Craig MacTavish has been doing what feels like a media blitz since taking over as general manager, making a point of communicating his message clearly and frequently to the Oilers’ fan base. On Friday he appeared on Oilers Now and said a lot of interesting things, though what stood out to me were his comments on team identity.
Success is always in vogue. You look at the New Jersey Devils when they won, you had to play a more conservative, trapping style of hockey, a less aggressive style of hockey. Then it transitioned to the Wings, and then you had to play a more skill-level game, a more puck-possession game. Now, the Los Angeles Kings have won the Stanley Cup last year and are threatening again this year with a big, heavy team. I think there are a lot of different ways you can get the job done.
Whenever a team wins the Stanley Cup, there is a lot of time spent dissecting how they won – by fans, by the media, and doubtless also by NHL management. Sometimes, the story is ‘they just won, how does [Team X] we become more like them?’ To a certain degree, it’s healthy – Stanley Cup winners tend to be very good teams, and there’s generally a lot of value in identifying their strengths and seeing how Team X stacks up against them.
But, as MacTavish points out: there are a lot of different ways to win. He mentions three specific examples, but Chicago and Pittsburgh and Anaheim and Carolina and Boston all won Cups during the last CBA, too, and they all had a slightly different way of getting there. It’s a mistake to always chase after the most recent winner; teams can’t always be reinventing themselves or moving the goalposts simply because the most recent winner happens to play the game a certain way
I think first and foremost you have to know what you are as a team, and that’s the most important thing. From my perspective and our organization’s perspective, we’re a team that’s a highly skill-driven team, a team that is going to play a puck-possession game.
MacTavish sees the Oilers as a skill-driven, puck possession team. And it makes sense. Looking at the Oilers’ key players – the youth brought in via lottery picks, plus Justin Schultz and Jordan Eberle – there simply isn’t a base to build a club like San Jose or Los Angeles or St. Louis. Looking at the Kings’ win last year, the smallest of their five most used players was Drew Doughty (6’1”, 208 pounds). Looking at their top nine forwards and top six defencemen, three were under 200 pounds (and one of those guys weighed 199). The Oilers can bulk up all they want, but as long as Eberle and Schultz and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are playing big minutes they aren’t going to be the Kings.
So they shouldn’t even try.
That’s not to say they don’t need to get bigger – to an extent, I think they do – but they’re never going to beat teams like Los Angeles and Boston by being a poor man’s Bruins or Kings. They have a high-end core, but it’s a core built for playing a different style of game, the style exemplified in the West in recent years by Detroit and Chicago.
The good news for the Oilers is that Craig MacTavish knows that. The vision he’s outlined for the team this summer – bringing in mobility and puck sense on defence, bringing in bottom-six forwards with size that can also contribute offensively, overhauling spots two and three on the goaltending depth chart – are not changes aimed at turning the Oilers into a team that plays a dump-and-chase, grind-it-out game that the top-six simply isn’t built for. They’re changes aimed at supporting the current talent, and evolving the team into the best possible version of itself, rather than a pale imitation of something they aren’t.
Don’t forget that it’s not too late to play StreakCred – the new playoff pool game from the Nation Network. You can win a trip for 2 to Oktoberfest in Germany among the awesome prizes up for grabs. Now it’s only $10 and a portion of the proceeds go to Edmonton Charities. Sign up here.
Recently around the Nation Network
Over at Canucks Army, Thomas Drance talks about the news that Manny Malhotra Hopes To Continue His Playing Career:
Malhotra intends to hit the unrestricted free agent market on July fifth, and though I’d suggest he’ll struggle to secure a one-way contract, he clearly still wants to play and still wants a chance to end his career on his own terms.
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