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.