Nothing has gone right for the Edmonton Oilers. They’ve had plenty of injuries, slumps from key players, and absolutely dismal special teams. Through 43 games this season, the Oilers have put up just 39 points, good for 3rd last in the Pacific. Although they aren’t mathematically eliminated yet, the chances of them surging back to make the playoffs are slim, especially with how they have been playing lately.
The Oilers have lost their last two games 1-5 and 1-4, to the Stars and Blackhawks. Before that, they beat the Ducks in a shootout, and prior to that, they lost twin 5-0 games to Kings and Ducks. They’ve rarely looked liked the team they were last year, when they were playing their best hockey of the last decade. Last year was a nice break from the darkness for Oilers fans, but it looks like true light won’t come to Oil Country until next year at the earliest, and that’s optimistic.
As it stands now, the Edmonton Oilers are not a playoff team. They were last year, but due to declining players and significant downgrades in the offseason, that is no longer true. Currently they are a top 6 winger and a solid defenceman short of being playoff-calibre. The Oilers had both last year, but thanks to Peter Chiarelli, they now lack both. When Chiarelli moved Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome in the offseason, he lost the top 6 winger that Eberle was, getting a 3rd line forward in return, and by declining to replace declining borderline third pairing defenceman with a better option, he weakened the defence corps of this team. Last year, Russell was a #4 defenceman, but only when Andrej Sekera was there to help hin out. This season, he has struggled on defence, the only aspect of his game he isn’t terrible at. He consistently makes poor reads, and has seemingly forgotten how to defend a two on one, choosing to play the shooter on more occasions than I can count on one hand. Just in case you aren’t aware, you are supposed to play the pass on those. Don’t worry if you got that wrong though, I can’t really blame you. If an NHL player making $4 million a year doesn’t know, why should you?
Peter Chiarelli has created holes in this team, and it is too late for a quick fix. However, it can be patched up after just one year out of the playoffs, and that is what most Oilers fans will want. Few people will want to go back into a short rebuild after a decade of absence from the playoffs, and lucky for them, this is the plan that Chiarelli will likely follow, based on his track record of panic and lack of patience.
If I were Peter Chiarelli, I would be looking to add a young top 6 scoring winger, at the cost of a defenceman like Klefbom or Nurse. Then, I would begin to shop both Milan Lucic and Kris Russell, in an effort to lose those terrible contracts so the cap space to keep Nuge would be there, as well as some additional room to surround McDavid with more speedy talent, or to retain Maroon.
By filling the forward need, we weakened our defense, so now we need to add a defenceman or two. That’s where the draft comes in. Without one of Klefbom or Nurse, the already poor defence is even worse, and the offence, even with the addition of Hoffman, would still be unable to make up for it. This is an issue that won’t be able to be resolved this season, because this is where the draft comes in.
The 2018 NHL Draft lacks the top centre prospects that usually occupy the top positions in the draft. Instead, those spots are filled with wingers and defencemen, the two very needs that the Oilers have. In the grand scheme of things, it may actually be a good thing that the Oilers have played so poorly this season, as the draft is perfectly suited for their needs. Rasmus Dahlin, the prize of the draft, would be a great fit, especially if they move a left handed defenseman like Klefbom or Nurse. He’s a guy that could jump right into a top 4 role as the clear Calder favourite. By 2021, whoever has him could very well have the best defenseman in the league. If the Oilers lottery luck continues, they could have both the leagues best forward in McDavid, and the best defensemen with Dahlin.
If they don’t get the first pick in the draft, they can still get their hands on a solid consolation prize. Svechnikov, Zadina and Tkachuk, ranked #2, 3 and 5, are all game changing wingers (Tkachuk can also play centre, but I, as well as many other scouts, see him as a winger long term), while Adam Boqvist and Quinn Hughes (#4 and 6), are future top pairing defensemen. Ty Smith, Noah Dobson and Evan Bouchard have top 4 potential. All of those players will be impact players for the team that drafts them, and for one of those players, that team will likely be the Edmonton Oilers.
