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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

What the Oilers can learn from the Leafs

The Oilers and Maple Leafs were terrible for the better part of a decade before turning a corner last season and returning to the playoffs. Both teams spent years with average players playing way above their limits. Justin Schultz was playing the most minutes on defence in Edmonton; Tyler Bozak playing the most minutes at centre in Toronto. They shared a similar need for defence and goaltending, but the paths both teams took are remarkably different. And that’s reflecting in their results this season. 

Edmonton and Toronto got their superstar centre at the top of the draft and were headed up the standings. They had veterans from the previous era to fill out a large chunk of the roster. Taylor Hall, Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, and an upcoming Oscar Klefbom for Edmonton. Nazem Kadri, James Van-Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Morgan Rielly, and Jake Gardiner for Toronto.

Toronto was able to compliment their new influx of talent (Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner) with their old, while Edmonton shipped theirs off in deals that returned a less valuable player.

The Leafs are top five in scoring with a forward group that can run four lines when they want. The Oilers are struggling to create more than one line that doesn’t have McDavid and Draisaitl playing together. Toronto can run Kadri, Marner, JVR, and Bozak behind the Matthews line to create one of the deepest group of forwards in the NHL.

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Nazem Kadri (43) steals the puck from Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid (97) then breaks in and scores the game winning goal during overtime NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette ORG XMIT: NSD108

The Leafs’ strength is speed and skill. They didn’t sacrifice it to get tougher and bigger, though they’re not without a few blemishes.

Matt Martin’s four-year $12.5 million contract was an overpay for a fourth-line winger who now finds himself out of the lineup. Roman Polak remains a favourite of Mike Babcock. Leo Komarov is a serviceable veteran who was playing way too much. Phil Kessel was traded away with salary retained for picks and prospects, although the Leafs were actively trying to tank and had wingers in the system that could eventually replace Kessel in theory.

It’s worth noting Travis Dermott, the Leafs’ 34th overall pick in 2015, was selected in the same draft Edmonton traded the 16th and 33rd picks for Griffin Reinhart. His arrival could prevent the Leafs’ from overspending on a rental.

Toronto’s defence is still a work in progress. They added a couple European free agents and a veteran stopgap that didn’t require a four-year $20-million deal with a no-move clause or trading one of their star wingers.

Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev are preferable options to losing a trade to fill a need. Their patience has paid off as Travis Dermott looks like a legitimate NHL option, and they can wait for the right deal for that illustrious right-handed defence who can move the puck should it come. The Oilers have traded Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and first and second-round draft picks and still lack a right-handed defenceman of that ilk.

Decisions have to be made on the Leafs’ pending free agents, JVR, Bozak, and Komarov, but they’re in control here. Toronto has a wealth of NHL-ready prospect in the American Hockey League waiting to step in.

There’s no one close to Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson waiting in Bakersfield. Ethan Bear or Caleb Jones are nice defence prospects but are still years away. Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard are easily NHL-caliber backups. There Oilers have almost no prospect depth in the AHL, and adding Tyler Benson and Kailer Yamamoto next season will help but isn’t enough.

The Oilers now lack the type of skilled wingers they sent out and little assets to improve a team that already has serious money committed to the next season. Many have noticed the Oilers’ lack of speed despite having Connor McDavid, meanwhile, the Leafs remain one of the fastest teams in the league. That’ll be difficult for Edmonton to change with $36.55 million already dedicated to seven forwards.

Edmonton’s biggest money is in it’s three centres. Darnell Nurse, Ryan Strome, who needs to be qualified at $3 milion, and Matt Benning are notable restricted free agents who might cost close to ten million combined. Benoit Pouliot’s buyout means $1.3 milliom remains on the cap for three more years.

The Oilers need two wingers who can play in the top six, or a top-six forward and a middle-six centre if Draisaitl plays right wing. Max Pacioretty and Mike Hoffman are available, have term left on their contracts, and on teams that would accept picks and prospects, but the Oilers would be dealing from an already thin prospect pool.

The Leafs will have almost $25 million in cap space to utilize. Nylander is Toronto’s lone restricted free agent of note and maybe one of JVR or Bozak returns, but that leaves plenty of space to add. Matthews and Marner have another year on their entry-level deals until they need to be paid.

They’re continuing to search Europe for useful players. Russian defenceman Igor Ozhiganov is reportedly signing with Toronto. These kinds of moves are great because when they pay off, you’ve only spent money and a contract spot to bring them over.

They’re in a good position.

