The new GM of the Edmonton Oilers hasn’t been on the job that long and already Craig MacTavish is spending long hours when it comes to his master plan that will live up to his promise that major changes are coming to this team.
With the playoffs now in full gear, MacTavish is using this second season as a spectator to scout the role players of the teams that are still playing hockey to help route his future path of restoring greatness to the Oilers organization.
Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal has the piece on MacT scouting teams like the Blackhawks, Blues and Ducks; finding out what makes these clubs so successful. After two night’s of playoff hockey it should be clear to the new GM – it’s called depth.
The Oilers have plenty of firepower up front in the fab four, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. What they are lacking are the gritty sandpaper type players who know their role as third and fourth line players but can still contribute offensively.
Take the Blackhawks for example. They won game one in a thrilling overtime fashion and it wasn’t the usual suspects of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marion Hossa or Patrick Sharp. Rather it was Brian Bickell who helped avoid a first game scare by the Minnesota Wild and lifted the Blackhawks to victory.
Matheson uses the Anaheim Ducks as another example and this one should sting all Oiler fans; Andrew Cogliano. The perfect third line center that never was in Edmonton. Sure Sam Gagner came along and displaced Cogliano on the second line and the need for two, smaller NHL centerman was something no club would venture on.
But Matheson debates that Cogliano could have played on the Oilers third line as a winger and be used a penalty killer who can create havoc with his speed and still produce offensively. You could also argue that what the Oilers are really missing is size amongst their forwards, someone who can create room for the Yakupov’s, Halls, and Nugent-Hopkins’ of the game.
Is Mike Brown the answer? Sure he can chuck knuckles with some of the best in the game but offensively he’s not even a third line player let alone a forward you could trust playing on the top two lines.
Teemu Hartikainen has that potential to develop into a bruising power forward but even his ceiling is likely at the second line.
So why are these role players so hard to come by? Where are the Bickell’s and Andrew Shaw‘s of the game for the Oilers? You can argue that it starts at the draft but as Oiler fans we’ve heard that for the past four seasons and we are no further ahead as far as making strides to being a Stanley Cup contender.
The other and more logical answer? Free-agency and trades or a roster shakeup of sorts, something MacTavish has promised will happen immediately this summer.
Ryan Clowe currently with the New York Rangers is the perfect example of the type of player that the Oilers need. He has the size to be able to create room for his linemates and still has the offensive ability to pot 20+ goals in a season while setting up another 30. Not huge, blow you away numbers, but enough to contribute on the second line.
Without digging into it too much (we’ll save that as the summer approaches) another name is Brendan Morrow. Talk about a missing ingredient in the Oilers recipe for year’s gone by. Leadership, grit, heart, passion, offensive ability……need we go on? Sure he’s 34 and his body may be on the verge of a physical breakdown but he may be worth the gamble.
The options will be there for MacTavish and the Oilers to bolster their lineup with the role players they so desperately need. Whether or not they’ll be able to land some of the top-end names will remain to be seen but at least MacTavish is doing the leg work by scouting the successful clubs, realizing what is needed to separate the pretenders from the contenders.
Role players are the most under rated contributors of a successful hockey club and it’s clear that MacTavish understands it’s exactly those forwards that the Oilers are missing.