It seems the Oilers are entering a tipping point of sorts.
Scanning the intertubes I’ve noticed that fans are beginning to schism into two familiar, yet divergent camps.
There are the ones who are hoping for a strong playoff push. They see the Oilers as ready to lift themselves up off the NHL mat and throw a few punches back at the league that has beaten them down (and rewarded them handsomely for it) these past few years. These fans want the playoffs this year, or a whisker away from it at the very least.
On the other side are those who look at this team and, bourgeoning stars aside, see some areas of concern they would like addressed, preferably through the draft. These fans are comfortable with a finish between 13th and 15th in the West and will wait another year before putting their foot down on a playoff appearance.
Both groups of fans want nothing more than a parade with a big shiny silver chalice going down Jasper Avenue. So the disagreement at this point is more or less academic.
WHATS THE MOVE?
But it does raise some interesting questions. Are the Oilers best served by getting into a playoff race this year, pushing for a spot, and perhaps falling short by a few points but showing that they will be ready for prime time when the 2013-2014 season starts?
Or perhaps the Oilers would be best having their roster holes made apparent and facing the struggles this brings?
From where I sit this boils down to two perspectives: the first focuses on the development of the players while the second questions the development and decision-making of management.
If the Oilers look ready for a playoff jump this year might management move some assets to try and bolster a roster for a post-season push? It could certainly happen.
And if they fall out of the playoff picture by the beginning of March would management focus instead on addressing long-term needs by making decisions on expiring UFAs Ryan Whitney and Ryan Jones?
Will they be buyers or sellers? If buyers, how many chips do they cash in and to what effect? We all remember the Avalanche making the playoffs the year after they drafted Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly. The next year they were back in the basement and it appeared that management got the impression the team was better, or at least more advanced than they actually were. Could the Oilers make the same mistake if they got into the playoffs this year?
Were the Oilers to finish well outside of the playoff race, but still north of where they’ve sat these past three seasons (because south of, and adjacent to, dead last isn’t an option) they would be assured of a pretty decent draft order. And drafting good players is something fans can get addicted to.
I’ll admit that I tend to fall into the latter group here. I see holes in both the roster and development group. I hesitate to make any move that comes at the cost of the draft, but there are trades I would like to see worked out as well. Unless the Oilers make a decision to address organizational shortcomings by subtracting from their respectable stockpile of young and prospect-level players, I won’t hold my breath.
So which group do you tend to fall into?
Are you looking for a great season with some post-season promise in the hopes that it will help educate the young core on how to win in the playoffs? Do you want to see some moves made that would cash in some prospect chips for those veteran players that good teams always seem to have? Do you want the team to just keep on keeping on and draft a second line centre with size?
Is it too early to talk draft? I’m never likely to say no to that, but others might feel differently.
HOW ABOUT A TRADE
The Oilers are clearly entering the crucial window wherein a team that has rebuilt either starts filling the holes or loses young talent to attrition and continues to spin their wheels. I like to call that territory “the Long Island Mile”, a stretch of proverbial highway (to use Lowetide’s favourite metaphor) that sees a team either take the off-ramp to improvement or just keep rolling along on cruise-control.
So, to start things off, how about I propose a trade idea that might qualify as a “wow” sort of move. Keep in mind, this suggestion is just to signify the kind of move that I think the Oilers need to make. This would address two areas in which I feel the Oilers are struggling or are going to struggle in the near future but I hope also recognizes that it comes at a cost.
My target in this hypothetical is Phoenix because of the NHL ownership angle and due to their system needing an influx of prospects. The Coyotes cannot afford the luxury even of an abbreviated rebuilding phase due to severe financial concerns and the desperate need to grow the brand within their market.
In exchange for Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Kyle Chipchura and Henrik Samuelsson the Oilers would send back Magnus Paajarvi, Ryan Whitney (minus half the dollar amount on his contract through the Retained Salary mechanism in the CBA), Tyler Pitlick, Toni Rajala, David Musil and a 2nd round pick in this year’s draft.
The Oilers have a wealth of prospects at many positions, but need to acquire two key positions for their future, that of a defensive partner for Justin Schultz and a potential future 2nd or 3rd line centre. This addresses both those needs.
The assets Phoenix acquires aren’t insignificant and diversify their prospect pool immediately. The financial aspect of the deal would see the Oilers on the hook for Ekman-Larsson’s next contract (he is an RFA at the end of the year), as well as retaining half of the remaining money of Ryan Whitney’s contract. Chipchura coming the Oilers’ way is solely to balance the contracts on the reserve list for both teams, the Coyotes currently sit at 49 contracts and GMs are very hesitant to remain at the 50-contract max for long.
The Oilers could also flip Daniil Zharkov for Alex Bolduc to appease Don Maloney in this regard, but the Coyotes could just as easily trade an expiring UFA for a draft pick at the deadline and solve their own problems more to their liking.
So, what do you think? Which camp do you find yourself in, anxious to see some progress or patient for this year? Do you have any faith in the management group or are your concerns primarily with on-ice issues? How about the proposed trade idea? Go on, tear me a new one in the comments section, or propose your own trades or player-types that you’d like to target. I’ll set the over-under at the number of comments before someone proposes a Sam Gagner trade at 1.5.