KIDS AREN’T GOING TO SOLVE EDMONTON’S DEFENSIVE PROBLEMS

Jonathan Willis
January 23 2014 10:39AM

Going back at least as far as the day the Edmonton Oilers drafted Sam Gagner, fans of the team have been taught to place their reliance in young up-and-comers. 

It is an easy mindset to fall into on defence, where the problems are many and top prospect Aaron Ekblad may join an already strong prospect group at this summer's draft. As tempting as it sounds, general manager Craig MacTavish cannot afford to make the mistake of falling into the trap of thinking the solution is youth.

The primary problem has to do with timelines. 

Edmonton's NHL team has been in rebuild for a long time. Whether one subscribes to the party-approved line that the rebuild started with the drafting of Taylor Hall in 2010 or instead places the date at Chris Pronger's departure for Anaheim, futility has been the order of the day for far too long. The fans are unruly, and the only way to turn it around is with winning.

Another factor is what Lowetide likes to call the heart of the order - players like Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the like - who are now established as NHL players. Hall's being paid to produce like a first-liner, as is right wing Jordan Eberle. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will join them next season. These players are tremendously talented and entering the prime years of their careers but if they aren't supported - and soon - the Oilers run the risk of losing them. Edmonton has already lost the cheapest years for that trio, which poses its own problem (Chicago won the first Stanley Cup for the modern era Blackhawks while Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were still on their entry-level deals).

So with the clock running on its young stars and the fanbase's mood already turned to ugly, the Oilers have to start making considerable progress right now. To do that, they need good defencemen. 

Time & Opportunity 

There may not be a steeper learning curve at any position in hockey than there is on defence and the examples of players really putting things together after two, three or even four seasons of NHL hockey abound. Additionally, an organization can only devote so much space to prospect defencemen if they want to win.

A good example is the Oklahoma City Barons. At the start of the year the team's defence was pegged as a great strength and why not - with some strong second-year pros (Martin Marincin, Taylor Fedun, Brad Hunt and Brandon Davidson), a guy the Oilers felt might be NHL-ready (Oscar Klefbom), an actual NHL'er (Philip Larsen) and some extremely talented rookies (Martin Gernat and David Musil) pushing for time the Barons should have been set; they could ice two top pairings, and force the kids to fight with older guys like Hunt and Davidson for ice time

It hasn't worked out that way. Call-ups and injuries and regression (particularly on the part of Davidson) mean that for much of the year the Barons have relied on three rookies - one for each pairing. That's not a problem for the Oilers - these guys need at-bats and the AHL is a developmental league - but it's a big part of the reason who the Barons are four points out of a playoff spot.

The NHL is even more punishing. Oilers fans have seen first hand how a defenceman coming off college and an incredibly dominant AHL run struggled to adapt to second-pair and now first-pair minutes. They saw Ladislav Smid find his way in the majors after being pushed there well before he was ready.

Edmonton doesn't have a top-pairing defenceman right now. Even if Schultz is penciled in for a top-pair role next season on the assumption that he can handle it, the Oilers need a top-pair guy to complement him. Andrew Ference isn't that guy, and it's crazy to think Darnell Nurse or Oscar Klefbom or Martin Marincin or Aaron Ekblad will be either. The first three (and the fourth, if drafted) may evolve into the role but the Oilers need is immediate. 

As it is, phasing in prospects like those listed above (to say nothing of Gernat or Musil or Dillon Simpson) is going to result in growing pains, which means the Oilers will need to lean on experienced guys who can play hard minutes to off-set the talented youth. Jeff Petry and Andrew Ference might be those guys on the lower pairs, but there has to be somebody topside who can cast a long shadow for the other pairs while they figure things out. The Oilers don't have anybody like that, and may not for years.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
January 23 2014, 10:49AM
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Greg wrote:

I don't understand why everyone is so high on Aaron Ekblad . They make it sound like a given he #1 D-man.

Aaron Ekblad comparables in the NHL are Chris Phillips/Brent Seabrook.

