There’s times in life where you can only wait so long before you become inpatient. Whether that’s waiting in line all night for concert tickets, the newest iPhone, or playoff tickets for your favorite hockey team. But the aforementioned has established potential and the wait is even worse when you wait for that potential to blossom.
That’s how fans in Edmonton feel about the Oilers. The Oilers have a stockpile of young, explosive talent and there has to be some sort of deadline for them to blossom as a team before pieces have to be sold off due to the nature of the salary cap. We all know about the three No. 1 draft picks in Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. Last year was a downturn for Nugent-Hopkins as he scored only four goals in 40 games. That sub-par performance cannot occur again this season if the Oilers expect to skate in the spring instead of setting up vacations with their families.
The Oilers did make many moves in the front office since the spring. Gone are GM Steve Tambellini and coach Ralph Krueger. Now in charge is Craig MacTavish as GM and he brought in former Toronto Marlies bench boss Dallas Eakins. MacTavish brought in Eakins because he feels he’s the best man that can groom and develop the young stars as he has, as what he did while in the AHL. But as what we’ve seen in football and basketball, sometimes coaching younger players at the college level doesn’t always translate smoothly to the professional level.
This is the beginning of a make-or-break era for the young core. Free agency for the young stars begin as early as this summer.
The firepower the Oilers have on the roster reminds fans of the glory days of the late 1980’s when they had legends Gretzky, Messier, Coffey and Kurri at the same time.
Scoring goals isn’t the problem with the Oilers. To complement the young players, they have veteran help in the likes of San Gagner Ales Hemsky, and Ryan Smyth. Hemsky and Smyth have UFA status looming on the horizon as they have expiring contracts at the end of this season. Harnessing that talent is a good problem to have, but the problem Eakins will have is to establish consistency and have them play two-way hockey.
On the power play, they were eighth in the league at 20.1 percent. Yakupov led the team with six power play goals. Despite Hemsky scoring nine goals last season, give came on the power play.
The Oilers have had success drafting players up front, but that left the defense feel a little neglected. They were 19th in goals allowed last season, so they did have some consistency on defense. They did luck out a few years ago winning the Justin Schultz sweepstakes, but he’s up for free agency after this season so there has to be money saved for him under the salary cap.
The big signing the Oilers had was with hometown native Andrew Ference from Boston. He’ll be able to team with Schultz, Ladislav Smid, and Nick Schultz to form the core of the blue line. Help will be on the way in a couple years as they used their 2013 first round pick on Darnell Nurse.
One thing they did well last season was controlling the other teams power play as they were ninth in the league on the penalty kill at 83.4 percent.
Devan Dubnyk is the current No. 1 goalie, but that could change after they signed Jason LaBarbera during the off season. MacTavish has been known to be impatient with goalies back to his days as a coach. Who knows if he’ll show more patience as a general manager and force Eakins to make changes in net.
The outlook for the Oilers look good. This is the beginning of a make-or-break era for the young core. With the new playoff format, the chances of the Oilers making the playoffs look great. Edmonton’s fans have been waiting years for a playoff team just like in Winnipeg. If they can make the playoffs, they can be a difficult team to play on the road.