I’ve written two other articles in the last 48 hours about the Oilers. One absolutely ripped the team’s play (http://www.theoilersrig.com/2013/11/embarrassing-unacceptable-pathetic/) and the other called for Kevin Lowe to step down from the organization (http://www.theoilersrig.com/2013/11/kevin-lowe-must-go/). Today I’m going to take a different approach. Today I’m going to try and adjust the expectations for the Oilers faithful.
The season is lost in terms of playoffs. The Oilers are 3-10-2 just 15 games into the season and have only a 1% chance of making the dance. In other words, they are doomed for the second season. That said, there is over 60 games left and things can be turned around. The stage can be set for next October and the 2014-15 season.
I know, it really sucks to think about what I said in the paragraph above. It hurts to write, and I’m sure it hurts for everyone to read. That’s the reality of the situation right now, but if this team ever wants to move forward, they are going to have to use this season, arguably the worst one yet, as the platform.
Craig MacTavish is a smart man. I trust him and think he was the right choice as GM. I truly mean that and stand by that statement, which I made back in April when he was hired. He’s upgraded the team in many areas, replacing Paajarvi with Perron, Whitney with Ference, Horcoff with Gordon and Fistric with Belov.
Overall, I felt like MacT did well in his first summer on the job, and I still feel that today. He got rid of a bunch of players who aren’t good NHL’ers (outside of Horc) and added a bunch of players who were established and respected veterans in the NHL. To this point, I don’t think I would fault any of the new guys for the problems in Edmonton.
Even though MacT did well over the summer, fixing the mess left by Steve Tambellini and Kevin Lowe was never an overnight job. This was going to take time. Everyone (self included) felt like the young players would all take a step forward and as a result the team would too, but the young guys have not taken that step forward and it’s showing in the standings.
What can we expect from here on out then from the Oilers? What is a realistic expectation for the last 60 plus games? I think we’ll see improvement on the ice, and I think we’ll see Craig MacTavish start to make his moves to make this even more his roster.
The Oilers still have holes. The team needs consistent goaltending, a number one defender, a steady two-way forward, and a veteran leader up front. This Oilers team has a lot of good pieces, but just not enough to compete right now. Adding the pieces I mentioned above will go a long way towards helping this team compete again.
A goalie will wait, and rightfully so, until the summer. I think Oilers fans should expect a try-out in between the pipes the rest of the way. Devan Dubnyk will get every chance to once again run with the job.
If he can’t, a replacement will be brought in. The Edmonton Journal has already mentioned how Jonas Hiller is a very realistic target in free agency for Edmonton. Same goes for Jason Labarbera, who will get a chance to play for another contract. Bachman too.
As for defense? I think we can expect some changes and some improved play. This unit isn’t a very good one, but this unit is FAR from as bad as they have been playing. Jeff Petry is a long-term solution in Edmonton. He’s struggled recently but I love his game. Andrew Ference is steady and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon either, and rightfully so.
Justin Schultz will end up sticking around, and I’d wager Anton Belov does too. Schultz needs work, and I think we can expect him to improve as the season rolls on. He’s a talented kid and is being asked to do a lot right now. The Oilers need to put him in more of a position to succeed.
The defense needs a number one guy, and probably a number three guy too. Whether it’s moving the 2014 1st round pick, moving Nail Yakupov or one of the other young kids, it has to happen. The Oilers have lacked this kind of defender for far too long. I think any kind of bigger blue-line addition like that happens in the summer though, as blockbusters rarely happen now.
Same goes for up front. I wrote about it last week, things need to change. As MacT put it, the lineup needs to be jigged, this team needs a different mix of players. The Oilers badly need that Scott Hartnell, JVR, Milan Lucic kind of forward.
For Oilers fans, expectations need to be totally changed now. Instead of focusing on playoffs, Oilers fans now need to focus on which players can handle the NHL grind and hope for improvement as the year goes on. Improvement from the players and the coaches, who haven’t done a terrific job to this point.
As for MacT, I think we need to expect him to truly build his roster. Dumping guys like Ales Hemsky and Nick Schultz for whatever they can get, and going shopping for a goalie, a top-pairing defender and a veteran two-way forward who plays a responsible game this summer. MacT has a vision for this team, and I’m willing to let him build it. It isn’t fun, but at this point it is the only thing we can do.