Nov 30, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defensemen Ron Hainsey (2) tries to check Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs have learned from the sins of previous management. They’ve put an emphasis on speed and skill after previous management committed themselves to mediocre players. There are no contracts like the ones Dion Phaneuf and David Clarkson received on the books. They’ve wiggled their way out of those contracts and find themselves in a strong position cap-wise.

Patrick Marleau’s three-year $18.75-million contract is steep, but the term is short enough that it’s manageable. It’ll only overlap with one year of Matthews’ second contract.

The Leafs are well positioned to contend. They have the assets and cap space to improve upon a team that’s pretty good.

The Oilers are on track to miss the playoffs with McDavid on the last year of his entry-level contract. It’ll be more difficult finding him support when his cap hit jumps from $3.75 million to $12.5 million, especially when the general manager couldn’t do it this season.

Edmonton’s focus on heavy hockey and willingness to lose trades has them at the bottom of the standings once again. It’s odd that speed wasn’t a priority when you have a player with generational speed and skill. The Oilers have to add key pieces with few assets and limited cap space. That might be difficult to achieve in one summer, but the Oilers could learn from their neighbours in the East and how they’ve positioned themselves to contend.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    Sorry but I’m not buying this. I don’t need to learn anything from the most obnoxious fanbase in the NHL. I live in Toronto for god’s sake and these guys are unbearable.

    • hammer313

      I live in Edmonton and agree with a lot of the article. I do disagree with perhaps the trading of Hall and Eberle. This I think had to be done. The signings of Lucic and Russel was stupid. The contract negotiation of McDavid before Draisaitl was beyond dumb! The rest I think is very well put forth, I do think that Toronto has shrewdly and wisely built a sustainable team, with future growth. Some tweaks will be needed, of course, but the future is bright. In Edmonton, we have so many question marks, it’s hard to fathom! A defense that can’t defend, a goalie that can’t goaltend and not wingers that can score. Not exactly a recipe for success! I see players throughout the league that come up from the farm club and have success, Edmonton has nothing. Why Edmonton is not moving heaven and earth for a Josh Leivo or Ho Sang is confusing to me. One of those two should have been here already. The management, scouting and coaching of the past and now, to some degree, have totally set this team up for failure for years to come. Welcome to 2022 and Connor McDavid requesting a trade, if it takes that long??!

    • Kneedroptalbot

      A great article. It really explains the differences in philosophies between the 2 franchises. Edmonton’s lack of depth (skilled fwd’s and goaltending) plus limited cap space going fwd put’s them between a rock and bottom.

  • freelancer

    Same thing as pretty much every other team in the league… the game has transitioned to a high speed game… trying to build a 2009 Boston team is outdated

    • oilerjed

      This is just a cycle the NHL follows. Team A wins and the formula for success changes. Team B puts together the perfect bruiser with skill team, wins, and the formula changes again. The trick is to be ahead of the curve not following like a lemming. IMO

  • LAKID

    What’s to learn, it’s quite obvious is it not? The Leaf’s have better management and better overall coaching, a deeper talent pool in the NHL and the minors.

    • McJeetz

      Our management is definitely the weak link. I’ll say this though, If the Strome and Slepyshev and Davidson from last nite are the players they really are, and become over the next 31 games, then sign me up. All are affordable and positive contributors. Last 2-3 games Strome is looking like the player we thought we were getting. I would go as far as to suggest Sleppy on McDavids wing instead of Cammalleri when Kassian comes back. And Davidson instead of Benning when Larsson comes back.

      For me its just Lucic’s contract. He is our only anchor. We can trade out of Russell’s and Sekera’s contract in the summer of 2019 if we have to, though I really like Sekera and he will be back to form soon.

      I know i am in the minority here, but when ever Maroon is not on Mcdavids wing, he skates like a slug and looks like he is sulking. If Chairelli can get one of those legitimate almost NHL ready prospects out of St. Louis, then make the trade. Our chance at the playoffs are all but mathematically eliminated. What we need is a good run with every game a hard working game, something positive to build on and then a hockey God draft lottery win.

      Chiarelli’s inability to negotiate deals with agents or other GMs is going to really hurt us. Taylor Hall trade will really hurt for a while. Eberle’s trade wasn’t as hurtfull as everyone makes out. He is getting points but NYI are not in the playoffs today. Same old story. That Guy is soft as butter.

      The real damage was the Rienhart trade. We will be paying for that for a decade. It hurt our impact player depth and salary cap management. Losing our 2nd for Talbot and Chairelli hurt us but were unavoidable.

      A couple of good draft years (I am confident in this area) and 2-3 winning trades (not so confident here) will get us where we need to be. Come on Chairelli!!!

