Chicago and Pittsburgh and Edmonton

Photo: Andy/Wikimedia

With the Oilers all but eliminated from the post-season – their fourth consecutive regulation loss dropped their chances to 1-in-40 – and the outcome of this campaign nearly in the books, it seemed a good time to compare the progress of the Oilers’ rebuild to successful ones in Pittsburgh and Chicago

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A lot goes into building a team beyond selecting early in the draft; these are by necessity abbreviated timelines.


  • 2005-06: Finished 14th in the West. Drafted Jonathan Toews
  • 2006-07: Finished 13th in the West, won draft lottery. Selected Patrick Kane.
  • 2007-08: Rookie seasons for Toews and Kane. Chicago finishes in a three-way tie for ninth in the West.
  • 2008-09: Second year of Kane/Toews deals. Chicago goes to the Conference Finals. General manager Dale Tallon demoted.
  • 2009-10: Final year of Kane/Toews entry-level deals. Chicago wins the Stanley Cup.
  • Summer 2010: Entry-level deals of Kane/Toews end; Chicago dumps a bunch of talent and the franchise regresses. Still a power in the West, but has lost in the first round each of the past two seasons.

Thanks to some poor management decisions along the way, new contracts for Kane and Toews triggered a series of trades that saw talent and money sent out of town – significant players like Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Brian Campbell and others would be purged from the roster and it’s taken two years for the team to recover.


  • 2002-03: Finished 14th in the West. Drafted Marc-Andre Fleury 1st overall.
  • 2003-04: First year of Fleury’s entry-level deal. Pittsburgh finishes 15th in the East, drafts Evgeni Malkin second overall.
  • 2004-05: Lockout. A year of Fleury’s entry-level deal burned. Pittsburgh wins lottery, drafts Sidney Crosby first overall.
  • 2005-06: Final year of Fleury’s entry-level deal, Crosby’s starts. Pittsburgh finishes 15th in the East, drafts Jordan Staal. General manager Craig Patrick replaced. Fleury signs a two-year deal with a $1.295 million cap hit.
  • 2006-07: Second year of Crosby’s entry-level deal, first year of Malkin’s, first year of Fleury’s cheap two-year contract. Pittsburgh eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
  • 2007-08: Final year of Crosby’s entry-level deal and Fleury’s cheap two-year contract. Second year of Malkin’s entry-level deal. Pittsburgh eliminated in the Stanley cup Finals.
  • 2008-09: Pittsburgh wins the Stanley Cup.

Pittsburgh remains a power in the East, though shaky goaltending and defence has been a problem the last two years in first-round exits.


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  • 2009-10: Finished 15th in the West. Drafted Taylor Hall first overall.
  • 2010-11: First year of Hall’s entry-level deal. Oilers finish 15th in the West, draft Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall.
  • 2011-12: Second year of Hall’s entry-level deal, first of Nugent-Hopkins’. Oilers finish 14th in the West, draft Nail Yakupov first overall.
  • 2013: Present day. Final year of Hall’s entry-level deal, second of Nugent-Hopkins’, first of Yakupov’s.

Where are the Oilers – in terms of on-ice performance – today? Somewhere shy of Chicago in 2007-08, somewhere north of Pittsburgh in 2005-06? Chicago was two seasons out from the Stanley Cup in 2007-08, Pittsburgh two from a finals appearance.

One thing both Pittsburgh and Chicago had in common was that neither paid big money for their key pieces until they’d had some playoff success – Chicago’s top picks were still on entry-level deals when they won the Cup, Crosby and Malkin were both still on entry-level deals when Pittsburgh went to the Finals and Fleury was on a cheap bridge contract. The Oilers, on the other hand, are about to see Taylor Hall (and Jordan Eberle) graduate to the ranks of paid NHL stars.

Another thing Pittsburgh and Chicago had in common around this time was a change at the top. Craig Patrick, owing to the failures of his team, was dismissed around this time. Dale Tallon, owing less to failures of the team and more to salary problems (including that famous RFA incident), had just a year left in the top job at this point in the Chicago timeline. The safety of the Oilers’ management group is an unknown, though nothing in the team’s on-ice performance should make Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini and the rest feel comfortable.

As Pittsburgh shows, a lack of playoff hockey at this point doesn’t necessarily mean that the rebuild has failed or will fail – the Penguins recovered nicely in the years following their miserable 2005-06 campaign. Whether similar progression lies in the Oilers’ future remains to be seen.

