Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Blessing And The Curse

So, there I was, sitting there, watching the draft lottery unfold thinking, there is no way the Oilers can win the lottery, the NHL can't possibly let this happen. The Oilers will end up with one of Murray or Grigorenko and the evolution of the Oilers can continue to unfold. But once the Oilers logo was uncoverd in the #1 envelope, everything changed, and I mean everything. While most of Oilerdom look on with gleeful disbelief, I was my more looking on in an "OH NO!" type state. This is a spot where winning the lottery could set the rebuild off its course.

There is a fine young prospect, Nail Yakapov, who is the "consensus" #1 pick and as expected from the time the lottery ended right up until now, the chants for name to be spoken by the Oilers at the draft are getting louder and louder. And while I don't deny he's a fine prospect, I wouldn't label him a franchise player, nor would I label any of the prospects in this draft a franchise player. Yakapov might be the best player at what he does in the draft but the gap between #1 and #5 is not as big as all the pundits seem to want to suggest. This group includes, Yakapov, Ryan Murray, Mikhail Grigorenko, Alex Galchenyuk, and Jacob Trouba. All of these players will be fine high end additions for any franchise, but I wouldn't label any of these players as "centerpieces" to a hockey team. A player that you would build a team around and expect to win.

All of this leads me back to the Oilers. Of course, the Oilers don't need a franchise player in this draft, they have at least two, perhaps three already skating on Rexall ice. The question you have to ask is.... which player can make the biggest impact on this club, now and in the future, regarding skillset, ability to play, where do they slot in the depth chart, position played...yada yada yada, and on down the line. Which player will help this team win? Do the Oilers really need a 2nd line left or right winger, now or in the future? And is it more important than a first pairing Dman or a 2nd line center? In my mind, its not. I guess that depends on what you think becomes of Taylor Hall and/or Jordan Eberle. Magnus Paajarvi and Ales Hemsky are also a part of that conversation. If you are worried about Taylor Hall's injury history or Magnus Paajarvi becoming a bust or Ales Hemsky never finding his groove again, then the rebuild is a failure anyway. That's when the Oilers find themselves in a perpetual rebuild. Out with the old, in with the new, over and over again. Enough with the shiny new toys, its time to give the pieces the Oilers currently have, some complementary pieces they can work with, pieces that will mask their own weaknesses. Just because the Oilers happened to win the lottery on a stroke of luck, doesn't mean the plan should be deviated from. The Oilers need to continue to limit the weaknesses of this hockey club until they are so small, no NHL coach or manager will be able to identify it.

The beef I have with a large portion of Oilers' fans these days is they think in terms of goals = wins. Score a butt tonne of goals and we will win a butt tonne of games. Goals, goals, goals, wins. wins, wins. While I partially agree with this, I try to break down things into finer points. As in, how the goals are going to be scored, where are the goals coming from, and are we going to be able to score more than the other guys? Hockey has turned into a puck possession/retrieval game. The more you have the puck and protect the puck, the better the chance of winning the game. While the Oilers are trying mightily to work on puck possession, puck retrieval is sorely lacking and will continue to lack until the Oilers find some puck moving Dmen, game-managing centers and robust wingers who can win a board battle. Nail Yakapov is a stout winger but is much more effective in open space than he is along the boards, so he will be a lot like the rest of the forwards on the Oilers. Hockey isn't basketball where we can run isolation, 1on1 type plays. Puck movement and puck retrieval are very important in todays game.

All in all, Steve Tambellini is in a real tough spot, made tougher with the lottery win. All it did was add another unneeded option to the ledger. The Oilers' brass are stuck in no man's land. If they take Yakapov and don't deal with other weaknesses, they will likely be back in the lottery next year, in which case Tambellini should be out of a job at that point. If they leave the alleged "best player available" on the table and he turns out to be a very important piece for someone else, the fans will be on the witchhunt, regardless of how well the Oilers improve themselves. If the Oilers were drafting 2nd or 3rd, they would add a Murray or Grigorenko, add a piece they need and could use, all while drafting the "BPA". But with Yakapov now being added to the mix and being highly touted by everyone, including Oilers' fans, I don't see this ending well. Is Tambellini going to have the balls to go against the fans like Glen Sather did when he took Steve Kelly over Shane Doan? If he did, I feel it would be met with better results. This is where the trust in scouting and player development needs to be top notch. Can the Oilers take a little less to gain a little more?

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