It’s easy to cast blame in hindsight than it is in the moment, a common theme amongst the Edmonton Oilers fanbase. With the Oilers currently 0-12-2 against Western Conference opponents and heading into December second to last in the NHL, the fans of this once great organization are at a wits end. Just when you think it can’t get any worse for these fans — it does.
An all but official press conference from the managerial team to say “We messed up” is all that’s left of a rebuild that went disastrously into disarray. For all the years Oilers management tried to propagate to the hockey world that they were going to rebuild through the draft following the blueprints laid in front of them by the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins namely, they have created an opposing blueprint – how NOT to rebuild a franchise.
This is a tale not unheard of and commonly echoed throughout the city of Edmonton but for the rest of the hockey world looking into the now shattered crystal ball that foresaw Stanley Cup parades on and off for the next decade there are some crucial moments in the rebuild that completely went astray.
To be fair there is equal blame for every person in the organization and this can’t be pinned solely on Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish and Dallas Eakins.
No Accountability From The Off-Ice Management To The On-Ice Product
“We have two types of fans: we have paying customers and we have people that watch the game that we still care about but certainly the people that go to the games and support we spend a lot of time talking to them, delivering our message.” – Kevin Lowe, President of Hockey Operations
Lowe has had a target on his back since the above quote in April 2013. Jonathan Willis does a fabulous job covering this in his post and the arrogance it came with. The shorthand of that being;
“From a public relations perspective, there’s simply no reason to remind this rather large group of devoted fans that they matter much less to the organization than the folks shelling out big money for season tickets. That’s one of the things that can be expressed to season-ticket holders in private.” – Jonathan Willis, Edmonton Journal
If there is one thing to do when you’re not winning it’s to turn your back on your fanbase and essentially tell them you don’t value them if they don’t spend any money to support a losing franchise. Que the booing after a blowout, the jersey throwing and “Lowe Must Go” neon billboards around town.
It’s just this sense of entitlement from the organization from the top of the managerial side to the on-ice product. For all the times the off-ice squad is dishonest (or flat out doesn’t know any better) and over-values their talent, there is a Taylor Hall who refuses to backcheck hard on a play that costs them two-points. For every time the management team bills a Justin Schultz as the next Paul Coffey (and even gets said Paul Coffey to call him and convince him to come to Edmonton), there is a Justin Schultz who is a hinderance to the team defensively.
Accountability is missing from within this organization and at the end of the day it’s the fans that are paying for it.
Firing Four Coaches In Five Years Never The Recipe For Success
Conventional thinking would say the “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me” argument came up at least once when the managerial staff assessed the need to fire four coaches in five seasons during the time the Oilers spent outside the playoff picture since the run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006.
Together Craig MacTavish, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney and Ralph Krueger combined for a 0.438W% during their tenures behind the bench which translates to an average of 72 points per season. Dallas Eakins is now in his sophomore season and has a 0.372W% over this period. Could it be possible that the reason the Oilers have been so poor isn’t because of the ability of the head coaches and instead be because of the inability of management to provide a capable NHL roster and the players inability to play within the system they’ve been given?
People, the biggest issue with the Oilers is the owner. Until he makes serious moves with his management group, they’re spinning wheels.
— Adam Proteau (@Proteautype) November 23, 2014
Bob Hartley was hired on to coach the Flames who don’t have nearly the talent the Oilers do on their roster yet has his team playing at a 0.470W% and are in the playoff race. This is mainly because the players are buying into the system and (love him or hate him) GM Jay Feaster has provided players of a varying skill set to compliment his lineup.
A magnifying effect is that with young players in the lineup and a message being changed from year to year leaves direction to be lost. This has caused a lack of defensive ownership from the players on both sides of the puck has attributed to the Oilers coaching graveyard sort of speak.
Then again the easy choice is to fire one coach over 23 players.
Poor Scouting Can Cripple A Franchise
If your building through the draft that means all the rounds not just the first round.
Love him or hate him the man at the top of the Oilers scouting food chain is Stu MacGregor who has played a massive role in attempting to turn this franchise around. MacGregor took over for Kevin Prendergast as the Oilers head scout in 2008 and since has had say in the decisions to draft Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Oscar Klefbom, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl.
