The Edmonton Oilers have done a great job in recent drafts, accumulating a current roster full of young talent. But it may be time for the front office to insert a veteran leader into the locker-room. By Scott Huntington.
When a team is very bad for a very long time, it is given the opportunity by the League to pick the best prospects in the NHL Draft. This model has helped many basement dwellers rebuild and pull themselves back into relevancy. Not so, with the 2013 Edmonton Oilers. They have accumulated a virtual All-Star team of young talent, but have failed to make the playoffs since 2006-07. So what’s the problem in Edmonton, and what do they need to change?
They’ve already tried changing coaches, a lot. They’ve had 5 different coaches since 2008, most of them only staying a season. The mix of styles and personalities hasn’t been able to spark a major revitalization, nor have different game plans. The problem lies a little higher up the food chain, with the General Manager and Ownership. They have failed to find the solution to make all the parts work as a team.
The individual talent on this roster (in some spots) is unreal. Edmonton has drafted high since 2008, and has been rewarded with some of the best young stars in the Junior Leagues. Guys like Jordan Eberle (2008), Magnus Paajarvi (2009), Taylor Hall (2010), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011), and Nail Yakupov (2012) were all stellar draft picks, then add young defensive prospect Justin Schultz, who sidestepped the Anaheim Ducks in a somewhat shady move to sign with the Oilers, and you’ve got one heck of a team…. or do you? What Oilers Management has failed to do is to build a veteran team around the young talent. The Defense is woeful, and goaltending has been mediocre at best. Currently, Oilers goalies rate as the worst NHL tandem. A sweaty equipment bag or a pile of the new electronic rat traps from Rexall Place’s basement could probably stop more pucks than the current two. Devan Dubnyk, touted to be on the rebound, has posted a painful .877 SV% and 4.20 GAA, while his partner Jason LaBarbera hasn’t done much better. His .871 SV% and 3.21 GAA are nothing to write home about.
The Oilers would be wise to take a page from the 2005 Pittsburgh Penguins. A team that was locked in the basement, and on the verge of being sold, they picked up a few decent prospects with their draft picks. Marc-Andre Fleury (2003), Evgeni Malkin (2004), Sidney Crosby (2005) and Jordan Staal (2006), ever heard of them? Now, there is another name I left off the list, because Pittsburgh did something smart, but unpopular: they traded young talent for veterans. Remember Colby Armstrong? He was the Penguins draft pick in 2001, was great friends with Sidney Crosby and looked to have a very bright future. Instead, the Penguins traded him in 2008 for veterans Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis, allowing them their first chance at the Cup since 1992. Edmonton should take note, and realize that hoarding young talent, without giving them the veterans that could help them fine-tune their game, is really holding back a very promising team. Sidney Crosby’s best season was with 38-year-old Bill Geurin on his wing.
So, it’s time to sell, and sell high while you can. Your young stars aren’t raking in Big Star money yet, nor do they have no-trade clauses. There are certainly some teams in the NHL that are desperate for offense, or are simply keeping an eye on their future, who would love to have Eberle or Yakupov in exchange for a good goalie or solid defenseman. As unpopular as it would be, sacrificing one or two of these guys would do the club a world of good if they get fair market value out of the players. Heads have already rolled in Edmonton, and the media has the front office by the throat. With almost all other options exhausted, it’s time to do the unthinkable, and move some first round draft picks. For a team that traded Gretzky just over 25 years ago, this isn’t unfamiliar territory. No matter who they move, this GM will know that it isn’t as bad as trading The Great One.