Every once in a long while everything comes together and magic happens. Law & Order, The Simpsons, the Rolling Stones, Jill Hennessey’s parents. Once in a long while chemistry, the Gods and Darwin get it just right.
In the summer of 1967, the Boston Bruins were a poor hockey club. Sure they had an emerging Bobby Orr (the best player in the game’s history before Robbie Schremp) but he was just a kid; that summer, the Bruins lost future HOFer Bernie Parent to the expansion draft (Milt Schmidt made a big mistake). Between 1960 and 1967, the Bruins missed the playoffs every single season–and four teams out of six made it!
EARLY DAYS of a CLUSTER
The thing about truly great teams is that you don’t necessarily know they’re great until they start winning Stanley’s. The Bruins can look back on the Phil Esposito trade (summer 1967, just before the expansion draft) and know it was a turning point, but little did they know that beginning in 1967-68 the team would win 2 Stanley’s, play in 7 finals by 1990 and finish in the playoffs from 1968 to 1996 inclusive.
Oiler fans can look back on the Gretzky plane ride, the 79-81 entry drafts or maybe the period where Glen Sather emerged from a group of candidates to become Pocklington’s "hockey man." Either way, a trip through history can show us the beginnings of all dynasties: Bruins (Espo trade); Habs (Pollock writes the expansion draft rules, 1967); Oilers (99, those wonder drafts), Islanders (drafting Potvin and about 30 WHLers 1972-76).
Then there are miles and miles of teams that should have made the step forward but never did it. Since expansion in 1967, the early 70s Rangers (GAG line, found Eddie Giacomin in the AHL), the 70s Hawks (found an entire team of excellent players in the NCAA), the 80s North Stars (great procurement, Ciccarelli wasn’t even drafted!), the 80s Bruins and 80s Flyers (great drafts and trades, Brian Propp must still have nightmares about the Oilers from that era). They never won the Stanley despite doing everything right and spening a large number of years "in the window" of opportunity. Their impact clusters burned out and there were no championships to show for it. This is also a possible outcome for the current Oilers kids. However, they could also romp through the next decade and post the second golden era of Oiler hockey.
Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Oilers are a 30th place team twice over and I don’t think the playoffs are just around the corner. Still, the groundwork for an excellent team rolling out over the next decade is near completion, with only a few wise trades, some impressive UFA signings and the right coach (he may already be here) to be added; mix in some maturity for the cluster and you’re good to go!
Even now we can begin to make the list of things that went right for this team (no matter the outcome of the playoffs 2013-2025):
- The Oilers have three draft picks in rd 1 of the 2007 draft and emerge with one hockey player. This paves the way for Stu (Magnificent Bastard) MacGregor to be elevated to the role of chief scout.
- Daryl Katz mentions the word rebuild sometime during the summer/fall of 2009.
- Taylor Hall is drafted.
- Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, Omark, Dubnyk, Peckham and Petry all emerge during the same season.
- Oilers draft RNH, making it two number one overall picks in a row. The last time an NHL team drafted two forwards #1 overall in consecutive seasons the foundation was being laid for the Colorado Avalanche team that won some Stanley’s.
There are other items we can check off moving forward: when the Oilers see an impact defender arrive (he might already be in the system–we don’t know) or when the Oilers finally find their starting goalie for the next several seasons. And history also offers us cautionary tales–Schmidt lost several goaltenders during the Bruins run (Parent in 67; Daniel Bouchard in 72’s expansion draft to Cliff Fletcher and the Atlanta Flames; Gerry Cheevers to the WHA) and the North Stars kept trying to draft the perfect American instead of finding the best hockey players.
However, the talent level of the top end for the Oilers currently is outstanding. They may never win the Stanley, but the playoffs are very likely by spring 2013 and if they can find a goaltender before then the Oilers might just make the second season way ahead of schedule.
EASY ON THE EYES
This edition of the Oilers is going to be a lot of fun to watch. Like the 80s Oilers, this will be a high octane offensive team that maybe cheats a little too much for offense. The job of MBS and the pro scouts is to find a Charlie Huddy and a Randy Gregg to add to the drafted kids; the job of Steve Tambellini is to solve the goaltending and yes fix the defense. He also must find a way to sign these kids under the cap (no easy task).
The big item now is goaltending. It is an extreme disappointment that no effort was made in this regard over the summer. Timing your surge seems a little crazy, especially for an NHL General Manager. Tomorrow is promised to no one.
Ask Larry Gordon.