So now that the draft is over I figured it was time to start writing again and tackle some topics that I've had in the back of my mind for a while now. The first topic I'll be covering is the fear and anxiety I have for the upcoming season and what a few mistakes or misguided moves can mean for the Oilers. The Oilers have done some stupid things over the past few years but I truly fear that the 2014/15 season could be the worst. After a very disappointing 2013/14 campaign Craig MacTavish may step up the bold factor and make some decisions that could cripple this team even more so.
Leon Draisaitl Makes the NHL
Up until yesterday we didn't know who the Oilers were going to draft for sure but we had a pretty good idea. Draisaitl fills some needs that the Oilers have been looking to acquire for a while now. He's biggish at 6'1" & 204lbs, he plays centre and can make plays. We all know that Draisaitl will be compared to Milan Lucic for at least the next few seasons and that is exactly what the Oilers feel they need.
The Oilers have a history of rushing forwards into the NHL. This started with Sam Gagner after he was selected 6th overall in the 2007 entry draft and that trend continued with Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. There is nothing stopping the Oilers from forcing him into the lineup day one of the 2014/15 season.
So why is this a bad idea? Leon Draisaitl is 18, historically 18 year olds get dominated in the NHL because they just don't have the tools to compete at that level yet. Having Draisaitl play in the NHL next season could and probably will set him up for failure and make the Oilers' pit of despair even deeper.
There is nothing wrong with giving Draisaitl one more season in the WHL. Heck the Oilers could even follow the David Musil model and somehow get the Oil Kings to try and make a move for him. Even after this season I'd still be cautious with his development and give him at least half a season in the AHL before even thinking about promoting him to the NHL.
But as I mentioned earlier the Oilers have a history of rushing young players that they feel fill a need on the team and that is why this fear is a legitimate one.
Oilers Trade Nail Yakupov
There has been some talk of moving Nail Yakupov in a package to bring back a top end player. While in theory this may make some sense, in practice this is a horrible idea. I understand that the Oilers are probably going to have to part with one of the top picks at some point but this season is not the year to do that. Selling low is not going to help the Oilers get a top end player, just look at the return Vancouver got for Kessler or if you want something a little closer to home look at the return for Pronger or Smyth. These trades very rarely benefit the team "forced" to move a player.
If Yakupov is able to bounce back and have a good or even decent season this will give the Oilers a chance to offer him a bridge contract. If he continues to perform, moving him at a higher value and with low dollar contract will probably end up paying bigger dividends for the team. Give Yakupov at least one more season to prove himself.
Again here is another example of a justified fear. I agree the Oilers need to improve now, waiting on prospects to mature will only lengthen the rebuild and waiting is probably not a real option. Let's face it Steve Tambellini demolished the team and left his successor a lot of work. When you look at the roster there aren't many assets that could fetch much value. A former first overall pick that
won the Calder Trophy lead all rookies in scoring could end up bringing a "decent" return. Especially when the GM believes that Justin Schultz is a legitimate top pairing defenseman and that they need more players like Andrew Ference. Which segues nicely into my next fear.
The Oilers Make a Trade for Jack Johnson
With the GM that traded for Jack Johnson now a member of the Oilers management staff, once again, this is a legitimate fear. Jack Johnson brings the leadership traits of an Andrew Ference type top pairing defenseman and just seems like the kind of player the Oilers want.
The problem with Jack Johnson is he really isn't that good at hockey. The Oilers need a top pairing defenseman not another 5/6/7 defenseman but for some reason Johnson carries some weight around the league and as we know the Oilers love keeping up appearances in the NHL.
Jack Johnson would make this team worse and would end up costing the team any chance they had at getting better on defense. The only upside Johnson would bring is he'd ensure that the Oilers would at least be in the running for Connor McDavid at next year's draft.
The Oilers Follow the Avalanche Fluke
This scenario probably scares me the most. The Colorado Avalanche didn't do much to improve their roster last offseason but miraculously they went from being the second worst team in the NHL to the top team in Central division. The problem with their rise was that they followed almost the exact same path as the Oilers. The changes they made were not overly impacting, they hired a rookie coach and they were out shot by their opponents on a regular basis. The only difference between the Colorado and Edmonton? A high shooting percentage and superior goaltending by a leave average goaltender. If Colorado decides that they were good enough last season and don't make any tangible adjustments to their roster their house of cards is going to fall to the ground pretty quickly.
This is my fear for the Oilers. The Oilers acquired Ben Scrivens to win them games and as we saw a few times this past season he has the ability to do that. If the Oilers continue with their current possession game but improve their shooting percentage they could end up making the playoffs in 2014/15 and exiting them in a very similar fashion to the Avalanche.
So what is wrong with the Oiler making the playoffs this way? For one it's completely unsustainable but worse yet it will give management a false sense of improvement and justification for the moves they've made. Players that shouldn't get resigned will end up with contract extensions and coaches and management will retain their jobs when they really didn't do anything to improve the team. It also builds a false perspective for the fans, when the inevitable happens fans don't seem to understand what went wrong and focus their negativity on the wrong guys (Tom Gilbert, Jeff Petry and Shawn Horcoff just to name a few).
Don't get me wrong, I would love for the Oilers to make the playoffs again. In fact there is nothing that would make me happier but if it is done in an unsustainable manner what is the point? In another year they'll be right back to where they started and we'll all be talking about drafting Tyler Bensen first overall. This scenario needs to be avoided by any means necessary even if it means another year of no playoffs.
Trying to stay positive about the Oilers is a chore for any fan. One has to try to forget the years of Mumbley Joe and look past the udder disdain that this management has for tier two fans. Focussing on the negative is going to do nothing, looking for positives at least leads one away from the edge of despair. In upcoming articles I will start focusing on the positives and the things this team is getting right because there are a few of them and they could really make an impact.