ONE-TRICK PONY

I’m not sure where the Edmonton Oilers would rank if we rated NHL teams one through 30 based on the offensive skill and prowess of their of top-six forwards, but I’m confident they’d sit higher than 30th or 29th or 24th, which is where they’ve finished in the standings these past three seasons.

While the Oilers stack up pretty well – on paper if not in actual on-ice production — in top-six flash and dash with the ability to send Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner out the gate, they are so lacking in other dimensions you get what we have here as they head for Nashville with a 7-16-2 record.

If opponents match Edmonton’s level of offensive skill on the top two lines – and there are several teams that can – the Oilers are screwed because if they can’t coax teams into a track meet or a no-hitter, they don’t have another way to get the job done, to win games.

The Oilers aren’t big enough or gritty enough to win games that turn into a physical battle. They aren’t mentally tough enough to prevail in a test of wills. They aren’t remotely close to defensively sound enough to lock things down in tight games. They lack gamesmanship. They don’t have a goaltender who can consistently outperform the guy in the crease at the other end of the rink.

It’s been said countless times. We’ve seen it play out time after time the past three seasons, including last night in a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. The mix is wrong. Plenty of reasonably skilled and undersized forwards, not much else to bring to the table. This is not stop-the-presses stuff for fans, media or GM Craig MacTavish. All this we know.

THIS JUST IN . . .

Knowing what’s lacking, obviously, is one thing. Doing something about it, changing the mix of personnel and adding different dimensions to the meat of the roster, not the fringes, is quite another because MacTavish hasn’t managed to pull it off so far with an eighth straight year out of the playoffs on the horizon.

Until MacTavish does that, until coach Dallas Eakins has a different roster of players from which to assemble his line-up, anything he does right now is, to borrow a threadbare cliché, akin to shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. This team, as assembled, isn’t going to compete for the playoffs. Not this season. Not next season. It’s not going to happen.

Again, this is not a revelation. That, I suspect, is what frustrates Oiler fans most. Does MacTavish need more time to change the make-up of this team? Sure he does. He’s been on the job as GM for months, not years. Fact or not, that’s a tough sell for fans who’ve been faithfully buying tickets for decades. They’ve been more than patient.

That isn’t MacTavish’s fault, but it most certainly is his problem. Changing the make-up of this team, assembling the right mix, is either going to take a lot more time or the kind of “bold moves” MacT talked about when he took the job. That, in the end, is going to mean taking a player or two from that talented group of forwards and turning it into the necessary pieces.

Time, I’d suggest, is not on MacTavish’s side. That leaves bold. My sense is that, while nobody wants to part with one of thoroughbreds up front, they’ve seen enough of the same damn thing for years on end to have the stomach for it if the return is right. Until that happens, this one-trick pony of a team isn’t going anywhere, except in circles. It’s a carousel of false hope.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • paulie

    I think this is great write up on the Oiler situation.

    I think MacT tried to make more moves this summer but could no or perhaps was told that
    there are untouchable beyond the Fab Five….

    I mean Hemsky and Gagner should have been moved ,they are not difference makers on this team .I honestly think these are Lowes boys and that why GAGner gets extended, and Lowe showered $10 million on Hemsky two years ago… no team wants him and his contract.

    The fact is that if you had a great improvment on the 3 and 4 lines, Defense , goal tending , your top six still play the same game,,, and they are top minute crunchers .. what you see is what you get…. their game will remain the same… and thats not good.

    I have no problem moving Eberle, but it would be A CRIME .. to trade him while retaining Hemsky and Gagner.

    • paulie

      To me it is the same article just rehashed over and over. Lets say MacT was told not to trade any of the Fab Five, what does that speak of him. It would certainly speak to the ineptitude of this organization and why MacT really got the job. Of course it is speculation, but nothing would surprise me with this organization.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      EDIT: You’re done here, smart guy. Slip around the IP block 100 times if you want. Anything you post from another IP that gets in will be removed. Instead of making even a faint attempt to follow guidelines, you’ve decided to be an internet tough guy and run your mouth. Easy to do anonymously, right?

      I’m still here. You’re done. That’s that.

  • I dont really think people grasp how far ahead of Buffalo we really are. Do you people not realize we are 5 points ahead of them. What the hell are people bitching about. That is 2 regulation wins and a overtime loss. We are on the right track.

  • paulie

    I think that most fans are resigned to the fact that until the Oilers land a big tough puck moving defensemen with a positive track record, nothing will change.

    The real problem is is there one of those defensemen available? I suggest not……and even if there was, we would have to give up two or three top end assets to get him. All this means we would now have a stud defensemen and now be short in other positions. The net gain would be neutral and now the fans would be just as pissed off.

    There is no trade solution so the only logical solution would be to get a UFA and overpay, …….and then hope that your drafting provided exactly what you need.

    We can only hope Darnell Nurse is the next coming of Chris Pronger!!

    • S cottV

      I’ve said it before and got trashed but if somehow Phaneuf and the Leafs dont fully connect and there is some way to get him to take a little less to play at home for a run at the cup – maybe something to look at? I know there may be apparent baggage but what other established top pairing d man is around that wouldnt mind living in Edmonton – and would fight for a deep seeded home cause? Falls under MacT’s take a risk program – for sure. But – if you coach some of the giveaways and bad hits, out of his game and maybe a little of the wrong attitude (has a lot of the right attitude) – he is a legit home grown stud d man. Problem is – he’s playing too good right now and the Leafs may pay most of the price being asked to keep him.

