As anyone with even a passing interest in the Oilers knows, the team is pushing hard to try and improve its roster in the hopes of stemming the bleeding at all positions this season. Those efforts shouldn’t be mistaken as an attempt to save the 2014-15 season; the current campaign is irretrievable. Instead, any trade made will be made with the twin intention of stopping the bleeding this year and setting the team up for improvements in 2015-16.
The Current Situation
The Oilers are five points out of second-last in the Western Conference. They are 12 points out of the final wild card slot. That is a nearly insurmountable gap, even with three quarters of the season left to play.
Looking at it another way, the Dallas Stars claimed the final playoff berth in the West a year ago with a 40-win, 91-point campaign. For the Oilers to hit those thresholds, they’d need to go 34-17-7 the rest of the way, in a schedule that features plenty of excellent Western teams and lots of road games because the easy starts were clustered in the first half of the season. It isn’t happening.
Making a trade for this season is slamming the barn door after the horses have already left. There’s no point to it.
Why Make a Move Now?
So why make a move now, if next year is what we’re looking at? Why not hold off until the summer when more teams will have players on the block and the salary cap is less of a hindrance? There are a few reasons.
First, there is a lot of value in stopping the bleeding. Craig MacTavish’s tenure as G.M. hasn’t been bad by any objective standard, but it follows years of incompetence under Steve Tambellini and the post-Chris Pronger debacle that Kevin Lowe presided over. The Oilers are a laughing stock, a punch line around the NHL. That wears, and if the team is to convince its current players and any future additions that it’s turning the corner it has to actually give some evidence of turning the corner. Edmonton needs to prove to Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and whoever is tending goal next season that it is serious about getting better and has some idea of what that’s going to take.
Second, there is only so much that a team can do at any one point in time and the more items MacTavish can knock of the list now, the fewer he’ll need to deal with in the summer. Additionally, certain assets (useful veterans, for example) have more value now than they will in the summer, so it makes sense to deal players whose values are elevated for those whose value isn’t (nearly NHL-ready prospects, Vladimir Sobotka)
Third, the remainder of the year gives the team time to assess both what they have and whatever they add. The team needs to know that the guys it is adding are going to work and 2014-15 is an opportunity to field-test additions at centre or on defence or in net in the last half of the year.
Finally, giving Dallas Eakins some tools to work with is long overdue. I know there’s a (massive) level of dissatisfaction with the coach among fans, but realistically I don’t know what he should be doing that he isn’t with the roster he has. He’s riding Nugent-Hopkins and Gordon and sheltering Draisaitl at centre; at the same time on defence his best option on the left side is Andrew Ference. There’s only so much any coach can do with that and the man could clearly use a lifeline from the general manager. And even for those who blame Eakins for a good deal of the Oilers’ struggles this season – those positional problems aren’t going to be handwaved away by canning the head coach. One way or another, they’ll need to be tackled head on, and that should start right now.