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  • GVBlackhawk

    One important item that you overlooked with respect to Chicago’s rebuild was that they were drafting defensemen Keith and Seabrook years before Toews and Kane were drafted. These two, in particular, had time to develop and were good NHL defensemen when the young star forwards entered the league.

    The Oilers moved out their NHL defensemen and replaced them with AHL’ers and Cam Barker. And the Oilers have Barbaro, too. Going into next year, the situation on defense appears sketchy once again.

  • John Chambers

    On Jan 19, 2008, Patrick Lalime won in a shootout, and the Hawks record after 48 games stood at 23-21-4, good for 50 points. That capped a 4-game win streak (following a 7-game skid, all with Khabibulin in net). After 44 games the Hawks had just 42 points.

    This seems almost exactly where the Oilers are right now. Hall, Eberle, and Gagner are like Keith, Seabrook, Tuomo Ruutu (soon traded for Andrew Ladd), while Nuge and Yak are similar to, at that time, rookies Toews and Kane.

    The Oilers have for good or ill climbed out of the league’s basement, and have nice pieces like Schultz, Smid, Petry, Paajarvi, etc who will compliment the core. Adding two top-pair Dman would at this point be akin to adding Campbell and Hossa.

    The Oilers are a playoff team next year. Book it. But to follow the Chicago model they’re short two impact players, and need to see Paajarvi, Hartikainen, and Klefbom rapidly emerge into Bolland, Byfuglien, and Hjalmarsson.

    • RexLibris

      Maybe lets not have Paajarvi, Hartikainen or Klefbom become Byfuglien, okay.


      I get where you are coming from and agree. Patience is needed, but also the expectation that smart decisions will be made.

  • Oilfred

    Did LA have big game players in their lineup still on their ELCs last year?

    Did LA trade a player that was in his ELC to get players with larger salaries?

    Did LA win the cup last year?

    No, yes and yes.

    They also traded away Simmonds who had a friendly cap hit of 1.75m.

    The only real contract they had in their cup winning year where the price point was considerably low for the players talent level was J. Quick.

    Also worth noting is the fact that Doughty was in his first year of his first post ELC. 7mil.

    There are more examples of teams that had horrible seasons (9 for LA if you count the lockout year) then Chi-town and the steel city that went on to win. Just some food for thought.

    Now put down the pitchforks! lol

    • Oilfred

      Yeah, and not to mention Detroit…I think ELC’s are for AHL only in that organization.

      Boston? I guess Seguin was in his ELC. Marchand probably was too. Seguin barely played though…so maybe it’s not as important as we think.

      ELC’s are important now for the Oilers because we give guys like Horcoff $5.5M…

  • John Chambers

    Good point about Seabrook and Keith. But Dmen are more difficult to project which is why it’s very rare you see a Dman taken 1st overall. Chicago got it right with Seabrook and hit a home run with Keith, but they also drafted Cam Barker 3rd overall.

    Would you rather that the Oilers have Thomas Hickey rather than Sam Gagner?

  • DSF

    Since Hall is Crosby in that Pittsburgh scenario, the Oilers should be going to the cup finals this season.

    Of course Pittsburgh also had Marian Hossa and Sergei Gonchar in his prime on the roster.

    So not only are the Oilers missing players of that calibre but they also don’t have a Malkin or Jordan Staal.

    Considering how often they’ve drafted in the top 10 over the past few years, that’s pathetic.

  • outdoorzguy

    I think the Chicago 2003-04 season should be included, because they finished with 59pts and it was the 5th time they missed the playoffs in 6 years. A much more painful rebuild than the Oilers.

  • outdoorzguy

    It truly appears as though whoever is managing this team in a year or two will have to do a major overhaul on the rebuild. Bottom six, blueline etc. But the biggest problem is that you can’t fix scared. Save for a few guys, this is a group of p*ssies. Flat out. No intestinal fortitude whatsover. Explains the generally non competitive nature of the club.

    Good luck fixing that problem new gm.

  • Eddie Shore

    2 key moments in the season:

    1) the triple C injury just prior to the 9 game road trip – no help delivered by mgmt.

    2) 5 game win streak prior to deadline: St.L, steal by Khabby, close win after being outshot by CBJ, caught Van. napping and then 2W against an awful Flames team to get team back into the playoff race. – mgmt. delivers Smithson for a 4th, receives not a single asset for any of its UFA instead continues to ignore deficiencies and team is unable to beat a Phoenix squad that traded away Torres and Lombardi.

