The brightest story in this Oiler season may come from ownership. With the arena situation progressing, Daryl Katz will have more time to examine the rebuild. What’s been happening? Where are the successes? Failures? What should be done?
- Scotty Bowman: "Success comes from ownership, goaltending, and I’ve always been thinking that you can have a fire-wagon type of hockey but your ability to play good defence has got to surface. The thread that ran through all of my success was undoubtedly ownership’s commitment to win."
I believe Daryl Katz has the makings of a fine owner. The man has provided his managers with the resources to improve the scouting department and the farm system and the money to spend to the cap. There is evidence that he involves himself on many levels (I’d pay money to find out if he was involved in the Ryan Smyth trade back to EDM) and there’s no doubt there is progress.
- The qualiy of young talent–especially forwards–has been improved since he took over. Stu MacGregor and his staff have used their picks wisely and the two #1’s should form the foundation of a winner for a long time.
- The quality of the farm team is much better, hell OKC plays in Hamilton today as one of the very best AHL teams in the league. It’s been awhile for an Oiler farm team.
- An icon of Ryan Smyth’s status returning has to bode well for this organization’s future. Smyth mentoring guys like Teemu Hartikainen and Tyler Pitlick has to have some long term benefits for the Oilers, and let’s remember Ryan Smyth remains a quality NHL veteran.
The Oilers have been a poor hockey team for years now, really since Ladlslav Smid’s rookie season (this is season 6 for Smid). The problems have been pretty much the same all down the line:
- Not enough "actual" NHL players. An easy way to describe an actual NHL player is Laddy Smid today compared to the Laddy we saw previous to this season (or maybe late last year). It takes a long time for some quality defensemen to develop.
- Too many kids learning on the job in the NHL. Yesterday, young Colten Teubert was exposed on a goal and you have to allow for it. Teubert’s a young defenseman trying to survive the multiple sorties that come his way every night, and due to injuries and other things the Oilers can’t give him a veteran hand on the left side of his pairing. These are tough things to endure for everyone, but all teams who play too many young defensemen suffer from it.
- Lack of balance. The Oilers have an aging goaltender backed up by a young guy they’re not completely sure about at this time. They have Smid-Gilbert on the blue and Ryan Whitney who may or may not be a guy they can count on in the future. They have role players like Suttton and a pleasant surprise in Potter plus all the kids like Peckham, Petry and Teubert trying to find their way. I will credit the Oilers with filling in well up front; between the veterans and the gifted kids, only the 4th line is a true black hole at this time.
I often recommend a book to my friends. It’s called "The Road to Hockeytown" and it’s by Jimmy Devellano and Roger Lajoie. The book details (among other things) the GM history of the Detroit Red Wings under Mike Illitch’s ownership of the team.
- Jim Devellano (1992 to 1990)
- Bryan Murray (1990 to 1994) Devellano was bumped up to VP)
- Devellano, Ken Holland & Scotty Bowman (1994 to 1997)
- Ken Holland (1997 through today)
The book details the many missteps by the owner and coaches and Devallano and others. Among the most amusing stories are Illitch talking to Mike Keenan about coaching the team (without consulting anyone) and Detroit signing ALL of the college free agents one summer and driving the rest of the NHL to distraction over it.
It’s an incredible essay that offers real insight into the maturation of a now exceptional organization.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The Oilers are making some progress. The minor league team is winning and appears to be developing useful players, the draft picks (#1’s and otherwise) are delivering beyond or at expectations. The NHL team has run into the usual problems relating to lack of balance, lack of experience and some bets that didn’t work out via trade and free agency.
The Detroit Red Wings had all of those problems too. Did they fire Jim Devellano? Hell no! They bumped his payscale! The man driving this rig is Daryl Katz, and there’s every chance the current managers will be here this time next year and the year after that one.
Oilers management talked about competing and pushing for the playoffs early in the season, and now the verbal involves staying out of the lottery. If they end up in the lottery, will things change?
Maybe. But we should be prepared for maybe not. Daryl Katz makes those decisions, has since he bought the team.