March 27 2014 07:00AM
Dallas Eakins’ press availabilities are almost always worth watching, and in a nearly 20-minute session yesterday he hit on a lot of things, including the type of players Edmonton needs to add in the off-season.
Supplementing the Core
Asked about where the team was in the process of turning things around, Eakins talked about the improving habits of the team’s core, but also identified the need for external improvements:
We still have a lot of work to do around [the team’s core players]. We need to supplement this group with probably some veteran leadership, some guys who can make plays, and not so much a toughness aspect but guys who are going to win battles in this conference... During the summer Craig [MacTavish] and I have got to sit down and make the right decisions for our hockey club, to add and subtract what we need to move up in our conference.
It’s been a difficult eight years in Edmonton, and since the fall of 2006 the Oilers’ primary weakness has been both readily apparent and all too frequently ignored. Given that history, it’s nice to have Eakins identify it so clearly. The team needs real NHL players, guys who have the ability to win battles and take and make a pass. It’s that simple; there aren’t enough of them on the roster.
The Same Page
Eakins manner in that answer might have been a little presumptuous, in that general manager Craig MacTavish is the guy in charge of the player personnel, but given that both coach and manager are clearly on the same page it likely isn’t a problem.
Leaving aside the bit players, the list of MacTavish additions to the Oilers roster reads pretty much exactly as the kind of player that Eakins described. David Perron, Boyd Gordon, Matt Hendricks and Andrew Ference are all NHL veterans, all people who can take and make a pass, and all players who are known for their willingness to engage. They’re all greasy players, the kind of secondary support types that the rebuild stripped away from the Oilers organization. The contracts aren’t all ideal (except for Perron’s, which is fantastic) but there’s a definite theme in those acquisitions and it’s exactly the one that Eakins expressed in his presser.
MacTavish’s first season hasn’t been perfect. If the rumours about Edmonton’s ardent pursuit of David Clarkson last summer are accurate, the team most certainly dodged a bullet when he moved on to Toronto. A lot of the ‘flyer’ type deals (most prominently Denis Grebeshkov) didn’t work out either.
But we can probably expect more of the same general approach to improving the team. One hopes the Clarkson experience has left the team a little gun-shy when it comes to signing the overrated tough guy who can play, and overhauling the defence is going to take some creativity and will be a tough job, but on the whole the players are going to be from the Perron/Gordon/Hendricks/Ference family.
Now it’s just a matter of getting it right. The team can pursue the right kind of player and still get things very wrong – as they would have with Clarkson – if the money is stupid. As a for-instance:
But there are doubtless still solid additions out there via trade or free agency, players like Perron or Gordon that can be added without compromising the team’s ability to compete in a salary cap world. The Oilers may or may not be able to find them, but unlike in some recent summers there can be no doubt they’re actively looking.