Great Expectations

There has been some significant backlash from Edmonton Oilers fans, both here and elsewhere, following a draft that fell somewhat short of Craig MacTavish’s lofty goals going in. How much is justified?

Pre-Draft

When MacTavish was introduced as the new general manager of the Oilers, there was mixed reaction, which makes sense given his long history with Edmonton’s fans and the animosity many felt during his time as coach. He did say all the right things, though, and implicitly contrasted himself to predecessor Steve Tambellini with comments like this one:

I’m an impatient guy, and I bring that impatience to this situation. I think that we’re at the stage in terms of the cycle of our hockey club right now that we have to do some bold things. We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk to try and move the team forward in a rapid fashion. My sense, and my analysis from watching the team over the last number of months is much the same as a lot of people’s analysis of our team. We need greater depth, we’ve got a lot of great primary pieces.

Asked if there could be as many as eight new Oilers, MacTavish said, “I think that’s fair. There’s going to be some significant and meaningful change for sure.”

Comments in that vein all down the line, combined with media- (and, yes, blog-)driven hype and rumours served to push expectations sky high. Lots of players were available for the right offer. The Oilers were linked all over, to goalies and forwards and defencemen, and the feeling going in was that the Oilers would come out of the draft looking substantially different than when they entered it.

Dud

In the larger picture, it’s worth noting that such hype was particularly strong in Edmonton, but it wasn’t confined to the Oilers; lots of teams hoped to be able to do something at the draft. But in the grand scheme of things, the draft was a dud. Cory Schneider went to New Jersey for a fraction of the cost Vancouver would have charged Edmonton. Cal Clutterbuck went to Brooklyn at the cost of former fifth overall pick Nino Niederreiter. Andrej Sekera cost both a pretty good defenceman (Jamie McBain) and the 35th overall pick.

The best, and perhaps only, bargain of the day was likely San Jose’s acquisition of Tyler Kennedy for a second round draft pick.

Should the Oilers have given Vancouver their asking price for Schneider – reportedly the 7th overall, a second round pick and a young NHL-ready player? Should they have swapped Magnus Paajarvi for Cal Clutterbuck? I’d answer an emphatic ‘no’ to both, and that’s just how it is: the trade prices were too high to get anything done.

So, while superficially the draft was a dud, in this case “dud” was likely better than the alternative.

Reality

Unfortunately, this leaves Craig MacTavish in virtually the same place he entered the draft: in need of making significant changes to his hockey team. The defence and the bottom six needs to be overhauled. Players like Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff are still on the team; if Craig MacTavish has prioritized moving them than they still need to go (though at this point, it is fair to wonder if the Oilers really are best-served by moving them). The same is true in net, where Devan Dubnyk offers Edmonton a perfectly serviceable number one goalie in the prime of his career; the Oilers appear to want an elite goaltender and if that’s a priority for them they will need to find it somewhere else. The big left winger the team covets still needs to be found as well.

There is time to do these things, but the draft was expected to be a significant opportunity, and it is definitely a bad thing for the team that the opportunity turned out to be only a mirage. The next big step is free agency, and the post-free agency trades for teams that didn’t land their preferred targets. The Oilers can’t afford to go through those periods without making significant changes.

Recently around the Nation Network

The Oilers draft may have been quiet, but the Calgary Flames’ certainly was not. The decision to pass on Hunter Shinkaruk and instead pick Emile Poirier was widely critiqued, but the Flames’ 67th overall pick drew some negative attention, too:

After round 1, there isn’t much to talk about. Feaster failed to nab any other early-to-mid picks so it’s even more baffling that the organization decided to use their lone choice between 30-100 on man mountain Keegan Kanzig. The 6’7", 240+ pound defender, by all accounts, is a guy who can’t really skate, can’t handle the puck and has no offense to speak of. He was ranked in the 190’s amongst North American skaters by Central Scouting. Corey Pronman didn’t rank him in the top-100 either.

Click the link to read more, or alternately, feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

  • GVBlackhawk

    This year was supposed to be one of the deepest drafts in years. Yet the Oilers traded out of the second round for a few more longshot picks?!?Confusing.

  • GVBlackhawk

    I don’t get what so many people are so upset about. I’m pretty excited about the oil’s future. Just added a (solid) potential top 3 D-man, and flooded the prospect depth chart. We have young talent out the ying yang and a coach who seems specialized for their type of development. Added Belov already, and 2 months remain until the start of next season. We have tons of assets now, and plenty of time to make a deal – last year Rick Nash was traded July 23rd, and James Wisniewski was traded to Columbus July 30th, 2010

  • **

    On the surface it looks looks like Mac T failed. Since we have very little luck with secound round draft chioces, I am happy with our safe selection with Darnell Nurse. I would have been very dissapointed if we had given this selection up for CS.

