Before I launch into my tirade on tanking for first round picks, I want to take a piece from my blog written last March as the Edmonton Oilers first season under Dallas Eakins was drawing to a close. Fans kept insisting the team ought to tank, in order to secure Aaron Ekblad. I said, then, and still do now, that the reason (among others) the Oilers have a losing culture is in great part due to this mentality.
Here’s what I said 10 months ago:
On an annual basis, fans decide that since the team isn’t making the playoffs, they may as well lose as many games as they can to ensure a high pick at the draft. Some get quite upset. But isn’t the whole point of the rebuild to win? Why would anyone want any team to intentionally lose? Each year, at the close of another painful season, players should be of the mindset that some strides were made, another piece of the puzzle is set and that they are that much closer to being a winning entity. Instead, the strong breeze of fan discontent has been filtering down to the players. You aren’t a good two way player? Why haven’t you been sent in a package for Shae Weber? We’re eliminated mathematically now? Okay, lose em all. This is an attitude among the fan base that helps to breed a losing culture and in my mind, is a reason among many teams here in Edmonton fail to gel.
Sure enough, it’s January and as the Oilers are gathering more points as they get better under Todd Nelson fans are clamoring for a tank job. Now, I understand the bounty at the top of this year’s draft. Connor McDavid is a true talent an Jack Eichel is a game changer. If McDavid is as good as his fellow Nova Scotian Sidney Crosby, it makes sense why fans might want to see the Oilers piddle it all away to guarantee the best shot to select him at the draft.
However, first round draft picks are just that: they are a prospect with untapped potential. The Edmonton Oilers could keep drafting in the top 3 for many years and NEVER meet respectability. Look at the Islanders this year. When Snow brought in Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, while adding bodies like Michael Grabner, Cal Clutterbuck, Nikolay Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski over the years, he finally had the pieces together for a complete hockey team. He surrounded his picks with great supporting players. Now the picks, like John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and Ryan Strome are rounding into form with a cast around them that supports their level of performance.
In Edmonton, the inability to form that supporting cast has been the Achilles heel. Eric Belanger, Cam Barker, Patrick O’Sullivan, Erik Cole, Ales Kotalik, Denis Grebeshkov, Corey Potter, Mark Fistric, ….the list could go on and on. It is the constant of instability on the roster that in my mind has been the largest factor for the failure of the Oilers. People are calling out Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov, Jordan Eberle, etc. for not being committed enough, and perhaps that’s true. Hell, these are young men with millions of dollars lining their wallets, so Stanley Cup or not, they are set for life.
It’s the dream of every young hockey player to hoist the Stanley Cup. I know these guys are no different. However, the so called “core” in Edmonton has been surrounded by an ever morphing group of players, who most of the time are not good enough to assist in their development. Benoit Pouliot, Mark Fayne, Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks have been solid signings, and I like Derek Roy, but outside of that there is still so much to be done.
As much as the voice inside me wants Connor McDavid to be an Oiler, I want Rexall Place to be loud once more, full of fans watching a team on the rise. Ya, sure, maybe the playoffs are a miracle at this point, but the remainder of the season ought to be a time to develop the proper culture for the future. Constant tanking for teenagers is not the way to do it.