THE WAY I SEE IT: SUCCESS, PLEASE

The way I see it, the Edmonton Oilers will be far better served in the long run by having as much success as possible in their final 27 games of the season than they will by sucking so badly they get another crack at a first overall pick.

What the Oilers need now is for the core players they’ve assembled in previous seasons of ineptitude and suffering – Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov – to find out what it feels like to win rather than more filing off the ice game after game carrying yet more failure on their shoulders.

What the Oilers don’t need is their fourth first overall draft pick in the last five years, even if the reward for being the worst team in the NHL this season is prized defenseman Aaron Ekblad. Another blue-chipper, no matter how good he is, who’ll help the team three years down the road isn’t as important as having the group assembled now – not to mention fans who expected better this season – get a taste of how it feels to win.

The good news is that the Oilers, 17-32-6 for 40 points, can tear it up, relatively speaking, in these final 27 games and still get a crack at a top-three selection next June. They’re buried so deep now, even winning 14-15 of their remaining games likely isn’t going to move them above 28th place.

No Ekblad there? Too bad.

DOWN THE STRETCH

Not everybody agrees with my approach, of course. With playoffs out of the question for the eighth straight season, there is a segment of fans who’d like to see the Oilers "tank it" and finish last, getting the best possible pick. The hopeless Buffalo Sabres, with 35 points, sit 30th now.

The only team the Oilers have a realistic chance of overtaking is the 28th place Calgary Flames, who have 43 points (and three games in hand). Right now, the Florida Panthers occupy 27th with 49 points and they also have three games in hand. The Oilers won’t catch them even with 14-15 wins.

Playing at or near .500 in terms of available points the rest of the way isn’t going to undue the struggles of the first 55 games in the eyes of fans, and that’s understandable, but it could do wonders for the aforementioned likes of Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov. Winning is and has to be a part of development and there’s been precious little of that around here.

No matter how this team finishes, it goes without saying there’s still a helluva lot of work for GM Craig MacTavish to do before the Oilers get anywhere near a playoff spot. This much we know.

That said, I’d rather see Hall and the rest of the kids head into the off-season with something resembling confidence and feeling good about themselves in April after a modest run of success than have June roll around and hear, "With the first overall pick, the Edmonton Oilers select . . ."

WHILE I’M AT IT

. . . As good as Ekblad is, I’m not sure the Oilers could go far wrong if they were to hang on to the third overall pick and get a crack at either Sam Reinhart or Sam Bennett, both centres.

. . . Sam Gagner is playing his best hockey of the season after a horrendous start and that’s good news. Gagner is, far and away, the likeliest player to be dealt between now and training camp next season – assuming there’s nothing big on the table that involves one of the core group – and he will strengthen MacTavish’s hand with a solid finish.

. . . I’ve liked the way Jeff Petry has played over the last stretch a lot more than I liked him at the start of the season. He’s been a lightning rod for criticism, some of it earned, mainly because he’s been forced into top-pairing minutes by lack of depth. When Petry is playing second-pairing minutes, the Oilers will be a playoff team.

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

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    So a culture of winning will be established after a month of .500 hockey?

    And free agents will suddenly want to play for a 29th place team because they upped their record to .500 for a month?

    Winning is important, but let’s keep it in context.

    What the team does the rest of this season will matter far less than what MacT does between now and next season, I’m guessing.

    • “winning is important but let’s keep it in context”….your kidding right? Look at the Oiler loss column the last 8 years. Then look at Eberle, RNH, RNH, TH, Schultz, Hemsky, Gagne etc..these high end top guys have never experienced winning in the NHL. DO you think it is in the Oilers best interest to install winning hockey rather than have a 17 year old Eckblad added to the disaster list of ruined young talent. Please give your head a shake!

      • **

        The article was about winning for the last month or so of the season, not the last 8 years.

        We have won games, even this year, so it’s not a totally foreign concept. And Hemmer went to game 7 of the SCF, so…

        Changes have to happen before the Oilers return to playoff hockey. All I’m saying is that MacT’s moves in that direction will matter more than if we win a few more games with 5-6 guys who won’t even be here next year.

        Finding good players to add to the core will matter more in the long run.

  • S cottV

    Very much agree that it’s way more important to win as many games as possible to close out the year.

    .500 would be quite an accomplishment under the circumstances and provide some momentum going into next year.

    I don’t see it happening but if so – maybe an indication that a glimmer of light has appeared at the end of the tunnel.

    If Gagner can up his game, it will help the prospects of playing .500 hockey to close out the season, but he is not the 2c answer for an eventual playoff spot.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    Why would the team not do anything but strive to win every game? “Play bad for Ekblad “? Please. These are professionals who must try to win every game. Finish as high as possible, then let the Suits figure out the next moves.

