How do you even begin to process the last week for the Edmonton Oilers? It's not an easy question to answer. The mix of good and horrendous has been so confounding that I don't even know how to rationalize that the decisions are being made by the same people.
I'd feel much better about it honestly if someone could confirm for me that it was in fact two different groups of individuals, so I could praise one group and kick the others in the scrotum repeatedly.
Some of you might be saying..."WAIT! There was something GOOD done this week?" The answer to that question is yes, though it's hard to see at times.
Let's get into it.
I don't know if it is Peter Chiarelli or somebody else in the room, but there is finally a voice in Oiler management that said "We need balance in our line-up." The process of arriving at that balance has been unbelievably painful, and it's not over yet...we'll get to those nasty little details in a moment so don't think I'm overlooking them...but at the end of the day, balance is going to make this roster better. Milan Lucic is a good player...we'll talk about the contract later...but he fulfilled a number of needs for this team.
As it stands the Oilers still have something close to a play-off calibre top six forwards. If they went into the season with:
Lucic - McDavid - Eberle
Pouliot - Nugent-Hopkins - Draisaitl
...they'd probably do alright. We won't mention the absence of someone on left wing yet. You could even argue they are still close to having a reasonable top 9 group with Maroon, Puljujarvi and Yakupov to add to those above. That would mean dropping Leon to the third line and having two probably below average trios in the middle-six, but certainly nothing terrible.
The big issue though is that at least one of those names is going to need to be mortgaged to fix the overhaul of the blueline.
Before we move on from the good, let's quickly give a shout out to two things...1) Adam Larsson. He's joining the team under difficult circumstances, but I'm a fan and I believe he'll help the team. We can discuss the exact details another time but the guy is a legit top 4 Dman and the best right-handed Dman the Oilers have had since Jeff Petry and before that I can't even recall. 2) The pursuit of Tyson Barrie. I don't know if the Oilers are going to land Barrie or not or if I will like the trade should it eventually happen, but Barrie is the right guy. It's been a long time since I've even been able to credit the Oilers with targeting some of the right people, so the fact that they have a truly exceptional offensive top 4D man in their crosshairs is bordering on monumental. The cost will be dear, but it may ultimately be worth it (within reason). A D group of:
Klefbom - Barrie
Sekera - Larsson
Davidson - Fayne
Would easily be the best top six Edmonton has had since their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006. That may be damning with faint praise but that's a legit blueline right there and I don't even know how to describe how happy it would make me.
One final note...THEY BOUGHT OUT KORPIKOSKI!!!! Hooray!
I just praised somebody in the Oiler management group for having the brains to target Tyson Barrie. So given that level of intelligence was in the room, why did that individual not hit someone with a shovel when then they brought up the ideas of signing Mark Fraser and Jonas Gustavsson. I'm not going to get into the weeds and give you data to prove that these players aren't NHL calibre because if you think they are then I don't know how to talk to you on your level. These guys are lousy by NHL standards. There were and still are far better options to either one of these guys out there, so why on earth would you sign them? Are they long-term, high dollar contracts? No. Are these players going to play a significant role on the team in 2016/17? No. So, does it really matter then? YES IT DAMN WELL MATTERS! This is flawed talent assessment and absolutely horrible decision making. There is simply no other way to describe it. These were stupid signings and Oiler management should have to walk through the streets Game of Thrones style to atone for not listening to the little voices in their heads sayings "ARE YOU F#$%NG CRAZY?" before wasting two contracts on these players.
Hey...speaking of contracts...that Lucic one is a dandy isn't it? Nothing like giving a guy who plays a game that correlates to players who have steep drops in performance as they enter their 30s a 7 year buyout proof contract with a full no-move clause for 5 years. Lucic is going to help this team...of that I have little doubt. But his contract (and the absence of the player he was signed to replace) may ultimately inhibit the Oilers' franchise from being able to build and sustain a perennial contender. So there's that.
