The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

Craig MacTavish2

Two years into his tenure as general manager, Craig MacTavish has an uninspiring record. He’s had some good moves, some bad moves, and overall failed to significantly improve the team he inherited from fired predecessor Steve Tambellini.

On Saturday he was handed a lifeline in the form of Connor McDavid, the finest amateur prospect the NHL has seen since at least Sidney Crosby a decade ago. The stagnant team and the errors along the way aren’t going to matter, as long as he can get it right from here on out.

Timing and Opportunity

It’s fair to say that things have changed in the week since MacTavish uttered the following projection for 2015-16:

Next year I would forecast is another developmental year. There’s going to be modest growth, largely depending on what we’re going to be able to do going forward. I don’t expect our draft choices to come in and move the dial for us. A lot of that growth will be internal growth and maybe a few pieces that we can add. Who knows who or what can ignite it. To forecast a point total would be useless for me at this point.

Quite reasonably, the general manager didn’t expect that the Oilers’ draft pick was going to come in and move the dial; he didn’t know that one of those picks was going to be (barely short of a certainty) McDavid. McDavid changes things; he’ll come in and push immediately, filling the No. 2 (or potentially even the No. 1) centre position as a rookie. In the years that follow he’ll be a tent-pole player but even in early days he’s likely to move the dial.

But that also puts some pressure on the general manager to show improvement. He’s had a franchise player fall into his lap, but that’s not all of it. He’s also had a player arrive who gives reason to believe the Oilers can turn things around. When he talks to potential coaches, he can ask how they’d like to coach McDavid. When he talks to free agents, he can ask how they’d like to sign on with the team that has the NHL’s next superstar. The lottery has lent optimism and credibility to a team that was running short on both.

MacTavish, of course, knows this.

“Somebody’s going to get a whole lot smarter after the first period of that game on Saturday,” he said when asked about the draft lottery during that same press conference. “Some organization will get a whole lot smarter.”

MacTavish just got a whole lot smarter, and Edmonton just got a whole lot more attractive as a destination.

Priorities

86-Nikitin-4

The Oilers still have a lot of positional needs, but McDavid goes a long way to solving them.

Trading the pick could solve them all, of course. The Quebec Nordiques were forced to move Eric Lindros and they made out all right; the modern equivalent of that package would basically end the Oilers rebuild here and now. Edmonton could legitimately land its starting goalie, two defencemen and No. 2 pivot in trade for that pick, along with setting itself up for ages on the futures front.

The craziest thing is that it would probably be a mistake.

Keeping McDavid solves basically all of the Oilers’ forward problems. If they sign Derek Roy, they have all the forwards they need to start the year (though the idea of allowing Roy to walk and signing someone like Shawn Matthias for the third line has to be awfully tempting). Suddenly a middling prospect pool looks a lot better; Leon Draisaitl might even be forced to move to left wing.

But with the forward group pretty much fixed, there’s more pressure to fix everything else as soon as possible. That means finding a No. 1 goalie, either through free agency or trade. It means finding a top-pairing and a second-pairing defenceman. It’s not going to be enough to calmly hope that Nikita Nikitin can find his form or, failing that, calmly wait for his contract to expire. It’s not going to be enough to shrug and then stick Oscar Klefbom and Justin Schultz in top-pairing minutes.

The Oilers have salary cap flexibility and, thanks in large part to McDavid’s arrival, the ability to make trades today that they couldn’t make last week. They’ll need to use the former for sure and possibly the latter as well.

MacTavish has been handed a wonderful opportunity, but he needs to show himself equal to it almost immediately. If he can’t, it’s a smart bet that there is no shortage of smart hockey men who would love the opportunity to show that they can build a contender out of the raw parts that Edmonton now has.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • McRib

    Flames fans fan here just want to congratulate you all on landing McJesus, Oilers fans deserve him, your management does not!!!

    I would be bitter, but it looks like there is a very good possibility that we nabbed the best player in each of the past two drafts so I am alright. The Battle of Alberta appears to be headed back to it’s glory years in due time!!! Also as a fan of Hockey I’m excited to get a chance to watch a talent like McDavid for years to come up close.

