Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Edmonton Oilers: Addressing the Issues

Edmonton Oilers: Addressing the Issues

As I have pointed out in the previous post, there are four major issues with the Edmonton Oilers in regards to the process of rebuilding the team - the mismatch between the Western Conference and Oilers as it relates to the style of play (and the roster needed to play that style), the yield of their lottery picks, team composition, and the identity/culture of the team. Now let's take a look at the ways for the franchise to move forward, what are the possible routes moving forward and which should be taken.

First let us start off with what we can't change and that is the yield of their lottery picks. The Oilers couldn't do much here as mentioned before as the draft classes didn't quite sport the Stamkos/Tavares type of home run, not in the sense of top talent or in the positional sense (except for Nugent-Hopkins). So there is no point in spending much time addressing this issue, although it is worth mentioning the upcoming draft will be absolutely huge for the Oilers as it sports all types of high end centers and defensemen at the top, as well as getting a reputation for being a deep draft. For example players like Curtis Lazar and Ryan Hartman who don't quite figure to be lottery picks are exactly the type of players the Oilers need and would be an excellent addition in addressing multiple issue the Oilers ran into during their rebuilding process, although that is obviously up for a professional scouting staff to decide, I think it was worth mentioning those two players just as an example of the type of player that is missing in the Oilers organization.

As far as the comparison between the Western Conference and the Edmonton Oilers goes, there needs to be an immediate philosophy switch in the entire organization. The acquisitions of Mike Brown and Mark Fistric certainly point in this direction. It would of course be ideal if the management built the team with this in mind from the start, but it seems like Tambellini and co. have finally realized they have not been placing enough emphasis on the ability to engage and win puck battles and maintain puck possession. The team is frankly soft, and more size but especially grit (Mike Richards is a pretty small guy, but gritty) is needed.

The shift however should be a philosophical one, just adding a couple of gritty guys to the pro roster isn't going to cut it. There needs to be a clear culture and identity created. There needs to be a deliberate effort from the top management down to the scouting staff, the coaching staff at all levels, the development staff to look for and promote the idea of being tough to play against, set on outcompeting the opposition. This should be a team that doesn't trade Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene for Lubomir Visnovsky ever again.

The tough part is really the team composition part. The way I see it, there are only two ways to address it. One is to trade one of their core pieces to address the team composition the other is to take a wait-and-see approach and continue drafting and hope it sorts it out by itself. Personally I think they should not rush such a decision, long-term at least one of their holes will probably get addressed by this draft as it is absolutely stacked with high-end centers and defenseman. But I believe moving one of Eberle or Yakupov (I'm leaning towards Yakupov) will eventually be needed. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as a center should be going nowhere, Hall is the type of player they should absolutely keep, in fact they need more Taylor Halls if anything. Between Eberle and Yakupov, I would definitely deal Yakupov as I feel despite having less pure athletic ability Eberle is frankly the smarter player of the two and will probably end up as the more well-rounded of the two as well. Yakupov I see as a poor man's Ovechkin/Kovalchuk hybrid nothing to sneeze at but my belief  is flashy goal scoring wingers are categorically overrated and often overpaid (there will be an in-depth post explaining my feelings on this eventually).

To summarize, the single most important thing the Oilers could and should do is to start looking at the entire operation through the goggles of identity. And that identity should promote character, two-way play, compete level, boardwork, play in the dirty areas, clearing the front of the net, outcompeting your opponent, being tough to play against, willingness to engage puck battles etc. you get the idea. Brian Burke would just call it truculence. Those are the type of players the Oilers should value and actively look to add through signings, trades and draft, something that becomes automatic when the entire organization looks through those goggles.

I realize this might sound like a bunch of hot air, I'm not a fan of that type of management rhetoric either, so the best way to illustrate it is to give examples. It doesn't have to be a huge trade, it should just be a philosophical switch, the Kings signed Michal Handzus at 4 million per year back in their rebuilding times, they overpaid to get the player that was a fit for their identity (or rather the type they wanted to build). They traded a young Patrick O'Sullivan who just scored 20 goals for Justin Williams, a player who fit their identity (something I think the Oilers should do on a bigger scale with Yakupov eventually, obviously Yakupov probably won't tank as O'Sullivan did but the principle is the same). They were all over Mike Richards once he became available (something in my opinion the Oilers should have done as well), they traded Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and a 2nd for him, HUGE price, but the reality is if there's a poster boy for what the Kings are trying to achieve it's Mike Richards, so they pulled the trigger. Way back, they traded a defenseman who was somewhat soft and not a stalwart defensively but still a premier puck-moving defenseman in the league in Visnovksy for Stoll and Greene. A move that the public widely perceived as a win for the Oilers. At the time it looked like a top pairing puck moving defenseman or at best a second line center and a third pairing defenseman. But the reality is that move was a complete fit for the Kings and for the type of identity they wanted to achieve. This is the kind of mentality the Oilers should adopt. Once the whole organization sees it through those goggles, it manifests itself in drafting, development, trades, signings… It is not enough to just assemble talented players by itself. And if it means you have to eventually say goodbye to a Yakupov to bring the type of player(s) this team needs, that is going to fit that identity, then you do it, you are extremely careful about the parameters and the timing of it, but you do it. 

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