      • S cottV

        Here is an excerpt from a Toronto newspaper reporting on the Phaneuf contract negotiations “No question, he is Toronto’s best defenceman, someone who is used on the power play, penalty kill and to shut down the other teams’ top lines. In that role, he has the Leafs’ best possession numbers, with Phaneuf on the ice for more shots for than shots against.” Geez – wouldnt that be a few attributes we could use in an Oiler uniform?

        • Puck_In_Throat

          He would look good in an Oilers uniform……..but I suspect he will want to go to LA where his girlfriend wants to be?

          I was thinking more along the lines of a Gardiner/ Schenn to help in a second pairing. No chance TO lets him walk IMHO.

    • camdog

      Problem with Pronger is he didn’t really excel until his 3rd season in the league. Even if Nurse turned into a Pronger that means another couple of years of well – this.

  • paulie

    The problem is the coaching staff, problem solved. it’s also more complex then that.

    or

    It could be the goalies fault for not stopping the pucks from going in the net? I think that sounds better.

    or

    maybe we have to stop watching the puck and start forcing turnovers and make teams play our game.

  • Puck_In_Throat

    Here is the crux of why the Oilers suck and Detroit pwns:

    Edmonton rushes young players to the NHL, and Detroit does not.

    Every young player, not matter how skilled, plays at least a year in the AHL in Detroit’s system or in Europe.

    Datsyuk and Zetterberg joined the Wings as 23 and 22 year olds, respectively.

    Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar, Detroit’s top two prospects, have played in the AHL for 2 and 3 years respectively, putting up nearly a point a game.

    In those years, young players learn how to play 2 way hockey, without the pressure of requiring wins “today”. They are then brought up to the NHL and expected to play 2 way hockey.

    By comparison, none of Eberle, Hall, Nuge, Yak, Gagner, Hemsky or J. Schultz has, with the exception of the lockout, played in the AHL.

    You all saw what those guys did in the AHL for 40 games. If they all had 150 AHL games, they would have learned a LOT more than in getting pounded for 150 NHL games.

    BTW, Nyquist is Gagner’s age, and Tatar is a year younger. Their NHL salaries: $950,000 and $630,000, respectively. You could ice both players for less than half the cost of playing J. Schultz.

    • Cru Jones

      I hear this argument a lot and I have to disagree. It’s impossible to gauge how the Wings, who aren’t all that great right now themselves, would behave with the sort of picks the Oilers have had because they’ve never had them. If you think the Wings would be keeping players like Yakupov, RNH and Hall in the minors, I think you’re mistaken. The guys that the Wings have seasoned in the minors are the same sort of picks that Edmonton is doing the same thing with, ie: Lander, Hartikainen, Gernat, etc.

      I’m not arguing that Edmonton’s high picks wouldn’t have possibly benefited from time in the minors, I just don’t think it’s realistic to point to the way another franchise handles picks in the 20-100 range, and say that’s how it should be done for guys drafted in the top 5. If you look at Edmonton’s players drafted in similar spots (Petry, Pitlick, Lander), Edmonton is arguably doing the same thing as the Wings.

      • S cottV

        Almost all our youth played close to half season in minors due to lock out , Eberle even longer . Yakupov is only one that didn’t . So why does everyone say they should have started in minors when they already had ? Canned excuse for some I guess , but ignorant of their time there .

  • S cottV

    Mact. problem number one along with the person who hired him to be GM . His vision and results have lead to where we are today – going even further backwards . Howson not the answer either . You have waited close to 8 years for this club assembly to perform , yet when you get a new Gm that takes you further backwards you say to give him more time ? Does not make any sense to me .

  • Our top players could learn from watching Toews and Kane “compete”; those are hockey players who play at the highest level night in and night out, both top (1-3) picks respectively.

    Toews in IMO is the modern version of Messier, world class skill combined with world class leadership and Kane’s offensive skills are on a level near Gretzky, Lemieux and Crosby. They play (and their teammates) with an intensity not exhibited by this current group (top picks 1-2) Oilers.

    Again it all comes back to talent analysis by Oilers management (GM, coach, scouts, advisers etc…)as to the right “mix” of talent to be successful. Very good offensively gifted talent is what we have, but bad chemistry as well, and that translates into mediocrity. I would take a Backes, Brown type of player in a heartbeat over a Hopkins or Yak.

    Eventually Edmonton will get it right!

  • crobar

    looks like the edmonton version of playoff action will be from dec.26 to jan.5…… followed by a 6 month debate on the draft. it’s unreal that the buffoons in the capital city lick up the propaganda like candy floss!hey, at least they are making money…..

  • Quicksilver ballet

    What we’re watching here in Edmonton, has all the earmarks/issues of a should be AHL team. Glaring holes in key positions throughout this line up at unmistakable NHL ticket prices.

    Can’t see the Oilers ever being competitive again. Oilers were a cap team in October, even with this many holes at key positions on their roster. With overpays rampant throughout this current line up, only thing that would help, would be if Bettman allowed a 10 million northern (B market) living allowance dollars to compensate for this disadvantage. Or, get a much stronger management group in here, but we know this will never happen with all of Katz’s buddies running things here.

    Not a lot of room for optimism it appears…