While there will always be a debate surrounding when the Edmonton Oilers officially started their rebuild, using the 2010 NHL Entry Draft as the launching point has always seemed to make the most sense. After all, this whole thing was essentially kicked into gear during the 2009-10 campaign. It was during that season when the mindset shifted from trying to make the playoffs, to going out of their way to ensure the organization would land one of Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin.
Also amusing: that people have forgotten that the ‘rebuild’ started with Taylor Hall’s draft. Smarten up Oilers fans.
— John Barbour (@jbfuzz1) March 30, 2015
While they were ultimately granted that wish, we fast forward to the present day and the Oilers are still trying to figure out what sort of team they want to be. Five and a half seasons into the “rebuild” and many of the same questions that plagued this roster back then are still quite evident. Some of that can be attributed to bad luck, such as not being able to target a top-flight defenceman in the years Edmonton had the first overall pick, but much of the damage was done from within.
The Oilers poor drafting record and inability to develop players outside of their first rounders are well-known but there is nothing anyone can do to change what has already happened. Crying over spilt milk is a pointless endeavour at the best of time and considering this organization was gifted Connor McDavid at last summer’s draft, it is a moot point. With that said, the focus now shifts to where Edmonton goes from here and unfortunately, there is no easy way to answer that question.
Backend Needs To Finally Be Addressed
Anyone who follows the NHL with any sort of regularity knows Edmonton has needed to upgrade their defence and goaltending for some time now. Problem being, that is no small task and it has certainly put Peter Chiarelli in a bit of pickle when it comes to improving his roster. Unlike the Chicago Blackhawks, the Oilers did not have their versions of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook in the system prior to adding the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane into the mix.
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Oscar Klefbom arrived in 2011 with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, while Darnell Nurse was taken seventh overall in 2013 and is currently playing major minutes on one of the worst bluelines in the league at the age of 20. As we all know, defencemen generally need time to find their game before excelling at this level and instead of working on their craft in the AHL and/or in low-leveraged situations in the NHL with a quality veteran partner, these guys have been force-fed minutes off the hop and it has made upgrading the backend, in the here and now, an impossible task.
How else can you explain the arrival of a player like Andrej Sekera having such a minimal impact on this group’s ability to win hockey games? As good a defenceman as the former Buffalo Sabre is, he is far better suited to be used in the role of a No. 2 or No. 3 but that is simply a non-starter on this team. On blue line overloaded with a bunch of inexperienced kids and veterans who are either past their due date or being used in situations they have no business being in, Sekera is the stud of the group and he is simply not that player.
Time To Go Out and Get a No. 1 Goalie
Not surprisingly, we continue to see the same train wreck year after year and the lack of consistent goaltending only makes it worse. Unless you haven’t been paying much attention, on those rare occasions when the Oilers have managed to string together some wins over the last handful of seasons, much of that success can be attributed to their netminding. However, the lack of that true No. 1 goalie has reared its ugly head on far too many nights and this team is still nowhere good enough to overcome bad goaltending and in fairness, few teams are.
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An elite goalie can hide a lot of mistakes and not only give his club a shot at winning on a nightly basis but also allow his teammates to loosen the grips on their sticks and not be afraid to make a mistake. We have seen both Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson deliver that sort of performance this season and on most of those nights, Edmonton has ended up on the right side of the final score…which is a common theme in most cities.
Coincidence? Not sure how it could be. We have seen the same story for years and the results rarely change. At some point, you need your goaltender to bail you out and on the Oilers, it may need to happen multiple times over the course of 60 minutes. By no means is that an easy “to-do-list” but on a team with the sort of backend this one currently employs and a group that does not play a ”defence-first system”, this is part of the job description.
No One Ever Said This Was Going To Be Easy
So again I ask the question? Where do the Edmonton Oilers go from here? Unless he plans on making another Seguin-type blunder, which would not be advised, Peter Chiarelli will not be able to make an in-season to improve his roster. Having said that, chances are the former Boston Bruins general manager is going to move at least one and may be forced into seriously considering moving another of his so-called “core pieces” upfront. That is of course if the plan of attack is to go out and actually attempt to address this team’s shortcomings in the off-season and not continue to apply one Band-Aid solution after another and hope for the best.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.