On the flip side MacGregor has also been responsible for the Oilers miserable draft statistics outside the first round since. Eberle is the only player still with the organization from the 2008 NHL Draft, not a single player outside of Magnus Paajarvi and Anton Lander have played a single NHL game from the 2009 NHL Draft. In 2010 the Oilers used their 2nd round pick on Tyler Pitlick who has since played 10 NHL games when Justin Faulk was taken just six spots later and has been regular on the Carolina Hurricanes blueline. In 2011 they took David Musil over Ty Rattie, Tomas Jurco, Boone Jenner and Brandon Saad were still available. Musil is yet to play his first NHL game.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) June 28, 2014
There is one late round gem MacGregor should be accredited for and that’s Greg Chase. During this time the Oilers went out to draft a goalie for the future and the early picks in Tyler Bunz and Olivier Roy fell flat. It’s still unknown what will come out of the rest of the group but to cut this argument short the early indications for the 2014 selections are even weaker across the board. The biggest reason the Penguins and Blackhawks rebuild model worked was because they had shrewd management and a well educated scouting staff that made the right picks in the later drafts. It’s difficult to miss on a first rounder in comparison to the later rounds, that’s where a scouting staff really shows their worth. The Oilers scouting staff has yet to show their worth.
Oilers Missed The Boat In Trading For Top-Pairing Defenseman
Heading into the 2012 NHL Draft the Oilers with GM Steve Tambellini still at the helm, the Oilers flat out missed the boat in trading for a top-pairing defenseman with a third-straight 1st overall pick they didn’t necessarily need. The top spot in the draft came down to Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman Ryan Murray. As fate would have it the fanbase put pressure on owner Darryl Katz and management to take what everyone thought would be “The Next Pavel Bure” in Yakupov over “The Next Scott Niedermayer” in Murray. Coincidence would be that neither has or may ever live up to their preposterous comparisons. Murray is still likely to emerge as a top-pairing defender in Columbus with mentorship behind proven NHL defenders in Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski.
— theScore NHL (@theScoreNHL) October 30, 2014
It was wrong to have an owner step in to redirect the on-ice vision of management especially when Katz’s vision was based directly on attracting attention of the fanbase with another hot-shot fresh out of junior future start to be.
Safe to say we haven’t heard much from Katz since.
The other option out there was the pressure on Nashville to retain both Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, a player the Oilers could’ve broke the bank for by dealing that 1st overall pick. The Predators were never going to have the financial capability to keep both franchise defenders and an elite goaltender in Pekka Rinne, but they could’ve at least moved one of Suter or Weber to acquire a decent package of players to show the remaining one of the two they were serious about becoming a contender.
There was plenty of interest around the league including Toronto and Montreal who both entered talks to grab the pick from Edmonton but a deal never amounted.
Taking into account the Oilers failed scouting staffs abilities to amalgamate anything of substance outside of the first round (Mitch Moroz, Jujhar Khaira, Greg Chase, Martin Marincin aside), these picks had more value before the draft than after they have been used. A common inept trend over the past two decades.
So would the Oilers be better if they had gone out and sold the farm for a Weber or Suter-type defenseman than taking another forward who would eventually be buried in the lineup?
We’ll never know.
Where Do We Go Now?
The easy line to insert is the only way to go from here is up — well the Oilers have proven otherwise. The biggest decision headed forward rests with the owner Darryl Katz who needs to reevaluate who he let’s run his hockey team. It’s quite clear after all these years that this rebuild has gone astray in every which way of direction. Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are the building blocks but can’t lead the franchise by themselves nor are they proving to be the right mix. Management has taken individual player stocks, overvalued them and are now seeing minimal value for many of the players also because they just don’t know how to build a roster thats relatively competitive in today’s NHL.
Let’s just say if this was Rexall Pharmacy and management had let that company run astray Katz would be all over it. It’s hard as an owner to remove personal feelings towards the heroes of his hockey team growing up, but it must be done.
It’s 2014 — NOT the 1980’s and Katz needs to embrace his inner Vince MacMahon and drop the “Your Fired” line.
Time for Katz to clear house.
Edmonton Oilers regular contributor providing insight on all things Oilers including club history, prospect profiles, trade breakdowns, and everything else in between. Check back regularly for new and exciting content. Follow on Twitter @SanderTHW.