Edmonton Oilers Dark Days Ahead
Where are We?
The Oilers find themselves at the end of another truly disappointing season. Despite making it to the Western Conference finals, Edmonton failed to put up a fight against the Colorado Avalanche. As the offseason approaches it’s time to take a look at what went wrong. First and foremost, Ken Holland once again failed to get his team in a place to truly compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Oilers have used the same game plan for the past seven seasons. Let McDavid and Leon Draisaitl drag the rest of the team. For McDavid’s entire professional career he has been the single driving force and best player in the league. Unfortunately, this is not the recipe for success and the onus should be placed on the front office.
There is no reason that Edmonton should struggle as much as they do. They will never be able to get over the hump until they start taking things more seriously. First things first, let’s look at goaltending. The Oilers have been the dying place for old goalies at the end of their careers. Nothing against Mike Smith but the 40-year-old netminder is not the answer for this team.
Dark Days Ahead
Worse than that, the Oilers may be facing dark days with their current cap and draft situation. Edmonton currently has to resign or replace ten players and deal with Duncan Keith and Smith. The Oilers only have four draft picks this year, none between the second and fourth rounds. Smith is 40 and considering retirement which would leave the team without a goalie again. Their only hope to improve their limited $7.1 million in cap space is to have the 39-year-old Keith retire and hope they recoup his $5.5 cap hit.
The Oilers have to decide who they need to bring back and how they want to do it. Unless they have multiple hidden gems in the minors, this might be the toughest season for McDavid and Draisaitl. At the very least the team needs to try and bring back Kris Russell, the shot-blocking defenseman. If Evander Kane actually helps them like he did this postseason, then he too. They also need to look at Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Josh Archibald, and Ryan Mcleod.
There are many contributing factors that have stopped the Oilers from improving since Wayne Gretzky left. First, they are in Edmonton and it is not exactly a great selling point for big-name free agents. It’s cold and miserable most of the year. Second, they have a toxic media market, like most teams in Canada making players less eager to play there. Why would any player choose to go somewhere and have the fans and media hounding them after a bad game? This has been shown in many cases none more prevalent than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. When he came into the league as a lottery pick, he was supposed to turn the team around, but he didn’t. Until McDavid came and took all the pressure off of him, he was nowhere near as big of a contributor.
While the front office has no control over the location and living space, they should be concerned about the roster. Why is it so hard to get players to want to play with the best player since Sidney Crosby and the Great One? The difference is Wayne had a great goaltender and people would come. Until the Oilers decide to get a real number one who can win a cup, they will always fall short. The fans and team should also be concerned about the mentality of the team. Much like their eastern counterpart, Toronto Maple Leafs, who always underperform, they have the same problem. Mentality and culture. No one wants to work in a toxic environment and that applies to athletes as well. With constant attention and ruthless criticism for a single mistake, the Canadian media market makes it unbearable to play.
Can it be fixed?
The Oilers have a rabidly loyal fanbase, the best player in the league, and a brand-new building. That still isn’t enough to help this team. Holland took over in 2019 and needs to start improving the culture. Until fans and the team hold the media and themselves accountable nothing will change. Holland came from Detroit and despite having success early in his time there, he spent the last 10 years watching the team decline. Free agency is going to be a key in getting players to go to Edmonton. Edmonton needs to sign lots of guys and make internal changes if they hope to ever win the Stanley Cup again. This draft is not going to hold many answers and the time has come to help McDavid. This team is talented but still requires some help before they will get over the hump.