Coming into the 2013-2014 season, I was rather impressed with the moves that newly appointed GM, Craig MacTavish, had made for the Oilers. Granted, he didn't bring in any huge names, but he also didn't sit idly by (see: Steve Tambellini). It seemed like a fresh this was finally going to be the year that the Oilers came out of the basement to play with the big boys. He also brought in a new coach who apparently believed in things like "accountability" and "physical fitness". I remember thinking "Awesome! There's no way this could go bad!" In retrospect, I wish I had been slapped in the face back in October. It would sure sting a lot less now.
Watching players like Ference and Perron come in seemed like brilliant moves. Particularly Perron. I loved me some Paajarvi, but something tells me he had peaked with the Oilers. Plus, being sent up and down through the organization has to take a toll on you, I'm sure. To this day, I'm convinced bringing Perron here was the best trade the Oilers have made in recent memory (Although sending Horcoff away almost seems like a godsend). Then there are the goalie signings (Labarbara/Bachman) which I was also very okay with. Bachman played quite a bit last season with Dallas while Lehtonen was hurt, and Labarbara always looked pretty strong in Phoenix. Boyd Gordon didn't strike me as good or bad, just a replacement for Horcoff which, honestly, didn't seem like hard shoes to fill. But I knew that he had ties to Labarbara, so I had assumed that the transition would be a little less rough for the both of them, seeing as they were already familiar with each other. Then there were the guys that I really didn't have any opinion on at all (Belov, Grebeshkov, Larsen, Gazdic, MacIntyre).
I also want to preface the rest of this blog with this notion: I had hoped the Oilers were going to sign Bryzgalov before the season had started. Somehow, I knew he was going to end up in Edmonton.
So, watching the pre season start and finish, the Oilers looked exactly how I thought they would. Fast, a little more tough, and skilled. The exception being the last game against Dallas, where Gazdic seemed like a one man wrecking crew through the entire team (Why they waived him immediately after that game is beyond me, but that led to him becoming an Oiler, which is very okay). The Oilers looked like a team who was finally going to challenge for a playoff spot, granted them being in such a tough division.
Then, I suppose the wheels started spinning a bit too fast for Dallas Eakins before they had to fall off. Personally, I think naming Andrew Ference the captain of this team is a slap in the face to all the kids who have worked so hard on this bad team the last 3-4 years. Taylor Hall is the game in, game out leader of this team. If you watch a game and you don't see that, then you must be watching a different game. He is the heart and soul of that team. But, I digress, because what's done is done, and that was mistake #1 for Eakins.
Next, we move on to the entire Yakupov situation, which was comical at best. I think it was super adorable that Eakins thought it would be a good idea to sit Yakupov for not one, but two straight games. Specifically the second game, which I can guarantee would have done a lot for him, considering it was against Washington, against his countryman Ovechkin. Everyone goes through slumps. Hell, I would view all of 2013 as a slump for Nugent-Hopkins after the rookie year he had, but that is neither here, nor there. Benching Yakupov was absurd for multiple reasons. Also, playing him on the 3rd and 4th line with guys like Ryan Smyth and Will Acton didn't help much either, I'm sure. Then come the trade rumors, and the Larionov public statements and blah blah blah. If Mac T had traded Yakupov earlier this year when that stuff was happening, the city would have called for his head. For some reason that town loves that little Russian kid. I can see why though. He's just always so damn happy. Mistake #2.
So many things have gone wrong half way through this season that my head hurts. Eakins has made more and more mistakes (flip flopping his stance on his trap system in particular) than any seasoned NHL coach would, sure, but I think the worst thing the Oilers could do after this season is fire him, and bring in ANOTHER coach next year. Just let someone have a fair chance. I would give Eakins 3 seasons to fully implement any system he wants the team to play, and see how the team responds to it at that point. I understand that this team should be winning games by now, but there are more pressing issues, aside from the coaching.
There are ways to fix this team. It's going to take some gutsy plays by MacTavish, but if this team wants to win, he needs to be bold. They are not going to care who got sent away if the team wins. Let's take a look at some key points here.
Devan Dubnyk pretty much screwed himself this year. I had faith in him to be the clubs #1 guy for a long time. That was until this season started. Nothing has gone right for him and he has let in some of the softest goals I have ever seen this year. He is whatever the opposite of clutch is for this team, and could very well be the bane of this team's season. Signing Bryzgalov semi-long term should be one of the main focuses of this club right now. A team needs to have faith in whoever is keeping pucks out of the net for them to have any confidence in putting them in the other net. Lock him down now and don't let him go to the highest bidder in June. Please, Mac T. Please.
Next, trade away one of the children. Not just any one of them though. Trade Eberle. He is the most replaceable of the bunch, and frankly, they don't need him. At this point in the season, looking where the team sits (2nd only to Buffalo from Ekblad), Mac T should be on the phone with David Poile helping him fix what Philadelphia started in that insane contract stapled to Shea Weber. The Oilers only have one roster defenseman (Andrew Ference) on contract after this year, and they have a golden opportunity to do a lot of good. Offer Poile Eberle and their 2014 1st round pick. Get bold. Sure, Ekblad would be great to have, but he's not going to solve the Oilers issues, at all. They need a good, 1-2, shut down defenseman who can play 25+ minutes/game. Someone to show Petry/J Schultz/Larsen how to play with more poise. If the Oilers offered that, they would have a brand new Shea Weber, hands down.
Then, get on the phone with Detroit. They have plenty of really good prospects coming up that Edmonton could go after. Specifically, Tomas Jurco. He is a trememdous talent that the Oilers could use right away, and could help fill any void of losing Eberle. I think you could wrap him up in a pretty bow for something along the lines of Hemsky + 3rd/4th. I'm not sure how hard the Oilers would have to push to get him, but I think they could do it, and I think they'd be happy with what they got.
The last little tidbit I see is signing a goalie duriing free agency. I'm thinking Ben Scrivens. Someone who is capable of challenging Bryzgalov. I don't see the Kings keeping Scrivens past this season. They have no reason to with the "dynamo?" Martin Jones who is obviously NHL ready. I also don't think the Kings would be dumb enough to trade Scrivens before or at the deadline, because that could very well backfire on them in a hurry. Wait him out in free agency, and pay him some money. The Oilers will have the cap space they need.
If the Oilers played their cards right, their roster on opening night could look something like this:
Hall - Nuge - Yakupov
Perron - Gagner - Jurco
Hamilton - Gordon - Arcorbello
Moroz - Pitlick - Gazdic
Weber - J Schultz
Ference - Petry
Larsen - Nurse
Think about it, let it sink in. This has plenty of potential. Particularly the 4th line that I created. I know I'm not the Oilers GM, and there is almost next to no way that this works out like this, but if the Oilers looked like this next October, I'm pretty sure that a year from today, I wouldn't be writing a blog with as much disdain as I am today. We're half way to the heartbreak of another lottery pick, instead of a playoff berth, but, maybe next year it will work out. Or, maybe next year we'll be half way to MacDavid.