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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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  • clrsnldvc81

    Hey Jonathan

    If the Pitts pick is in play and our 2nd rounder, could a guy like Corey Crawford be fetched? Given how Chicago has cap issues next year moving forward and they seem to have found a nice gem in Darling, is Crawford the odd man out based on $$$?

    I know there are talks of Gibson and Anderson out of Anaheim but Crawford seems to have a track record i can get behind.

    Thoughts?

    ps. I dont even know what and where you find a top 1-2 pairing on D but i figured goalie might be easier to fix…

    • There’s no way I’d move Pittsburgh’s first-rounder for Crawford. Given the cap hell Chicago is looking at this summer, it shouldn’t cost nearly that much; they’d probably be grateful to unload the contract.

      That’s not to say I wouldn’t talk to Chicago about Pittsburgh’s pick. Brent Seabrook is a pretty interesting option.

      • Joe Mamma

        My thoughts exactly. Seabrook would be an excellent add, and can likely be had for picks due to Chicago’s cap situation.

        The best move for G IMO may be to just sign Niemi if we can get him on, say, a 2 year deal. Again, no subtraction from the roster required. Perhaps a package deal to swing Seabrook and Crawford if you can’t sign Niemi, or he wants too much term?

        Then just buy out Nikitin (and maybe Ference if they can get a Seabrook), sign one or two of the many available decent free agent D (Martin, Green, Volchenkov, Sekera, etc… There are actually a number of good Dmen UFA’s this summer. If you can pick up Seabrook, then go for the cheaper options for cap consideration) and you are vastly better overnight.

        There you go MacT, I just did your job for you. Addressed the gaping holes in the roster, and preserved the core.

        I’ll be watching the mail for my cheque.

  • Krusher

    Let’s face it Oilers Management is a catastrophe so is the Team. Will another #1 pick change this? I don’t think so. All the picks from the past years were supposed to be game changers, where is the Team after all these years? Far away from where they should be. Don’t get me wrong. Indvidually all the guys are great Players but they don’t click as a Team (mostly).
    What need to happen to make the Oilers a top 8 Team in the west again? D and G need a ton of improvements. With the Team in its state it’s rather difficult to attract some top Players and have them play here. I think LB deserves another shot @ the goalie job next year. Scrivens seems to be inconsistant, but so was DD, he is way better now after he left. Looks like him and the Wild coaches clicked. If the D doesn’t play well it’s hard for the goalie to make things happen.

    • YFC Prez

      Look at what Crosby did to the Pens and JT did to the Islanders. I agree one players doesn’t make a worthwhile difference but the change in culture and perception from other players around the league does make a huge difference.

      McDavid is the best thing to happen to this franchise in over 20 years, enjoy it.

  • SLYWINKER

    Sure, be HAPPY. HOPE for the future, but, remember that McJesus is just an elbow / forearm away from being a vegetable! I fear for the KID! Lowe and Craigsonit, are brain-addled nitwits,” seven years” ,NO, NINE YEARS, THREE FIRST PICKS, have proven that! FIRST THING ANY MGNT. HAS TO DO IS FIND TWO SHOT -GUN RIDERS, WHO CAN KEEP UP AND PROTECT THE MESSIAH! Gretzky , without a Semenko , a McSorley , was vulnerable. The Core , has NEVER had any protection, the whole mess of a team gets pushed around, a JUNIOR TEAM! STOP with YOUR assinine line combos, FIND SOME DECENT MUSCLE!!!!! so McDavid’s can sleep at night!

  • 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?

  • Gooilgo

    lowe gotta go , for sure now!

    Bring in new coach, kept Nellie as an assistant, fire the entire brain trust and get us a goalie….then we plan the parade route

  • YFC Prez

    In a year I wasn’t even sure I wanted to cheer for hockey anymore, I went from praying the Oilers try and make the playoffs, to wondering how soon they will win the cup. This is such a game changer.

    I also hope they sign Roy, keep Leon on the farm.

    There are a lot of free agents for defence this year. I do not think it would be impossible for Mac T to grab one of Franson, Sekera, or Erhoff for the right side. Or, trade the Pens pick to cap strapped NY for Yandle. Sure it’s only one year, but the time is now. As for the left, well the Pens do not look like they are in a good financial place. Paul Martin’s name has been thrown out a bunch. There’s also Mezaros, and Volchenkov. Do the right thing Mac, buy out Nikitin, keep Marincin as number 7, get at least an NHL pair of defencemen.

    Volchenkov – Erhoff

    Klefbom – Shcultz

    Ference – Fayne

    • @kahmad92

      I don’t think Volchenkov is a top 4 d-man anymore, he’s more suited for a bottom pairing role. As for Yandle, there’s no way they trade him considering what was given up to aquire him, and there only laying half his salary anyways. But overall, I do agree, we need 2 d-man, a legit goalie, and a top 9 winger with size. We aren’t too far off now, but these components won’t come cheap.