      • HardBoiledOil 1.0

        The last time Chia tried to get a “legitimate almost NHL ready prospect”, the Oilers traded #16 and #33 for Griffin Reinhart ! The Oilers just aren’t very good at major trades and I don’t trust Chia. Wait until he trades Nuge and see what we get back !

        • LAKID

          I am afraid they are going to trade RNH for the sake of cap space, once again it’s Chia’s signing of Lucic that forces the Nuge out. They have to find away out of that Lucic contract or they will lose RNH and Maroon when they could have kept them both. Maroon can be traded at the deadline but I would prefer to keep him over Lucic. Lucic is a non factor in 97% of the games.

      • hammer313

        Sekera is also an anchor, for what he does, mistakes he makes and the money he makes, there a much better options out there. For me it comes down to our poor scouting, again. The pro scouting is atrocious. The Oilers brought in a Russian Dman, that could not skate or pass, wonderful pickup! The Reinhart trade has been beaten to death, but I blame the pro scouting more than I can really blame the GM. Still he made the call and should have asked more questions. Did he really think that a young dman that was rumored to be to slow and could not play in the NHL warranted that much! I have to quit this now, as I’m getting to worked up! Always said I could run this fiasco of an organization better than what they have for the past 20 years. Absolute joke!

  • Hemmercules

    Chia jumped the gun trading Ebs and buying out Poo when he had no replacements for them other than younger guys that either aren’t as good or aren’t ready. Not saying Poo was great but use the cap space if you make that move.

    Chia needed to add a winger, a dman and a backup goalie and didn’t do any of those. They might be playoff bound if they just used that cap space from the Eberle trade.

    Cant say much for the prospect pool. Thats just bad scouting and trading too many picks away for bad returns.

    • Big Nuggets

      I’m really disappointed in Chia’s moves and I have lost faith that he is capable of making good decisions. The only props I can give him is that he always liked the Nuge and I too like the Nuge. Otherwise he made a few modest moves that worked out, and all sorts of blunders that did not work out.
      I dont know what it is that makes so many NHL GMs seem so inept but if we didn’t make any trades and drafted based on coolest sounding name we would arguably have a better team than we do now.

      That being said the team still has a lot going for it. I dont want to make any rash decisions this summer as I feel the defense and Talbot both vastly underachieved. Just a few tweaks and we will be back in it.

  • D

    I’m not buying it. When the Leafs make the finals or win the Stanley Cup, this discussion is worth having at that point. There are a lot of regular season “champions in the making” that flame out year after year in the playoffs.

  • Prairiechicken

    Nah. This is getting tiresome.

    ie. If only we could be more fast and skilled by having Hall, Eberle back! That skill plus McDavid, Drai! Amazing! Can you imagine!?!? It would be like 2015-2016 all over again! The year we were 3rd last in the league!

    Chia has made mistakes, but trading Eberle for $3M salary cap + a 2nd/3rd line forward who can play all three positions + special teams wasn’t one of them. Nor was Hall for Larrson (remember how much we love this trade last year?)

    His failure was trading 2 early picks in a deep draft for a player no one had seen play in over a year, handing out a bit too much money to free agents (Luc, Russell, Drai).

  • Mr. McDavid

    Please keep this delusional leaf
    Rhetoric from our sites if I want
    Advice on how to not win a damn
    Thing 50 plus years and counting
    I’ll go to them keep those £=%#@&
    Off our site
    Connor McDavid s little pinky
    Is more of a winner

          • Spydyr

            Of all the coaches they could have chosen the powers to be picked him twice and won two Gold medals. Coaching does matter. Just look at the Oilers special teams.

          • Leaferforlife

            Stacked roster?? Lol yup and they are mostly picks that we DIDNT trade away (for nothing) and seriously , how many first overall picks does one team need in the span of ten years to be a contender ? ONE ! Your GM is a total asshat plain and simple. He traded away your whole supporting cast (mostly first overalls) for next to nothing but at best third line players and expects a miracle on ice. McDavid is Undoubtedly the best player in the league but thanks to your GM he has nobody to play with, to complement him or to even keep up with him. The only reason Edmonton is not on top of the standings right now is because of your GM… Getting rid of him would be an excellent start or you can spend the next 50 years trying to rebuild like we did ( with obviously the wrong management in place ). To me, that would be something that Edmonton could learn from Toronto. And don’t get me wrong I am a leafs fan but I absolutely love the Oilers as well !!!

        • LAKID

          Nope, Spydyr Babcock is already losing the players in the dressing room and once the players become RFA’s they won’t want to play for him it’s his history a short shelf life.

