“I got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it. You, Krueger, my son tells me your company stinks!”
Ahem. If everyone could find their seats and stop making so damn much noise…….thank you. I’d like to start with the positives for this calendar year and there indeed positives about the Oilers organization. Six items stand out for me during 2012:
- The return of MacT, early June. As an unabashed MacT believer I marked the day with two beverages and considered it a high water mark. For me, MacT gives the Oilers an intelligent voice in the room, a veteran hockey man who can not only offer wisdom but perhaps frame the discussion in a way that allows everyone to buy into new and innovative ideas. I think MacT’s influence has already been seen on this club–perhaps even at the draft–and that the logical elements of last summer (many discussed below) appear to have a clarity and vision we haven’t seen in a long time. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this hire, but MacT is certainly a man who has the ear of Kevin Lowe and Daryl Katz, the two most important men in the organization.
- The drafting of Nail Yakupov. We know based on the Oilers own news network that Ryan Murray and Griffin Reinhart were in the conversation, and we know that the Oilers badly “needed” a defenseman of the future who could help in a big way. However, the best player available on the evening of the draft was a fleet Russian winger with a brain and a motor. There are all kinds of rumors that have flown around since then (notably Katz stepping in and insisting on Yakupov over Murray or Reinhart) and I doubt we’ll ever know the actual facts of the day. Bottom line the club made the wise decision and won the day. Coming behind the successes of the 2008-2011 drafts, Yakupov’s addition means that the Oilers have so much firepower the offense should flow freely during the mid 10’s. I’m going to miss those insane scouting reports every summer, as I very much doubt the NHL is going to configure the draft balls in a fashion that allows the Oilers within a country mile of Seth Jones. Still, if Yakupov is the cap on the cluster, well hell ladies and gents we’ll raise a glass and consider it a good damn day.
- Named Ralph Krueger head coach. The European coach from Steinbach Manitoba could sell ice to the Eskimos and his own special brand of enthusiasm and intelligent verbal went over like sunshine on a cloudy day in Edmonton. Elliotte Friedman remains the authority on thought for the Oilers coach courtesy a brilliant 30 thoughts that heavily featured Switzerland’s answer to Lombardi. Friedman on Kruger: He explained that he liked Jordan Eberle with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner with Ales Hemsky. That not only allows him to move Hall around the lineup, but also rotate others depending on the situation — Ryan Smyth, Ryan Jones, Ben Eager and potentially even Shawn Horcoff on the wing. I’m really curious to see this. This stuff fascinates me. Ralph is another big brain, and in my opinion (along with MacT) suggests we might be seeing the Katz business mission statement (hire good people to run the business) on a long play.
- Winning the Justin Schultz sweepstakes. As a bookend addition to the Yakupov selection, this defined the summer of ’12. Justin Schultz may not be a defensive stalwart (we don’t know that) but appears to be a dynamite puck mover and powerplay demon. If he can handle a second pairing role on the Oilers (pretty much guaranteed on a team hellbent on an annual shortage at the position) Schultz could push Yakupov and other’s for the Calder award. Hell, he may have already won the ROY in the American League and it isn’t even Christmas. A possibly mammoth addition to the cluster.
- The Petry signing. An insanely good deal for the organization and an overlooked one. That player at those dollars is an incredible number. Two years at $3.5 million dollars gives the Oilers an extreme value contract with a cap hit under $2M for the next two seasons. Crazy at the price.
- Signing Taylor Hall to an “outer marker” deal. When the club chose to sign Taylor Hall to that 7-year, $42 million dollar contract it did two things: sent a clear message that the Oilers have a deal to use as a hammer when the Nuge, Yak and other contracts come up, and I do think it also tells the fanbase that the window of opportunity is probably the final five years of this deal. If the Oilers waste these 7 years of Taylor Hall, it’ll represent one of the monumental fails in modern hockey history. That contract represents the Katz era, volume two. I can’t think of a better candidate for the money.
Now, the things that drive me nuts about the organization.
