Every year in the NHL, there are some sleeper teams that end up being a pleasant surprise for spectators and some teams with high expectations that fall just short of the hype. The Edmonton Oilers are a team that have been caught in the middle of those classifications.
Before they were able to draft the illustrious superstar that is their now 22-year-old captain Connor McDavid in 2015, the Oilers felt like a lost cause for a good amount of time. From 2007-2016, they became the Ghosts of Playoffs Past by missing out on postseason action for 10 straight seasons. It is possible to create a quick turnaround on a rebuilding team if you can land the right pieces and it seems the Oilers did just that only two seasons ago.
The Oilers became a very exciting entity when they were able to find themselves in the 2016-17 Western Conference Semi-Finals, but they lost in a heartbreaking Game 7 to the Anaheim Ducks. Seeing how far the Oilers had come gave fans promise that their team was finally on the right track to be competitive for the Stanley Cup for years to come. In a shocking turn of events, it seems as if that playoff berth was just a flash in the pan as they failed to replicate their prior success and went on to miss the playoffs last season. They are on track to miss the playoffs yet again for the 12th time in their last 13 seasons, making it painful for the fans to have to endure again. The worst part is that they seem to have become just as unraveled as they were before. Where do the Oilers keep going wrong? How does a team that has been able to land consecutive first-overall picks in the NHL Draft still seem unable to find their way? There are a few intricacies involved.
The General Manager
Since the Oiler’s losing span started, they have gone through three general managers. Most recently, fans have become painfully aware of the now-fired Peter Chiarelli. He put together a Stanley Cup-winning roster with the Boston Bruins in 2011 and the Oilers thought he could bring that experience to create the same outcome for the Oilers when they hired him in 2015. Needless to say, it has been a bust.
Chiarelli has now become known for his lopsided trades that hockey fans have made a spectacle out of. The trade he is most famous for is from 2016 when he traded superstar winger, and one of Edmonton’s first overall picks, Taylor Hall, to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson. To say that trade hurt at the time, and continues to hurt, is an understatement. That move was a bad omen for things to come.
While that deal alone could have cost him his job, the deal that seemed to seal Chiarelli’s fate was on January 21st, when he signed goaltender Mikko Koskinen to a three year, $13.5 million deal. Keep in mind that Koskinen has only played in just 28 NHL games in the past five years with stats that don’t seem to fit the mold of “goalie of the future.” This is just a snippet of what Chiarelli has accomplished at the helm. He had the triage of bad trades, bad contracts, and bad free agency signings that has left the organization and its fanbase with some tough pills to swallow.
While they got the ultimate prize in Connor McDavid (who is currently on track to having his third straight season of 100+ points), and locking him up for the next eight years with a lucrative $100 million deal, it is clear that relying on him alone is simply not going to cut it.
The problem is, they lack forward depth and they don’t have much wiggle room to improve. They currently have the fourth most expensive roster in the NHL. When you picture that, you would think the team would be stacked with talent and it just hasn’t worked in their favor. They are also in need of reliable defensemen and goaltending. By that account, they need help on all fronts. The positive side is that they still have forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who has easily become one of their top players and he is under contract for two more seasons. They have Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom, who are primarily their best defensemen. Klefbom is under contract for the next five seasons, while Nurse is under contract until the end of next season. They also have an Allstar in forward Leon Draisaitl, who is under contract for six more years. While having those pieces certainly helps, it’s not enough. Unless interim GM Keith Gretzky can find some takers for underperforming players with high salary cap hits to match, which include the likes of Milan Lucic, Tobias Rieder, and Kris Russel, they are as good as stuck in the salary cap trap.
They say when it rains, it pours, and the Edmonton Oilers are the prime example of that. They are a team that it seems like when they get their rainbows, it is very short lived. The message in all of this chaos is that there is very little room for error when making team decisions in the NHL. The tides turn fast and any move can end up making or breaking a team. One outlook to have is that the team went into the All-Star Break with a 23-24-3 record and are only a few points out of the wildcard spot. It is going to take what seems like a miracle for them to make a run at the playoffs, but hopefully the much-needed break, combined with any move that they are able to pull off at the Trade Deadline come February 25th, can light some spark beneath them. If anything, maybe it can help give them a combative end to the season.
All in all, one of the city’s nicknames is the “City of Champions”, and for the Oiler’s faithful, they deserve a team that can live up to that name. Firing Chiarelli is a strong signal that this team can not be complacent with the ongoing “oil spills” much longer. They need a vast clean up sooner rather than later, otherwise, not even Dawn soap will be able to help them. Hopefully -somehow, someway – they can reinvent themselves and get back into the sleeper team category. Anything goes at this point.
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