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Deep-Rooted Problems In Edmonton Don't End With MacTavish And Lowe

There is a significant player development problem in Edmonton. Throw it on the pile, I guess.

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Sam Gagner had a fantastic week buoyed, of course, by his performance against the Edmonton Oilers. Of course.

He had a league-high six points (two goals and four assists) in three games to not only help the Coyotes to a pair of wins but also nab the NHL's third star of the week honors.

His third star performance came from the right wing, where Dave Tippett thinks Gagner is a better player:

"There was a learning curve with Sam, and I think he's found his niche on wing now."

If Gagner finds success there, he won't be the only young Oilers centre to find success with another team.  Andrew Cogliano was traded to the Anaheim Ducks after struggling at centre with the Edmonton Oilers.  It was a trade that made little sense at the time:

In those linked articles I lobbied the Oilers to move Cogliano for some useful pieces, so if anyone should be happy with a Cogliano trade, it should be me.  However, there was a caveat to my lobbying efforts, namely that the Oilers give Cogliano a year on the wing to develop into a speedy, goal-scoring right wing like Maxim Afinogenov.  There is abundant talent within the player; perhaps it would come to the surface if Cogliano were to be freed from the defensive responsibilities of center, responsibilities that he clearly can't handle.  That he wasn't moved to the wing is mystifying -- he was a poor defensive center who couldn't win a faceoff -- why keep him at center?  If it was at his insistence, shame on him for being unwilling to experiment with his game and find a useful top 9 role on an NHL team.  If Cogliano was willing to move to the wing, but it was the Oilers who drove the positional decisions, then shame on the team for wasting away the prime formative years of a first-round draft pick with obvious talent.

Since the move to Anaheim and the wing, Cogliano has become a player vital to the Ducks' success.  He moved to the right wing, and played the toughest minutes available with Saku Koivu and Daniel Winnik and over two seasons, battled them to a draw.  He played well enough to remain in the role for three seasons, all while averaging 35 points per 82 games.  That line was was the foundation of the Ducks' recent success.  Koivu would take the toughs and Getzlaf had the luxury of beating lesser competition.  The Ducks got all of this for just $2.3 million per year.

With Koivu's retirement and Winnik moving to Toronto, Cogliano remains in the same role with new linemates, Jakob Silfverberg and a rotating centre, most recently the rapacious Rickard Rakell.  Even with inexperienced linemates and the addition of Ryan Kesler to the roster, Cogliano is still playing and beating the toughs, giving Kesler and Getzlaf easier minutes, all for just $3 million a season, with three seasons left to go on the deal.

None of this means that Gagner will succeed in that role in Arizona, and at least in Gagner's case the franchise did occasionally try him at various and random positions and line combinations.  But unlike Anaheim and Phoenix, the Oilers didn't have a plan, nor stick to it.

Instead, they gave the best seven years of a not-yet-in-his-prime tough minutes right-wing for free.  And if Gagner does work on on the wing, they'll have given him away for the right to take on a salary dump contract.  Toss in Riley Nash taking on, and beating, seconds in Carolina and the Oilers have frittered away an entire NHL line consisting of players the current administration has drafted since the 1st lockout.

The layers of failure within this organization are melted together like a rancid, flesh-colored baklava, so at times it's impossible to discern the specific responsibility for failure.  Cogliano is one of player development, Nash is one of personnel management and Gagner is a complete organizational breakdown.  It's clear, however, that firing individuals - coaches, GMs, trainers, strength coaches, what have you - isn't the answer to the problem.

The problem is the organization itself.  Daryl Katz can't simply cut off the head and expect change.  He must decapitate the front office, disembowel the player development organization, draw-and-quarter the personnel management organization, and send all of the pieces to the far corners of the Earth so that they might never find their way back to Rexall.  Leave nothing in the front office behind.