    Now the UFA season starts and it appears we have to overpay for third line options. Instead of getting a bunch of overpaid has beens, I say we let our youth play from OKC and follow the age old principle of ” sink or swim”. Let Pitlick play a few games, maybe Green, and Chechoo as well.

    Perhaps one of the Russians we drafted can play some minutes. With some luck and additions from the UFA market, we just might assemble a team. In any case it appears the re-build is far from over, and we will once again be told to be patient.

  • GVBlackhawk

    I agree with ya JW that – “NO” – to the Clutterbuck possible trade for allegedly Paajarvi/2nd rounder or the Schneider attempted trade deal from Gillis….to the Oilers….was warranted.

    Especially when the Oilers keep those players, the #7, pick a 2nd rounder and a roster player while whhen they can be grabbing a Khudobin or Emery, etc, as UFA’s for cheaper… besides i agree that Dubnyk is worthy as a goialie against Schneider and several other #1’s in this league already…

    Bolland is not the guy that even I wanted for the type price Chicago wanted first and but then relented to Toronto….even with all what they got back as it is.

    MacT got a top future defender, two very good russian kids and some grit for the future bottom six, etc….and in effect restocked some shelves..

    I agree with your assessment JW that there has to be some to many significant moves coming up these next days to weeks from the Oilers as well but the rush to get it all done in one day is not reasonable nor doable…as though several fans and whiners wanted. I am impatient to see something done big time too but my patience is growing…how long??? I don’t know.

  • vetinari

    There’s a phrase that I think is appropriate: underpromise then overdeliver.

    Championship teams build through the draft. It takes a long time to build up a solid core of prospects that will make the big club a top team. The picks he made seem to be good picks in the long term, though we won’t know for a few years how good or bad this draft was. What we do know is that MacT promised major movement and upgrades to this team. If we don’t see a lot of moves made by the first week or two of free agency, you’re going to see a lot of angry fans. And it’s all on MacT for overpromising and underdelivering.

  • **

    As for the goalie situation, I can see the reasoning behind it. The Oilers wanted the best available goalie, they could not get it. I think the position the Oilers need to fill in with NHL proven players right now is the goalie position.

    So if you did not get the best prospect in the draft, why waste the few pics you have on one or 2 when you already have a bunch of youngster on the pipe line who are having trouble panning out?. Better stock up with size and centers, which you don’t have many of in your development system right now.

    If I remember correctly they hired not long ago a European goalie expert. Maybe the plan is to stock on goalie prospects at the next draft, since with this draft the defense and forward prospects are all stocked, while giving an extra year to the ones they have to really see where they are at.

    The Oilers missed on Bernier and a couple of europeans (the Schneider thing was a rouse, so I won’t even count it) but there is still Khudobin and some others that will help the team immediately.

    Bottom line for me is the Oilers need proven goalies right now more than they needed goalie prospects.

  • **

    The way I see it, Mac T, while not swinging the ball out of the park, did move forward on his plan by draft day:

    -He signed Anton Belov, the best defender in the KHL, he beat other teams to it. You win some you lose some,we know of a couple of deals that didn’t work, but this one he got.

    -He got picks back that were wasted by tambellini on Jerred Smithson and Fistric. Wasted because they did not help the team move forward and cost part of the future. In this regard Mac T did a great job by multiplying his number of pics without giving up any assets. At the end of the day after the first round the chances guys make an impact drop significantly. So trading down for more picks is reasonable as it increases the odds of getting someone who pans out.

    -He got the coaching staff ready by draft day, which he said would be the ideal situation. And it is a good looking coaching staff too.

    -He decided to pick Darnell Nurse, a kind of player the Oilers desperately need, big, mean, and with a never quit attitude. He’ll be a great piece of the Oilers in the not too distant future.

    -He avoided making an emotional trade, which could have cost him dearly. The price for Schneider was ridiculous and in the end Mike Gillis got absolutely swindled by the New Jersey GM.

    The bottom line for me is that Mac T looks like he is working really hard to improve the team be he is being smart about it and he is not jumping into bad deals. Tambellini looked like he was always just surveying the waters but not really jumping down and swim. And the few moves he did make that he thought were cheap and safe ended up being costly.

    • John Chambers

      I’m with you, in that it’s still too early to be glass-half-empty about anything yet. I blame TSN for propagating any irrational expectations.

      Nurse is going to be a beauty. He’ll slip right in during the team’s competition window.

      Teams will still need to offload salary. If we can end the summer with a Dman like Paul Martin, Boychuk, or Oduya, we’ll look much better with our 5-6 than last season

      We can all be glad we didn’t massive overpay with the 7th overall pick for Braydon Coburn, or otherwise.