    Although if would be kind of fun to see Harrison and his entourage of rocket surgeons make another #1 pick.

  • S cottV

    All I can say is this – I felt a whole lot better watching Perron stripping the puck off Kassian and scoring a hat trick goal into an empty net, than I did watching Kassian score the winning goal against the Oilers a week ago.

    And judging from the look on Perron’s face, so did he.

    Maybe the games were equally meaningless in the standings. But my sweet Lord, I’m sick of losing.

    • GVBlackhawk

      For truth Doug. Losing sucks and it is mentally draining. The Oilers will end up with a good prospect even if they start winning now…so they might as well keep winning. In fact, there might be less pressure to send the player back to junior if he isn’t a 1st overall.

  • 27Ginge

    Agreed. If there were 5 games left and we were in this position I’d feel differently. Closing things out with a 4-1 record in the name of “finishing strong” and losing out on Ekblad would be stupid. Momentum barely carries over from game to game let alone season to season. But with 27 games left you want these players to feel that winning feeling.

    “Who cares the season is lost! Why not tank to guarantee the best player?? It’s not like things could get worse!”

    Wrong. There is a lot more poison left in the mug that is this season. If you let these players drink it to the tune of a 5-17-5 finish you could wind up with some Post traumatic season disorder that they never recover from going forward.

    Media player relations. Fan player relations. Player coach relations. Fan management relations. All permanently damaged if the season were to be bookended by ungodly 25 game losing streaks.

    So let’s keep our jersey’s on and hope for some wins.

  • Word to the Bird

    A true measure of a goal scorer is not padded PP goals.that is dependent on the whim of the refs.

    Eberle:
    179gm 66G 88A 154pts 49 EVG 14th best
    P. Kane
    183gm 70G 110A 180 pts 49EVG
    Bobby Ryan
    180gm 61G 66A 127pts 48 EVG

    Ryan Callahan
    158gm 514g 51A 105P 27 EVG 124th
    Gagner
    164gm 38G 69A 107Pts 27 EVG 124th

    Gagner- Calahan
    Eberle ? krieder

    I am looking at Eberle for Krieder?

    Oh this is just a beauty!

  • S cottV

    I agree. The notion of purposely losing to increase draft position is disgusting. I don’t believe that was ever the Oilers intention. No sir, you can chalk up the last 8 years to good old fashioned managerial incompetence.

    It’s time to turn a corner. Long past the time actually.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    I think we can all relax a little because the reality is that we can cheer hard for our Oilers and we’ll still be getting Ekblad, because we are far enough back and have a tougher schedule than most of the teams in the bottom 5.

    So cheer hard and enjoy it…guilt free.

  • Word to the Bird

    Hate to break it to some of you, but the Oilers are not trading for a top 2 defenseman until at least the offseason. No team with a top pairing defenseman is looking to trade him away near the playoffs. Our top pairing stud is coming through the pipelines! (That’s not to say they shouldn’t improve their defense at the trade deadline)

  • The Last Big Bear

    The down side to the Oilers going on a mediocre-streak is that it will help convince the already slightly-dizzy management group that this team has “Turned The Corner”.

    Who needs bold moves? “This team has proven that they can get the job done, and are really starting to come together as a group.”

    The Oilers rode a mediocre streak last year all the way to the lofty heights of 23rd place, which had everyone on the bandwgon convinced that they had “finally turned the corner”. Again.

    A few wins down the stretch might be exactly what the boys on the ice need. And would keep the boys (and girls) in the stands happy. But as a Flames fan I recently saw an incompetent manager use a late-season winning streak to convince himself that the wheels had not in fact fallen off the bus, and that everything was fine, and keeping the team together for maybe another two years or so before making changes was a good idea.

    A 7-game winning streak down the stretch might see Bryzgalov locked-in long term, and Smyth get another extension.

  • Reg Dunlop

    First off, the things that Ekblad does in jr. will not work in the pros. The only 160lb forwards he will be able to bully will be oiler teammates in practice. Where went the conventional wisdom about never drafting a defenceman 1st overall?

    Secondly, if the oil had such a chub about Mcdavid they could pull a Sam Pollack and accumulate 1st rounders from other teams like Nashville and Florida in exchange for players like Yak and this year’s 1st. This could be done while trying to win as many games as possible next year.

