Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish said repeatedly in Monday’s year-end press conference that he’d felt his team had improved in two years under his care. He did, however, admit that he hadn’t gone through the exercise of comparing the players he inherited from predecessor Steve Tambellini with the roster he’s assembled now.
Let’s take a moment and do that comparison.
Three of Edmonton’s five primary pivots this season were brought in under Craig MacTavish’s watch. As Leon Draisaitl was a No. 3 overall pick, I don’t know that we can give MacTavish much credit for the acquisition; any idiot could have guided the Oilers to a terrible finish and reaped the reward of a top prospect.
The question is whether the duo of Derek Roy and Boyd Gordon is superior to that of Sam Gagner and Shawn Horcoff. On talent, it’s debatable; Horcoff is and was a better offensive option than Gordon while Gagner is bigger, younger and posted better numbers this year than Roy (even if we isolate Roy’s Edmonton numbers, as I have done here). Taking salary into account, however, we can make the case that the Oilers are ahead because they have comparable talents in the same positions but are spending significantly less money on them.
My assessment: The Oilers didn’t get much better, but they did get cheaper and that has value.
The big moves here are the transition from Hemsky/Smyth to Purcell/Pouliot. Smyth needed to be replaced, owing to age, and Pouliot delivered more in 2014-15 than Hemsky did in his last few seasons in Edmonton (both in terms of scoring and in two-way play).
I’m stifling a yawn looking at the rest of the list. With the exception of Hendricks, MacTavish’s additions aren’t terribly interesting, and with the exception of Paajarvi neither are his subtractions. I’d call the trade-off a wash or possibly a slight improvement, though it’s worth noting that MacTavish’s stated ambitions from early in his tenure really haven’t been realized here:
In today’s NHL you really have to be a threat to score at some point, even marginally. We had a lot of guys who really, the best they were going to be in any given game was a non-factor. There wasn’t a lot of upside for our guys, our role players to significantly help us, but the few times we did we ended up winning those games.
My assessment: Edmonton made decent progress, though in two years it basically comes down to one good free agent signing (Pouliot).
The best additions to this group are Klefbom and Marincin, but as both were drafted under the previous administration MacTavish doesn’t get to take the credit for either.
In terms of veterans, Edmonton has traded down. The trio of Petry, Smid and Nick Schultz seems obviously superior to the current group of Fayne, Ference and Nikitin, and the MacT threesome comes with a higher price-tag, to boot (Petry may tip the scales if he gets a big free agent contract, but since MacTavish “felt strongly that [the Oilers] had to challenge Jeff on a one-year deal” I think we can file that under “preventable mistakes”).
Both Fistric and Potter were superior end-of-roster options to Aulie.
My assessment: MacTavish didn’t start out with a great group here, and improbably he’s made it worse. He can thank Tambellini for leaving some nice prospects in the system or this position would be even less impressive than it is already.
MacTavish made a pair of reasonable gambles, and got burned on both of them. The best goalie on this list is the guy he started out with, publicly criticized and then traded after one lousy half-season (a half-season which, we should note, saw him post better numbers than either Scrivens or Fasth this year).
My assessment: The Oilers would be better off today if MacTavish had left the position entirely alone.
The Big Picture
Jason Gregor asked MacTavish on Monday why he was optimistic about the team, and MacTavish gave this answer which launched this whole exercise. Let’s see how it stands up against our review:
Our potential to grow and the potential of our players. We’ve added a lot more players over the last couple of years. I haven’t gone through the exercise of putting – I’ve been at this job for two years, that’s been well-documented – I haven’t gone through the exercise of putting the list of players that we had when I took over to the list of players that we have now but I feel like the situation certainly has improved over the last couple of years. There was lots of work to do, there’s lot of development internally on the horizon. I don’t think we’re that far off; I don’t think I’m naïve in saying that. I’ve said this before about the organization: I feel more comfortable with the foundation that we have right now and that we can build from this foundation. We need some critical pieces, there’s no question; I’m not going to sit here and say that we don’t. We need an improvement in some pretty vital areas of our team performance, but I feel that some of those pieces may be in the organization already developing and the other pieces are going to be up to hockey operations to try and identify and bring in.
The situation may have improved, but if so it’s primarily due to the development of players who predate MacTavish’s promotion to general manager.
MacTavish’s own work wheeling and dealing established NHL players leaves much to be desired. The wing has seen some modest improvements since his arrival, but those upgrades are overshadowed by his hapless efforts on defence and in net.
The Oilers “need some critical pieces” and need “an improvement in some pretty vital areas of team performance” but that was the situation two years ago, too. The evidence strongly suggests that in two seasons at the helm, MacTavish has failed to substantially improve Edmonton’s roster.
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