The Edmonton Oilers are finally on the cusp of playoff contention for the first time in seven years. The last three drafts they have been fortunate to pick #1 overall and have drafted some excellent young players.
Taylor Hall in 2010, Ryan Nugent Hopkins in 2011 and Nail Yakupov in 2012 have solidified their offensive core for years to come.
Throw in former All-Star Jordan Eberle and center Sam Gagner and you have a team full of explosive potential on the opposite part of the ice. With all this offensive talent, why didn’t the Oilers make the playoffs?
The answer is simple lack of talent and depth on the blue line.
Former GM Steve Tambellini’s best move on the blue line was to sign Justin Schultz to a contract. Schultz made the NHL All-Rookie Team. Ryan Whitney also had a good season but he is a free agent and will most likely look to sign with a contender.
Ladislav Smid led the Oilers in hits with 151 last season but only scored four points. The rest of the blue line was mediocre and that led to Devan Dubnyk taking too much pressure.
The lack of progress got Tambellini fired and replaced with former coach Craig MacTavish. MacTavish inherits a team that is lacking a few pieces but is close to the playoffs. The Oilers unexpectedly fired former coach Ralph Kruger and hired Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins.
Eakins has a reputation of being able to develop young players and relating to them. I got the sense that the team had tuned Kruger out at the end and that MacTavish didn’t believe him. If that is the case, the move needed to be done.
A comparison to Eakins would be Jim Harbaugh getting hired by the 49ers. That is what the Oilers think Eakins can become. Goalie is also a question mark, but promise with the incumbent.
The Oilers need to see what they have in Devan Dubnyk as the goalie. Devan’s peripherals .914 save percentage and 2.67 GAA were in the top half of goaltenders in the NHL. His win/loss record was 20 and 20.
Having seen Dubnyk is action, he played very well and the defense was so bad at times, he kept the Oilers in games single-handedly.
I would wait one more season to see what he can do. MacT also needs to address depth at the center because outside of RNH and Gagner, they have little. Free Agency can help to a point but the team should address one of the problems in the draft.
The need on defense is great, but center is also a need. If the Calgary Flames don’t select him, Sean Monahan, a center would be a fit. Darnell Nurse, a defenseman would work for the pick. Monahan is a big center who could give them depth on the second or third line and explosive scoring potential.
Nurse is a big defenseman that can go toe to toe with anyone. Either would help the team and would be cheaper than a big splash in free agency, especially with the lower salary cap.
Free agency is going to be a little tricky for the Oilers because they have a bad contract with Shawn Horcoff who is aging.
A compliance buyout is an option. Ales Hemsky has an expiring contract as well with a five million dollar cap hit, so he is also an amnesty candidate.
Better players and more depth should be the priority. Nathan Horton is one such option.
MacTavish could also be bold and trade Eberle or Yakupov to get these needs but that would be short-sighted. We’ll have to wait and see how things shake out starting in July.