It has taken me a couple of days to process the end of the year presser that MacT gave. I think I’ve run through the range of emotions and now I’m starting to settle on some key points. In many ways I think the words that came out of MacT’s mouth were an overcorrection to some of the gaffes he’s made speaking publicly before. This time around he would set the bar intentionally low for the Franchise moving forward.
There’s no way to talk about that media availability without acknowledging that MacTavish has indeed set the organization’s goals so low that it would be almost impossible not to reach them. When he called for incremental growth and modest improvement over possibly the worst season in Oiler history I was aghast.
The Oilers set a team record for least amount of Wins in an 82 game season and that’s with the benefit of playing in the Shootout Era where those ties have a 50/50 shot of turning into Wins. They finished exactly 35 points out of a Playoff Spot in the West. This summer the team will have drafted in the top 5 in 5 of the last 6 Drafts. Modest growth isn’t really acceptable, from my point of view.
Is it a reasonable expectation? Probably.
Should the stated goal of a team that’s been out of the Playoffs for 9 years be to get slightly better than 62 points in the standings? No way.
Drew Remenda was on Oilers Now last week and said something to the effect of “If you’re not trying to make the playoffs then you’re in the wrong business.” I made a joke about him obviously being the new guy. Then on Monday MacT said the 2015-2016 season would be another Developmental Year for the club.
There isn’t another organization in the NHL that thinks this is a Developmental league except the Oilers. Hence my immediate disappointment. For the most part we only have their words and actions to judge them by, so speaking to their motivations without any insider knowledge is difficult. But I sincerely hope that MacT just wanted to stop sounding like an idiot and overcorrected with that press conference.
Imagine being Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle, all you’ve ever known is NHL misery, and your General Manager just told everybody who would listen that the team was hoping to make just a small amount of progress next year and it would come mostly internally. Imagine hearing that and also knowing that you are on the verge of having your 5th coach in 6 years.
At some point modest or incremental growth is not going to cut it. I’m sure MacTavish is completely aware of this and I sure hope that his actual plan is different from his stated one because it sounds to me like we’re right back to Tambellini’s Draft High/Win The Cup plan. You might recognize it as:
Draft Super High
What I like the least about this slow growth and keep Drafting high model is that it absolves the team of all accountability. The benchmark for success is so low that achieving it is almost a gimme and any bigger jump makes them look brilliant.
Last year the final league standings looked like this:
This year the Panthers were in competition for a spot right until the final week and all of the Canucks, Flames, and Islanders are in the Playoffs. The NHL is a league where big jumps in year to year performance are possible. To pretend that the Oilers are also exempt from making big leaps is to ignore the truth.
Is it REASONABLE to expect the Oilers can make the playoffs next year? No it is not, but it is also unreasonable to remove expectations completely.
MacTavish was given a chance to expand on his plan for the Blueline by being asked specifically if he was going to find players who could push Klefbom and Schultz back down the order so they weren’t being exposed. This would have been an excellent time to say that the club would try to pursue players to fix this issue. Instead MacT went a different route.
Regarding Klefbom he said this:
He’s grown a lot in the last 25 games. I think he will be a star. No challenge will hurt his development. We could use a couple more like him. We think we have one in the system already.
Regarding Schultz he said this:
No greater springboard to development than failure. The big step is to acknowledge there are things to work on to get better, and I’m satisfied with what I’ve seen recently from Justin that he will respond to that challenge.
This is disconcerting for a couple reasons.
First, it’s very dangerous to assume Klefbom can handle anything and his development will continue in a straight line. He might end up being right but that’s a risk you take begrudgingly, not joyfully. Oscar Klefbom was not perfect down the stretch. There were plenty of mistakes just as there were plenty of successes. And the team has been down the route of pumping the tires of their own young defensemen before they’ve established themselves. These kids don’t always develop the way you want them to.
Second, the notion that failure is the springboard to development sounds like a great motivational poster but it really doesn’t jive with common thinking in hockey development. We constantly hear that we’d rather have X player playing 20 minutes a night at a level they can succeed in than failing in the NHL. MacT is trying to turn that around.
I’m not sure we’ve seen anything from Justin Schultz that indicates he’s going to up the level of his intensity, physicality, gamesmanship, offense, defense, or Sudoku. I’ve been watching a completely different player if MacTavish is satisfied with what Schultz has done recently.
What concerns me the most is that if you combine what he’s said in this press conference and with others is that it truly sounds like MacTavish is happy to have Klefbom-Schultz as the Oilers’ top pairing against in October. Given the state of the defense right now that puts a lot of pressure to make changes to the middle or bottom of the blueline. The problem there is that Ference has a nice deal with a No Move Clause, Fayne was signed just a year ago (and he isn’t the problem), and the Oilers would have to retain half of Nikitin’s deal to move him. That makes Marincin the easiest to move and I think he’s better (and younger) than the previous three I just mentioned.
MacTavish’s statement also implies quite heavily that he thinks the answer to part of the problem is Darnell Nurse. That’s a lot of pressure on a 20 year old kid with a total 34 minutes of NHL experience. He’s a blue chip prospect and one of the best defenders in the OHL, but good grief this team has problems if they’re already counting him in as solutions to their problems on the back end. They should be doing everything in their power to make sure he cant earn a spot next year without beating a solid group of defenders. Instead I fear they think, like Klefbom (apparently), there wont be a situation they can put him in that he can't handle.
As I said at the top, it took me some time to sort out my thoughts on the presser. Ultimately I think the team is guilty yet again of erasing meaningful goals and, as a result, consequences. I also think the plan on Defense sounds vaguely terrifying.
That said, I think most of the words that came out of MacTavish’s mouth were spun to correct for all the BOLD talk from a couple years ago and all the verifiably crazy things that have come out since. As such it’s entirely possible that the Oilers’ aren’t ACTUALLY aiming for slow development modest growth but they haven’t made their expectations public.
If that’s the case then their actions will be the tell. Ultimately there was a lot of hot air but what happens this summer will inform us of their real intentions. So we sit back and wait to see if the team can pick off quality players from Cap Strapped teams, acquire a goalie who instills confidence in the position, and solidify the blueline.
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