You’ve probably heard the shock wave that hit twitter by now: the Edmonton Oilers won the draft lottery on Saturday night. I know, guys. I know.
I feel like their instagram person knows it too.
The Oilers last saw the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2006, when they actually made it all the way to the Finals before losing in game 7 to Eric Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes. The offseason saw most of the major players traded away or lost to free agency. Chris Pronger (did you know he was an Oiler??? I sure didn’t) unexpectedly requested a trade and ended up with the Ducks. In 06-07, partly because of losing most of their top players in the off season, they had a shitty season, followed by a shitty season in 07-08, and then they were purchased by Daryl Katz.
And let me tell you, friends, it’s a shame sometimes that you can’t fire owners. Daryl Katz grew up watching the Wayne Gretzky era Oilers, and what that’s meant for his ownership philosophy is to hire as many former heroes from his childhood as he can find positions for on the team. Kevin Lowe (President of Hockey Ops), Craig MacTavish (General Manager), Kelly Buchberger (currently Manager of Player Personnel), and Keith Acton (Associate Coach) are all former Oilers players.
So what does that mean? In the case of Lowe and MacTavish least, it says that Katz is more interested in surrounding himself with heroes of his past than finding the right people for the job. Kevin Lowe has been with this team since retiring in 1998. He served as GM until 2008 when he was promoted to his current role. My favorite thing I just read on his wiki page: Bryan Burke once called him “colossally stupid.” If you’d like a brief explanation of why he said this, there’s a great article on Copper and Blue about it.
Since Kevin Lowe took over as President of Hockey Ops, there have been six head coaches. Friends, it’s been 7 years since he took over. The only coach to last two seasons was Tom Renney, and I honestly can’t figure out why that is, since the Oilers finished dead last both years. MacTavish also has a lot of history with the Oilers front office. He was head coach from 00-09, and has been back with them since 2012, first as VP of Hockey Ops and now GM.
And they’ve been trucking along pretty steadily at a terrible pace in those 7 years of Lowe. Wikipedia even calls the 2010-present period “the Dark Years” if that gives you any indication of what we’re looking at.
Let’s take a moment to look at their draft history since the season following that ‘06 Playoffs.
07 – Sam Gagner at 6
08 – Jordan Eberle at 22 (Oilers early pick went to Buff in a trade)
09 – Magnus Paajarvi at 10
10 – Taylor Hall at 1
11 – Ryan Nugent Hopkins at 1
12 – Nail Yakupov at 1
13 – Darnell Nurse at 7
14 – Leon Draisaitl at 3
Can I point out a thing to you. With the exception of Darnell Nurse . . . actually, time for an exceptionally long aside. In 2013 the Oilers UNEXPECTEDLY did themselves ALL THE FAVORS and drafted an enormous defenseman and then, WAIT FOR IT, WAIT FOR IT, sent him to major junior to HAVE TIME TO DEVELOP INTO HIS FULL POTENTIAL. I KNOW. I DIDN’T BELIEVE IT AT FIRST EITHER. Nurse actually got pretty emotional on the Oil Change episode that recorded this moment but tiny (enormous) boo, it was for your own good. There’s still time to run.
But with the exception of Darnell Nurse, all of these players are small(er) skilled forwards. You know what this team does not need more of? Small skilled forwards.
What does that say to you? To me, it says the Oilers are more interested in grabbing the most talented player on the stat sheet that is available at any given time than drafting to system. Why? Because the Oilers DON’T SEEM TO HAVE ONE. They’ve got SQUAT at center. You’ve got Nugent-Hopkins as your first line and then . . . what. Up until last season you had Sam Gagner. This year they started Leon Draisatl (yes, 18 year old Leon Draisaitl who they’d just drafted) as their SECOND LINE center behind RNH, and that went about as well as you can imagine. Derek Roy’s been pretty good for him since they traded Arcobello for him in December, but. But what, I don’t know. He’s in his 30s? He doesn’t have an amazingly steady track record? His last three teams have left him to free agency rather than resign him?
The Oilers also have two back up goalies trying to cobble together a #1 between them on any given night, and their top defensive pairing seems to contain Justin Schultz, who has, unfortunately, been one of the bigger disappointments on their blue line since they “stole” him from Anaheim.
But wingers, buddy. They are LOUSY with wingers.
Now, they’re probably going to draft Connor McDavid. You’ve heard about him, I’m assuming, if you follow hockey at all, but for the reader out there living under a rock, this dude’s a center who had 120 points in 47 games with the Erie Otters this year. I don’t follow junior hockey literally at all, but all scouting reports are basically talking about him like he’s the literal actual second coming of Jesus (you thought I was going to say Wayne Gretzky, didn’t you), come to save any team from their downward tanking spiral.
Going down the center next year, they’ll have RNH, McDavid, and their pick of Roy, Lander, and Gordon. Or, they could go wild and keep Draisaitl after training camp. Who even knows? The possibilities are endless.
You know what isn’t endless? The depth in goal, the depth in their blue line, and the patience of fans who are getting really tired of losing. Who knows? Maybe having “generational talent” Connor McDavid for the last season in Rexall Place will keep butts in the seats.
Can Connor McDavid save the Oilers? Your guess is honestly as good as mine. If Darnell Nurse is NHL ready this season, that should at least be an upgrade at the blue line. If they can find trades this summer or UFAs that want to play with McDavid (fully half the problem of upgrading any position is how few players are willing to come to Edm under any circumstances), they might be able to get him the support he needs to do his goddamn job. Jhonas Enroth will be available this summer, maybe they’d unload Fasth or Scrivens on Dallas?? (Scrivens, plz k thanks.)
So, Connor McDavid, my condolences to you. Your talent deserves better than what the Oilers are probably going to give you, but I hope you can do something with it anyway. The Pacific teams are entirely too smug for my liking anyway.