This is a new section I'm making an attempt to get in before the opening of the new season and hope to get to all of the teams. I'm not promising I'll finish, but I will try and hope that as I keep up with the goings on in Pre-season, I'll flush out some knowledge about other organizations around the league.
The Edmonton Oilers best know for their Stanley Cups in the 1980's haven't made too many splashes since those days. They last appeared in the playoffs in 2006 and were the runners up in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. Since then they have been in rebuild mode and one wonders if they shall ever complete the rebuild and be competitive enough for the playoffs again.
This organization has been stock piling top draft picks and dynamic talent for a number of years now and really haven't grown at all. Why? It's ownership and management building a bad culture in my opinion. Most of their team management personal are former players from their Championship years. As great as they may have been on the ice, they certainly lack for organization skills. There have been a parade of coaches at all levels going in and out every year. Dallas Eakins, their current coach, was plucked from the Maple Leafs organization as the former head coach of the Marlies. I'm sorry, but can someone tell me, what in the Toronto organization in recent years has been going well? I've felt for some time that the biggest problem is Kevin Lowe, now the teams President and head of hockey operations. He gave up the General Managers job in 2013 to another former player and head coach, Craig MacTavish. Kevin Lowe in 2007 signed RFA Dustin Penner to a whopping contract away from Anaheim Ducks and started a nasty public verbal feud between him and then Ducks GM Brian Burke. A few things, Penner as a young talent was never able to live up to the money he was paid and Lowe was forever tarnished as a GM that couldn't be trusted by other GM's. This showed a lack of ability on Lowe's part to judge talent and what talent was worth, also he hurt his team with negotiation leverage in deals and during the off-seasons. He as GM had six consecutive drafts picking in the top 6 and three picking the number one draft pick. All are playing and languishing on the team currently. Since "MacT" came aboard as GM, things haven't changed much as witnessed by this years signing of free agent Benoit Pouliot to 4 years at $5 million a year as a third liner on other good teams the last three years. Now that he's on a bad team, we'll get to see how really bad he is, probably making him untradeable with his contract now. These kinds of stupid moves compound other problems with the team to include lack of direction, poor talent evaluation, poor recruitment of coaching and management talent and the feeling that ending up in Edmonton is career isolation for players. Edmonton as a region has had many talented players created locally and many have been ignored at draft time. There is snow and tremendous feelings of isolation for 9-10 months out of the year in an area known for it's oil fields and farms. They have a hungry fan base and do a surprising job of filling their building on game nights. But the team does nothing to help the fans feel excitement and recently threatened to move the team if the local gov't and public refused to put up funds to build a new modern facility.
That being said, lets look at the team that plays despite these handicaps. They have dynamic offensive forwards, a young defense and so so goaltending. Goaltending more than anything has held this organization back. When they have had decent young talent, it gets crushed playing behind a weak squad and when they bring in established talent, it's always talent fading into obscurity. Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth are both goaltenders that 3 years ago were on the fast track as young upcoming goalies. Scrivens played his way onto a bad Maple Leaf squad and showed flashes of brilliance but was given a gift and put on the bus to LA, where when given his chance to play when Jonathon Quick was injured was found wanting on a team that played great defense in front of him and he was traded, hence banished to Edmonton for bottom 6 forward depth by a team that went on to win the Stanley Cup. Fasth came up and filled in for Jonus Hiller in Anaheim when Hiller went down with vertigo and played well enough to compete for the starting job when Hiller got healthy, but other talent has emerged in Anaheim and he couldn't beat Hiller on the depth chart. Hiller wasn't exactly earning his team's confidence and has found his way off a deep Ducks team that has decided to follow the youth in goal that it trusted during last years playoffs. Now Scrivens and Fasth are in Edmonton trying to revive their careers. If you want to make the playoffs, it starts with having a top 15-20th goaltender in league depth. Frankly, I wouldn't consider either of them a top 15-20 backup goalie in this league. So goal tending again is a weakness for the Oilers. Strike one !
Defense: The defense started to make a comeback last season by adding experience and leadership in free agent Andrew Ference. The problem is Ference who by the way grew up locally, hit the far side of 30 and is getting older with lots of miles on the frame. Staying healthy and productive for defensemen in this league while playing + 22 minutes a night isn't easy. Coming from Boston, he was the teams number 4 defenseman and was stepping into a top 2 role in Edmonton. He did help, provide leadership and mentoring to the younger defensemen on this squad last year and as the season progressed, the nightly mistakes became less frequent but still the mistakes often cost a goal or two a game. This in turn pressures the offense to push for scoring to win by scoring 3-4 goals nightly to be competitive. Against the bottom ten teams in the league or a team playing back to back games this can be effective. Playing against the top ten teams in the league, it's a killer. Enter this season Mark Fayne from the Devils with good size and the typical shutdown defenseman to play along side Ference and compliment his offensive skills. Also they added Columbus defenseman Nikita Nikitin to play along side Justin Schultz. Nikitin hasn't had a full healthy season in the league yet but brings a blistering shot and fast read and pass skill set to a team that has breakaway forwards. I believe the defense steps up a peg or two this season and it's time to look for that next big time defense free agent for next year or at the trade deadline to continue to make progress.
Offense: Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jason Eberle, David Perron and Nail Yakopov. What's the problem????
The problem is bad coaching and system with limited leadership. As individual talents or on power plays these are quick strike weapons. But with a limited transitional skill defense and no defined full length of the ice game plan, skill like this withers from losing too often and finds them on the ice too often during all situations because the teams needs scoring to win too much. They wear down, lose confidence, get hurt here and there which effects chemistry. The centers don't dominate the face-offs, so possession time is a weakness. The other problem has been that the bottom six forwards would be challenged to play top minutes in the AHL and really aren't true defensive or penalty kill specialists. They just happen to be cheap enough to pay the big stars under the Salary Cap. The bench gets shortened on this team early in the second period most nights and bottom 6 forwards rarely get 10 minutes of ice time. Strike two!
Intangibles: Are Pouliot and Teddy Purcell going to make a difference to the bottom six and will the coaching staff continue to shorten the bench early in games? I say no to the players who I feel are over rated and yes the bench stays short. Strike three!
I expect Edmonton to battle hard with Calgary for the sixth spot in the Pacific Division and to finish far out of the playoff race. Could win sixth spot and best team in Alberta Canada award.
Until Next Time!