More Depth, Please

One of the worries I have about the Oilers current rebuild is that this team is eventually going to resemble the Anaheim Ducks of this season.

The Ducks entered these playoffs as the favourite dark horse of many pundits, largely on the strength of their elite talent. Up front, the high-powered quartet of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan offered plenty of offensive punch, while Lubomir Visnovsky had a simply phenomenal season on the back end.

Despite the wealth of talent, the Ducks have been underwhelming since their Stanley Cup win, and worse than that since the departure of Brian Burke (in early 2008-09):

Season Goal Differential Finish
2006-07 plus-50 Stanley Cup win
2007-08 plus-14 First round loss
2008-09 plus-13 Second round loss
2009-10 minus-13 Missed playoffs
2010-11 plus-4 First round loss

The reason for their struggles is an obvious one, and one that I pointed to prior to the playoffs: the Ducks are almost entirely without competent NHL depth.

This is something that Oilers fans are familiar with, although lately they have been bereft of both competent NHL depth and high-end NHL stars.

The latter problem is one that looks likely to be solved sooner or later. Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi are a very strong start, and this year’s lottery pick (and probably next year’s high-end selection) are only going to add to that base.

I do worry that the Oilers are going to keep ignoring the former problem, though. They’ve needed quality depth players for the entirety of Steve Tambellini’s tenure as general manager, and they’ve ignored that need for the same period. It’s possible that as part of the tanking rebuilding plan, the Oilers plan to address their depth needs – the bottom two lines are in need of a complete overhaul – but until we see them making positive moves we won’t know that.

My hope is that we see some positive action this summer. Between the players in place, the prospects in the pipeline, the picks this summer and next year, I think it’s reasonable to believe they will have a good core of high-end talent, and now’s the time to start looking for complementary help.

It’s especially important because these are the sort of roles that generally need to be filled either via free agency or trade. The Oilers don’t have the kind of responsible veterans that can kill penalties, handle defensive zone work, and win face-offs. These aren’t skills that players typically enter the league with; generally high-end defensive specialists have a lot of professional experience under their belt. The Oilers need a bunch of them; it makes sense to get started now that they’re hopefully looking at improvement as a team.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @ Jonathan Willis – Interesting comparison, but you could argue that the problem for the Ducks is that they did not spend the limited cap space wisely and it killed them. Chicago faced a similar situation last year – the Campbell and Hossa contracts killed them this year. If they had Ladd and Bfyuglien on the roster they would have likely beaten the Canucks this year and would have had a solid group (core players + depth players) for a few years to come.

    The problem facing the Oilers right now is this: how do they get these older “depth players” to sign a short term contract? The type of role/depth player they need (29-32 years old, still productive, good in dressing room, hopefully won a cup) is exactly what Cup contenders need AND these players know they have one big contract left and will go for the max dollars and length they can get. The Oilers will have to egregiously overpay (both in contract $s and length) for these players right now since the team is still 3 or so years away from a good playoff run. The end result = more Horcoff/Souray type contracts with high cap hits for declining older players.

    Right now the team still has a ton of holes and will not be able to fill them with solid depth UFAs alone. As frustrating as it will be, the Oilers need to stay the course for another season and develop the young guys. Once they have a core in place the team will be able to attract these older depth players on decent terms. No use overpaying for them now and having to lose young talent down the road when the Oilers are hopefully in the position to be a true contender.