From what i have read Nurse has a higher upside and higher downside compared to Ekblad.

Yeah - I hate 2-time Stanley Cup winning, olympic gold medalist, 40-point scoring defencemen like Brent Seabrook.

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#4 They're $hittie
January 23 2014, 10:41AM
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Ekblad, Nurse, J Schultz, Maranicn, Perty and Ference may not solve the D problems but the D is so bad right now that it is still likely an upgrade.

Ouch, we need some D.

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#5 Taylor Gang
January 23 2014, 10:49AM
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One word: trade

It's time to make that bold move. How does management think that this defensive core should suffice? Without defense, we will lose. And lose, and lose, and lose.

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#6 Mack Strong
January 23 2014, 11:05AM
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Mitch wrote:

OT:

I'm watching TSN regarding Seahawks Sherman's rant. They go on to say Sherman is the most articulate athlete in sports. I really wonder if TSN would say this about a white player. TSN does not even know how racist that statement was.

What the H E double hockey sticks are you talking about???

How is that racist!!??

Nevermind i don't want to hear anything else come out of your mouth….

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#7 He Who Knows
January 23 2014, 10:51AM
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Greg wrote:

I don't understand why everyone is so high on Aaron Ekblad . They make it sound like a given he #1 D-man.

Aaron Ekblad comparables in the NHL are Chris Phillips/Brent Seabrook.

From what i have read Nurse has a higher upside and higher downside compared to Ekblad.

Every team needs a Chris Phillip/Brent Seabrook type blueliner to accommodate a guy like Nurse.

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#8 Jackson
January 23 2014, 10:59AM
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Oilers ruin young players does not matter who they draft.

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#9 Danger Pay
January 23 2014, 10:54AM
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Why can't the Oilers develop their own defensemen? It's not like top end Dmen are lining up to play for the Oilers. Which current NHL #1 or #2 D-man would come to Edmonton Via Trade or FA? Stay the course draft D-men, Goalies, Big Forwards and don't rush but Develop them!!!!!!!!!

B/C news flash everyone... The Oilers will miss the Playoffs next year too!

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#10 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
January 23 2014, 11:15AM
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Mitch wrote:

It is racist because you would never describe a white athlete as the most articulate player in sports. You describe a black player in those terms as if your shocked or white guilt. Either way your not treating the black player as an equal.

To be fair, I rarely ever describe professional athletes as being articulate. It's not a very common trait, regardless of race.

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#11 2004Z06
January 23 2014, 12:06PM
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Mitch wrote:

It is racist because you would never describe a white athlete as the most articulate player in sports. You describe a black player in those terms as if your shocked or white guilt. Either way your not treating the black player as an equal.

It was a general statement by TSN. It had no reference to color at all. You are the one making an assumption as to the intent and playing the race card. Many people regardless of color have been described as articulate.

You should really not be allowed near a computer.

It is people like you that proliferate racial stereotypes through this type of nonsense.

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#12 gm_armchair
January 23 2014, 10:51AM
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I heard Jason Strudwick mention on his show last night that Dan Girardi might become expendable by the Rangers now that they traded for Klein who plays a similar role. Girardi while not a true top pairing guy, would still fit in very nicely and bring some much needed veteran leadership in the Oilers top four. I wonder what it would take to trade for that guy..

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#13 Lofty
January 23 2014, 04:31PM
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Mustangheart wrote:

Penner was the most useless Oilers in the franchise history especially when you have a guy with his size and weight. Can't skate, doesn't hit, doesn't stand in front of the goalie to screen. Absolutely useless.

Patrick O'Sullivan....

Drops mic

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#14 pkam
January 23 2014, 03:16PM
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How much will Gagner get? Nobody really knows.

4 years ago, Garbagekov got us a 2nd rounder. An aged and slow overpaid Staios got us a 3rd rounder and Aaron Johnson. And Penner got us a 1st, a 2nd and a prospect.

2011, Cogliano got us a 2nd rounder.

Last season, we got Mike Brown for a 4th rounder.

Earlier this year, Mike Brown got us a 4th rounder.