    Thirdly and finally, I like coleslaw. It goes beyond a normal craving for the salad. Go oil and go Marincin, my new favorite player. He reminds me of a young Allan Stanley.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Robin, great article and once again I agree with you. Just wanted to say, that we have all heard or watched pre and post game interviews from opposing players and their coaches speak of the Oilers. Many times I’ve heard these guys say that the Oilers have skilled guys and are a fast team. I’m hoping that if the Oilers can go on a good run of winning games, and rack up about 30 or more points, UFA & RAs may look at us differently and consider coming here. Even though our place won’t change much in the standings, the very least that would be evident, is the consistency in their play,and the determination to win, which would lend itself to a system that is finally working. Just trying to stay optimistic.

    • Bi-Curious Gord

      I hate to say it, but its going to take more than winning a few games down the stretch this year to convince any UFA’s and RA’s to give this team a real look. The management is terrible, and the accountability is a joke. If you aren’t named Hall, RNH, or Eberle, you will be thrown under the bus for every mistake, while they will be allowed to coast no matter how many mistakes they make. Add to that the crappy climate, the smaller city feel, and the chances of the team even making the playoffs in the next season or two…

      I wish I could say there was a way to get FA’s interested in the Oilers. However, short of firing Lowe, MacT, and the entire coaching staff, I really can’t see how we can get anyone of value to come here willingly. It will have to be via trade, like Hendricks. I mean, come on–if you have a 4th line grinder at the end of his career, who turned down more money from us and took his chances on getting another offer? Why on earth should we think there’s any chance we’ll be able to get any kind of solid dmen, goalies, or even some better bottom forwards to round things out for us?

  • Bi-Curious Gord

    It’s hard to decide how to feel about this team. On the one hand, I want them to get it together, to play like the team that has 3 #1 picks should be able to play. Then again, I also want them to tank, and hard, so that management sees that you cannot thrust the entire hopes of the team on the shoulders of several fairly young, extremely similar players. There’s a reason the best corporate management teams are made up of diverse groups–everyone brings something a little different to the table. If you have everyone bringing the same thing, you’ll do great at one thing, and probably pretty terrible at a bunch of others.

    I don’t want to break up the young studs group, but given how many strongly similar players we have there, I think it would honestly be in the best interest of the team to move at least one of them out, for an equal caliber player who brings a different skill set. Either a big power forward with skill, or a solid dman. Something we need, but don’t have.

  • james_dean

    The way I see it is this. 3 years from now Hall, Nuge, Ebs, Perron, Yak will all be in their prime. We may have guys like Moroz or Chase or Pitlick up by then playing supporting roles. Marincin looks like he is here to stay. Maybe one of Klefbom/Gernat/Musil/Simpson, and then Nurse and then Ekblad if we get him. Move forward three years from that and we still have everyone in their prime.

    Its difficult because of all the terrible years we have been through to get here, but we may just have to wait longer. Keep looking forward and not back. We have our top 6 players, now we just have to wait for the rest of the team to come around. If I was to pick a year when the oilers are in the finals again, I would say 2019-2020. They just have to not draft horribly and not send out their core players in terrible deals. Rolls of the dice on supporting cast and players we know are not fitting in (i.e. Dubnyk for Hendricks) are fine with me.

  • Gordie Wayne

    Bang on Brownlee, great article!

    We need this team to start winning now!!!!

    It just helps change the mood and culture of the team and maybe we can start the change from a losing mentality over to a winning mentality.

    If we finish in the bottom 4 or 5 we are still going to get a blue chip prospect, Bennett and Reinhart both look great, and who knows, Ekblad could still be there at 3 or 4 anyway, defensemen always seem to fall down the charts on draft day.

    GO OILERS!!!

  • Rdubb

    What has been the turn around in Petry’s game this past 10-15 games? MM! Plain & simple…
    MM is and should be a top pairing for this team heading forward
    Peck

    • Tikkanese

      And let’s not get too excited about Marincin just yet. Potter looked fantastic his first 10-15 games here as well. Marincin at least has some pedigree and shouldn’t regress, but let’s not plan the parade just yet.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Yeah – we have to go for it. All out. A culture of losing has to be exorcised and that can never be too slow. If Lowe and Tambellini were pulling the strings there would be a danger in what Last Big Bear wrote (good post by the way), but I think MacTavish has shown he’s not those two.

    Guys, a Culture of Winning has to start sometime, and I for one say say it can’t be soon enough.

  • pkam

    I probably will get a lot of thumb down because I disagree with most of the poster here.

    1st, I don’t believe the coaches and players tank for higher picks. The team may lose for many reasons. The team does not have enough talent, the team does not have enough experience, the team does not have the right mix, etc. But I don’t believe the coaches and players purposely lose to get a high draft pick.