    Enough games have been played to confirm that the players and coaches have exacted every point they can based on their ability. The failure to reach the playoffs, again, rests squarely at the feet of mgmt. and ultimately ownership. The team needs are the same ones that existed in April 2012.

    This has been a wasted year.

  • A-Mc

    I’m not ready to fire management yet. Over the last 2-3 seasons, their mandate has been to draft some guys and develop them. No where in that process is there room for attempting block buster trades to bring in good guys to surround the young hot shots; and unfortunately, even if they wanted a block buster trade, they didn’t have any pieces to make a deal!

    As others have said, the oilers are essentially an AHL team with a few Vets on their way out and 3-4 top end NHL players. When it comes to making trades to fill holes, No one wants the old farts that cannot skate and you can’t flip AHL’ers into Keith Yandle’s. The only pieces of value that this team has are the pieces we need to keep for ourselves.

    So what does this mean? We’re still stuck bringing in talent via draft (ie: Waiting). Quality UFA’s wont sign here because we’re not winning a cup anytime soon. Rental Pending UFA’s are an option you explore when you’re already a contender; otherwise the consequence of repeated rentals is that you sell out your future. And as previously statd, hockey trades aren’t going to flip Linus Omark for Sidney Crosby.

    Given the circumstances, i dont think there is much choice for management but to build and acquire pieces slowly and bank on the fact that your core is developing into a well rounded bunch of young chaps that might get you close to the playoffs. At some point you’ll have enough newly drafted talent outside of the core that are trad bait for a brand name guy. Once the Oilers get to that point, then we’ll see some changes.

  • Dangerous Neil

    Even though the Oilers have missed the playoffs for seven straight years, for the first three of those we were legitimately trying to make the playoffs (see the Souray or Penner signings). The rebuild is only 4 years old. At that point the Penguins had yet to make the playoffs, with the two best players in the world on their team. It is tough to preach patience after so many years with little to cheer for, but anyone who expected this rebuild to be finished and the Oilers to be contenders in less than 5 years was dreaming. We are still a couple of seasons away from being able to call the rebuild a success or failure.

  • Knowing the short sighted fickle nature of posters on this blog, myself included, I am still going to hold off judgement until next year. As stated, Chicago and even Pittsburgh already had some key pieces before they started the rebuild. Who are our key pieces? Hemsky? Horcoff?

    The Oilers rebuild model truly was to blow it all up, ship practically the entire old team out and start over.

    I am hoping we have drafted the talent to build around, and this summer the actual building can begin. I think we all know what needs to happen, so now we will see if our management is capable of going out and getting a top 2 D, a bigger two way 2nd line centre, a good sized LW, and a retool of our bottom six.

      • Dangerous Neil

        I suppose I would ask who had trade value last year? Hemsky was not high on the value list, and Gagner would have left a big hole at centre.

        Dubnyk was in my mind as well, and though I really like Smid and Petry, I don’t think they are in the same area as Keith and Seebrook.

        How did Chicago get Sharp? Was that another draft choice as well?

        It could be that Magnus and Harti and Klefbomb work out and become our “key pieces”, but who’s to say right now.

        I suppose what I’m getting at is I think we had a different situation in Edmonton that required a different approach. It would be hard to look at our forward talent and say we didn’t accomplish anything.

        Like I said, I think we have something incredibly special to build around, we even have enough players that could be traded to build around the talent in town, but it remains to be seen whether or not we’ll do that. I could see them drafting a decent centre with some size and skill, then saying, once this player develops, we’ll have it. I mean, have any of the above mentioned rebuilds hinged so much on so many players developing?

        Dubnyk, Hall, Ebs, Nuge, Yak, J Schultz, Gagner… and to a lesser extent, Klefbomb, Harti, Magnus, Lander, maybe even another D prospect ? That seems like a lot.

        • DSF

          By the time your suggested approach could work out, all of Hall, Eberle, Hopkins, Yakupov and Schultz will have burned through their ELC’s and the Oilers won’t be able to keep them all.

          As JW points out in his article, the key to being able to win is to do it with important pieces on affordable contracts otherwise you don’t have the cap room to add the other pieces you need to win a cup.

          • DSF

            I’m not really proposing anything, just answering two of Willis’ comments and questions about one of my earlier posts.

            I understand one of the main points in getting to the cup during a rebuild is to have your emerging stars still in their ELC, that way you can buy some more expensive players to help make the run. I agree with that. Having Hall and Ebs off their ELC is not so bad considering the rest of the salary we have coming off next year, and hopefully a buy out or two.

