There is a tone of increasing desperation in much of the commentary concerning the Edmonton Oilers’ ongoing quest for some help at centre.
Weighed against that rising emotion is the take general manager Craig MacTavish offered on July 1 when asked about the problem.
He Knows It’s a Problem
“We didn’t address all of our needs today,” was the first thing out of MacTavish’s mouth when asked about the team’s depth chart up the middle. “We still feel ideally we’d be able to add a centreman.”
And no, he wasn’t banking on Leon Draisaitl riding in to save the day.
“The one thing I will say about centre is that Leon Draisaitl is an element that we did add in the draft that we think is going to fill that position for a long time,” he said. “We do have some depth there, but they’re young, developing players and any decision regarding Leon or any of those players will be strictly based on what the best situation is for the player and not what’s best for the team.”
In other words, however the depth chart looks at the moment MacTavish’s words indicate no desire to force feed him NHL minutes he isn’t ready for.
The Current Depth Chart
“Right now we have Mark Arcobello, we have Anton Lander, we’ve got Boyd Gordon and of course [Ryan] Nugent-Hopkins in those positions now,” he said, summing up the depth chart that so many see as unacceptable.
“Now you can draw all your own conclusions based on what my strategy may be going forward, and we’re hopeful that we can do something and add a centre piece to what we’ve done already. These things aren’t always guaranteed, but we’ll be trying to do something in that regard.”
Asked whether the new centre would be primarily an offensive forward or more a stabilizing defensive force, MacTavish made it clear that the Oilers weren’t picky.
“Both are really possible,” he said. “I think both are probable. We’ve talked about how we want to build our team going forward. We want three offensive lines and we want a line, probably centered by Boyd Gordon, that can start much like Chicago is built, that you have another line that you can start predominantly in the defensive zone. Then you’ve got three possession lines, or three lines that you can count on for offence… We’re not in such a need offensively up the middle that we have to get an offensive centreman. We feel that Nugent-Hopkins is going to fill that admirably, and also a more versatile centre would fit in that place too.”
Patience from an Impatient Guy
The most important comment MacTavish made, though, was probably his last on the subject.
“We’ve made a few calls,” he acknowledged. “But it’s hard to say whether it’s going to fit tomorrow, a week from now or in September/October.”
The level of concern in Edmonton is understandable; until a team actually does something there will always be skepticism that they recognize the problem and are actively looking for solutions.
In this case, though, it’s a pretty good bet that MacTavish is doing all that can be done. His record is open to interpretation, but he’s been an awfully active manager in his time at the helm; he’s not prone to the dithering that predecessor Steve Tambellini to be plagued by. He’s not unaware of the problem; on July 1 he made it abundantly clear that he saw the trouble and wanted to address it.
That’s means and motive; the question now is whether the right opportunity exists. The free agent options are not compelling, and even in situations where a case to sign one can be made the player’s willingness to come to Edmonton (recall Mike Ribeiro taking a buyout rather than accepting a trade to Calgary) and contract demands are unknowns. Also unknown to outsiders is the content of the calls MacTavish has made since; he has a much better idea of the players potentially available through that route than anyone not plugged into the team does.
If the 2014-15 season rolls around and the Oilers are running Arcobello/Draisaitl on lines two and three, we’ll probably look back ruefully at Derek Roy and wonder what could have been. But if MacTavish’s public statements are anything to go by, it won’t come to that.