The Darren Dreger quote in the subject line comes from a TSN article discussing the Oilers present and future. Oiler management believes they've exhausted all possible avenues to build a roster and now must enter into a five-year rebuild, in which they will add a superstar and everything will fix itself after that. Lowetide already did a great take on the absurdity of this notion, that it's a superstar they lack rather than "...a veteran right handed center, a fricking decision on a small forward, a goalie who is healthy and has a track record." And he's right. The Oilers have failed to address the same problems for three years, and somehow still believe it's a superstar the team lacks.
Today, Vic Ferrari chimed in with roster-building advice for the Oilers, taken from Al Arbour via Darcy Regier:
"I once asked Al, what's the secret to building a team? He said no secret, it's not complicated, get good players."
Oilers vs Sharks coverage
And therein is the problem. Rather than get good players, the Oilers continue to bring in flawed players. The management team has added inexperienced forwards, offense-only forwards, injury-prone veterans, and kids with no NHL experience. Rather than add men who can play the game, they hitched their wagon to a bunch of kids and now sit in press conferences with incredulous stares. Their fanbase has been calling for the same thing for three years - no, not a superstar - a second line that can play tough minutes, and a playoff appearance. That's all. The fans don't want Marian Hossa, Jaromir Jagr or Dany Heatley and aren't demanding a cup. They want Dominic Moore, Manny Malhotra and a chance.
This brings me to the San Jose Sharks, today's superstar-laden opponent, and current employer of last summer's whale hunt and as per Tyler, likely the coming summer's whale hunt. The Sharks are one of four teams favored to win the cup this year, but it's not because of the superstars. San Jose has had superstars for a few season now. No, the reason that they're a finals favorite is the roster depth, replete with real NHL players on all four lines.
It didn't used to be that way. In fact in 1993, just two years after entering the league as an expansion team, the Sharks still looked like an expansion team. Their best players were an ancient Russian Sergei Makarov; and a journeyman center named Todd Elik a man that has played in five professional leagues for thirteen teams, and is still plugging along in the Austrian league at age 43; and the crafty old great Igor Larionov. The Sharks that year had some comers in 21-year-old Sandis Ozolinsh, 21-year-old Ray Whitney, 20-year-old Pat Falloon, and 19-year-old Mike Rathje, but the roster was a mishmash of NHL vets from the expansion draft, waiver wire pickups and trade afterthoughts.
The thing about the rest of the roster was that they were some players that could play the NHL game. Bob Errey, Jeff Norton, Gaetan Duchesne, Ulf Dahlen, and Johan Garpenlov were all men that knew both ends of the ice. They had a goalie in Arturs Irbe that, though tiny in stature, was reliable and durable. With a young Kevin Constantine (even in his first season in charge in the NHL, he was never one to be outcoached), Makarov and Larionov on the top line, a collection of experienced forwards covering for Whitney and Falloon, and seventy-four games out of Irbe, the Sharks finished third in the Pacific and eighth in the conference, well ahead of ninth place Anaheim.
The Sharks drew Scott Bowman's powerhouse Red Wings and didn't have a chance to win a game, let alone the series. But a funny thing happened on the way to the second round -- the resilient Irbe and those real NHL forwards began causing big headaches for Bowman's group, eventually taking the series lead, 3-2. San Jose was blown out of games two and six by a combined score of 11-1, but in the other four games, San Jose hung tough and outscored Detroit 17-14. Constantine gave Bowman fits and Irbe stood about twice as tall as his 5'8" frame should have allowed him. Game seven was more of the same. Irbe standing on his head and Constantine chasing matchups all over the ice. San Jose pulled off the upset and advanced to meet the Maple Leafs. The series was eerily similar to the Edmonton / Detroit series in 2006. In yet another upset, San Jose took Toronto to seven games before finally relenting.
The following year was more of the same. The Sharks brought on another kid in Jeff Friesen, but they went out and turned Jeff Norton and Todd Elik into Craig Janney. Irbe was once again a workhorse and the Sharks finished seventh in the conference. The opening series against the Flames went seven games after the Sharks jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Calgary rallied with three straight wins, San Jose won game six and forced a game seven. Much like against Detroit, in games three and five, the Sharks were outscored 14-2. In the other four games, the Sharks made the Flames go nuts. Constantine's constant chasing of matchups kept the series tight and San Jose outscored Calgary 19-17 in the other four. The Sharks took game seven and moved into the second round where they were swept by the Red Wings.
In two years, a severely undermanned team played 25 playoff games. A team that hitched it's wagon to Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov. There were no stars on this team, just NHL veterans that could play the game and shield the multitude of kids. There was a coach that protected those kids and rode his veterans and goalie hard. The Sharks did not go whale hunting, and they did not prostrate themselves in front of the league. An expansion team with very little had more success in two years than the Oilers have had in the last four. The funny part? The Oilers have loads more talent at the top of the roster when compared to those Sharks. What's missing from these Oilers? Bob Errey, Gaetan Duchesne, Ulf Dahlen, and Johan Garpenlov. The Oilers aren't missing Dany Heatley or Marian Hossa.