You know things are bad for the Edmonton Oilers when even the media is questioning management.
Sportsnet’s Mark Spector chides players for a “sense of entitlement” after last night’s embarrassing loss to the Sabres, yet he also critiques the team’s special teams gameplan. “For the first time ever,” the Taylor Hall - Adam Larsson trade bewilders the Edmonton Journal’s David Staples.
Even Hall of Fame goalie Grant Fuhr believes that their PK is a mess.
By just about every measure, the Oilers are an absolute mess. And, yes, that PK is insanely ugly.
Is there any hope for them to turn things around? Yes, but they must admit this season is a lost cause, and big changes are needed.
Change in vision
There might come a point where it makes sense to trade one of the Oilers’ few remaining, arguably-not-quite-core assets in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. In a vacuum, it would make sense to move him during a “sell-high” time, which could be this season if he heals up before the trade deadline expires.
Let’s be honest, though; would anyone in their right mind trust GM Peter Chiarelli to extract anywhere near optimal value for RNH, not to mention guys like Oscar Klefbom?
And really, it’s not just on Chiarelli. Todd McLellan deserves some blame for the team’s systemic struggles. Scroll through the Oilers’ last decade-or-so of drafting and you’ll see that the franchise rarely finds talent outside of the first round, a serious indictment of their scouting staff, not to mention their ability to develop. Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish have their fingerprints all over these failures, too.
Management had a vision for what works in the NHL, but it looks ugly unless you’re wearing rose-colored glasses.
This season and coming summer both stand as opportunities to cut the fat.
It’s tough to imagine another team taking on Milan Lucic’s odious deal and Kris Russell’s contract, but let’s not forget that seemingly immovable deals have been traded away before. David Clarkson, Nathan Horton, Dave Bolland, and even Chris Pronger have received paychecks from teams willing to warehouse bad contracts for a price. Maybe Edmonton could bribe teams to take some mistakes off their hands?
Sometimes it’s not even that high of a price, but that’s why you need to find a GM who can ... you know, at least break even in trades.
In the case of Patrick Maroon and maybe a few other expiring pieces, Chiarelli could even redeem himself a bit by getting decent returns.
Draft capital can help in multiple ways
The bright side of this disastrous season is that the Oilers are likely to get a healthy first-rounder for their troubles. As of this writing, Edmonton’s the sixth-worst team in the NHL, and games played could push them down a bit more.
We all know they enjoy inanely good luck in the lottery, so consider how this could help them out:
- Landing a key prospect - This is the simplest path, and a reasonable one in that. With cap concerns looming, they may very well need another decent player on a rookie contract.
- Packaging to get rid of a bad contract - That said, the Oilers might not want to wait out that development process. To embrace more of a “win now” mode, they could clear up space by combining that pick (and maybe more) with a contract they’d otherwise struggle to remove.
- Landing a big fish - On a similar note, what if the pick could help them grab a key soon-to-be-free-agent defenseman? Imagine how much better the Oilers would look with someone like Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Ryan Ellis, not to mention even bigger names in Erik Karlsson or Drew Doughty. If their teams realize they’re going to lose those players, a high-end pick could get things moving.
Cam Talbot might get back on track, but either way, he’s already 30 and his $4.167 million cap hit expires after 2018-19. Again, the Oilers aren’t the greatest at learning from their mistakes, yet this season should send a blaring signal that they shouldn’t put all of their eggs in one basket.
The Oilers could consider a reclamation project in Petr Mrazek, echoing what the Wild accomplished with their former goalie Devan Dubnyk. They could see if Aaron Dell is the next Talbot: a backup capable of being something more.
We’ve seen plenty of instances where teams need two goalies, so Edmonton should be proactive, even if Talbot ends up ultimately being “the guy.”
They still have Connor
Before Oilers fans get too depressed, don’t forget there are still great pieces in place, including Connor McDavid, who’s somehow barely 21 years old. Believe it or not, locking him up for eight years at $12.5M per is actually an astounding bargain. In fact, it’s such a deal that they can probably relax about paying Draisaitl too much.
The Oilers have made their mistakes, but new management could change things in a hurry. Just look at how dim things looked for the Penguins during the ill-fated Mike Johnston era. They turned things around with a coaching change and some courageous trades, while the Maple Leafs are another example of a team “seeing the light” and enjoying significant returns.
It doesn’t seem like Chiarelli was really taking notes, but if he gets replaced, hopefully the next GM has been paying attention. Things can turn around quickly in the NHL, at least if you push the right buttons.