretzky’s Oilers as the next, and so far last, great dynasty. The two teams combined for eight Stanley Cups in the 1980s.

The 1990s saw both teams head down the road to mediocrity and recently the full-on rebuilds have commenced. Once again, it is the forwards who are going to bring the teams back to glory asNew York and Edmonton both have the young  hotshots  who have the potential to do so. New York has the highly underrated and largely unnoticed John Tavares, 30-goal scorer Matt Moulson, 2006 7th overall pick Kyle Okposo and slick playmaker P.A. Parenteau along with grinders Frans Nielson, who led the NHL in shorthanded goals last year, and Matt Martin, who leads the league in hits this year by a wide margin.

John Tavares and Matt Moulson are going to need a lot of help to snap the Islanders' 17-year streak without a playoff series victory. (BridgetDS/Flickr)

The Oilers have a trio of first round picks leading their resurgance in Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the latter two of which have been the first picks in each of the past two drafts. What both teams need to start worrying about now is defense and goaltending. The Islanders have chosen a forward with their first pick in each of the past four drafts; 0the Oilers have done the same in the past five. They need help on defense because it doesn’t matter how many goals they will score if they can’t keep the puck out of the net.

Top defensemen in the 2012 draft include Ryan Murray of the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, Mathew Dumba of the Red Deer Rebels in the same league and Jacob Trouba of the U.S. National Development Team in the USHL. Any of those three would go a long way towards solidifying the blueline and helping Edmonton and New York turn things around in the coming years.

Goaltending will also be an issue. By the time the rest of the team matures and is ready to make a run at the playoffs, current starting netminders, Evgeni Nabokov for the Islanders and Nikolai Khabibulin for the Oilers, are on their way out. While they are enjoying fine seasons, Nabokov is 12-12-0, with a .925 save percentage and 2.21 GAA and Khabibulin has gone 11-15-4, with a .918 save percentage and 2.45 GAA, they are 36 and 39 years old respectively, so neither goalie will likely be around for too much longer. The Oilers have Devan Dubnyk to work with, but the Islanders could use some help though perhaps Al Montoya could prove to be worth the wait to make it into the NHL full time.

Throughout their history, they have won, fallen and rebuilt at the same time. Each team better start rooting for the other to improve in a hurry because as one triumphs or struggles, so does the other.