In what can only be described as the biggest swerve in draft lottery history the Edmonton Oilers miraculously won a fourth 1st overall selection in six years meaning Connor McDavid is coming to the YEG.
The Oilers were fairly certain they would end up with either the 3rd or 4th overall selection leading to a choice between defenseman Noah Hanifin or forward Dylan Strome. A towering potential top-pairing defenseman or a top-line center with size. Instead they won what the media is calling the equivalent to the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes in 2005.
Suddenly it doesn’t look so grim to be an Oilers fan anymore as McDavid instantly translates to hope. GM Craig MacTavish mentioned in his end of season media address that the team was needing a spark that would help turn this ship around. Well getting McDavid in the draft lottery surely is the catalyst MacTavish was looking for, whether it was expected or not.
Thatsaid the Oilers got a major chip and it’s time for them to put their money where their mouth is because the pressure is on.
McDavid coming to Edmonton has just shook the foundation of the Oilers rebuild for a myriad of reasons and going forward there are some key situations to look at.
Can Edmonton Become A Desired UFA Destination?
In 2005 when the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted Sidney Crosby, the Penguins suddenly became a UFA destination because most of them wanted to have the opportunity to play next to a generational superstar. It happened to the Philadelphia Flyers after the 1991 draft when they acquired Eric Lindros from the Quebec Nordiques. It happened through the 1980s when the Oilers had Wayne Gretzky as well.
If there is one thing players care about it’s winning and being apart of a winning atmosphere, one the Oilers haven’t been able to create. This is one of the many reasons the Oilers can’t even get UFAs like Michael Nylander to come here. The team has been a non-competitive basement-dweller with no improvement for the last decade. Well you have to think that changes now that the Oilers have that generational talent in McDavid.
— Hockey Or Die (@HockeyOrDie) February 22, 2015
History has a penchant for repeating itself and a decade after the league saw it’s last generational talent revitalize a market, can McDavid mean to the Oilers what Crosby meant to the Penguins? It’s possible.
Suddenly Deep At Center Ice
From a team that has one of the ugliest center depths in the league, the Oilers suddenly have a future three-headed monster at center in the works with McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl. Once that group matures it could be the deepest center ice unit in the entire league.
The team also has a plethora of prospects that could eventually mature into center spots on the team like Kyle Platzer and Greg Chase, which means one of these guys (likely Draisaitl) could be switched over to the wing as well to really bolster the top six. Even on the wings the Oilers have prospect value in Iiro Pakarinen, Jujhar Khaira, Anton Slepyshev and Mitch Moroz.
In the present, MacTavish’s media address mentioned a very important point that going forward the Oilers we’re hoping to build three scoring lines and a solid dependable fourth line unit. Looking at player combinations heading into next season pairing Taylor Hall and McDavid together is a foregone conclusion, RNH and Jordan Eberle make a solid second unit and a third unit in Derek Roy and Nail Yakupov (for the short-term).
Fill in the gaps with the support cast players like Anton Lander and the pick-ups throughout last off-season and this year in Benoit Pouliot, Teddy Purcell, Matt Fraser and suddenly it doesn’t look too far from a decent product up front.
Time To Experiment With Bad Contracts Is Over, This Team Will Demand $$$
Already going into the 2015-16 season $36.3M committed to eleven forwards, $12.6M committed to four defenseman and $2.3M to Ben Scrivens in goal for a total of $51.2M. Now factor in the fact the team still has to re-sign key RFAs this summer in Justin Schultz, Martin Marincin, work on an extension for Oscar Klefbom, add Connor McDavid’s three-year ELC and bring in a goaltender and suddenly things are getting fairly tight for the Oilers. Best case scenario that brings the Oilers to around $68M to get all those contracts done and bring in a goaltender. The team will be just a few million under the new proposed cap (estimated to be $73M according to the Toronto Sun).
As an #Oilers example: Nikitin underperformed this season, letting down mgmt. But it was mgmt. who thought Nikitin was a top-4 shutdown D.
— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) April 12, 2015
The bad news about Chiarelli being gone is, it will be difficult to convince the new GM to take back Andrew Ference #Oilers
— Richard D. Cloutier (@rdcloutier) April 15, 2015
You still have to add in that Darnell Nurse and Draisaitl will eventually turn pro and in three years time looking for a larger contraction, suddenly that cap space is no more and assets will have to be moved.
On the plus side Hall, RNH and Eberle are already locked in until the conclusion of the 2018-19 season for $18M combined which means MacTavish (or whoever is the GM at that time) will have already given McDavid a massive salary and term.
Unfortunately there isn’t much wiggle room for the rest of the team. That means the team needs to be more fiscally responsible, something it hasn’t been able to be up to this point. The Oilers have given inflated contracts to Pouliot, Nikitin, Fayne and Ference to name a few with the only real justification from management that they “had to in order to acquire the player”. Aside from Pouliot, the rest have struggled to live up to those contracts and the team has suffered for it.
As this future core grows, the Oilers can no longer afford to overpay for talent, especially supporting cast players as it’ll force the team to break up the core.
Time For Talk Is Over: MacTavish Needs To Live Up To The Hype
One of the last points in what McDavid coming to Edmonton means to the organization is the fact that now that the team has a generational talent, they now have people watching you. Does MacT truly realize how much pressure his management group is under now that they have McDavid?
They’ve done a fine job as much as the fanbase has complained about the lack of on-ice success in acquiring talent, whether that talent has gelled or will gel is a story all in itself.
In the mean time the management group has hyped this group up to be one of the next great dynasties this league has ever seen and they’ve had some fine speeches along the way. They’ve explained themselves and preached patience along the way to a restless and long-suffering franchise.
The team needs a top-pairing defenseman, a starting goalie and can’t go into next season with the same back-end play it had this season. It needs to be substantially better in 2015-16 and onwards. Do they end up moving one of those prized prospects they promised were safe? How will they manage the cap going forward? Can they create a winner, let alone make the playoffs.
There are people watching this management group now more than ever and if they don’t make some serious moves to turn this group into a playoff contender let alone a Stanley Cup contender all of this will be looked at years from now as ‘what could have been’.
If MacTavish, Lowe and Katz namely don’t back this up with results, all those Stanley Cup championships from the 1980s they won (excluding Katz obviously) won’t be what they will be remembered for in the all-time sports almanac. They’ll be remembered as nothing more than what became of Buster Douglas, Leon Spinks, David Tytree, Tim Tebow and Scott Bjugstad.
One hit wonders, or in the Oilers case, four-hit wonders that never amounted to anything.
Simply put the guys who blew a glorious opportunity to build a Stanley Cup contender.
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.