The Oilers finished second last this season but how far off are they? There has never been a team like the Oilers in the history of the NHL. A team with incredibly talented forwards made up of some amazingly talented but very young players. Most have spent their NHL careers trying to use to new coaches and expectations each year. Combine this with many other factors and it is tough to say how much they need to be a playoff team.
The Oilers started the season with Talbot and ended with him after trying Nilsson and Brossoit. Talbot was inconsistent at first but has emerged as a promising starting tender for the team. However this inconsistency is one of the many reasons this young squad finished second last in the NHL... again.
It is obvious that their blue line is one of the worst in the league. Put that together with numerous new faces (Draisaitl, McDavid, Maroon, Kassian, Letestu, Nurse, Pakarinen, Sekera, Davidson, Clending...) this is a team that has had little time to develop chemistry and work with an entire new coaching staff.
There are many in the hockey world, especially press in Alberta's Capitol that think a complete overhaul of the team is in order. There are changes that need doing but critics of the team are way off on what this is.
Many are calling for the trade of one of the top three veteran forwards (Hall, Eberle and RNH). A time might come for this but to do it now would set the team back even further.
Hall has always been one of the teams most consistent players. When not injured, he is always a threat on the ice and he plays an inspirational game. There was talk during last nights broadcast about McDavid being Captain soon but I am not convinced that Hall doesn't deserve the C more until Connor gets at least a few season under him. Connor is obviously the more talented player but that shouldn't be the criteria in which to chose a captain.
Eberle has played some amazing hockey over the years. He dominated last spring with Hall on Team Canada's first line. He also has shown that he can keep up with McDavid. The two of them have shown the most chemistry the Oilers have known since Gretzky and Kurri.
RNH is a tougher one. There is a market for a top line center. Most likely Stamkos will go to Detroit to replace Datsyuk and that will leave many teams looking for a true number one. I think the final game against Vancouver showed why the Oilers need him. He played a good game using his "small" size to shelter the puck as good as any of the larger guys. He is able to play any role and he is a more consistent faceoff man than Leon and Connor.
Trading him means that the Oilers would have to find a top 6 forward to replace him and then use the two rookies as the teams top two centers. McDavid and Draisatl may be ready for that but it is a huge risk to take, especially when RNH is having troubles staying healthy. His value on the trade market is lowered by his injuries and the fact that he has spent his career on a losing team. RNH will most likely need to go but this isn't the year for it.
The Oilers can fill all their needs without trading their top 5. Nail will be traded almost certainly. He has asked for a trade but has not put pressure on the team to make this happen. I can't blame him at all. The Oilers have treated him in a manner that is outrageous for a player of his skill. Giving the young player limited ice time, playing on weak lines despite his amazing play during his rookie season on Hall's line. If any other team had a first overall pick that they felt was not performing they would let him develop in the minors like they did for Leon. A half season with the Kelowna Rockets did amazing things for the young German center.
Anyone that thinks trading Nail is a good thing for the team is insane. With the ice time he has been given his return will be next to nothing and he is going to go on to play some amazing hockey for whatever team gets him. There are some people that think a package deal for Duchene (Oilers would need to give up more) or a trade for Drouin are the way to go. Not for any other reason other than these players seem to be on the outs with their current management. My thought is the Islanders are a real possibility. Losing Okposo opens a hole and Hamonic has also asked for a trade. Hammonic is a decent player but he is just a step in the direction the Oilers need to go.
The Oilers have some defensemen that show a future. Nurse, Klefbom, Davidson and Rienhart might all be great defenders down the road but the Oilers are in bad need of two strong blue liners for next season. There are a few people out there suggesting the Oilers address this by passing on the top 5 ranked players in the draft (all fowards) and going with a defenseman. This is also ridiculous since there is no consensus top defender and they take time to develop. Oilers are best served by choosing the best player available when they draft and that will be a forward. Most likely one of the two Finish players.
The Oilers have room under the cap and the UFA crop is great this year. The Oilers have caught the eye of many in the hockey world and numerous players have expressed interest in playing with the young squad. There is no guarantee that this will translate into top name UFA's signing with the squad but it will get easier each year.
Before discussing the defense it should be pointed out that the Oilers could use a top 6 forward and a strong back up goalie. Letting Brossoitt mature another year is the safe bet and grabbing a goalie to back up Talbot makes sense. There are many that can fill this role so there is no need to break the bank. They just need a veteran that can play if Talbot gets injured or needs rest.
As for a top 6 forward. There are also many that can play second line wing among this years UFA crop. To be honest I might approach Perron if I were Chiarelli. He was the top goal scorer on the team the year before he was traded and hasn't been able to repeat his play with the Pens or the Ducks. He might be an affordable replacement for Nail. Regardless they should address this as Kassian/Pouliot are really third line players.
It has been suggested by many that the Oilers will be going after Hamonic or UFA Demers. At least one TSN commentator has gone so far as to suggest the Oilers are trading from a position of weakness and will have to give up a lot to get Travis. I could see Demers playing a top 4 role with the Oil but I wouldn't make him my first target. I think the Oilers should go hard after Yandle and Hamhuis. Neither will be cheap but they will most likely be on the move due to their current team's cap issues.
Yandle is a proven number 1 defender and will be sought after by many. It will take a lot of work and maybe money to get him to sign. The Oilers would be remiss in not trying though. He could be their top guy for many years and offers a complete package in terms of his skill set. Hamhuis is a strong shutdown defender but he can play the PP or the PK. If Sekeras is worth 5.5 million then Hamhuis will cost more. However the Oilers are in a great position this year as many teams are against the cap.
Landing these two would make the Oilers a completely different team. I know this is not as easy as it sounds. There will be a lot of teams looking to sign these defense men in particular. I said this is what the Oilers need. Not what will happen. The odds are better that the Oilers will overpay again for a 3-4 defender and continue to struggle. The most important thing they can do though is add to the young core and not hack away at them for a low return. Trading Hall, RNH or Eberle just forces the Oilers to have to go and find a replacement for them. Tough to do for the same money that these players are signed to.