The Edmonton Spoilers. Sure.
While the Oilers were out of realistic playoff contention weeks ago, the 7-2 waxing they took from the St. Louis Blues Tuesday seems to have officially relegated them to the role of spoilers. At least that’s the term I heard for the first time this morning in a chat between Dustin Nielson and Ryan Rishaug on TSN 1260 as they face the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight.
With their own playoff hopes toast, the Oilers will spend their remaining nine games trying to throw a wrench into the playoff plans of other teams when they get the chance. First up, the Blue Jackets, who are clinging to a one-point lead over the Montreal Canadiens for the second wildcard in the Easter Conference. Being a spoiler, simply put, is hockey’s version of schadenfreude.
Bottom line, it’s cold consolation for Oilers’ fans, the most optimistic of whom were hanging on to the faint hope of a playoff push until four losses in the last six games snuffed that out once and for all. Rather than apply yet another kick in the ribs while they’re down – it’s a dead horse bit right now and there’ll be plenty of time for engaging in that post-mortem once the season is done – I’d rather focus on what’s next.
With CEO Bob Nicholson well into the search for a new general manager, a new head coach and staff to follow and a review of hockey ops from top to bottom in the offing, Mark Spector of Sportsnet wrote what I think is a pretty good piece around the Oilers’ to-do list. That’s here. The new GM is obviously the first priority on the list, but a couple of other nuts-and-bolts aspects of the coming overhaul stick out for me.
THE NO-CAP COMPONENTS
Money wisely spent for competent, quality people in hockey ops, from GM through assistant-GM’s, directors of player development and scouts, both pro and amateur, tends to result in a lot less money wasted on player personnel, be they draft picks, free agents or players acquired through trade. In every one of those positions, you need people with the ability to properly evaluate and assess talent. Peter Chiarelli, the record shows without any doubt, wasn’t very good at it. He was not alone.
What about the pro scouts? Who, aside from Chiarelli, thought Ryan Spooner was a good idea? Who believed trading Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson made sense? I don’t have that answer, but I bet Nicholson does. You can go on down the line. The record of player acquisitions under Chiarelli is atrocious. Teams cannot bleed talent in trades and overpay marginal players as the Oilers did under Chiarelli and still be contenders. This much we know.
The GM ultimately signs off on everything, but he has trust his pro scouts and he has to be willing to listen to what they say, especially those with dissenting opinions. The new GM will bring in many of his own people, but if there are going to be any scouts who remain from the Chiarelli regime, it better be because they have a proven track record of getting it right. The amateur scouts, under now-interim GM Keith Gretzky, appear to be in relatively good shape, but the new GM has to make that call too.
The other area the Oilers have been sadly lacking in is making a commitment to employing an analytics staff. You don’t hire analytics people instead of eyes-on scouts in rinks across the NHL, you hire them to complement the old-school bird-dogs – at least that’s what the best teams are doing now. There was zero commitment to that during the Chiarelli regime. That has to change.
Nicholson has been talking a good game lately as he delves into the search for his new GM, but we’ve heard talk around here for years and years. When you’ve got a capped out team with the best player in the world in Connor McDavid and you’re playing spoiler again with the playoffs approaching, it’s well past time to walk the walk and get it right.
WHILE I’M AT IT
Joe Moss might be the most popular Oiler ever outside of Wayne Gretzky, so a tip of the cap to the long-serving dressing room attendant today on World Down Syndrome Day. Moss, as anybody who has been around the dressing room the last four decades or has heard him belt out the national anthem, is a beauty. He’s also an inspiration and example of ability, rather than disability.
I was reminded again of what Moss has meant to Oilers’ players over the years when Dan Lacouture showed up with the Boston Bruins alumni team to play in Red Deer last weekend. We were in Tampa Bay for a game with the Lightning on March 13, 2001 when Lacouture, a tough, banging winger, was traded to Pittsburgh for Sven Butenschon by GM Kevin Lowe.
Lacouture held it together pretty well with the travelling media as he packed his bags until he asked us to say goodbye to Moss, who was not on the trip, for him. He broke down and wept. I’ve never forgotten that moment – or how much Moss has meant to players who’ve come and gone here over so many years.