      Most Oiler fans are probably willing to surrender next season’s 1st rounder for a 3-4 Dman. I’m am, anyway.

      July 5th should be interesting. We might just go and overpay for David Clarkson.

      • DSF

        I’m not sure why you think players like Martin, Boychuk or Oduya are going to magically become available in the next 4 days.

        Pittsburgh is about $8M under the cap and Martin is signed for two more years and has a NTC.

        Boychuk is on a value contract at $3.3m and also has a NTC. Boston is $5M under the cap with 19 players signed.

        Chicago is $9.5 million under the cap and Oduya also has a NTC.

        Here’s a list of the current UFA defensemen available:

        Benn, Jordie D Dallas

        Fortunus, Maxime D Dallas

        Sloan, Tyler D Dallas

        Sneep, Carl D Dallas

        White, Ian D Detroit

        Fistric, Mark D Edmonton

        Stafford, Garrett D Edmonton

        Sutton, Andy D Edmonton

        Whitney, Ryan D Edmonton

        Strachan, Tyson D Florida

        Yonkman, Nolan D Florida

        Scuderi, Rob D Los Angeles

        Bagnall, Drew D Minnesota

        Clark, Brett D Minnesota

        DeSantis, Jason D Montreal

        Kaberle, Tomas D Montreal

        St-Denis, Frederic D Montreal

        Ford, Scott D Nashville

        Moore, Mike D Nashville

        Corrente, Matt D New Jersey

        Harrold, Peter D New Jersey

        Leach, Jay D New Jersey

        Zidlicky, Marek D New Jersey

        Landry, Jon D NY Islanders

        Martinek, Radek D NY Islanders

        McIver, Nathan D NY Islanders

        Wishart, Ty D NY Islanders

        Collins, Sean D NY Rangers

        Eminger, Steve D NY Rangers

        Gilroy, Matt D NY Rangers

        Some players on that list, Benn, White, Scuderi, Harrold, Zidlicky, are likely to be re-signed by their current teams.

        If MacT is going to get a couple of top 4 D, he’s going to have to trade for them because the free agent pool is pretty shallow.

        What trade bullets do you think he has at his disposal?

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Think one or two UFA veterans is an option here. Just need a body or two to come in here, settle things down and help pass the next 24 months while these kids get up on their feet.

        Pluck Ference and Redden/Hamrlik. Could get a pairing for under 5 per, combined without having to give anything up.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    i wasn’t thrilled with this draft, or the fact the Oilers TWICE had a chance to get a top end goalie, with Tristan Jarry being there at #37 and Eric Comrie being there at the bottom of the 2nd with us having 2 picks.regardless of whether the Habs took Fucale from us, and they did, he was clearly the BPA at that point but clearly a player the Habs didn’t need, we should have taken one of the top goalies, IMO. glad we took Nurse, but after that it’s a bunch of role players, and not large players at that, and a couple of real out there gambles (Muir and Campbell).
    with the cap going down, i wasn’t surprised the Oil couldn’t make draft day deals though and i wouldn’t have given the Canucks what they wanted for Schneider either. we’ll have to see what the Oil can do in the trade department the next little while and in the UFA market.

  • vetinari

    I’d rather have no trade than a bad trade. I’m disappointed that nothing could be done at the draft trade wise, but then again, almost all of the teams left the draft in the same boat.

  • TwoFace

    Yesterday our GM chose quantity over quality and that is a concern. You choose quantity over quality if you are planning on starting a rebuild. We should be starting to come out of a rebuild…no? The biggest thing for me was how we walked away with not one goalie. We should have traded up for Fucale. After losing out on him we should have traded up to get Jarray. Even Comrie. Still scratching my head on this one.

    • GVBlackhawk

      Predicting how a goalie will turn out is voodoo. There is no sense chasing after any particular goalie prospect.

      There is also no way to determine which player is ‘quality’ after the first round is over. They are all mathematical long-shots at this point. So quantity might actually be a more effective strategy from round 2 on.

      Development and luck is more crucial now that the draft is over.

  • walker59

    If free agency and possible trades don’t go well for the Oilers, can anyone see one of the “young guns” being traded to help fill in the bottom of roster? It may happen sooner than people expect. Now, that is bold.