At trade deadline last season, the Sharks got 2 2nd rounders for Doug Murray.

I don't how much the other teams are willing to pay, but I am not trading him away for just a 3rd rounder.

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#15 Show me da Money
January 23 2014, 11:45AM
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Trading a seasoned defenceman will accomplish two things in one swipe.

Firstly, you need to trade value for value. No one in their right mind will hand one over for less.

The only value we have is one of our core rookies. We have what? Five or six of the same?

Eberle might have the most value of the tradeable players. Yak has a bad reputation already so he's already less valued although I think he has a huge upside down the road.

Trade Eberle. You get a decent player on defence and almost as important is that it sends a message to the youngsters that NOBODY is more valuable than the team. You don't think that won't get players attention?

These guys get their five or six million dollars a year whether they coast or go balls to the wall.

Trade Eberle.

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#17 vinotintazo
January 23 2014, 10:53AM
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@Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

Yeah what's so bad about top pairing Bent Seabrook?

I don't Agree with rushing Nurse or Klefbom, even Ekblad (if we get him), but we might need to use one or two of these next year if we dont make a trade that brings a good top 2 D our way.

we need a big nasty D man, not 6 feet - 190 pounds guys.

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#18 A-Mc
January 23 2014, 12:09PM
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Greg wrote:

I didn't say he won't be good. My point is that people have him as a #1 D-man in NHL without playing a game.

I will say that i'm excited to get Ekblad, but not because i think he'll be a #1 dman. He could be a career #4 and i'd be OK with drafting him.

The reason i'm excited is because he's already over 200lbs and he's only 17. His size and defensive play alone would make him a great asset to the Oilers. His offensive upside is what COULD put him into the top pairing one day, but if it takes 300 NHL games to get that out of him, i'm OK with that. I dont need the offense.. I want the size, jam and defense first.

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#20 camdog
January 23 2014, 11:36AM
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oilerjed wrote:

The problem with the statement is, who is going to teach these young players that we are developing? Coaching is fine, but the real learning comes on the ice with an experienced mentor. Which means trade or free agency.

That's pretty much what Steve Staois said when the organization said they were going to get rid of all the veterans. I remember when people would get mad at guys like Moreau when they gave their exit interviews, seems like many of these players were right about management was doing and the vision of the organization was faulty.

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#21 K_Mart
January 23 2014, 12:25PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

The team needs to find a stop-gap, a guy like Ehrhoff or Campbell or Byfuglien who won't fill the job permanently but can stop the bleeding for a while and buy time for the guys who eventually replace him.

I agree the team needs a stop-gap, but I don't agree that the right decision is to break up the core and deal one of Eberle, Hall, Nuge, Yak, or J. Schultz.

I subscribe to selling high, don't most people? Do you think those core pieces I just mentioned have value on the market that is at it's peak? Maybe their value stays the same, but it certainly isn't about to drop any time soon.

There is one player on the oilers who is worth more right now than he will ever be worth again... One player who's value is at its Peak: David Perron. He has been better than anyone in oil country could have expected and if ever there is going to be a time to move him, that time is now. If a package involving Perron can bring in one of Hamonic, Roman Josi, Brodin, MacDonald, Mcdonagh, or another d man that is under 30 than great. That basically means we traded MPS for our top d man.

If you're screaming that Perron is way too valuable to move, than you're reinforcing my point of how highly people value him right now. Higher now than he ever will be again.

I might argue Perron can get close to as much as Eberle or more because he brings a nastiness that Eberle doesn't have, his contract is much lower, and he's right behind Eberle offensively. But in the long term, eberle is more valuable to this team than Perron.

Stay the course. It's the right decision, and it's the best course of action. If you're worried that hall's contract will be up by the time we make the playoffs, than there's no hope for you. You can't let the fear of losing Hall dictate how this team is managed. Thinking like that will just get the oilers in more trouble.

Move Hemsky, Perron, and Gagner if you can get fair value.

