Part 1 of our 435 part series: "Better Know What's Wrong With The Edmonton Oilers"
The Edmonton Oilers like to play hard to get. But I get it. Sure they'll tease you with the odd two or three game winning streak, only to be inevitably followed by a two or three game losing streak. I'm not fooled anymore. They are a decidedly average hockey team. The larger problem is that they've tricked management into believing that a break-through is imminent, which only delays what truly needs to be done to fix this team.
The Oilers have been cut a lot of slack this year, by fans, media, and to a greater extent, by their two-headed GM. Sophomore slumps, lack of confidence, tough schedule...all excuses. About the only person who hasn't accepted their mediocrity is Craig MacTavish, and yet everyone is calling for HIS head? Weird.
What ails this team has little to do with coaching and a lot to do with the composition of the roster. It's flawed and littered with holes, among them: terrible penalty killing, inability to win faceoffs, and a lack of grit and physical play. We're 36 games into the season, it's time to accept that this team is what it is, and right now that's a non-playoff team. At a certain point "slumps," "poor confidence," and "bad breaks" are states of reality, not transient periods of time. Did I just get all deep on you? Every time they look like they're about to turn a corner, they fall back into...well, being the team they really are. That's because asking a bunch of small skill players to play outside their natural comfort zone (i.e. gritty, more physical) is not a sustainable practice. At some point they will revert back to what they know - their natural style. After all, that's what got them to this point. They're being asked to change their stripes to compensate for the deficiencies of the roster, and that falls on the GM. It's time to change the makeup of this group. If they're serious about making the playoffs, waiting another 15-20 games will be too late.
The other day I was looking at the Oilers depth chart, and I thought to myself, "Boy this team could really use a healthy J.F. Jacques." Let me tell you something, that scares the shit out of J.F. Jacques, not to mention me. I've reached THAT level of exasperation and desperation with this team.
I received an e-mail this morning from a journalist in Edmonton with a couple of Oiler -related trade rumors. I should probably clarify that by "journalist," I mean Washingtron. Some of you may remember him as a writer for this blog, and by "some of you," I mean Washingtron. It went as follows:
Hey man, here are the rumblings from around here... one of which, the second, is from a reputable lawyer who hangs with agents...
1 - Visnovsky for Spezza
2 - Gilbert and Horcoff for Kovalchuk
First off, it should be said that Washingtron does run in a pretty connected circle. I mean, if you know another Oiler blogger who used to play G.I Joe with Zach Pocklington, speak up. I'm not making any of this up, because 1) the Internet isn't big enough for TWO fake rumor sites, and 2) does this blog really need LESS legitimacy?
My thoughts? Neither of those trades fix what's wrong with the Oilers, especially the Kovalchuk deal. But, Kevin Lowe is so fixated on bringing a superstar to Edmonton, I could actually see that one happening. Yes, the Oilers could certainly use another legitimate front-line scorer (so could 29 other teams), but the truth is the Oilers would be a playoff team if they could simply win more faceoffs and not give up a power play goal every night.
Faceoffs: There are only 50 or so guys in the NHL that are over 50% in the faceoff circle, so finding them isn't as easy as it sounds. Back in September I got into a little discussion about acquiring a third line faceoff guy, and threw out Radek Bonk's name. Well, look who's sitting atop the league with a Yanic Perrault-vian 63% win rate. Sure he has flaws, but anybody you're acquiring to fill that role has flaws, otherwise they'd be first line centers. Some other guys that can probably be had? Antoine Vermette (62%) would be a good fit. Kamil Kreps (53%) in Florida is a good young defensive forward. For a twist, how about Jussi Jokinen in Tampa? He's 53% with over 450 draws taken, and given that he's played the wing for large stretches of his career, you could stick him on the wing with the faceoff-inept Cogliano and have him take draws, without creating a log-jam down the middle. He just cleared waivers so he'd likely be available for near nothing.
Penalty Killing: How has one of the leagues best penalty killing teams each of the two previous years become almost automatic to relinquish a big PP goal every night? It's laughable. Tangent: How the fuck are the Maple Leafs and Thrashers worse than the Oilers? Sure winning a defensive zone faceoff would help, but that's just part of it. I went to the Kings-Blue Jackets game on Monday, and I was amazed at how many shots the Blue Jackets blocked on the PK, and I don't mean guys throwing themselves recklessly all around the zone. I mean being aggressive, getting sticks and legs into lanes, defenseman fronting shots before they got to the goaltender. This was from the 15th ranked unit in the league! On most nights, that aggressiveness and willingness is missing from the Oilers. Given that the Oilers have been so good in years past, you'd think that's coachable. If not, the only explanation for the sudden decline is the loss of personnel (Jarrett Stoll, Marty Reasoner, Matt Greene) and if that's the case, they need replacing.
It's time to make a deal. Steve Tambellini has yet to put his stamp on this team, and there's no better (see: more necessary) time than now. The next time I log on to oilers.nhl.com I don't want to see anymore of Crystal Leriger (with clothes on), or Ladislav Smid playing roving reporter, or Erik Cole sharing story time with the kids. I want a fucking deal.
I get it...now just fix it.