  • reaperfunkss

    I would call this draft strike one for the Oilers under GM MacT. It might get better but there are some disturbing signs ( keeping buchberger and Smith as assistants remains a head scratcher)

    • **

      I respectfully disagree. I ahve already posted my opinion on Mac T’s work at the draft. I watched the whole draft and you could tell GM’s making calls but nothing happened. It wasn’t just hard for the Oilers to make a trade it was hard for everyone. Keeping Smith and Buchberger, and Chabot was Eakins decision not Mac Tavish, and I think he was right, because young players do need some consistency and by bringing in a second in command that is Eakins’ people, he created a balance of old and new. If Eakins can’t work with these guys come the regular season they can always be replaced. BE he is being smart in not alienating the current staff and giving a chance to people to prove themselves. That is savvy business practice.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        You don’t know for a fact keeping Buchberger and Smith was Eakins call. What they tell the media and what happened behind closed doors are not always the same.

        It is not good business practice to keep assistant coaches whose track record is 30, 30, 29, 24. No other team would put up with that kind of track record.

  • Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean

    MacTavish did well in the sense that he quickly fell back to what was obviously plan B. To turn one pick into many picks even if they were lower picks. For people who like to grade drafts, they will have to wait a few years to do so.

  • Cheesenaka

    so we’re all happy we didn’t get fleeced at the draft? now instead we’ll get fleeced in free agency or in the summer trade market. listen guys this team hasn’t made the playoffs in seven years, this is not a desirable location for players (a least ones of value) and won’t be untill we make the playoffs and become a contending team, and at some point we’re going to have to overpay to do that. the way things are going a 1000 years from now my decendents will still be asking “when’s this rebuild going to end?”

  • oilman3

    it’s tough to continue to be patient, but as it has been stated so many times already, it is better to do nothing than something stupid. does anyone actually think mactavish didn’t make every effort to make trades? it’s obvious to anyone paying attention that he has been very active, but he’s not going to get fleeced just to make changes. personally, i have no interest in the types of deals that were offered. people talking about him being tambo 2.0 are being ridiculous. mactavish is clearly more intelligent, well spoken, and hard working than tambo and i firmly believe he will make deals that will actually improve the team without grossly overpaying when the opportunities come.

  • It doesn’t really matter what MacT said. Every team in the NHL knows Edmonton is desperate to improve going into next season. We’re in the worst possible bargaining position.

    MacT’s job now is to calculate where an overpay will do the most good because the reality is we’re going to overpay. Obviously Vancouver’s trade proposal was over the line. But quite frankly the only way they’d give a division rival one of the key pieces they need the most would be if the return was ridiculous.

    I took it that MacT was going to be making bold moves THIS SUMMER. As much as I was choked we couldn’t get something done yesterday I’m still hopeful there some boldness to come.

  • Dockstaff

    Paajarvi for Clutterbuck would have been a BOLD move.

    The problem with our other pieces is that no one wants them for more than a bargain – meaning the Oil would have to take a loss.

    It’s very difficult to make a trade in the NHL. Without good depth you will have to do what the Leafs did years ago and trade nearly all your draft picks and prospects to get a few veteran players.

      • Mike Krushelnyski

        Yes he was there, one reporter heard him talking to another GM and he was telling him about his ” six Stanley Cup Rings” and how he was a champion once. Then the other GM told him ‘” yea that was a million years ago and now people think you are a loser”.

        There was a little swearing, and a few fist flying, and then security was called followed by paramedics as one of Kevins Lowes Stanley cup rings was embedded in the other GM’s forehead.

        Now according to sources he only has five Stanley Cup Rings.

        • Quicksilver ballet

          lmao

          When MacKinnon cornered him, he responded with that 6 rings, I think I know a little bit about building a winning hockey club. This statement alone must tell us he’s still very much in charge of this hockey club, and at of all places, MacTavishs’ introduction as the new GM’s press conference.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Darn sure I seen him passing on his congratulations to the Nurse family, while Katz and friends (along with Darnell) were up on stage doing their thing. Grip and grin technician for all of his favorite peeps yesterday.

  • Cheesenaka

    Hey Jonathan, do you think the oilers look at Ballard as a possible option, either through waiver claim or a trade with salary going back? Belanger + Eager for Ballard?

  • Al Davis

    Well, the Oilers did this to themselves by announcing to the world of their intentions. I think a lot of the backlash is justified.

    I don’t have a problem with restocking a rather empty prospect pipeline, but more was expected.

    Does that mean there is no time to make other changes? No, but by all accounts the draft is where teams have the opportunity to make the most change throughout their organization. So with that in mind, us Oilers fans have every right to be disappointed with the lack of turnover.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      If it was August 1st instead of July 1st I would agree, but free agency hasn’t even started yet. Only few moves were made league wide and there was a lot of noise made around the league, not just Edmonton.

      With the new division formats I don’t think trades within the division are going to happen. With 29 games within a division and having to battle 6 to 7 other teams for a playoff spot the philosophy behind trading is going to change.