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"The Oracle"
Calgary, AB • Canada •
Modern day Oilers fans will remember in the not too distant past they were in the Stanley Cup Finals facing off against a Carolina squad with a young upstart goalie by the name of Cam Ward. Names like Mike Morrison, Jussi Markkanen and Ty Conklin were all to familiar to Oilers fans, much to their chagrin. Little did the fans realize that when the trigger was pulled on a deal to bring 36 year old Dwayne Roloson over from Minnesota, the face of their franchise was about to change in a big way. <br/><br/><IMG SRC="http://potratzhockey.file...om/2013/10/roli.jpg" ALT=Former Edmonton Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson WIDTH=430 HEIGHT=300><br/><br/>Roloson was known more for his short fuse than anything else, though he had experience and a half decent record (peripherally speaking anyway) with Minnesota, certainly enough of an upgrade in net over Markkanen and Conklin. Let's face it, what team with a hall of fame netminder is going to give them up anyway, much less for a first round pick (mid-round at the time of the trade) and a conditional pick. Ironically that pick would be used to select Trevor Lewis, responsible for two goals in the Kings' Game 6 cup winning victory in 2012.<br/><br/>Roloson and his heroics brought the Oilers much farther than anyone had imagined possible, from the last playoff seed in the Western Conference to the cup finals. Unfortunately he fell to injury in the finals, leaving the crease to a less than spectacular tandem of Markkanen and Conklin, both of whom struggled to maintain a save percentage at or above .900, while Roloson's was well in excess of that number. As a Leafs fan, I dare not tread any further down this path except to say that we know what the outcome of that scenario was.<br/><br/>What the Oilers were able to take from that was a solid #1 netminder, unfortunately what Roloson's efforts cost the Oilers is in large part to blame for the fall from grace - an odd connection for anyone to make no doubt, but bear with me. As most GM's know, keeping a cup winning team together after a cup run isn't easy, but the added difficulty came with the unknown of how to make adjustments in a newly implemented salary cap era.<br/><br/>The good feelings in Edmonton were matched by the generosity of the management to dole out large, long-term contracts to players like Shawn Horcoff - whose Stanley Cup run season was the outlier in an otherwise middling career, and the ever enigmatic Ales Hemsky. While other management decisions had good and bad sides, the Pronger trade netted Edmonton a solid return, the Smyth trade was a poor choice, as was the Dustin Penner offer sheet.<br/><br/><IMG SRC="http://postmediaedmonton....3/09/ryan-smyth.jpg" ALT="Ryan Smyth, fan favourite and face of the franchise" WIDTH=620 HEIGHT=417><br/><br/>Regardless, Roloson's solid netminding made the Oilers better than they were, resulting in management believing in a team that nearly got 30 goals from Raffi Torres - yes, that Raffi Torres - and a prolific playoff tear from Fernando Pisani, easily the most clutch Oiler outside of the crease during that run to the cup finals.<br/><br/>Though Roloson faced competition from upstart Mathieu Garon and rookie Jeff Deslauriers, he was able to hold onto the #1 position in Edmonton before a contract dispute a la Ryan Smyth caused him to sign on with the Islanders. Since his departure, the Oilers have continued to rotate through goaltenders like they're the Philadelphia Flyers. Along the way they've managed to grab some serious talent up front, but have also seemed to miss out on the back end talent they so desperately need. <br/><br/>That being said, the solution is not entirely to shore up the defense corps, there is much more at play than a porous defense. A goaltender who can consistently play at a .900 or above save percentage is a good start, unfortunately the turnover in Edmonton's crease has been so high that we can't even assess whether Ben Scrivens or Viktor Fasth are able to do so with any regularity. My own experience with Ben Scrivens is that he is frustratingly inconsistent as Oiler fans may understand at this point - his prolific NHL record shattering 59-save shutout aside. Unfortunately to start the season he has a .800 SV%, keeping in mind this is a three game sample, but allowing 14 goals on 70 shots is a terrible start - and it's not as if the Oilers are giving up a ton of shots either. Fasth giving up 7 goals on 54 shots is a marginally more inspiring .870, but once again, the shot totals are not obscene.<br/><br/><IMG SRC="http://2.cdn.nhle.com/oil.../scrivens030314.jpg" ALT="Is Ben Scrivens the answer to the Oilers question?" WIDTH=644 HEIGHT=396><br/><br/>What this means is that the goalies are letting in soft goals or that the scoring chances against are of a rare high quality. I believe the answer is both, with a young team of exciting forwards and ill experienced D-men, the Oilers have difficulty playing in their own end. Particularly as it pertains to skilled forwards of which the Oilers have plenty, they will chase the puck, because having the puck is step one for scoring.<br/><br/>Though they are not the biggest forwards, they must learn to cover the players, not the puck - if you can subdue the opponent you're up against, you can certainly control the puck enough to allow the goaltender to make a clean and somewhat simple save, without stick deflections or wide open opponents to bang in easy goals. The Oilers attempted to address that issue when they acquired Teddy Purcell, a step in the right direction but nevertheless, the team must play a better overall defensive game. <br/><br/>Players like Mikhail Grabovski and Nathan Gerbe show that size is not everything when it comes to being a responsible two-way player, the buy-in must be there or the Oilers must not be afraid to ship out. With a team as talented as they are, they have plenty of tools and trade chips at their disposal that would ensure they get closer to playing a game they can win.<br/><br/>They have done everything wrong, including near annual turnover of the coaching staff, handing out massive contracts prior to good player or team performance and acquiring unconventional goalie talent (Scrivens an undrafted collegiate signing, Fasth a 30 year old rookie with Anaheim) with the hopes of uncovering the next Tim Thomas. How many more first overall picks before management realizes the rebuild has taken far longer than is common, even in years with weak drafts?<br/><br/>The next contract signed should be indicative of the players ability to cover the weaknesses of the team, not indicative of the players draft position, potential talent or anything else. I know it's easy to say that when an agent sits on the other side of the table highlighting the virtues of the player, but at this point in Oiler history, it's much more important to build the team with players who will play the team game rather than perform well individually or on the score sheet. <br/><br/>Somewhere down the line there has to be accountability for being so consistently weak, as a Leafs fan I can wholeheartedly say that the Leafs aren't this bad and haven't been for quite some time. They have been middling for more years than the Oilers have been in the NHL, which makes it somewhat easier to excuse poor performance. With top shelf talent, the Oilers should be seeing some progress, even early in the year, rather than the same old story.
October 22, 2014 4:59 PM ET | Delete
Derp.
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