Best case scenario, the Oilers get the first pick and take Dahlin. That would be fantastic for the future of the team and their blueline. However, more likely than not, they end up with a pick somewhere in the 2-10 range, and that means that they’ll draft either a winger or a defenceman. The later in the draft that their pick ends up being, the more likely it gets that they tale a defenseman. If they do get an earlier pick, probably somewhere in the 2-5 range, chances are that they’ll end up with one of the 3 wingers I have ranked there. If that happens, their blueline still needs some help. In that scenario, they would need to make a trade to add another defenseman, and in that scenario, I would be looking at trading Kailer Yamamoto for a young top 4 defensive prospect.
If I were Peter Chiarelli, thinking like Peter Chiarelli, that would be the course of action that I would take if I wanted to try to fix this in a short amount of time, and this may be what he tries to do. Chiarelli has a history of making bets and taking chances, and there is a lot of that in this plan.
Now, if I were GM, and I was thinking like myself, not Chiarelli, I would do things differently. Today’s NHL is built around speed, and I would try to build this team around that. Chiarelli built this team for the 2012 NHL, back when heavy hockey was the way to go. Nowaday’s, the game is too fast for that style, and the Oilers need to adjust to fit that fast style of game, and that means a moderate overhaul of this team.
Under my direction, the team would essentially go into a 2-3 year rebuild. I’d try to move Maroon and any other UFAs with any value at the deadline, and I would shop Russell and Lucic. I could see the Canadiens taking Lucic, they have some cap space, and adding another middle six winger would allow them to use Gallagher or Galchenyuk to add a centre. Montreal was also interested in him when he was available as a free agent, and was even reportingly willing to give him 7 million dollars a year. Russell will be harder to move, he makes a very small impact offensively, and his defense appears to have declined since last year, as he now makes at least one terrible defensive play each game, something I didn’t notice last year. The only thing he is good at is shot blocking, which really isn’t as great as a lot of people make it out to be, as for every quality shot he blocks, he makes two poor defensive plays, essentially canceling out his shot blocking. Both Russell and Lucic do have no-move clauses in their contracts, so hopefully they’ll waive those. If they resist, maybe spending the rest of the season in the press box will convince them. Getting Russell and his overall negative impact out of the lineup will be a positive anyways.
Moving those two players will only add to the holes in this lineup, which is why they’ll need to undergo a short rebuild first. Yamamoto will be the top 6 winger replacing Lucic, likely as soon as next year. I’d still like to see them add another, preferably a left winger. We’ve already got Puljujarvi and Yamamoto on the right side long term. That winger will come through the draft, as will the top 4 defenseman that they also need to add. The 2018 draft is deep defensively, so it is likely best for them to add the blueliner there, but if a winger like Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina, Brady Tkachuk or Oliver Wahlstrom is the best player available and they take him, you won’t see me complaining. They can try to get a defenseman like Bowen Byram, Tobias Bjornfot, Ilia Mironov or Matthew Robertson in the 2019 class. The one thing that needs to happen though, is them adding a top 4 defence prospect and a future top 6 winger. If they do that, they’ll have pretty solid top 6 and top 4 groups.
In this post, I’ve gone over two possible courses of action that could be taken to try to make this team a true contender. The first was what I believe that Chiarelli will try; a plan including panic and weakening one area of the team to improve another. It could work and get the Oilers to the playoffs next year, but it seems more likely that the defence will just be too weak for them to extend their season. The second plan is the map that I would follow as GM; essentially a short rebuild, where they trade away vets and count on the draft to fill holes.
The two plans differ dramatically. One has panic, the other patience. One is short, but risky, the other is longer and safe. One might temporarily fix the team now, while the other will guarantee a future of success in Edmonton.
Which way will Chiarelli go?