If you have been paying attention, then you should be part of the consensus that Craig MacTavish has, during the off-season so far, made the Oilers not a little but a lot better.
The blemish on his record however, if there is to be one, is at Center. And since most championship teams are built on strength down the middle, this is legitimate cause for concern.
But Craig MacTavish is a smart man. He didn’t merely swing & miss while shopping for UFA’s. At some point, he made the conscious decision to not wander any deeper into the already shallow free-agent pool for a stop gap solution. So, what did MacT see that led to this decision?
First, the Oilers believe that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is about to break out. I buy that. The Nuge spent much of the off-season rehabbing his shoulder, and as a result, his over-all fitness lacked. That showed as the season wore on, leading to defensive mistakes unlike such an intelligent player and lower than expected production. But even at that, often facing tough competition each night, he was still easily a Top-20 NHL centerman, comparable to a Paul Stastny or Eric Stall, and not that far off the performance of Jonathan Toews or Jason Spezza. A healthier, stronger, better conditioned, 1-year-older Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can very realistically push to be a Top 10 pivot.
Second, Craig MacTavish must feel that the Boyd Gordon we witnessed last season was the real deal. Gordon was a horse, shouldering bruising zone starts and grinding competition. David Perron (whom I love) got most of the ink last season, but Boyd Gordon was the bigger acquisition. And people conveniently forget that while Gordon plays like a 33 year old, he’s actually just 27, entering his prime, with 3-4 comparative seasons to go before he should start to wane. It’s debatable whether he is a 3C or 4C, but regardless, he is a real NHL center that Dallas Eakins can take to the bank.
Third, Craig MacTavish thinks Leon Draisaitl is poised to be a regular NHL-er this season. To be clear, I’m not necessarily advocating for this. But there is no way that the Oilers plan on starting Mark Arcobello and Anton Lander in the 2C and 3C spots this season. It is Draisaitl’s job to lose, for better or for worse.
Fourth, The Oilers are betting that among their organizational depth, one is a lot closer that the rest of us think to taking a regular shift in the NHL. The afore-mentioned Lander and Arcobello count among these. So do Bogdan Yakimov, Jujhar Khaira and Greg Chase.
Finally, though, it’s possible that Craig MacTavish still nabs a 2C via trade, a piece I happen the Oilers desperately need. Not just a stop-gap, but a quality, maturing-but-not-old yet pivot. Let’s call him Ryan O’Reilly.
Would the Avalanche take a young roster-spot defenseman already under contract for a player who appears to have worn out his welcome in Denver?