    Anyway regardless of all that I would recommend against trading away the Pittsburgh first rounder this season, considering your scouting staffs inability to find talent outside of the first round. It’s a great draft, you could land another very legitimate prospect.

  • Craig1981

    Everyone thinking they HAVE to trade the 16(ish) overall pick, 33 overall, and/or Drisatal is foolish

    Look at Washington and Pitts. They have top elite players, can sign players, but no youth……We need to look ahead to 2-5 years from now. We can’t possibly keep all 5 players, so we can’t mortgage everything now.

    If the right deal comes along make it. But lets not toss out the 16th pick and take whoever bid the most.

  • WTF2

    Im sorry but whats so great about McLellan? He couldnt even get one of the best lineups in the league past the first round. Year after year his teams have underperformed and dissapponted.

    • A-Mc

      The San Jose sharks have been one of the most successful regular season teams for a very long time. The issues they have in the playoffs defy logic, and at the end of the day it is the players that play the game. I’m not sure you can hang their playoff blunders on the coach.

  • ubermiguel

    McDavid coming here is exciting but this Nicholson announcement gives me more hope. Nicholson’s experience and contact list is second to none in this country. His tenure with hockey Canada was excellent and he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy that is afraid to piss off Katz to make the right hockey decision.

  • positivebrontefan

    So who will be protecting McDavid, as the current band of lads in Edmonton are more apt to turn their back on a teammate being pummelled and skating off shamefully than to get involved.
    Completely not what Calgary is doing…that’s how you make the playoffs.

  • positivebrontefan

    This is the first time I have posted since the golden card.
    I’ve been speechless.
    This talk of Nicholsons promotion has me intrigued.
    Would Katz be getting him to fire his buddies so he won’t have to?
    Nicholson turfing those two would get the stink of the last nine seasons off of us and make this place even more attractive to free agent players and coaches.
    Go after Chiarelli and he could maybe sign one Mr. Lucic?
    Sign Niemi for two years, bring in Green and Martin.
    Not sure if this makes any sense but it sounds good to me.
    Oh, and resign Roy, keep him with the Yak, and leave Draistl where he belongs for some more development.

    • Joe Mamma

      I think there would be some cap issues there if you signed Martin and Green, plus Niemi, plus Lucic. Might be possible with buyouts for Nikitin and Ference, but I don’t know.

      But man, Chiarelli would be the icing on the cake that this week has been. And a Lucic type would be perfect for this team. Literally if this fantasy became reality…. instant playoff contender.

  • Andy7190

    This is going to be a fun few years –

    McDavid, Hall, Nuge, Nurse et all against

    Monahan, Bennett, Brodie & Johnny Hockey.

    Man, I think the Battle of Alberta is almost back.

    Vancouver’s looking a little old…

  • McDavid for PM

    If anyone wants a good laugh head over to the Sportsnet website and look at Jeff Bailey’s article on how the NHL should have rigged the draft lottery for Toronto to win. Love how butthurt those clowns are about not getting McDavid!

    • ubermiguel

      Great read, thanks for the tip. And T.O. wonders why the rest of the country doesn’t like them when their media says crap like that. Good news though, there are more former Torontonians in Edmonton than I’ve ever seen in my life; they’ll get to enjoy McDavid up close.

  • McDavid for PM

    Even though Quebec was forced to trade Lindros… They were trading from a point of strength as they already had two Bonafide centres in Sakic and Sundin….

    This is why they were able to hold out for the package they got from Philly…

    Unfortunately Edmonton needs a top Bonafide Centre… RNH is no Sakic.. And Drai is no Sundin…

    Oilers must keep Mcdavid….

    If anything a package of Drai and Shutlz should be able to get the Oilers an NHL Defenseman… Some teams are gonna be spending heavy on Martin, Green, Petry, Sekera, Oduya, Franson and Boychuk… So Brian Campbell and Dan Girardi might become available (Note NYR has Yandle, Staal, Mcdoughnah, Boyle, Klein and Girardi as an expensive top 6) they have to resign Stepan and replace St.Louis…

    • Hemmercules

      I hope he isn’t referring to the old boys. The Oilers org has been loyal to a fault with Mact and Lowe, any other team in the world would have replaced them a long time ago.