    2nd, the Pens lost 5 seasons in a row. They have a 5th overall in Whitney, a 1st overall in MAF, the best 2nd overall in the last 10 years in Malkin, the best 1st overall in the last 20 years in Crosby, and they finished 29th overall. And all of a sudden they made the playoff the following year and made the conference final the year after that. So all this ‘we have to start to win now or we will not make the playoff next year’ is just BS.

    3rd, even if we finish last, I’ll rather have a big skill center than Ekblad. Why? In 2006, Erik Johnson was drafted 1st overall, followed by 4 forwards in Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel. I don’t know about you, I’ll rather have any of the 4 forwards. 2008 was just the exact opposite, Stamkos was drafted 1st overall, followed by 4 defense in Doughty, Bogosian, Pietrangelo, and L. Schenn. Now after 5 years, will anyone of you rather have one of those defense over Stamkos? Another reason I’ll pass on Ekblad is too many examples that the defense drafted 1st turned out to be not the best defense in that drafted year. in 2002, Bouwmeester went 3rd overall, Pitkanen 4th, and Whitney 5th. But the best d that year was Keith at 54th overall. More recent in 2007, Thomas Hickey was drafted 4th overall and Karl Alzner 5th, however, PK Subban was drafted 43th overall. Do you know who PK Subban is? How about Thomas Hickey?

    4th, trade deadline is the best time to get more return for sellers. So if we are not making the playoff, should we try to get more by selling at trade deadline? The problem of being a seller at trade deadline is the return will be draft picks and prospects instead of reliable NHL player. So if we are going to be a seller at trade deadline, the team is going to be less competitive. Do you think the team is going to win more games after replacing Gagner, Hemsky, Jones, Smyth with some of our young prospects in OKC?

    I’ll rather the management focus on getting more return from trades at the deadline to build our depth. I couldn’t care how many games of the remaining 27 we win and where we finish this year.

  • The Soup Fascist

    I have to agree with RB…….but man do I want Eakblad on this team. It’s rare that a kid with hiw size, talent, and ability is available…….and fills the need we will never be able to get through other means.

    A bold move would be for Mac T to wait and see and trade with the team most likely to land Ekblad!

    Go Oil.

    • Zarny

      Interesting you say that considering the scouting report is that Ekblad is more Brent Seabrook than Duncan Keith.

      He certainly isn’t talked about like Drew Doughty. He isn’t a generational prospect.

      I like Ekblad and if he’s available the Oilers should draft him; but they shouldn’t give up assets to move from 3rd to 1st to get him. The scouting report indicates he’s simply not that good.

      As much as the Oilers need top pairing D they also need a bona fide 2C. If Ekblad is off the board Bennett or Reinhart would more than suffice.

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    So if my math is correct, we would need to win 30 out of the last 27 games to make playoffs. Let’s do this Oilers.

  • A-Mc

    All this banter about tanking or not… Just think of it this way:

    If it were Shea Weber in Ekblad’s spot, would you still hope for wins? Players like this dont come around very often. The Oilers have been losing for a very long time, are we really saying that tanking a handful of games is going to be far too detrimental to the team?

    Once the Oilers start winning a few, they will forget the years of losing. I’m not so quick to think the players are that fragile. Get Ekblad at the draft, damn the statistics of the past, and be happy you just landed a big mofo defenseman that has skill!

  • A-Mc

    I’m sure Buffalo would be happy to leverage the 1st overall pick, of course, assuming they win it. What do you think it would take for the Oilers to move from 3rd overall to 1st? Mind you, one of those centres does look very tempting for us, and Buffalo should be thinking the same way. I think Calgary would scoop up Ekblad if they had the chance to pick him.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    If the flames can beat chicago we should be able to beat anyone. Let’s keep it going.

    Use the trade deadline to get assets and use them in the summer. (that bold move)

    I’m glad if it’s Ekblad.

  • BobbyCanuck

    ” You can lose your job, but you can find another one, you can lose your friends, but you can make new ones, you can lose your woman, but you can find another. But brother, if you lose your dignity, you have lost everything” Dany Laferrière (writer)

    This is why the Oilers need to play the rest of the season like thier collective lives depend on it.

    I suspect due to the body language on the bench, some Oilers already feel like they have lost thier dignity

  • mk

    Another way to look at this:
    Is the upgrade of a #1/2 overall pick over a 4/5 pick significant enough that you can justify using up a whole year of contracts and playing time for EVERY OTHER young player on the team?

    Each year tanking brings the Oilers 1 year closer to career declines for Hall/RNH/Eberle/etc. and/or some of them moving on to other teams via free agency or trades. Even the dynasty teams in the league don’t retain every one of their top players forever.

    Is a slightly better player worth losing a year of everyone else (plus as fans, its sucks to watch a losing team)?