- The mixed messages over the Dubnyk deal. Edmonton signed Dubnyk to a 2-year, $7M deal. I wrote at the time the dollars seemed high, but others showed me it was in line with a goalie of Dubnyk’s experience and quality. DD earned the contract from January 2012 on, performing very well and leaving little doubt about the #1 goaltender for the future. HOWEVER, in a late October interview Kevin Lowe suggested the dollars spent on goaltending did not in fact mean the situation was settled. Lowe: “Goaltending is a question mark, and I say that in all respect to Devan Dubnyk and Khabi (Nikolai Khabibulin). Khabi has been injured and he’s approaching 40. He’s given us stretches of strong goaltending but his health is one thing.” Dubnyk is trending upward, Lowe said, “but he’s got to go out and prove it now if he’s going to take over the Number One job.” Source is David Staples. What the hell? You hand a guy $7M and there’s still a question? The Oilers would be spending over seven million dollars on goalies in 12-13 without a lockout, and the #1 hockey man comes out and says goaltending is a question mark? After handing your top option $7M? I wonder how Ken Holland would have handled this goaltending situation, and I do think it’s an organizational ‘hitch in their swing.’ I keep expecting the club to commit to Dubnyk but in the back of my mind worry they’ll bring NK back or give Tim Thomas a 4-year deal. It isn’t the smart play, but I do believe it’s in the Oilers playbook.
- Signing Lennart Petrell. Nothing against the Ginger Finn, hell you know I love the Finns and what they represent as hockey players. However, for a roster dying for veteran mentorship and NHL quality play at evens, our man Lennart is not the perfect fit. Anaheim signed Daniel Winnik for a million more than Petrell and now have a wonderful addition to their roster. Not to bring the Red Wings into this again, but the Detroit hockey club collects Daniel Winnik’s by the carload because they realize the value of a veteran role player. The Oilers–despite having MacT on the management group–missed the boat with Petrell (although they did hire Ryan Smyth again and that is a very good thing).
- Didn’t do enough to address defense. The last time I slept well pondering Oilers defense was after the trade deadline 2006. And you know it used to be a strength, or at least it was something fans didn’t have to worry over. Edmonton a decade ago had better depth but the Oilers of today seem to fool themselves every summer into “this guy can step up” or “we should be healthier than last year on defense.” And then the sun goes down and Andy Sutton is gone and Laddy Smid is wobbly and on and on it goes. Edmonton Oilers teams of the 2000’s START with a myriad of question marks and then step into the elevator shaft from there. Ryan Whitney’s health, Sutton and Smid on the limp, players who are not yet established like Schultz the younger, Peckham and Potter are slotted alongside Petry and Schultz the elder and its expected to hang together? I’m hoping coach Krueger won’t stand for a ‘everything works if you let it’ solution to the defensive worries.
- The Gagner deal. Why one year? I think Gagner has done enough to be signed to a longer term, and unless you unload the clip on the contract he’s going to be tradeable long past his 25th birthday. For me, not signing Gagner this past summer tells me the Oilers are going to end up dealing him–and that’s fine I guess, but I’m not confident they’ll get one hundred cents on the dollar. I always felt Kevin Lowe saw Sam Gagner good, but that contact suggests otherwise.
- The general arrogance of the organization. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it in the 80s and was in there like a dirty shirt as a fan (my father-in-law, a wonderful man who has since passed, once hung up the phone on a night when I was especially full of piss and vinegar–Oiler fans in the 80s were a vicious bunch, or could be anyway) during the glory run. However, when Steve Tambellini or Kevin Lowe speak I always get the feeling they are just waiting for the kids to develop and that their jobs are basically over. Bull Durham! This team is in extreme need at backup goalie, top 4 defense and bottom 6F. ALL of those things have to be solved by the GM at some point in time but the Oilers remain pretty much intact year over year. I’d like to see some humility in their words and some action in addressing their weaknesses–not just another mention of the prospects bubbling under. The prospects will arrive eventually, but expecting Oscar Klefbom or Martin Marincin to step right in does no favors to the early portion of the Taylor Hall contract.
- The arena negotiation. I don’t really have much to say, except that time has run out and Daryl Katz has lost the collective empathy of the common fan. Forever.
So that’s it. I’m really not that upset this year, in my opinion the positives are real and spectacular and the negatives are solvable and so obvious they’ll have to be addressed in order to succeed. I love the Schultz-Yakupov additions, think Krueger is going to be terrific and of course MacT is a guy I believe in as a hockey guy.
Happy Festivus to you! I leave you with a song guaranteed to be new to your ears but hopefully you like it. Merry Christmas, be safe.