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#22 Greg
January 23 2014, 10:45AM
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I don't understand why everyone is so high on Aaron Ekblad . They make it sound like a given he #1 D-man.

Aaron Ekblad comparables in the NHL are Chris Phillips/Brent Seabrook.

From what i have read Nurse has a higher upside and higher downside compared to Ekblad.

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#23 Spydyr
January 23 2014, 11:11AM
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pkam wrote:

I'll take Seabrook, but I would rather have Keith, and Keith only cost the team a 2nd rounder.

The Oilers cannot draft any worthwhile players outside of round one. That is why they trade away all their second and third round draft picks for quick fixes.

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#24 Armchair GMing
January 23 2014, 11:35AM
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@JW

I've read some comments on ON that Lander's offensive failings at the NHL level are due to his boat-anchor linemates on the 4th line he's only ever given. What do you think of the possibility of calling him up and putting him on the second line with, say, Perron and Ebs to see how much truth there is to such a theory. If he can generate decent numbers with genuinely offensive guys, then perhaps we have a (admittedly imperfect) 2nd line center who is very responsible defensively. Plug him in with some of our offensive dynamos, and perhaps he could do the job, at least until a better option arrives. If it fails, nothing lost (the season's a goner anyway), and if it succeeds, we may avoid cutting ties with a possibly useful NHLer in the offseason.

Thoughts?

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#25 loweblows
January 23 2014, 04:46PM
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I blame Eakins. If he hadn't taken away donuts maybe the team would be heavier. Bring back donuts.

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#26 oilerjed
January 23 2014, 11:22AM
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Mitch wrote:

It is racist because you would never describe a white athlete as the most articulate player in sports. You describe a black player in those terms as if your shocked or white guilt. Either way your not treating the black player as an equal.

Why exactly would you not describe a white athelte in those terms? Seems to me that the meaning is exactly the opposite of what you are implying. If you are implying that the qualifcation of "in sports" is the problem then the prejudice may belong to you.

edit: fixed spelling

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#27 oilerjed
January 23 2014, 11:17AM
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Danger Pay wrote:

Why can't the Oilers develop their own defensemen? It's not like top end Dmen are lining up to play for the Oilers. Which current NHL #1 or #2 D-man would come to Edmonton Via Trade or FA? Stay the course draft D-men, Goalies, Big Forwards and don't rush but Develop them!!!!!!!!!

B/C news flash everyone... The Oilers will miss the Playoffs next year too!

The problem with the statement is, who is going to teach these young players that we are developing? Coaching is fine, but the real learning comes on the ice with an experienced mentor. Which means trade or free agency.

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#28 pkam
January 23 2014, 11:27AM
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Spydyr wrote:

The Oilers cannot draft any worthwhile players outside of round one. That is why they trade away all their second and third round draft picks for quick fixes.

I wonder why the Hawks drafted Anton Babchuk ahead of Duncan Keith? And why so many teams passed on him and let him go 54th overall?

Don't forget the team that drafted Seabrook and Keith also drafted Barker 3rd overall.

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#30 DisappointedFan
January 23 2014, 01:45PM
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@A-Mc

If Gagner returns more than a 3rd rounder and Draisaitls jock-strap I would be surprised.

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#32 Brad
January 23 2014, 12:00PM
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Jerry wrote:

JW,

I watch the Oilers are none of them know how to play hockey in the NHL. Only players that know how to play come from other teams. This is a disaster oilers ruin hockey players. I really can't see it getting any better.

If I was a young player getting ready to be drafted, I would pray Oilers don't pick me.

Dave Lumley was on Oilers Now yesterday and was a pretty solid interview. Basically put Stauffer in his place. He said everything that we fans have been thinking all season.

Why are Hall and Eberle continuing to make the same mistakes?

Gagner, Hemsky, etc have zero trade value.

You can talk about bringing in big, two way dmen or big top 6 centres, or big top 6 winger, but no one wants to trade those right now.

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#33 Eulers
January 23 2014, 12:06PM
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Bang on from the title on down, JW.

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#34 Jackson
January 23 2014, 12:16PM
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The Oiler defense is the worst in the NHL.