            I think the trouble is going to be having all the wunderkids off their entry level deals. But maybe by then they will be so dominant it won’t really matter. I mean, just look at the Burgh, or Chicago. All those guys are off their ELC and they are still powerhouses in the league.

            More than any other Whitney’s injury hurt this team so much. If he was in top 2 form, everyone else on our depth chart would have been pushed down one. Whose to say if we would have gotten the pieces we have now, but still getting a top 2 guy this summer is going to be really hard.

            I still say see what it takes to get Coutier and Yandle. Combine that with a Klefbomb, and one year older Shultz, Yak, Hall, Ebs, and Nuge, and maybe that’s enough.

            I would think our fourth line is what any fourth line should be (can win a draw, has some energy players that can play a little hockey, and maybe even contribute every once in a blue moon). Our third line is a real mess though. I really don’t know, it’s all just speculation which is really fun to discuss, but not very productive I guess.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Good thing Gretzky,Messier,Coffey,Fuhr and Kurri didn’t know they were playing in a dump back then. They could’ve had it so much better somewhere else.

      When the hockey team is this bad, for this long, I guess it’s only natural for the sheep to get distracted and turn their focus to the building. Katz makes nearly 20 million in profits a year in the current facility. If that’s inadequate, let him pay for the new building without taxpayer dollars. He’d have every cent of his money back inside of 10 yrs. I’m sure the city would make good use of the projected 50 million in profits per yr if this new facility gets built.

      Starting to look like time is running out on this project. It’s about to become a make or break issue in the upcoming election. I’d laugh if they wasted millions to get things started and then shipcanned the whole thing with a new city council and mayor. The building isn’t even started yet and the roads in Edmonton have the look of a 3rd world country already.

  • Natedogg

    Dangling next years first round pick with a fledging veteran should be able to get us a star of note at center or defence. We have enough to develop already . Time to add more proven talent .

    Calgary not as bad on AHL level as some of you think . They have for next year players such as Bartchi . Not like our AHL team has above par AHL talent to be honest. Our players are still developing , and that is why we should be going after upgrading our subpar veteran core .

  • vetinari

    Good article Jonathon for comparison purposes.

    I think that the key is that both Chicago and Pittsburgh replaced their “caretaker” GMs who primarily mined the draft system with GMs who were active players on the trade market and could sell their teams to UFA’s– and I just haven’t seen that in the Lowe/Tambellini dynamic yet.

    In fact, short of enticing one college player, J. Schultz, we’ve lost out on Heatley, Nylander, and almost everyone else who could have helped this team before it reached rock bottom. Either our management team can’t attract quality free agents or make consistent quality trades, or there is some other factor in play (players being averse to the Edmonton market, etc.).

    Management changing coaches every 18 months signals instability to players, and frankly, the solution to send a message that we are ready to win is to change our management team instead.

  • mr_nihilism

    I’m thinking Katz isn’t overly concerned with results. As long as tickets are sold and the beer is flowing, management can #$%^ up all it wants to.

    Management isn’t going to owe up to anything, it’s up to the owner to get out the guillotine. The fact that he hasn’t says it all.


    Crosby is listed at an $8.7M cap hit that year. Pittsburgh still won the Cup with a middling overall cap #, but with Crosby at $8.7M, and all of Whitney, Guerin, Gonchar, Satan, Kunitz, Orpik, Fleury, and even Malkin’s cap hits at >$3.5M, many of their players were getting paid real dollars. Malkin remains a bargain at his rookie max cap hit and there are a handful of useful players making


    Crosby is listed at an $8.7M cap hit that year. Pittsburgh still won the Cup with a middling overall cap #, but with Crosby at $8.7M, and all of Whitney, Guerin, Gonchar, Satan, Kunitz, Orpik, Fleury, and even Malkin’s cap hits at >$3.5M, many of their players were getting paid real dollars. Malkin remains a bargain at his rookie max cap hit and there are a handful of useful players making

  • Ogie Oilthorpe

    Good article, puts the rebuild in a little better perspective. I know the D situation is unstable at best, but I think with Klefbom coming over next year, and one free agent signing or trade in the offseason that can be taken care of to a decent degree. Not a contender next year, but at least a play-off berth to give the fans some hope.

    Offensively, I won’t re-hash what everyone seems to agree on. But management has to change. That seems to be a theme with the aforementioned teams as well, and frankly ours doesn’t have the sack to make the moves needed to complete the rebuild.