As my cousin Dave said over at Oil on Whyte, it seems that, despite MacT’s assertion when he got the GM job that he would make the team bigger and more difficult to play against, he instead resigned himself to simply continuing down the small, skilled path the team was already on. This strategy, contrary to MacT’s other assertion at his introductory press conference as GM that he would not be patient, seems a risk-averse strategy, even lazy in a way: sit back, maintain the status quo. And while many in the local media seem all to happy to be rid of Tambo, can someone tell me what exactly MacT has done that distinguishes him so much from Tambo? Yes, he traded away Horcoff, but he really got nothing back in that deal of substance, and who’s to say Tambo wouldn’t have done similarly? MacT did acquire Perron, but, he paid a steep price to do so, and, contrary to his wanting to make the team more difficult to play against, he got rid of the one guy in the Oilers top 9 who had legitimate size.
One substantive move MacT did make was hire a personal trainer as the Oilers’ new head coach. Ralph was a brutal coach: bizarre line combos and line-matching; rewarding players like Potter for continued shittiness; horrible underuse of Yak on the powerplay; just a bonehead of a guy. He was a horrible hire, and a lazy one: “we need a coach, oh wait, we have the assistant who has helped this team to 30th and 29th place finishes: let’s hire him.”
I don’t think firing Ralph was a risky move at all, and the point I’m trying to make is that MacT came up guns-a-blazin’ in his opening remarks upon taking over as GM: 1) Hemsky & Horcoff will be traded 2) The team will be bigger 3) The team will improve it’s bottom 6 4) Goaltending will be improved.
So, keeping those 4 points in mind, MacT has scored 0.5/4. I’d say the bottom 6 is again going to be a huge negative for the team this year: Gordon is hardly an improvement on Horcoff (in fact, offensively he’s a downgrade); Smyth is another year older and shittier; Jones, same story; the bottom 6 is just as weak and un-intimidating as ever. They are hardly capable of swinging the momentum of a game, and, to me, look like they will have the ice tilted against them whenever they’re out on the ice.
Dubnyk, as Tyler Dellow pointed out, isn’t really going to improve: he is what he is: a middle of the pack starter who is always going to allow a soft goal, on average, about once every 2 to 3 games. So, where does this leave the team?
Exactly the same place they were at under Tambo: relying on the slow maturation of their young talented players, who, again, have been done a disservice by a GM; this time, however, instead of the GM sitting on his hands (Tambo), MacT talks a bold game, in fact much too bold and naive (proclaiming Hemsky will be traded, then deciding to keep him; making it public knowledge he was after Schneider and Clarkson and failing to land either of them), and fails to deliver results.
The concern with the Oilers is that losing will simply become all our young players know: you can’t expect Nuge, Hallsy, Yak, Schultz and Ebs to play like veterans at this stage in their careers. We need veterans in our bottom-6 and our defense who don’t bring the team down (Smyth, N. Schultz) but instead show leadership and inspire the young players with their example of intelligent, good play, which leads to results. It’s very conceivable, if you took any 2 of Hall, Nuge, Ebs, Schultz or Yak and threw them on a team like Boston, Vancouver, the Rangers, the Sharks, the Ducks…the list goes on, that that team would instantly become the odds-on-favorite to win a cup. What this shows is that it’s veterans the Oilers desperately require: not 4/5/6 guys like Ference, but true elite talent that can provide the winning professional example (ie. Pronger) that this team has lacked since Crissy decided Edmonton was unliveable.
To do requires taking risks: the Oilers should’ve shipped out Gagner this off-season and maybe even someone like Eberle to bring in an established, top-flight veteran to reset the trajectory of this team. Until we do, we’re just going to have to wait and wait and wait until the young players have attained a level of maturity and leadership such that they are bona fide, seasoned pros. The concern, however, is that, while no doubt these players are talented and will only get better, the group may not coalesce into a winning team in Edmonton because no one is captaining the ship. The young players are the best players on this team: they are learning on the fly. They are picking up bad habits: they are learning to lose. Yes, they will be able to score, and will only score more as their NHL experience amasses, but being able to score goals is hardly what is required to win championships.
The point is that this team still has so many fundamental holes: they are small up-front and down the middle; they have suspect goaltending; they have some nice D prospects but these guys (Nurse, Klefbom) are at least 3 years away from seriously contributing, while the only true top 2 dman who is on the team (Schultz) is just entering his first full NHL season. So long as management continues to not bring in a true top-flight veteran player to show this team what it takes to win, nepotism (Smyth, KLowe, MacT) and mediocrity will be the order of the day.
One can’t expect to achieve success without taking risks: yes, trading Eberle and Gagner away is fraught with disaster, but until the Oilers do something drastic, all fans have to look forward is a modicum of improvement each year, a slow, painful process of maturation until our true leaders–Hall, Nuge, Yak–are entering their mid-20s. As of now, Hall, the oldest of the 3, will turn 22 this season. One shouldn’t confuse the Hawks and Penguins with this group; instead, look at the example 1990-1992 Nords. That team was bursting with talent–Sakic, Sundin, Nolan–but it wasn’t until they traded away Lindros for some veterans (Duchesne, Hextall) that the team took off.
Until then, all MacT has acquired is a new head coach–a rookie head coach–who, just like any position in pro-hockey, is going to suffer growing pains along with the team. There’s no doubt the Oilers’ are on an upward trajectory–mostly because after finishing 30th, 30th, 29th, and 24th, they are undoubtedly going to finish higher–but the fear is that this team won’t reach its true potential as a championship team unless these young players start seeing the example of a true top-flight NHL professional veteran, instead of the likes of Smyth and Ference. Make no mistake: while at least Ference has won, it’s not him that drove the Bruins; it’s guys like Chara and Tim Thomas–amazing players who brought the Bruins the cup.
We have several such players on our team–Nuge, Hall, Yak–but these guys must be shown the way. And MacT, like his predecessor, has sat on his hands, unwilling or unable to bring in a true leader, to do the difficult task of clearing brush, so that the Oilers can make their way out of the dense forest of losing they’re currently suffering through, and out the other side to vindication and victory.