Oiler goaltending is sub par

None of the so called "elite players" are getting better.

Do you see a problem Daryl?

OILERS RUIN HOCKEY PLAYERS.

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#35 Joe Mamma
January 23 2014, 12:20PM
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@JW

Unfortunately JW, I think it's pretty clear that this is EXACTLY what their "plan" is. KLowe's interview on Gregor's show the other day indicated that this is precisely what they are counting on.

It is indicative of the flawed concept that the prospects can come up to the show and propel the team forward, which they have been trying (and failing at) for the past 5+ seasons.

What these nitwits need to get through their thick skulls is that without bonafide NHL veteran leadership, these kids will likely never develop into top-flight NHLers. Datsyuk and Zetterberg got to learn from Yzerman, Lidstrom, Federov and Hull. Crosby had Lemieux (!), Recchi, Leclair, Palffy, and Gonchar. Stamkos had St.louis, Lecavalier, Recchi, and Roberts. On and on. In fact, I would bet you can make a direct correlation between the quality of today's superstars, and the quality of the players they learned from.

The Oilers have never provided any veteran leadership (and no, Smyth, Horcoff and Hemsky don't count. Look at the names I've listed and tell me if they can hold their jocks) and until we get some on this club, it's going to be more of the same. These kids need someone to show them, on the ice, in the games, how it's done. Ference, while I think he is a good addtion, is not that guy. All this group has seen since they were assembled is how to lose. That is the failure of this management group, and in my opinion, until it is rectified we will always be a sub-par NHL squad.

I dunno, maybe it's just me.

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#36 Tikkanese
January 23 2014, 04:15PM
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Jesse wrote:

No this is how you build a team. Obviously these trades won't happen. But will bet you within 2 years you could only wish to have these players.

Oilers don't need more hope. They need players. Couturier sure, but Larsson isn't even producing in the AHL. Maybe someday he will, but we already have 8-10 defensemen that you can say the same thing about.

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#37 Mitch
January 23 2014, 10:50AM
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OT:

I'm watching TSN regarding Seahawks Sherman's rant. They go on to say Sherman is the most articulate athlete in sports. I really wonder if TSN would say this about a white player. TSN does not even know how racist that statement was.

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#38 Greg
January 23 2014, 10:54AM
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@Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

I didn't say he won't be good. My point is that people have him as a #1 D-man in NHL without playing a game.

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#39 pkam
January 23 2014, 11:12AM
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@Willis

I know Ekblad and Nurse won't be our immediate help. But it doesn't look like we are going to get a top pairing D from trade or UFA. So what is our option?

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#40 GlennH
January 23 2014, 11:34AM
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Any team that has guys like Potter and Belov playing regularly, REALLY needs an upgrade. I thought things were bad back in the early 90's when we had guys like Gord Mark and Ian Herbers.... Yikes...

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#41 Posti
January 23 2014, 12:11PM
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It so weird because Edmonton used to be the feeder system for the league. We'd trade a great veteran for two or three prospects, turn them into solid NHLers then repeat.

What the hell happened? Now we can't turn our own bona fide superstars into just regular stars. A stud D man will definitely help but don't hold your horses cause he ain't coming. If you were a rival GM what would you take off the Oilers to give up your best defensman?

If the Oilers want to change the culture they need better coaching because for all intents and purposes THIS IS THE TEAM WE HAVE, make due with what you have !

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#42 A-Mc
January 23 2014, 01:49PM
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DisappointedFan wrote:

If Gagner returns more than a 3rd rounder and Draisaitls jock-strap I would be surprised.

I honestly think we, as a fan base, undervalue Gagner. We undervalue him because he's exactly what we DONT need on this team. Our needs are NOT the same as other Team's needs.

Gagner has shown he can put up ~50pts a season. He has shown that he can drop the mitts when he feels taken advantage of. He has shown that he has some decent character to him.

He has also shown that he can be a huge defensive liability.

