Last night was another break down at Rexall Place. The Edmonton Oilers fought a better team, they fought the fans, they fought themselves. In a hard-to-watch loss against one of the best franchises in the NHL, the Oilers showed just how young this team is.
In a surprise major storyline this year, the Oilers have been a horrible team. They aren’t winning, they’ve sunken into another huge stretch of losing games, and they’ve done it early. We’ve seen this kind of run from this team for the last few years and nothing seems to be working when it comes to remedying these losses in the off-season. They added Andrew Ference and Boyd Gordon at the opening of free agency, two players coming from teams that win with strong defensive play and win consistently. So far, the Oilers have let in the most goals in the NHL.
What this means is that the players we bring in to help give the team a positive culture change are simply being assimilated to the losing culture of the team. Head Coach Dallas Eakins, who was advertised to be a hard-ass, has seemingly done nothing to get this team back on track and has seldom been seen vocalizing displeasure, or any emotion at all, from behind the bench. This is all icing on the beautiful cake that has been the Oilers injury woes this season. I mentioned in my blog the major injuries the Oilers have sustained today, but to run through the full list of them is truly astonishing. Gagner and Nuge to start, but Potter, MacIntyre and Grebeshkov were all on the shelf to start the year as well. Joensuu had hardly played before being sidelined. Now, approaching the quarter mark of the season, Taylor Hall, David Perron, Justin Schultz, Devan Dubnyk, Richard Bachman, Ryan Smyth, Jesse Joensuu and Anton Belov are all watching the games from the rafters.
TSN’s preseason panel talked of the Oilers not being built to run with this many injuries. They were talking about Nuge and Gagner. The parade to the infirmary for the Oil has been steady throughout this young season and it has translated directly to the loss column.
As a fan of the Edmonton Oilers, I like to focus on the positives. At the end of this season there is an epic crop of free agents. The Oilers only have two defensemen under contract and no goaltenders. The strength of the team is it’s forwards, but anyone with eyes could tell you that the Oilers forwards bring great pedigree and not much else. Eberle’s toe drags are stale against any conscious defenseman, Nugent-Hopkins lacks weight but is likely the best skater in the corps. Taylor Hall is the best player on the team hands down, but has had issues converting his game to the pro-level. He’s also got injury issues. Yakupov is another dynamic forward who could use a few AHL seasons to create his pro-game, but that simply isn’t an option to this team of children. Yak will fire pucks into the net all day long, but getting open and avoiding defenders has proved to be a huge issue for his game.
With so many kids on this team, there are only four real options. The three options that could make or break this team are as follows.
A) The wins aren’t coming. When the sky is falling, move heaven and earth to get out from under it. The Oilers could choose what pieces they think are serviceable, sell the rest to the highest bidders (Which would be ugly, involving a lot of bad deals with the Oilers trading from a position of weakness) and move on working with the best free agents that will take our money. Again, the Oilers would be dealing from a position of weakness. Any free agents we would acquire would be over-payed, possibly aged, and far from perfect. The Stars, Panthers and Devils have all gone this route, with mixed results.
Mixed results are far better than the results the Oilers have seen thus far.
B) A much smaller version of plan A. My personal favourite of the options. Run Hemsky out of town on deadline day. Deal out Yakupov, Petry, possibly Dubnyk, and do whatever you have to to find a number one centre, a real pro who can lead the team, carry it if he has to. Not a Nugent-Hopkins, a Joe Thornton. Play Nuge and eberle on the second line and kick back their TOI as quickly as possible. You sit them on the bench and tell them to watch. This learning process for the kids is teaching them nothing.
C) Sell the vets. This isn’t really an option I could see, but its technically a possibility. Throw away Hemsky, Smid, Gagner, Gordon, anyone you can for draft picks. It hasn’t worked for eight years, why not keep trying?
D) This is the course the Oilers will take. It consists of standing pat and doing nothing. It will be the option the MacTavish will take because it will not include him saying he was wrong. It will include the least amount of podium time and, when the Oilers have come off to this horrific start, the podium is the last place MacTavish wants to be. He’ll continue to feed sad sad Eakins to the fans and the city will continue to turn their heads south and watch Calgary win. The fans the team has attracted around the world when they started rebuilding have realized this is the next Florida, not the next Chicago. The boys running the ship don’t have some grand design to the losing, they figured out how to lose and now that they want to win, they don’t have anyone left who knows how. How it looks around the league is that the cleanse that took place this summer wasn’t enough, it wasn’t the answer and now this team is floundering, readying itself to fight over Ekblad or Reinhart, which right now would be equivalent to fighting over Joni Pitkannen or Robert Nilsson. Another player we have way too many of. Now, that’s how it looks from the outside. From the inside, we can say its either that, OR it’s a bad injury bite. The true test will come when this team gets 100% healthy again, if it ever does, and we still can’t lose.
Just remember that the Oilers will always have a scapegoat to fall back on. All NHL teams have flaws, but the ones that have always won will continue to, and the Oilers have a war to fight to get back into that conversation.