Ok. I'm going to try and keep it calm here while we talk about Taylor Hall-related subject-matter. Let's start by offering the faintest of defence to Peter Chiarelli here...As I noted above...this roster needed balance. It absolutely had to happen and when it did it was going to be painful to some extent and even if another significant offensive player has to go in order to land a Tyson Barrie-type player to finish the re-modelling of the D corps, the roster will still be left with six or seven very good forwards in some combination. Those forwards will likely have a greater degree of success due to the improved bluline behind them and if the team's biggest problem moving forward is a lack of depth in the bottom six forwards (which was a problem already) it is far less substantial than gaps in your core top 6F and top 4D positions.
There...Have I hedged enough now? Because it's time to give a big middle finger and a steel-toed boot to the tailbone to Peter Chiarelli for the Taylor Hall trade. Anyone who thinks they can justify away getting your ass royally handed to you in the trade of a franchise player is an idiot. It's inexcusable. Peter Chiarelli has now done it three times. THREE FREAKING TIMES. He got schooled in the Hall deal, he got his head caved in on the Tyler Seguin trade and despite an incredible stroke of good fortune by having a bad bet ultimately pay off to his advantage, he got nut-punched in the trade of Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs way back when. General Managers shouldn't get mulligans when dealing franchise players. Barring extreme circumstances like Martin St. Louis calling his shot to the NY Rangers, if you screw that up, you're disqualified from holding a GM job again.
I have no idea how Peter Chiarelli was allowed to make this trade. I hold everyone who knew about the trade before it was done and didn't move heaven and earth to stop it accountable. If you were in the room, shame on you. Ultimately though, this starts and ends with Chiarelli. I get all the "trading from a point of weakness" crap, but had he really expended all options? I doubt it because within 48 hours James Wisniewski was bought out and he's got a decent track record in a top 4 role. Heck, Jason Demers and Wisniewski are both still out there as I write this and if he hadn't traded Hall they could go get both those guys and it would have been a significant upgrade. Is it on a level with Adam Larsson? No, but Milan Lucic isn't on a level with Taylor Hall either. I was willing to accept a lot of movement and even willing to accept losing a trade to an extent...something like RNH for Tyson Barrie for example...in the service of re-building the blueline, but the disparity between the actual value Taylor Hall provides and what the Oilers got for him (even if Larsson is an excellent player) is unforgivable.
A kick-in-the-nuts to the fans
What has ultimately happened here is that the Oilers went about trying to achieve the right goal...a more balanced roster...but have basically screwed up at virtually every turn. The fact that they may STILL come out of this situation with a better performing roster (which I actually believe is the likely outcome) is both a testament to the truly incredible group of forward assets they had amassed by trudging through a decade of damnation, and a sad commentary on the ineptitude and inability of current and previous regimes to have identified and addressed the cosmic-level of imbalance between the teams forward and defensive assets before it ended up costing them one of the game's truly elite offensive talents.
If the Oilers can land a legitimate top 4 RHD who can quarterback their powerplay...Tyson Barrie being the apparent candidate at the moment...then they are likely to be a better team next year and might even have a shot at the post-season. That does not and should not excuse what has happened here over the last week.
The Oilers sold this rebuild to their fans by saying that sinking to the bottom of the standings was the only way to get the elite talent needed to build and sustain a franchise that could consistently contend for a Stanley Cup. At no point in the conversation was trading that elite talent to fill holes your management was too stupid to fill for the better part of a decade part of the deal. The Oilers entered an incredibly painful decade long rebuild in order to escape a purgatory of mediocrity because the told fans it was the best way to get to the goal of winning a Stanley Cup. Now, after failure upon failure, they are mortgaging the assets that could eventually lead them to a Stanley Cup in a race to get back to mediocrity. It is an absolute insult and a slap in the face to the fan base that Taylor Hall was sacrificed at the alter of the galactic stupidity with which this organization has been run since 2007.
Some fans say that this was a necessary evil in order to set the franchise on the right track moving forward. Other say it was foolish and that the Oiler management team is still populated almost exclusively by morons.
For once, everyone is right.