Anywhere But Edmonton…
The draft lottery is traditionally a night of intrigue and hope.
Which team will land the 1st overall pick? Who will they select? And how will that player help shape the fracnhise’ future?
The new lottery system gave all 14 non-playoff teams a shot at the 1st overall pick; and thus a chance at Connor McDavid, the most anticipated prospect since Sidney Crosby.
Would he help drag Arizona out of the mire? Would the Sabres tank-tastic efforts work? Or how about the idea of watching the young phenom land in one of the leagues hottest markets like LA?
And then Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly opened the envelope…
For the fourth time in six years, the Oilers will make the first overall selection. And outside of Edmonton, there could not be more disappointment.
After finishing dead last in 2010 (12 points adrift of 29th placed Toronto), the Oilers added Taylor Hall. A second 62 points campaign saw them finish last again 12 months later, this time earning them a shot at Red Deer’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Edmonton climbed to 29th during the 2011/12 season, finishing 9 points ahead of Columbus, but a draft lottery ‘win’ still gave them the first selection at that summer’s draft – adding Nail Yakupov to the fold.
Edmonton improved again during the truncated 2012/13 season, finishing 24th – forcing them to ‘settle’ for Darnell Nurse with the 7th overall pick – but this ascendancy was short lived, as the Oilers slid back to 28th a year later; leaving them to add German prospect Leon Draisaitl with the 3rd overall pick as a result.
Now, after missing the post season for the ninth straight season following an avalanche of management missteps, the Oilers get the chance draft a generational talent.
You can understand why people are pissed Edmonton are basically being rewarded for years of ineptitude with one of the biggest prizes possible.
The Oilers went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, largely off the back of a red hot Dwayne Roloson and an elite D man in the shape of Chris Pronger. Since then their decisions between the pipes have become increasingly comical, their defence increasingly porous.
It’s the franchise that pulled together a plethora of gifted forwards, then developed them in the worst environment possible.
So instead of seeing Connor McDavid bolster an up and coming Columbus side whose campaign was derailed by injury, or watching him centre Max Domi and Anthony Duclair in Arizona, the perception is that he will become the latest talent to disappear in to the black hole that is the Edmonton Oilers.
The situation in Edmonton is by no means lost – but you can forgive people for being cynical after season upon season of failure.
Of the perceived core, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz are the oldest at 24 – while solid roster players like Benoit Pouliot and Teddy Purcell come in at 28 and 29 respectively. Add McDavid and Draisaitl (when he’s ready, not shoe horned in like this season) and Edmonton have a formidable top 9 for years to come…on paper.
The trouble starts when you go beyond that. McDavid aside, that impressive top 9 is surrounded by defeat. All Hall et al know of the NHL is losing, and support players like Boyd Gordon pull in $3m per season because the only free agents Edmonton can attract are distinctly average ones they dramatically overpay because even they wouldn’t join the Oilers otherwise…
Schultz is their pseudo #1 D man, because there isn’t anyone else who can be seen as such. And despite his offensive talents, Schultz isn’t anywhere near #1 D man calibre at this point in his career.
Nikita Nikitin was given a 2-year, $9m deal last summer; after being an average part of an ‘ok’ Blue Jackets defence. Mark Fayne carries a cap hit of $3.625m while Andrew Ference is being asked to perform a task much greater than his ageing 36-year old body can handle.
Ference, a Stanley Cup winner with Boston, has become less a mentor in the mould of Willie Mitchell in LA/Florida and more a veteran blue liner whose past glories seem to mean little beyond the occasional bout of nostalgia when talking about his career.
One small mercy is that Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom have been kept out of this mess for the most part.
In net, Edmonton threw Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth in to the fire – based almost entirely on small samples of work inflated by playing on far superior teams. They were among five netminders used this season, an improvement on the six used last term (of which Scrivens was one) but the search for a starter goes on.
Apparently unable to understand the link between defence and goaltending; the Oilers threw money at Nikolai Khabibulin, ran Devan Dubnyk out of town and signed then traded Ilya Bryzgalov in a bid to fill the gap created by Roloson’s departure in 2009.
With no magical fix found (like a unicorn that poops Dominik Hasek clones…), goaltending coach Frederic Chabot was dismissed as part of a ‘bold shake up’ by GM Craig MacTavish…
The problem is not necessarily in the attempt to fix things, but that each attempt seems to make things worse in one sense or another – either because it genuinely does make things worse on the ice, or because the perception of the club becomes increasingly poor and only further alienates potential free agent or trade acquisitions.
When you can play hockey in California, Florida or any number of exciting cities across North America, a losing side in Alberta isn’t overly appealing. And while the New York Islanders eventually managed to shed their negative image, and Calgary managed to pool young talents like Johnny Gaudreau and TJ Brodie while wooing Jonas Hiller, Edmonton has remained something of a wasteland in the NHL.
So desperate is the situation now, the idea of patience has been altogether forgotten – every decision over analysed and over criticised at the first sign of trouble. See Tyler Dellow’s appointment for proof of this – with some apparently under the impression Dellow’s mastery of analytics would turn the team around over night, or lead them to that magical unicorn…
When it didn’t, old rivalries and misinformation about how analytics can be applied led to Dellow unfairly becoming a figure of derision in some corners – further dragging the clubs name through the mud.
Again, it can be fixed. It almost certainly means parting with one of their core players – with Eberle and Yakupov heading the list – to acquire talent, as well as a healthy share of over payments to try and attract UFAs like Paul Martin to the club. Martin may not be a stud, but he’s a dependable blue liner on a team that desperately needs some stability at the back.
A dependable netminder capable of carrying the hefty load being Oilers #1 brings with it is also a ‘must’. Scrivens is affable, and talented enough to play 20-30 game per year as backup. But Fasth’s meteoric rise and fall should serve as a warning to any GM not to over pay a netminder based on less than a seasons work…
Actually finding that #1 may be something easier said than done – and though Edmonton has interest in Antti Niemi, there is no guarantee he will become available.
It’ll take work, a lot of negotiating and time to make the Oilers a force again.
And there’s the rub – they’ve had time to work on the problems. Six years worth. And things seem little better.
If anything they are worse, given the talent they’ve drafted only to make almost zero progress in the standings.
Unsurprisingly, many are tired of the Oilers schtick – the talk of making ‘bold moves’ and turning corners sounding more like a broken record than the signal of a new era for the organisation.
McDavid’s arrival might be the kick up the backside the club needs, the real signal that this team has talent and needs to surround it with a supporting cast capable of greater things.
But you’ll forgive people for being pessimistic.
What should have been the start of something beautiful on Saturday, now seems to have spawned the worst possible outcome for the NHL and at 29 other teams. A wave of negativity that the best player of the ‘next generation’ might waste away in Alberta, like so many other top prospects seem to have.
That this feeling even exists – especially among some Oilers own fans – is perhaps the most damning indictment of Edmonton of all.