Are the Oilers still a wise team to invest your fantasy-hockey future in?
As the Edmonton Oilers were enduring one of the most embarrassing losses handed to them in franchise history, a comedy skit broke out on Saturday Night. Taylor Hall, noticing that his team was getting torched, decided to start throwing water around the bench in an attempt to put out the fire. Dallas Eakins, drowned and soaked as a result of Hall's decision to play firefighter, misinterpreted the effort and started ripping into the youngster. An alert fan, noticing what was going on, decided to throw his jersey on the ice in an effort to help out. Rather than taking the jersey over to Eakins to towel off, Ben Scrivens instead took the gesture out of context and threw the jersey back into the stands. The circus continues in Edmonton but nobody is laughing.
Did Edmonton lose by a touchdown or a field goal? Last night it was a touchdown and eleven times this year the Oilers have lost at home by three goals or more. The team is a real life abyss and bordering on fantasy wasteland. The Oilers have a conference worst goal differential of minus-58. Their current top six (Hall, Eberle, Perron, Gagner, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov) are a combined minus-106. Taylor Hall is on an expected point per game pace with 65 points in 65 games this season and Jordan Eberle needs just six points in the team's final 10 games to break 60 points, which could be viewed as an underachievement to his fantasy owners. David Perron has been a solid addition this season posting 25 goals, 25 assists, and decent peripherals. However, the forwards are deficient in playing away from the puck defensively and the team is a plus/minus nightmare. In real life, the bottom six in Edmonton has been a continuous recycling of journeymen third and fourth liners over the past five seasons. Meanwhile Sam Gagner has been a disappointment since returning from injury, Nail Yakupov has significantly regressed, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been inconsistent.
On the blue line Andrew Ference was a nice off season addition but he is a depth answer, not one meant for a top pairing. Justin Schultz's development hit a wall this season. He is minus-20 but has a respectable 28 points in 64 games as the only fantasy relevant defenseman on the team. Schultz has the potential to establish himself as a successful offensive defenseman with shutdown capabilities but he is still in the early phases. The rest of the team's defensive core would be on the bottom pairing of most NHL teams. Moving forward, the team either needs Darnell Nurse to develop three years ahead of schedule or Craig MacTavish to make a "bold" trade and move this year's high pick along with one or both of Yakupov and Gagner. The shoring up Edmonton's defensive corps does not look like it is going to happen anytime soon.
Assessing Hemsky's smooth transition to Ottawa, Cogliano's remarkable development in Anaheim, Glencross' and Smid's positive impact in Calgary and one can conclude that Edmonton's personnel moves over the past few seasons have been desperate and the team is a mess in terms of development and team chemistry. The team has allowed key pieces to walk out the door with little return and it was clear that the Horcoff/Hemsky era lasted longer than it should have, not that it was any fault of two core players from the franchise's 2006 run to the Stanley Cup Final.
One could argue that the team recently made a solid effort in addressing the crease, but is Anaheim's third best goalie and the signing of journeyman back up Ben Scrivens the answer. Personally, I respect the passion Scrivens showed on Saturday night, but success from this goalie tandem has a chance of success of 50% at best. The problem is attracting veteran players to Edmonton is challenging, as recently demonstrated by Ryan Miller putting Oil Town on his no fly list when activating his limited no trade clause. The Oilers have little success in attracting established veterans via free agency. Their biggest signing in the past five years is likely Justin Schultz who was enticed by being part of a young offensive core for years to come.
Fortunately for Edmonton fans, they will not be alone this post season as their closest rivals in Calgary, Winnipeg, and Vancouver are also on the outside looking in. With less than a dozen games on each team's schedule, we are on the cusp of entering the post season without any representation from a Western Canadian team for the first time since 1976-1977.
Despite their coaching and management circus, at least Vancouver has a veteran core on defense that can rival any blue line in the league. Calgary may appear to lack talent (especially in goal), but at least the team is maturing and buying into Coach Hartley's system. With Burke at the helm, a quick retooling is also possible. Winnipeg has looked great under Paul Maurice (who would have been perfect in Edmonton) and the team is young and loaded with talent. The Jets are the team in the West that has the best chance at seeing the post season next year, while the Oilers are likely on the outside looking in for at least another two seasons.