      • YFC Prez

        Fair enough. I think some of them could come cheap. I think Erhoff ruined his value this year. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go somewhere on a one year for 3 mill. I think that’s pretty cheap for a right side puck moving D with vet experience used to playing on the top pair. He’s not the best option but he’d automatically be the best right side D on the Oilers. I also think Franson would come pretty cheap as well. And yes, he was not good this year, but paired with a legit guy like Phanuef on the left, he has shown to be capable of being a top pairing guy. He’s also really big. Paired with a guy like Martin, who knows?

        Top nine winger with size is interesting. So then you don’t think they should resign Roy and put him on the third line with Lander and Purcell? Both Lander and Purcell aren’t exactly small. I content that that third line skilled size guy is already in the system. If not Roy, then one of Draisaitl, Pitlick, Pakirinen, or Fraser should be allowed to battle it out for that spot and let the cream rise to the top. That is a cheap way to go about it. Barring that, I said this last year and I’ll say it again this year, see what Steve Downie wants. Or maybe Chris Stewart is cheaper these days.

        Who do you see as that top nine winger?

      • Craig1981

        Fair point, but they just resigned Staal, and have to resign Haglin and Stepan in the offseason. I just don’t see how the Rangers manage to keep McDounagh, Yandle, and Staal given their cap situation. But then I’m not an NHL GM.

        Really Yandle was a bit of a throw away name and his cap hit is not that cheap anyway. I think my overall point was that unlike previous years, there really doesn’t seem to be a good reason why Mac T couldn’t upgrade the defence without having to trade away really anyone.

        I do believe Nurse or Klefbom will be a solid top pairing guy one day, but that will require a Vet to menotor and shelter on the other side, not Justin Schultz.

        Furthermore, I cannot remember a year when so many Free Agent Defencemen were available. He doesn’t need to do something like trade a 2nd rounder for negotiating rights. Not to mention, McDavid could attract some names that otherwise would not give the city a second look. Point being, whatever your mileage, the Oilers should have two more NHL caliber defencemen next year.

  • For all those people that say we need another coach……..really? Exactly how will a new coach be better than Nelson, who had a AHL roster to work with?

    Nelson should be given every opportunity to continue, based on his ability to work with a young core and move the dial in the right direction.

    A better question is do we trust MacT to find us another coach that is better than Nelson?

    I can’t believe after all the coaching issues we have had……we are still talking about another coach!

    Now that is insane!

    • YFC Prez

      I think Nelson has shown enough to have the interim tag removed. But I also understand the camp that’s seeing McLellan available and possibly Hitch and Bowman. Those are 3 elite level coaches with experience on winning NHL teams. But the job Nelson did with a AHL team shouldn’t be ignored.

      Nelson should get the bench next season. If he doesn’t and its any other than the three big hitters available coaching the oilers I will be miffed.

      Mac T’s job just got a little easier with McDavid coming over. The FA’s that wouldn’t look twice at edmonton might be willing to come over with the next saviour on board. Nelson should have a complete roster to work with next season. I want to see what he does with a real NHL team.

      Mac T has little excuses left. This is his roster now and he’s been gift wrapped a golden goose. Next year HAS to see significant results or I don’t see how Katz, friendship aside , could possibly keep him employed here.

      • Andy7190

        Nelson was put in perhaps the most difficult position possible as far as coaching goes.

        He inherited a broken team with emotions running at an all time high, from a coach that had everyone pulling in opposite directions. The fact that he was able to bring everyone into the fold and have them all pulling in the same direction, IMHO deserves serious consideration……..he should be rewarded NOT punished for what he managed to do under very difficult circumstances.

        He is young, energetic and respected by the players, fans, and management……..why would we want to take another risk on coaching.

        Experience is over rated. Look around the league, there are many experienced coaches out of work.

      • Andy7190

        Nelson is a good coach, a young learning coach.

        The Oilers need to move forward now. Their young guys need an established coach.

        Nelson may not wish to be an assistant. He may want to run his own show in the AHL again rather than step aside.

        It is irrelevant, really. This Oilers team needs an established coach.

        Todd McLellan would be an excellent fit. So would obviously Babcock or one or two other guys.

        For instance, there is no way Calgary is in the playoffs without the experienced Hartley.

        Oilers can take steps forward with an established experienced coach.

      • A-Mc

        I’m hoping that the Oilers do land an experienced head coach, but the prospect of helping to coach McDavid is enough to tip the scale to keep Nelson as Assistant coach.

        We need Nelson because of his history and ties to our developing players that are coming into the league now. Nelson gives the new kids a good boost, if for no other reason than he is a familiar face during their stressful development. I hope we can keep nelson around.