GM's from other teams will see anyone from edmonton and understand why the defensive game isnt there in the players. If a GM's team is defensive minded and needs scoring, i dont doubt a GM could attempt to pick him up and make a semi reclamation project out of him.

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#44 Joe Mamma
January 23 2014, 12:26PM
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Striker wrote:

@Mitch @Mack Strong @ Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things @bluetada @oilerjed

I think Mitch's idea about the word "articulate" being used is analagous to the "well spoken" adjective being used to describe Colin Powell in this commentary.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fj050bz-k9o

@everybody involved in this discussion:

What the hell does this have to do with this article? I'm sure there is a TSN board or something on the subject where this moronic discussion with racist undertones would be better suited.

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#45 Striker
January 23 2014, 12:30PM
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@Rama Lama

So you would be willing to "endure" the pain. So you're willing to wait for Nurse, Klefbom et al to develop which may take another 2-3 years and in the meantime endure more seasons of merde like this one? I am not. We need a dman who can play now. That doesn't mean you trade away a blue chip forward for nothing mind you. As for the UFA option you suggest, you might want to have a look at the upcoming UFA dmen and ask yourself whether any of them is a solution. On second thought don't look, it'll only depress you. Trade is the route to go. BTW agree with you on Clarkson, Edm dodged a bullet there.

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#46 Tikkanese
January 23 2014, 04:09PM
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Jesse wrote:

Eberle for Sean Couturier

David Perron for Adam Larsson.

These moves would make oilers a much better team in the future.

Yea because it would guarantee picking first overall for another 5 years.

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#47 Rusty Patenaude
January 23 2014, 06:26PM
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St. Louis Blues 2010-2011 Alex Pieterangelo age 20/21 yr. old: 79 gp 11g 32 a 43 pts +18 Kevin Shattenkirk age 21/22 yr. old: 72 gp. 9 g 34 a 43 pts. -4 Roman Polák age 24 yr. old: 55 gp 3g 9a 12pts -4 Hmmm...they did alright going with kids.

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#48 DisappointedFan
January 23 2014, 12:01PM
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@michael

You have guys right now in the farm or in junior who the Oilers are banking on becoming NHL level defensemen. What he is suggesting is taking a step to stop the constant last place finish by putting a quality player in now to train and teach the new up and comers while at the same time preventing a few more pucks from ending up in our net.

Sure we give up a player like Eberle right now, but we need to replace our vast plethora of small skilled forwards with someone bigger upfront anyways.

Since they aren't going to win games getting outmuscled by most teams in this league.

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#49 Lowe Expectations
January 23 2014, 01:07PM
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I was watching a Sacramento Kings game recently, and like the Oilers they are in a "rebuild". The color guy was talking about a discussion he had with Pat Riley (who knows a thing or two about winning) about building a winning team. Riley's answers were very interesting. He said that if you try to build through the draft it'll never work. It takes too long. The beginning players get to far out on the curve for the players drafted 4-5 years later and that assumes every player you draft has an impact. He talked how the draft is one tool you use, but trades and free agents are more valuable. Especially trades, when you use the draft for talent and deal from positions of strength to fill areas of need.

I also have concerns about the Oilers pro scouting. This is an area some teams flourish at, being able to find quality depth players.

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#50 Ed in Edmonton
January 23 2014, 01:07PM
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G-Unit wrote:

I have been saying it for years that Chabot must go. We have had a number of promising young goalies that plateau in the past Delauriers, Roy, Duby, Conklin. Maybe not all destined to be stars, but many of them highly thought of as youngsters. Dubnyk was drafted in the first round, and would have been taken by any team by the third round, and hasn't progressed. I could see the hole in his game from a couch and yet the professional goalie coach couldn't teach him to go down without lifting first. His upper body lifts when he goes down exposing the area under his arms. Pretty basic stuff. Even if it isn't Chabot's fault, or Bucky's, or Smith's they have been on such a bad team for so long they need to be changed out regardless.

The curious thing about Trotz's critique was that he stated "bad habits he picked up this year".

The Oil have not developed a starting goalie in house since Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr. Hard to believe.

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