As a fan of the Edmonton Oilers I am tired of hearing the term, “the process.” The word “process” can be defined as, “a systematic series of actions directed to some end.” In the case of the Oilers the ‘end’ in question was promised to be a competitive hockey club that would one day challenge for a playoff spot and eventually the Stanley Cup. It would appear the Oilers organization isn’t aware of what process means unless they intended to challenge for the first overall pick year after year. If Edmonton does have a process in place it was faulty from the start and now completely lacking any sort of recognizable cohesion.
Last season I wrote a post over at Oilers’ Addict titled, “the Atlanta Model.” The reason for the post was I kept hearing and reading about how the Oilers were utilizing the Pittsburgh Model or the Chicago model where drafting high for a few seasons would bring about a competitive team. I argued that this plan was not necessarily guaranteed and that the Atlanta/Winnipeg organization had a similar draft run to the Oilers and were never able to pull out of the NHL’s basement. Between 1999 to 2004, the Thrashers drafted first overall twice (Stefan and Kovalchuk), second overall two times (Heatly and Lehtonen), and twice more in the top 10 (Coburn #8 and Valabik #10). In the post I wrote:
The first aspect that caught my eye from Atlanta’s draft record is how they failed, for the most part, to develop anyone drafted outside the first round. The team failed to surround their two superstars with depth players and a solid defensive group. I could write, “sound familiar?”, but that would be misleading as most of the Oilers drafts listed are too recent to condemn as failures. 2007 looks like a complete wash and it is likely nothing of significance beyond Jordan Eberle will come from the 2008 draft. However Lander is still hanging around from 2009 and Marincin and Pitlick both played for (and played well) the Oilers this season from the 2010 draft. From 2011-13 it is too soon to judge and it is still possible that a few players will emerge for the Oilers.
The second aspect is more of a general comment about the Thrashers rather than a statement specifically about their drafting. At no time during the period referenced were they able to build a deep blue-line nor did they ever possess a true #1 defender. The same is true regarding their depth down the middle, even after they added Marc Savard in a trade with Calgary. Not surprisingly, their goaltending was also suspect and Lehtonen never really lived up to his #2 overall billing. These themes will certainly resonate with fans of the Oilers.
The last aspect which was also of interest was the drafting of Braydon Coburn in 2003. His drafting is not just interesting because of the Oilers rumored interest last summer, but also because he was drafted 8th overall and later in Atlanta’s high drafting cycle, much like Darnell Nurse. I’m not comparing the two defensemen as players, but merely pointing out that it took Coburn until the 2007-08 season, four years after he was drafted and with a different team, to really establish himself as a full-time NHLer. If Nurse follows the same path, Hall and Eberle will almost be at the end of their current contracts.
I was criticized by a few for the post as they couldn’t fathom how the rebuild in Edmonton would have the same result as the expansion build in Atlanta. However, just as in Atlanta, the management of the Oilers has failed to provide the coaching staff with decent centre ice depth, an NHL caliber blue-line, or a solid and reliable starting goaltender. Despite Dallas Eakins’ warts, should he or any coach be expected to take the current roster and turn it into a playoff team? Not even Dan Bylsma or Mike Babbcock or even Scotty Bowman could produce that miracle. Could a veteran staff squeeze out a few more wins? Absolutely. Take this unbalanced roster to the playoffs? Never going to happen.
Another part of the process I keep hearing about is the possession or advanced stats. Depending on who you read or listen to, these metrics are either mildly or much better. Sometimes when referencing the upswing in possession these statistics are framed as proof that the ‘process’ is moving ahead and that the Oilers are a much better hockey team despite their record. This draws the ire of fans who don’t put any value into these numbers and who see that the new statistics are at odds with what they see and with the standings. I have read and heard it stated many times that there is a correlation between the good teams in the league and good possession numbers. While that is true, good teams also have a deep pool of an actual NHL players at key positions (centre, goal, defense). The Kings have Quick, Doughty, and Kopitar along with a deep supporting cast. The Blackhawks have Crawford, Keith, and Toews along with a deep supporting casts. The Oilers can’t boast depth (or even competency) at any of the three key positions. While it is encouraging that the team’s shot metrics have improved, the improvement does not alter that the roster is unbalanced, the players don’t play with enough heart, the goaltending has been awful, and some of the mind blowing decisions that have been made by coaching and management. I don’t dismiss advanced statistics as they are a great tool for better understanding the game, but it is a reach to suggest that the Oilers’ slight improvement in these areas mean that the team will emerge from the basement anytime soon. The roster needs to be fixed management needs to make it the top priority of their process.