      I hope his “right people in place” comment holds true.

  • McDavid for PM

    Wow the hockey gods might be finally on our side.First McDavid .Then maybe LOwe and Mac bye bye.Did Bobby Orr have something to do with this?He is McDavids agent,and didnt want his client coming to the gong show.Could Babcock be on his way?We deserve some hockey happiness in this city.Nine years is a very long time.
    They say good things come in threes.McDavid Babcock and a number1 goalie.One can only dream.If the Oilers didnt draft Mcdavid there would be thousands of pitchforks on Kingsway.
    This is for the boys down south YAHOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

    • Krusher

      Means a recognition they do not have that organizationally or players . Changes are coming shortly to fix that with Katz’s blessing by the sounds of it . Current builders of team in serious jeopardy of being replaced for countless failures to make our club a winner/better . Wonder if he will Skype any of them ?

      • Andy7190

        Doesn’t sound like Scype is on the agenda. Perhaps waiting for certain people to return from Switzerland is on the agenda.

        Probably we’ll know something in a week – 10 days.

      • Hemmercules

        The way Nicholson was talking about the new building it sounds like Katz might finally be fed up and is pushing for a competitive team for the first puck drop in that building. This summer went from “meh” to “!” in a hurry the last few days.

  • Andy7190

    I think promotion day is almost upon us…

    Lowe is promoted to vice president of Katz Inc. It’s a titular position somewhere outside of hockey ops.

    MacTavish is promoted to President of Hockey Ops. It is a titular position that allows Katz to be loyal to his buddy.

    Nicholson hires a new GM. Someone non Boys on the Bus related.

    They go after a name coach. Everyone wins. Eventually, even the Oilers win on the ice!

  • A-Mc

    Any GM/Coaching announcement will likely want to be done well in advance of the draft (For obvious reasons).

    The availability of people to fill those positions increases shortly after the conclusion of the playoffs. Bob mentioned a couple of times that the playoffs are a factor in his time line.

    I personally hope,with extremely skeptical optimism, that bob is trying hard for Babcock and is willing to give him a lot of pull with respect to player personnel changes (Like he has in the Team Canada composition). This may require a GM change if MacT doesnt play ball.

    McDavid going to the oilers is a total fantasy come true, so please let me continue this fantasy where babcock comes in and finds a healthy duo with a new GM like maybe chiarelli.
    UPDATE: In JW’s article with a picture of Bob Nicholson, To his left stands CHiarelli. That means the 3 of them (Bob, Peter and Mike) have a history of success at the olympic level. *rubs hands together Evily!*

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    I havent been too upset with mac-ts moves as much as ive been upset with things hes said.

    We CANNOT trade Mcdavid away. You don’t trade potentially one of the greatest players who will play the game…again. He might not be the great one but hes going to be good. I don’t see a world where Mcdavid struggles to find his game in the NHL and becomes just an AHL player who gets called up every now and then. Hope i didn’t just jinx him.

    It is interesting to think about a trade but that trade takes up a lot of cap space which could hurt us in the future with signing our young players. If we’re patient with Mcdavid, we will have one of the craziest group of forwards in the league. We can use his ELC to our advantage. I havent seen this kind of excitement in Edmonton since the 05/06 run.I’m sure good d-men will see our team and want to play here.I have to hope.

    • Andy7190

      Did you see Sam Bennett last night?

      McDavid is supposed to be better. Sidney Crosby better.

      I don’t think he’ll end up being one of those AHL fill in guys. Time will tell of course. But I wouldn’t worry about McDavid!

