Edmonton Oilers: What’s next after another failed season?

The Edmonton Oilers need a change.

As much as fans and management alike wish this were the 80’s, it isn’t and there’s no Gretzky or Messier or Coffey or Fuhr to save the day.

Instead the once storied franchise is filled with a group of youngsters still trying to learn how to win at the NHL level, with likely another teenager joining the crew next year given the Oilers 28-42-9 record.

The core of young players: Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz and Sam Gagner all possess above average offensive talents but that hasn’t been enough to escape the cellar of the West where the Oilers have failed to reach 75 points since 2008-09.

It’s great to have young skill, but evidently it takes much more than that to win.

Among many issues, the Oilers lack an identity, something coach Dallas Eakins has eluded to many times over the past weeks.

It’s not scoring goals (25th) and definitely not preventing them (30th) so something’s gotta give. The Oilers need a direction and a brand of hockey they can succeed with tailored to their roster.

So as another embarrassing season concludes the fans are left wondering what’s going to change this summer and will it be enough to right the ship.

Undoubtedly General Manager Craig MacTavish will have his hands full trying to transform this lineup into one that can win with consistency. A win two nights ago against one of the West’s elite shows the Oilers can in fact beat good hockey teams. The trick is making it a regularity.

With 2013-14 out of reach, all the fans and players have to look forward to is next October, where the points reset and everyone’s back in it.

But between now and then is an off-season where Edmonton must get better and address lingering issues.

The first of these issues has to be team defense from the goaltender out to the d corps.

Since 2008-09, Edmonton has finished no better than 19th in goals against per game. They haven’t had a number one goalie since Dwayne Roloson (if you want to call him that) and have been scathing by on mediocre at best over the better of five years.

I like Ben Scrivens and he has proven thus far that he is capable of playing well enough to give his team a chance to win each night (.922 SV%). However, the sample size is small and he isn’t your safest bet. Viktor Fasth is the current backup and has two years left on his contract. They could attempt a Scrivens-Fasth combination next year but there are no guarantees with that.

The list of free agent goalies this off-season consists of Ryan Miller, Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott, Jonas Hiller and Jonas Gustavsson among others. MacTavish and management will likely weigh throwing money at one of these options seeing as goalie prospects are thin in Oklahoma City.

As much as Edmonton’s goalies have suffered over the last half-decade or so, these netminders (Khabibulin, Dubnyk, Garon, Gerber, Deslauriers) have by and large been a victim of their environment too.

Watch an Oilers game. Watch the amount of high quality scoring chances they give up on a nightly basis (32.6 SA/G). The eye test will tell you it’s as much a team defense issue as it is the goaltenders fault.

The sole fact that Ben Scrivens faced 59 SHOTS on goal in one game and didn’t let one past him is nothing short of incredible. There were almost 100 shot attempts at the Oilers goal that night. Crazy.

The Oilers have young talent on the back-end (Klefbom, Marincin) and a mid-twenty threat in Justin Schultz, albeit with just 119 games NHL experience, but young defensemen like these need time to develop (that old cliché) and are prone to mistakes with this group being no different.

The Andrew Ference signing was perfect and the Oilers need to continue picking up safer more experienced defenders like so to compliment Schultz and Co. A similar strategy to which the Bruins have employed by regularly pairing youngsters like Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton, and Matt Bartkowski with the likes of Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, and Dennis Seidenberg before he got hurt.

Matt Niskanen, Andrew McDonald, and Kyle Quincey provide UFA possibilities this summer that Mactavish could take a run at.

A better defense corps makes a goaltenders job a whole lot easier.

The next area that needs re-tooling is the Oilers forwards. I mean realistically everything within this franchise can use a shake-up so to be more specific the top-six.

Hall (1) Nugent-Hopkins (1) Eberle (22)
Perron (26) Gagner (6) Yakupov (1)

 

Yakupov has been up and down from this position but for the sake of argument he’s there.

Nevertheless, all looks good on paper.

The numbers represent where each player was drafted overall in the draft, as each player has been picked in the first round and is 25 years (Perron) or younger.

It seems great, a bunch of young guys with speed and skill playing side-by-side however there are too many similarities between all these players.

Where’s the size, where’s the grit, where’s the differing styles, where’s the experience.

Building a winning team with a younger core is generally more difficult but not impossible. You look at Pittsburgh in 2009 as the last example of so with Malkin, Crosby, Staal and Letang leading the charge.

However with Edmonton playing in the rough and tumble Western conference, a small easy-to-play-against team like the Oilers, simply cannot make it into the Spring with the current mix given the competition they face.

Anaheim (Getzlaf), Los Angeles (Kopitar), Dallas (Benn), and St. Louis (Backes) are examples of number one centres around the west that physically impose their will on the likes of Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner. Look at the wingers and it’s disadvantage Oilers again.

The mix including Hall, Eberle and Gagner have been together four years now and hasn’t sniffed the post-season so a change up front would seem logical. You could say it’s a short-term fix but really? It’s been four years and no results. MacTavish has to try something or once the Oilers are good there may not be any fans left to bring back.

A young piece or two from up front should be moved. Whether it’s Eberle or Gagner or Yakupov, something should be done to gain back roles the Oilers currently can’t fill aka bigger, stronger, but still skilled players to play alongside the core forwards that remain.

Eberle would gain the most in return on the market. Rumours have swirled around Gagner for two years now so interest is clear, while Yakupov is two years removed from a first overall selection – doing little to warrant that since – but still holds value being just 20 years old.

The bottom six has potential with role players like Boyd Gordon, Matt Hendricks, and Luke Gadzic but they can only contribute so much.

Bottom line is change is imminent for the Oilers, and any team for that matter that continues to struggle like they have.

Unless the top six adds some pieces that can crash and bang with the big strong elite teams of the west, and changes are made to upgrade the defense and/or goaltending situation, the 2014-15 version of the Oilers could turn out a lot like past versions.

Hitting the links in April.