Another process related argument is, “staying the course.” It has been said by fans and some media that there is no point in the Oilers making a move right now as the team: “will be trading from a position of weakness” ; “most of the major moves are made in the summer”; and ” the 2015 draft has generational talent so the team is better to tank to grab McDavid, Eichel, or Haniflin.” The team has been finishing low and drafting high for the better part of a decade. Has that strategy produced any sort of measurable results? Taylor Hall is now in his fifth season as an Edmonton Oiler and as of writing this the Oilers are two points ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets for last overall in the NHL and Columbus has a game at hand. Even if the Oilers finish dead last, they will only have a 20% chance of selecting McDavid with the first overall pick due to the new draft rules (largely put in place because of the Oilers). While I agree that making a deal right now may not be ideal (or advisable), the loser mentality has to stop. Attitudes such as these can become ingrained into an organization. If the idea of “staying the course” means endlessly wandering in hope that fate will fix the problems, the idea should be seen as ridiculous. That is the planning template of a loser. Tough decisions need to made and those tough decisions start at the top.
Does management need to be flushed? Look at he results. Do some of the core players need to be changed? This is the fifth season of “Hall & Ebs” and the Oilers are no closer to the playoffs than they were at the conclusion of year one. I’m not suggesting it is not all the fault of these two players, but building from the wings in is killing the organization. Management needs to bite the bullet and move some core pieces. It may be time to accept the current group of players may never be able to be molded into a playoff team and fundamentally change the roster. Over at the Oilers’ Addict Curtis recently mused about what a complete tear down would result in and wrote:
Not as star-studded as the flashy Taylor Hall led Oilers. But…look at all that depth. 6 NHL centres. Two first round picks knocking at the door for the 6th and 7th D spots. That’s a hockey team. Of course, MacT can’t make all those deals, but it is an example of return on big name players. But, what happened when those teams traded those players??? Blue Jackets made the playoffs, Bruins went to cup final, Rangers went to cup final, Leafs made playoffs and took eventual cup champs to 7 games, Ducks are solid as always. In other words, it didn’t cripple them. The smallest player acquired would be 6’.
At this point a complete tear down would be as likely to succeed as any other suggestion. Part of the planned process? No, but the planned process hasn’t worked.
I write this as a fan. I’m a fan tired of the process. I wasn’t supposed to be writing this in Taylor Hall’s fifth season. I was supposed to be writing about how awesome the team was and looking forward to the playoffs. I am tired of feeling negative as hockey is supposed to be fun and an outlet. Its not supposed to make you want to walk in front of a bus on a Monday because you have your work tickets tonight and have to sit through the Oilers and Coyotes. That isn’t how it is supposed to be, but it is how it is. Every time I hear Eakins, a reporter, or a blogger say or write the word ‘process’ I want to scream because it means it isn’t over and the team is still awful. Do I think that the Oilers rebuild is similar to Atlanta’s expansion build? Its pretty hard to argue that it isn’t at this point. Do I think advanced stats are useless? No, I think they are a great tool. However, these stats don’t measure how a roster is constructed, turnovers, or bad decisions by coaching and management. Do I think the Oilers should stay the course? Well the current course has lead over a cliff, so draw your own conclusions.
I only hope that Alex is correct that Bob Nicholson may be slowly taking over for Kevin Lowe because I want to process to be over and to be able to start having fun as a fan again.
Really Long Run for MS
As a person living with Multiple Sclerosis I am very fortunate. I still play hockey, run, and do most everything I was able to do before I was diagnosed. For me the worst symptoms are fatigue (sometimes extreme), issues with my balance, and constant numbness in my hands and feet. However, I am one of the lucky ones and many with this disease find simple things like walking next to impossible and there are many who can’t walk at all. Every spring my wife and I ride in the MS Bike from Leduc to Camrose. This year I have decided to run the 85 KM (one leg of the MS Bike) in a single day two weeks prior to the big ride to raise money and awareness. On May 23rd, 2015 I will begin the run in the wee hours of the morning and be met during the day by others who will run portions with me (and hopefully keep me sane and motivated). All money raised will go to the MS Society of Canada. If you would like to know more, donate, volunteer, or even join me for a portion of the run you can get more information by clicking here.