Edmonton - March 25, 2014 - On the heels of the Dallas Eakins - Taylor Hall incident and a pair of disappointing losses to the Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames, the time has come for Craig MacTavish and the rest of the Edmonton Oilers management team to take a long hard look in the mirror and figure out exactly what it is they are trying to accomplish.
While the head coach and team’s best player have been ripped to shreds for the spectacle that unfolded on the Oilers bench during their 8-1 thumping at hands of the provincial rivals, we have yet to hear as much as a peep from management.
As embarrassing as Saturday night was, the continued shots this organization and their players have endured in recent days have been far worse.
Everyone knows this is broken and has been for some time. While expecting MacTavish to fix everything that was wrong with this team in one off season was never realistic, this group continues to show little, if any, improvement. That said, using one Band-Aid solution after another isn’t working and it needs to be dealt with this summer or this thing will just continue to spiral out of control.
First and foremost, this collection of players obviously isn’t good enough. Anyone who watches this team play with any sort of regularity knows what ills this roster from a talent perspective. They need a different dimension upfront and their lack of quality NHL defencemen goes without saying. There are holes throughout this lineup that need addressing but the one constant this organization continues to nickel and dime on is leadership.
It started with the return of Ryan Smyth to Oil Country prior to the start of the 2011-12 campaign and continued with the signing of blueliner Andrew Ference during last summer’s Free Agent Frenzy. While both players have leadership qualities this team needs, they are basically in the same situation former captain Shawn Horcoff was forced into.
When you have a roster filled with the likes of Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, and Nail Yakupov all being used in major roles, not to mention Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin getting their first taste of NHL hockey, one would think having leaders on board who are still capable of playing a central role to help these damn kids along would be high on the priority list. Instead of going out and finding someone in the prime years of their career who could actually help Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins do the heavy lifting, they continue to spin their wheels and look towards Ference, Smyth and the recently acquired Matt Hendricks to lead the way.
With that being the case, should anyone really be surprised this group can’t take a true step forward in their development? They need help and outside of Horcoff, and even he was a stretch, none of the aforementioned players are capable of helping these kids turn this ship around. As hard as those grizzled vets may work they are not difference makers and should not be expected to help show this young core how to lead and carry this group forward because none of them have the slightest clue as to how to go about accomplishing it.
Teams who win a lot of hockey games generally have quality role players littered throughout their roster but when it comes to carrying the mail, it is the guys who play on the top two lines and eat major minutes on the backend that lead the charge. As of this moment, the Edmonton Oilers do not have one of those players and expecting kids who are between the ages of 20 to 24 to do it is a recipe for disaster…which is exactly what this has become.
Now is this mess entirely on Craig MacTavish? Of course not but it is his job to fix and he is well aware of it. That said, anyone expecting this to be fixed by the start of the 2014-15 season is kidding themselves but there had better be some new bodies in place that can actually help these kids along. Anything short of that would be completely inexcusable.
Call it a need for those so-called “bold” moves or whatever the hell you would like but at this stage of the game the focus has to be on finding this core some real support. Make no mistake, these kids need to be better but they could really benefit from a lifeline or two being thrown their way.