  • OilersBro

    Semi-related but as a diehard oilers fan who just moved to Toronto, my colleagues truly think that Matthews is better than McDavid… they have yet to bring it up today haha

    • Kevin

      I’m from Toronto and most people would acknowledge McDavid is the best player in the NHL. That being said, Matthews is an excellent player and you need a team in order to win in this league. Toronto is further along in that respect which is what this artical is implying. Will Toronto win a cup the next 5 (or even 10 years)? There is no way to know. What Toronto has done is position themselves in such a way (assets, cap space, development, core talent) that they be able to continually improve in the foreseeable future.

  • Dr

    I’ve thought that the two things that have contributed most to their record this year is their fragile team psyche and the special teams. Plus, Talbot hasn’t been as great as he was last year, not for a long span, anyway. Bad trades and a shallow prospect pool are not to blame.
    Leading into this year, everyone – MSM, bloggers, fans – thought that Caggiula, Benning, Slepyshev, and Draisaitl would progress. At the very least, we all thought players would play at the same level as last year, but it hasn’t happened.
    So, using hindsight, we can now pinpoint every mistake management has made regarding trades and the prospect pool, but almost everyone made the same bets on player performance that management did.
    It’s really easy to criticize now and say I told you so.

  • russ99a

    Yet another whiny post about the Hall and Eberle trades.

    And of course, the comparison doesn’t apply, those players were drafted well before the franchise player came in, not in the same 2-3 year group of drafts.

    It’s like Leafs fans complaining if JVR or Kadri was traded.

    Besides, the Oilers are similar to the leafs in that the cluster around the franchise talent has a number of quality players. For the Oilers, it’s Draisaitl, Puljujarvi, Nurse.

    We need to let go the trades of the rebuild core and move forward.

      • T Ambrosini

        Can’t do anything about the trades that have occurred but I sure as hell worry about the ones that may come. If Chia wins a couple of meaningful trades then I’ll be more patient with this current management crew

  • btrain

    I don’t disagree that the Oilers have made some major mistakes, however I disagree with using the Leafs as the organization to learn from. Now I will give credit to the Leafs for their recent success and what now appears to be a well managed team but what have they really done so far? How are they any different than say the Flyers or the Blue Jackets? Other teams with young talent and lots of veteran support. Yet nobody talks about these other organizations as inevitable contenders. I would prefer to take lessons from the Penguins or the Hawks, who have had rebuilds lead to cups. The problem I have with the Leafs comparison is the following:
    a) as the center of the hockey universe, Leafs players/prospects/coaches/trainers/water boys are going to receive more attention than most, and all this positive attention can skew perceptions. I think a little separation between prospect hype in Leaf land from reality is necessary before jumping to conclusions.
    2) The Leafs, in my opinion, are having their first successful season, as last year their division was pretty subpar, allowing them a good opportunity to sneak in. This year, their current pace puts them in line with most divisions 3rd place team, which is a good sign of progress for them but again, doesn’t paint the script of an inevitable contender.
    3) Its the Leafs!
    Anyway, I will admit that things are looking up in Leaf land but lets not put the cart before the horse and think they are in a “matter of time” position when they aren’t a lot different than many other promising, but far from dominant, teams in the league.

    • Christian Pagnani

      They were in similar positions and one team is going to the playoffs for a second year in a row with a fast young team, solid prospect pool, good cap situation, and no real contract anchors

      The other is going to miss the playoffs with Connor McDavid.

      • btrain

        I think the parallels are there between any team coming out of rebuild mode. The only thing that puts these two in more of the same boat is how long they both have sucked for and that they both received recent lottery gifts because of it. But I just ask why the Leafs? Why not the Flames, the jets, the Lighting? The Avalanche? or teams like the Hawks and Pens from their rebuilds? If getting to the playoffs 2 years in a row is an accomplishment to model after, what kind of bar do you want to set for this team.

        You also don’t need to look at the Leafs to see how badly Chia has managed this team. You could literally learn from every team if that is the lesson you are after. Thanks to Chia the Leafs nice looking cap situation is going to take a hit when the young guys ask for Drai and McDavid contracts.

        All I’m saying is that Leafs nation/all national media does a good enough job pumping the Leafs tires, they don’t need our help as well.

  • TKB2677

    A few things with the Leafs.

    They are getting a ton of production from 3 very young players. Matthews, Marner, Nylander and have a good dman coming in Rielly. All top 10 picks. The forwards, none of them are making much money. When McDavid came to the Oilers, they have Hall making 6 mill – good contract. They had Eberle making 6 mill, probably 1 mill too much. They had Nuge making 6 mill. Too much. I will be curious to see what happens to the Leafs when those 3 sign contracts.
    They got a really good dman in Rielly in the 2012 draft. Unfortunately, the Oilers busted on Yak in that same draft. I think that the Oilers would be a better team, even if they chose Ryan Murray who has under performed. When you have a top 10 pick, you CAN’T miss on that.

