The Edmonton Oilers Have Struck Oil

To say the Edmonton Oilers have stumbled in their rebuild would be an understatement. With no playoff appearances since 2006, the team has had three straight first overall picks and more than five different head coaches in that span of time. The Oilers have been criticized endlessly for poor management, lack of leadership and rushing their young players too soon. But after a flurry of moves this the past month along with some incredible luck, it appears that the Edmonton Oilers are getting back on track again.

Hiring Peter Chiarelli, who was recently fired by the Boston Bruins, as general manager and president of hockey operations was the first key move the Oilers made. Hiring an experienced GM who has managed a Stanley Cup winning team represents a culture change in Edmonton, where winning consistently is like a distant memory. Chiarelli took a lot of heat in his last few years in Boston after trading young star Tyler Seguin and defenceman Johnny Boychuk and watched the Bruins miss the playoffs this past season. But he is still respected around the league and made plenty of other good moves as the Bruins GM.¬†Chiarelli’s biggest challenge will be how to fix the on-ice product. The team lacks depth and veteran leadership at key positions, as the kids have had to find their own way to middling results.

Goaltending is a major issue that the Oilers need to address. Neither Ben Scrivens or Viktor Fasth are number-one goalies and you need to have good goaltending to win. Having a solid number-one goalie who can handle a heavy workload could do wonders for this team’s confidence. But finding one isn’t easy and the Oilers’ best bet would be to trade for one. Perhaps the Ottawa Senators could be a willing trade partner, as they recently resigned goaltender Andrew Hammond which means either Robin Lehner or Craig Anderson could be on the way out.

Lehner is the younger, cheaper option while Anderson would be a solid veteran presence. Or perhaps the Oilers will look to target a goaltending prospect instead. Could a deal with the Montreal Canadiens be had? The Habs are offensively starved and could be interested in one of Edmonton’s young forwards in exchange for prospect Zachary Fucale or backup Dustin Tokarski. Free agency features former Oiler Devan Dubnyk, while Antti Niemi could be a decent stop-gap solution in the short term.

Edmonton has struggled to attract star free agents during the rebuild, as they don’t have the prestige of an Original Six team or happen to have the sunny lifestyle of a California or Florida to counteract the lack of winning. But players will go places where they are convinced they can win and if Edmonton can undergo a complete culture change, their perception around the league will change dramatically.

Another shrewd move the Oilers made was getting a veteran head coach in Todd McLellan. While he didn’t get the attention Mike Babcock got in Toronto, McLellan is a pretty good coach too and the Oilers wasted no time in trying to get his services. He only missed the playoffs once in his seven-year head coaching career with the San Jose Sharks, who were a consistently good team. McLellan recently coached Team Canada to a gold medal at the IIHF World Hockey Championships where he got a head start on coaching current Oilers Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. He even discussed Connor McDavid and the pressures of being the next great superstar with Sidney Crosby.

Having a steady veteran coach can only help the young Oilers. With numerous coaches over the past several years, there was no consistency behind the bench, which made an already painful rebuild more difficult. McLellan has a lot of experience and could be a stabilizing force for a team that desperately needs one.

Then there is McDavid. The Oilers shockingly won the draft lottery and jumped from third to first in the lottery, surpassing the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes for the chance to draft the game’s best prospect since Crosby. McDavid is the kind of player who can change a franchise with his on ice abilities and his character off the ice. With respect to the Oilers’ other first overall picks in Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov, they¬†aren’t franchise changers in the same way McDavid is.

Barring any crazy scenarios that unfold from now to the draft, McDavid will be picked first overall and play in the NHL next season. The hype that will follow him will be enormous and the amount of media covering Edmonton will skyrocket. McDavid will help give this team an identity and be a franchise face in hopes that this rebuild gets back on track in the right direction.

The Edmonton Oilers are nowhere near being a contender just yet but getting Chiarelli and McLellan at the helm are two of the best moves Edmonton has made in years. Getting McDavid gives the Oilers a superstar in the making to build around and sell the rebuild. After stumbling around for the past several years, it appears that Edmonton just might get it right this time.

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