There are decisions about this Oilers team that need to be made this season. After 1/4 of the year the Oilers find themselves ranked 9th in the West. That’s Flames territory right there.
Undeniably 9th in the West is an unenviable position. Its too good to have a significant chance of winning the Draft Lottery but its outside the Playoffs. Even in a deep draft year like 2013 is heralded as being, drafting 13th or 14th is outside the high potential draft positions. Sometimes the picks turn into Hemsky, sometimes they turn into Marek Zagrapan.
Naturally the Oilers need to make some hard decisions, but the good news is that no matter what choice they make they can claim it was part of the plan all along. The Oilers are on year 4 of this rebuild by my count (Fall for Hall, Losing Options for Nugent Hopkins, Fail for Nail, 2013) and they are no longer basement dwellers. The problem is they arent world beaters either. Hey, any team that can only muster 14 shots against Columbus is a suspect.
So the question of the day, and possibly the season, is “Should the Oilers go for it?” Should Edmonton start buying pieces to try to make the playoffs? Lets take a peek at the lineup right now as it stands.
These combinations or something very close to it will be the Oilers lineup until Lander and Horcoff come back, give or take a VandeVelde. As many intelligent Oiler observers have held all along, the top line will be whichever Hemsky is on. Right now its hard to find an issue with the top 6 in general outside of the fact that Nuge and Eberle arent scoring the way they could be. I think Eberle will score a little more than he is now, I think RNH will score A LOT more than he is now. Things will even themselves out there.
On this list the Belanger trio is listed as the 4th line, I think of them as the 3rd, but whatever. I like this group. Paajarvi has all the tools to be a heck of a player for a long time. Harski has attributes that make him very attractive to coaches. He is a big body who doesnt mind going to the tough places, and he has played with elite talent in the past. And Belanger can take a faceoff if nothing else. The rest of the bottom 6 guys all have roles to play and I think they understand them. Petrell is a trusted penalty killer on one of the league’s better penalty kills, for example. If Ryan Smyth could control his lumber things would be a little smoother though.
This right now is a bit of a question mark for the Oilers. I dont think they anticipated Ryan Whitney being as bad as he has been. I think its safe to say they werent expecting him to be a top 2 guy, but they needed him to be top 4. Right now he isnt even top 6. If it werent for the Stellar play of wonder rookie Justin Schultz there would be a daily thrashing of the Oilers D in the local papers. Personally I dont have an issue with the top 5 defenders. Schultz the elder, Schultz the younger, Smid, Petry, and Fistric are decent players. The problem is that the Oilers need another Defenseman that can play in the top pair. Justin Schultz is one such player, who is the other one?
Who knew that Edmonton would get such good goaltending from Dubnyk and Khabibulin? The Oilers gave Dubnyk a fair sum of money for someone who had accomplished almost nothing in his career. The fact that it paid off is a miracle.
Where do the Oilers need the most upgrading? I would hope that most Oilers fans could at least agree that Ryan Whitney has to be shipped to the moon for whatever NASA is willing to spare in return (moon cheese?).
The core of the Oilers forward group is right there in their top 6. The only one over 23 is Ales Hemsky at the ripe old age of 29. I think 25 teams in the league would trade forward groups with Edmonton given the chance. In net Dubnyk’s Sv% is 6th in the NHL for goalies who have played more than 6 games. He is peppered with shots every night and playing lights out hockey.
The Fact is the team is very young and only now learning how to win. Half the starting forwards are either rookies or played in OKC this fall because they were eligible. I think it would be a foolish move to try and load up on players to make the playoffs. Short term rewards are fool’s gold right now. Even if the Oilers make the playoffs, can we really expect them to make a huge run when so many have never even been able to sustain winning in the regular season?
If its my club, I’m the general manager, then I’m only looking for one thing. I want another top 4 defenseman. If I can find one then I’m willing to part with one of my prospects and a sub-3rd round pick. More preferably, I want a long term answer to “Who will play with Justin Schultz?” If I can find him then, and ONLY THEN am I willing to pay up.
The rebuild might be in its 4th year but this isnt the Roster I want to hang my hat on. They’re too young, too immature, too Whitneyish to bank on. Adding just enough to make the playoffs or get damned close is a waste of resources. If the Oilers arent getting another key piece to the puzzle then they shouldnt be selling their future for the present just yet.
Now Whitney, lets just hope some fool Eastern team still thinks he can play.