  • McDaddy

    Hall-McDavid-Purcell 11.43
    Pouliot-RNH-Eberle 16
    Roy-Lander-Yakupov 5.7
    Hendricks-Gordon-Pitlick 5.75
    Klink-Gazdic 1.58

    Sekera-Seabrook 11.3
    Klefbom-Schultz 4.5
    Ference-Fayne 6.88
    Davidson

    Howard-Scrivens 7.6

    This is based on Roy signing for 2M, Sekera for 5.5M, Schultz being qualified at his current cap hit of 3.675. This would put us at 71.46M approx. including 1.5M for Niktins buyout. Cap could be 73M if players use that 5% increase clause thing. Seabrook and Howard are attainable and Sekera might sign here now with whats been happening. McDavid, as well as Nicholsons contact list change everything. As I’ve said before I feel Phaneuf is coming here, so probably pencil him in Sekeras spot at 6M(Toronto would have to eat at least 1M of that god awful contract)

    Anyways based on whats happening around the league this is actually doable both fiscally and from an asset stand point. This team above could actually fight for a playoff spot IMO. Its now a question of who stays in hockey ops and who the coach is. For the first time in what feels like ever there are actually exciting times in Edmonton? Go figure and go Oil!

  • Hemmercules

    Having McDavid is huge, but perhaps even more so are the residual impacts. Free agents, re-signing Schultz, etc.
    Also you have to think he can help pump up Yak’s stats or whoever he plays with which just ups their value too.
    Now we just hold tight and hope between trading draft picks (our other first, which looks now like a good deal) and free agency we can pick up a goalie and a dman or two.

  • SmythsMullet

    If I’m playing armchair GM today, considering we have the late first round pick, and the 1 or 2? second rounders, I’m looking at Seabrook. They won’t part with Keith but Seabrook I could see the Blackhawks parting with for some picks and potentially a D prospect. As for goal, ugh, I dont wanna think about that

  • Zarny

    Another well-reasoned article Jon.

    Here’s a suggestion for your next article.

    Telegraph the exact moves you would make this offseason to put the Oilers in the post-season next year. Now, I’m not saying to win the cup, but to pull a Calgary and make the playoffs.

    What would you do?

    Here’s mine:
    Sign Neuvirth and Niemi, put Scrivens in the AHL.
    Sign Franson, Petry AND Martin. Put Nikitin in the buyout and Ferrence in the booth.

    Sign Matthias.

    Boom. Playoffs. Do you agree Jon?

  • Joe Mamma

    I’ve been reading the wishes for Seabrook, and shaken my head. He has a NTC or NMC, and Edmonton has not been a prime destination…until a few days ago. But then the question now becomes would Chicago trade a Seabrook to Edmonton?

    If a Seabrook and one more quality d-man came to Edmonton, and one decent starter they’re back in the playoffs probably. But just because fans want him here doesn’t mean the Hawks would trade him here. It could be a Schneider type situation again…the Oilers could offer more but other teams won’t trade him to the Oilers.

    It’s great to be hopeful, but you still need to be realistic.

  • Krusher

    Winning the lottery has certainly turned up the heat on management. MacT sounded resigned to having a meh summer. Now, he has no choice. Not only do fans expect a contender, the rest of the league does too. Mactavish has to get this thing trending in the right direction now. If he doesn’t, then he is obviously not the man for the job.

  • nuge2drai

    Like to see Chiarelli take over as GM, Howson relieved of duties, MacT moved into an assistant GM role,and Nelson an associate coach.

    Nicholson, Chiarelli, Mclellan – the new front office.

    New head coach – Babcock, Carlyle or Mclellan

    Target Lucic. Target Anderson or Lehner. Target Seabrook or Girardi if they are available via trade.

    Sign one of Beauchemin, Martin, Green or Franson.

    Sign Derek Roy. He will play large dividends in the development of McDavid and Yak.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Katz can wipe the slate clean by showing everyone, including Conner McDavid the turn north starts now. Flushing a couple guys who had a lot to do with the entrenched losing culture is a fine start. Changing out the management group is a great way to sever the losing is an acceptable outcome mindset.

    If they can land Mike Babcock, the direction of this team could turn on a dime as far as drawing other players here.

    Best wishes to Kevin and Craig.

  • freelancer

    IMO Lowe/Mact and Howson… bye bye. Katz can’t allow this stooge-fest to continue. Way too many bucks on the line. Don’t kid yourself billions trump loyalty. That’s how you accumulate even more billions and keep them.

    The poho and gm are jeopardizing more people’s investments than just Katz’ ducats.