The Edmonton Oilers drafted Taylor Hall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. It marked the official start of the Edmonton Oilers rebuild, after fruitless efforts by the mildly inept management team to acquire major free agents like Marian Hossa and Dany Heatley. The team had decided it was time to start from scratch, beginning with gutting the team and drafting a dynamo to build the team around.
The Oilers, however, began their rebuild from a position of weakness. Instead of offloading their marquee talent, they decided to keep them in favor of letting them go. Part of the reason they were retained was their bloated contracts and dropping returns for the team, making them harder to trade away. To add insult to injury, though, they had no Jarome Iginla or Jay Bouwmeester, no Ryan Miller or Thomas Vanek. Had Edmonton been able to unload a player such as this it could have kickstarted the process, perhaps garnering a power forward or Top defenseman. Sadly, the closest thing the Oilers had was Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner, neither of whom brought down the house with the return on their trades.
I can go on and on about how the Oilers perhaps should have drafted Ryan Murray instead of Nail Yakupov (jury is still out on that one) or that the Oilers should trade one of their Top 6 for a missing piece. The fact of the matter is that the Oilers have failed to coach a team to unity and to ultimate success. Instead, they have gotten rid of players who made solid contributions. How much different would the Oilers be today if they had retained Kyle Brodziak, Jerrod Stoll, Matt Greene, Sheldon Souray, Andrew Cogliano and Raffi Torres? All of those players would act quite well, in my mind, as the type of run support the Oilers need today. Instead, we are in the aftermath of bad acquisitions (Cam Barker, anyone) and poor player retention.
At the same time, the Oilers have had NHL talent on the blue line since, like Kurtis Foster, Tom Gilbert, Andy Sutton, Ryan Whitney and even Jim Vandermeer. Sometimes, even when your supporting cast isn’t ideal, a great coach can galvanize a blue line, implementing systems that elevate even weaker defensive players. In Edmonton, Steve Smith has been a constant as a coach. And the one constant under his tutelage has been defensive corps that are a mess, have no real level of compete, or are being made to fill roles they aren’t meant for.
The worst stretch historically in Oilers history is unfolding now. We have changed Head Coaches like underwear, yet the assistant coaches have remained intact. Offensively, the Oilers can be better, but defensively they are as bad as they have ever been. Through shifting rosters and various challenges, Smith has not been able to form a solid NHL defence. Surely, better options lie out there?
I believe Smith needs to move on. This has nothing to do with the “OLD BOYS CLUB”. (By the way, I personally will not write about the aforementioned Wiserhood. Enough has been scrawled about 6rings and his tribe of friends.) It’s that he has had ample opportunity to prove his mettle and he has failed. Simple as that. A refresh at that position seems like an obvious move. It may not solve all of the blue line struggles, but it will bring a new perspective to the team, one that is in great need.
So, Mr. Mactavish, make the tough decision and fire your old teammate. Bold indeed. But better for the team.