    The fleeced the Flyers in the Van Riesmdyke trade. People complain about the Hall for Larsson trade. Larsson is a legit, #3 dman, Schenn is barely a #5. So that helps the Leafs out to get a winger like Van Riemsdyke for literally nothing.

    I also think that the Leafs have an easier time signing guy. They signed Zaitsev who is a young, right shooting, top 4 dman. I don’t think a guy like that picks Edmonton over Toronto. If you are a guy from Europe, not familiar with North America coming over to go to the NHL, are you picking Edmonton or Toronto for a City to live in? I am a born and raised Albertan, I love it but if I was a European, I would pick Toronto over Edmonton all the time. How much of an advantage does Toronto have to get UFA’s? I would say they have an advantage over Edmonton. They list Marleau’s contract as not being too bad. He’s probably scoring over 20 for them. 3 years isn’t too bad. No chance he signs in Edmonton for 3 years, it would be longer.

  • Kevwan

    I hope this is the last of this nonsense.

    What drove me to find Oilersnation in the first place was the predominant Leafcentric coverage of the NHL everywhere. TSN, Sportsnet, CBC, literally everywhere in Canada both on TV and the web.

    We don’t need it here.

  • Fire Woodcroft!

    Article says the Leafs were smart to mix their new talent with their old. Then two paragraphs later says how smart they were to trade Kessel and some of their old talent.

    Not the best way to make your point…

    Thanks for the free content.

  • Odanada

    Different organizations have different approaches, but I am highly skeptical that reuniting the 80s Oilers in a management format is not going to reignite the glory years. In fact, it has a back slapping, cronyism feel to it that bollocks up decision making and blurs accountability.

  • ROILYDoGG$

    Long time reader of the blog, but I Haven’t commented on here in like 4 years but here I go.

    Poor drafting from Tambellini screwed us for 10 years. Literally zero impact players made the show. Every bad move made compounded the issues and dug us even deeper.
    This forced Mact and Chia to sign UfA and make bad trades just to fill the roster as knowone wanted to play here.
    Chia made some bad trades but his hand was frozen due to his previous GMs.
    The petry trade in my opinion was almost the steak in the heart for us. It left a big hole for solid defence and forced schultz to play higher up in the lineup. Schultz buckled from the pressure and the fans booed and called for his head. We had to trade him because his confidence was as low as a fat little girl in a bikini. To this day we still don’t have a PP dman which we did have in schultz, he’s doing pretty damn good in Pits. This made chia or the scouts make a poor decision on Reinhart and he never developed into the player he was projected to be. This was the biggest issue in the Chia era. Cost us 2 great picks and hurt our defence again, continuing the viscous cycle.
    The hall trade was needed due to the lack of depth and veterans on defence. I have no issue in the Russel contract ATM because we have the cap for it and he was a stop gap till our prospects in the farm can take over his spot.
    Lucic was brought in for veteran /Stanley cup skill. His locker room presents and leadership is important and it comes at a premium, but so was Erickson’s and Ladd’s UFa deals. And lucic is still putting up points even to What he did in Boston and La. it will only be an issue at the last 2 or 3 years due to his age and conditioning, if he can maintain it he will be fine. Chia is betting the cap will go up but hopefully we can sign out Rfa for a decent dollar.
    Ebs soft as butter – needed to leave for a change.
    Hall- bad attitude – poor giveaways in the neutral zone. Had to go. Both damaged goods from the poor team built around them.
    Pouliot shouldn’t have been bought out , pitlick shoudl have been resigned and oesterle shoudl have been traded for a bottom pair RH rookie dman
    Instead we got nothing for 3 players except a buyout penalty for Pouliot. We can’t afford to let any players walk with such poor depth in the farm. Also I think Hendrix shoudl have been utilized in the playoffs and resigned for another year. All these factors didn’t help and look at where we are this year.
    Keep strome (improving), Jessie P, nurse and try and sign as good as contracts as we can. Maybe we can snag a Rh pp guy somewhere and kick ass in the draft his year.
    Bear, jones mantha, yamma, benson, safin, samsomorv look legit. But all recent draft pics. Need more time to season. Hopefully benson and yamma can step in next year or the year after.

    The fans need to back off and lighten up on the players. This is effecting them and yes it is some responsabilty on them but having weak players around them doesn’t make them have the tools to win games. It is chasing players away and sours them on this city.