  • 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…

  • Andy7190

    Hey KATZ! Another fantastic opportunity!

    Hire Todd MacLellan! He has parted ways with the Sharks!

    Get this good veteran coach for your young core. This guy has gravitas.

    And this isn’t just about McDavid.

    Todd MacLellan would finally give Taylor Hall & Co the veteran, strong bench boss they need. Excellent communicator, good results.

    McDavid is coachable. He’d be the alpha in mere moments, it would be his room.

    The others would fall in line.

  • 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.

  • 5 Cups

    Too many people are saying it’s time to use future draft picks to improve the team now. Wasn’t part of the past nine year problem that there was poor player development and lack of numbers on the farm team. Saving your picks also gives you an opportunity to go after a RFA. Adding a few name players won’t get Oil to playoffs in one or two seasons, getting a heart and guts culture again will help more.

    • WTF2

      Another thought, you start to trade high draft picks when you are a cup contender, not just trying to make the playoffs. Tambo was trading picks to try to reach playoffs, and how did that work out ?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • McDaddy

    The craziest/best thing is, is that coaches and valuable UFA’s might actually want to come to Edmonton now. I can’t beleive I just wrote that. The coaching decision for me is tough because I don’t feel nelly would come back as an associate, but it never hurts to have a McLennan type coach. And I love nelly. Nikitin needs to be bought out yesterday. We might actually get Oconnor now and he can start in Bakersfield. Goalie market is interesting with the likes of Howard, Lehtonen possibly available. This is a better route then say Martin Jones IMO. I’ve had a sinking feeling for a while that we will “land” phaneuf. Put up or shut up time for Mac T. It will be an interesting summer but it’s fun to be an oilers fan again.

  • positivebrontefan

    As for the coach. I think that’s how they screw it up. I can’t help but look at Eakins and see how bad the team regressed under him. If Mac T can f up the cup of coffee that is McDavid, it will be by bringing in a coach that stifles creativity and offence. I don’t know why people think hard working grinder players make good coaches. Some do, but they are the ones who can adapt and change to the current game (see Hitchcock).

    My biggest fear if the Oilers go out and get Todd Mcklellen, then Nelson gets the gig at a place like San Jose and just destroys it (in a good way). And once again the Oilers say, darn, I wish we could have seen that guy for what he was.

    Yes McDavid is important and we don’t want to screw it up, so why not give Nelson one year to see if he can keep it going. McDavid is one player, but the rest of the team seems to play hard for Nelson. Keep it going.

      • Krusher

        Probably not. Just saying that would be heartbreaking to watch. I really hope they give Nelson the nod. More than experience, this team needs a coach than can develop a very young core without many veteran pieces to help. Eakins was billed as that, but Nelson excelled at it.

        I also think this team will still live or die by their special teams in the west. And under Nelson, that PP was magical. The team is not a s small as it once was, but without a PP that will make the other team pay for liberties or mistakes, the Oilers do not have a chance.

  • 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.

  • ubermiguel

    If Nikitin and Schultz could figure out this NHL defence thing problems would be much smaller. Anyone know a defenceman whisperer? Was that supposed to be Ramsay?

  • S cottV

    The organization needs as much credibility as it can scrape up – anywhere it can get it, to offset the negativity and free up no trade and ufa potential.

    McDavid’s presence helps big time but it’s not enough.

    Nelson does not have the stature to enhance league wide credibility.

    He also does not have the stature to maximize influence on the young big ego Oiler core players, that need to be pushed to play as a team.

    I would not underestimate the potential impact of a top flight coach, as compared to a young rookie coach.

    McDavid’s presence opens up the possibility a top flight coach might be attracted.

    It’s not a time to be nice to a nice guy in Todd Nelson, even given that he may be an excellent future Head Coach. Try to keep him as an Associate, but don’t blow this opportunity, to get a heavy weight Coach.

  • Leef O'Golin

    Yes, he has a great opportunity, but nothing I’ve seen yet has convinced me he’s the man that can address any of those outstanding issues. Any thoughts on who to target for their 2nd first round pick?

  • The Oilers Shot Clock

    Trade our other first rounder this year and next years first as well as as many second and third rounders as needed to shore up the defense. We need two. MacT needs to find a way to get two more.

  • Krusher

    Priorities:

    1 – legit starting NHL goalie
    2 – a top pairing DMan
    3 – another quality NHL Dman
    4 – a larger/power forward in the top 6

    Craig’s on it….. It’s impossible not to see this now. He/Oilers can’t waste this opportunity and need to fast forward things a little. It may cost a 2016 1st round draft pick, other future top picks, and may cost Draisitl or another top prospect (just not Nurse, I hope….).

    Just call Garth Snow and ask what he did prior to this year!