Five young skill players probably not included in upcoming changes
MacTavish maps out a plan on how to make Oilers more competitive
EDMONTON - If you’re wondering whether Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish’s “significant and meaningful change” to push the team forward might include moving anybody in his Fab Five, he opted for the never-say-never motto on Monday.
But it’s highly unlikely Taylor Hall, who finished ninth in NHL scoring, or Jordan Eberle, who had 16 goals and 37 points, are going anywhere. Both players start $6 million a year contracts next season.
The same holds true for first-line centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who recently had shoulder surgery; the electric rookie Nail Yakupov, who just had his first NHL hat trick; or puck-moving rookie defenceman Justin Schultz.
That said, MacTavish wasn’t specifically asked about them in the context of Nashville captain Shea Weber, should the Predators make one of the game’s best defencemen available for a blockbuster package in late July on the one-year anniversary of him signing a 14-year, $112-million contract.
“I’ve always been of the belief that everything has a price, everything’s for sale. Is it likely, given the high regard we have for these players, given the punitive price we paid to get them? Highly, highly unlikely they would be part of any trade discussion, largely because we value them more highly than anybody else,” said MacTavish.
He also applauded the work of Sam Gagner, a six-year veteran who could be a trading chip, and said he has opened negotiations with the 23-year-old centre’s agent, Jeff Jackson, on a new deal with Gagner one year from unrestricted free agency.
“Sam had an unbelievable year (38 points in 48 games) and has developed into a leader here by all regards. In the limited discussions with the group (of players) in there, he’s got the type of character we want,” said MacTavish, who is big on team culture in the dressing room.
“We’ve had a few years of it being too much of a circus in there and that has to change,’ he added.
There has been talk of Gagner’s deficiency in the faceoff circle (43.9 per cent this season) and whether he’d be a better fit on the wing, but MacTavish, one of the better faceoff guys when he played, shrugged it off.
“The critical draws are the defensive zone ones and, according to the analytics people, every 40 faceoffs you lose in the defensive zone, one will wind up in your net in the next 30 seconds. There are ways you can help support a centreman, play him with somebody who takes those faceoffs, or the other option is you move a player to the wing,” said MacTavish.
It wouldn’t be out of the question to see the Oilers make eight changes to the current roster for next season. MacTavish is determined to get more toughness, he wants more offensive pop in his bottom six forwards, he wants his core players (Hall, Eberle and Co.) to be better away from the puck, he wants to add a different complexion to the lineup because it’s a lot of the same. He wants more “meat and potatoes” to surround the skill guys. He will trade. Maybe now, the Oilers will make a run at Drew Stafford, a bigger skill forward, although he had a miserable year (just 18 points) with the Buffalo Sabres.
When your team is 24th in the league, it’s hardly the “if it ain’t broke, no need to fix it” scenario.
Here’s what MacTavish had to say on a variety of subject at a press briefing Monday:
On attracting free agents like Viktor Stalberg, who would be an excellent role player, or David Clarkson as a tough second-line winger: “I’ve been telling this story for quite some time and it’s a compelling story. It’s the whole Alberta advantage. The taxes are a big part of it; the economy is excellent; we’re getting a new building, which adds a lot of excitement to the downtown core. The passion of the fans here. Look at the game Saturday night against Vancouver, the excitement in the building for a team out of the playoffs for a seventh straight game. Passion resonates with players. You can go to Anaheim or Florida or Tampa for the weather, but there’s a lot of time to be retired. Coming into a situation here, with a lot of very good young players to grow with ... I would say from a self-satisfaction standpoint there’s no better situation for a player than to get in on the ground floor in building a championship team.”
On Ales Hemsky, who has one year left on his contract for $5 million: “For guys who’ve been here a long time and have suffered through this (rebuilding process), Ales has been a good Oiler for us. I don’t want to talk about him. There is a human side and the last thing I want to do is talk about a guy’s future without talking to him first.”
On fourth-liner Ryan Smyth, who has one year left at $2.25 million: “He will be back. There is a lot of benefit to having Ryan in the locker room. He brought a lot of energy to the group. It’s never easy in your declining years as a player. I was there as a player, too. You’re experienced enough that you can poke holes in every aspect of your organization, but the only thing you can’t realistically do is assess your own play. He’s handled this situation well. We’ll have a discussion with Ryan (on his role next year).”
On coach Ralph Krueger: “We can’t continually point fingers at the coach in this process. We’ve gone through four coaches in the last five years. My sense is we have to give the coaching staff greater tools to do their job going forward.”
On Swedish prospect defenceman Oscar Klefbom and where he would fit next year: “Everybody is anxiously awaiting him in our lineup. It’s dangerous to have high expectations on a young player, but he’s a very complete player for being so young (19). Marty Marincin’s another one we’re looking to see. He’s the most immediate guy in our pipeline. Maybe he might benefit from another half-year down there (at Oklahoma City in the American Hockey League).”
On beefing up the goaltending in the organization: “We will add a goaltending expert. Hopefully, we can find him in Europe to identify the next up-and-coming goaltender. We lack depth in that area, but that also means goalies elsewhere have an opportunity as a No. 2 or No.3 and No.4. ... Would we draft a goalie in the second round? There are a few good goalie prospects. Eric Comrie is one. So is the (Philippe) Desrosiers kid who won the world under-18, (Zachary) Fucale in Halifax (and Tristan Jarry of the Edmonton Oil Kings). A strong group.”
On goalie Devan Dubnyk: “He took a step this year, his numbers (2.57 goals-against average, .920 save percentage) were good, and he’s got further to go to be a top-level goaltender. He has to play better. Not to say that goaltending was a reason why we were in the situation we were in. He took a lot of good looks, night-in night-out, breakaways, shots from the slot. But he’s still growing as a goaltender and I have faith he’ll get there.”
On backup goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, whose contract is up. “I haven’t spoken to Nik, but I was super impressed with him. I owe it to him to have a discussion.”
On his role players: “In today’s NHL, you need to be a threat to score, even marginally. We had lots of guys ... the best they were going to be was a non-factor. There wasn’t a lot of upside, but the few times they did (score), we ended up winning those games. We need more impact there in the bottom six forwards.”
On his defence: “We need more footspeed to play the style that best suits our skill-set. We have to move the puck quicker and the defencemen have to skate into open ice to get them the puck. We didn’t get back hard enough on breakouts.”
On the team’s amateur and pro scouting: “I have told the amateur scouts we have to look for more impact players in the later rounds. We have our amateur meetings coming up in Palm Springs and we’ll talk about that. I’m happy with that group. Our pro scouts work diligently, too. As a leader, I want to support the group we have, but at the same time, I want to give them the forum to have more of an impact on the job they do”
On winger Ryan Jones, who is an unrestricted free agent after three-plus seasons here: “He’s a great teammate and he’s a guy we hold in high esteem for his core values. We’re in discussions where we want to go with Ryan.”
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