Gregor: Oilers have to assess, analyze weaknesses during stretch run
Focus can’t be solely on making this year’s playoffs, developing team for the future also critical
EDMONTON - Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini and president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe got what they wanted: their young team playing meaningful games late in the National Hockey League season.
The results of the Oilers’ final 10 games, while important for this year’s playoffs, will not be vital for the franchise moving forward. An honest and meticulous evaluation of the team, how it plays and respond in those games, will be the springboard to future success.
The Oilers might make the playoffs. They have a 14-per-cent chance, according to sportsclubstats.com, but this team is not built to be successful in the post-season.
During the next 20 days, the Oilers’ weaknesses will emerge. Management can’t ignore them and focus solely on the strengths of this team — the skilled young forwards — and get duped into thinking that its top-nine forward group will be mature enough to win next season.
The Oilers can’t win strictly with youth, especially when that youth lacks size and strength. The Oilers have a great young core, led by Taylor Hall, but if Tambellini and Lowe want this team to make the playoffs next year and not just be in the hunt late in the season, they need to alter their roster this summer.
They need to incorporate some size among their top nine forwards. They need some defencemen with a combination of puck-moving skills, size and toughness. Ladislav Smid cannot be their only physical defender on a nightly basis.
The easy steps of the rebuilding process are finished. The Oilers have stockpiled a lot of great young talent. Now, they must decide which pieces fit and which ones need to be moved. Determining who to trade away will be much more difficult than when they debated about which player to draft first overall because the Oilers’ executives have an emotional connection to the players they’ve developed the past few years.
So if the Oilers expect to be a playoff team next season, they must watch the final 10 games with more of a focus on their future than concentrating solely on this year’s playoffs.
Around the NHL
Most delusional sports moment/person of the week: Calgary Flames majority owner Murray Edwards. After the Flames traded away Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester last week, Flames general manager Jay Feaster made a jaw-dropping statement. “Murray Edwards told me last evening that he expects to be in the playoffs next year. So, there’s my marching order,” Feaster said when asked how long it would take for the Flames to become competitive again. I have much empathy for Flames’ fans if their owner actually believes they will contend next season.
Runner-up in Mr. Delusional of the week is NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “There seems to be more interest at this particular point in time than we’ve seen throughout the process,” Bettman said Saturday when talking about the Phoenix Coyotes’ ownership. Allegedly, a group from Calgary is the front-runner to buy the Coyotes. I wonder if that group dines regularly with Edwards?
It looks like those who penned the obituary on Alex Ovechkin’s career were a bit premature. With a hat-trick on Saturday, and two goals on Sunday Ovechkin is now tied for the lead in goals with 25. He scored 269 goals in his first five NHL seasons, but did you realistically expect him to average 54 goals every year? In the past three seasons many wrote him off, saying he was finished, yet only Steven Stamkos (130) and Corey Perry (99) have scored more goals than Ovechkin (95) in that time. He is far from finished.
I’m amazed how often some fans, bloggers and media want to write off a talented player, yet many of those same people will argue fervently about the potential of a prospect. People staunchly believe Nail Yakupov will be the next Stamkos moreso than Ovechkin will score 40 goals again. In sports, it seems many would rather dream about the potential of the next great player rather than enjoy watching current superstars.
Can Sidney Crosby win the MVP if he plays only 75 per cent of the season? Based on the wording for the Hart Trophy, if the Pittsburgh Penguins play well without him, is he truly the most valuable player? I wish the NHL would change the wording to “most outstanding player.” Then there would be no debate that Crosby was the most dynamic player this season.
Taylor Hall told me the one aspect of his game he worked on the most while playing in the American Hockey League was his passing. It seems to have worked. Hall is fifth in the NHL in assists with 28, trailing only Ryan Getzlaf, Nicklas Backstrom, Marty St.Louis and Crosby.
Justin Schultz became the eighth defenceman in Oilers history to record 20 points as a rookie. Risto Siltanen holds the team’s rookie record with 35 points. Paul Coffey is second with 32. Schultz will likely pass Kevin Lowe and Tom Poti (21) and Randy Gregg (22) to move into the top five.
For those suggesting he’d beat Siltanen in a full season, Siltanen had 0.55 points-per-game (PPG) in 1980 while Schultz is at 0.53. Ilya Byakin holds the rookie record at 0.64 PPG when he tallied 28 points in 44 games in 1994. He was 31 years old.
You can listen to Gregor weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the TEAM 1260 and read him at oilersnation.com
On Twitter: jasongregor
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