Edmonton Oilers' Goal Celebration
With yet another season without NHL playoff hockey in Edmonton, fans, media and the Edmonton Oilers’ brass need to focus on the 2013-14 season.
Fan patience seems to be reaching its limit with the Oilers’ rebuild moving into season four—yes, the camp that argues it began in earnest in 2010 is correct—although, there is limited merit to the argument that it began as early as 2008.
While many fans and pundits thought this might be the year to end the playoff drought, it was obviously a stretch to project this.
Too many holes remained on this roster, youthful inconsistencies abounded, and a coaching change meant a new defensive system had to be absorbed too quickly in this lockout-shortened campaign.
If new GM Craig MacTavish can make the following three things happen, the team can make the playoffs in 2014.
Phoenix Coyotes' Mike Smith
The Nikolai Khabibulin experiment is over and needs to be put in the rear-view mirror.
While Khabibulin cannot be blamed for this team missing the playoffs, his tenure in Edmonton has been an abject failure.
Devan Dubnyk has emerged as an upper-tier goaltender and can be relied upon to play 55 to 65 games per season moving forward.
That still leaves approximately 25 appearances for a backup goaltender, and the Oilers need to be aggressive in pursuing potential backups.
Phoenix’s Mike Smith would seem to be one potential candidate for the Oilers to pursue in the summer months.
Captain Shawn Horcoff
The Oilers’ farm system does not seem capable of filling this need, so the team will need to go elsewhere.
The Oilers have had these kinds of players in the fold in recent years: Kyle Brodziak, Curtis Glencross and Jarret Stoll being three of the best.
But they have not been replaced with enough consistent players in the bottom six, and the Oilers need to remedy this quickly.
After Lennart Petrell, Mike Brown and Shawn Horcoff, other players should not feel comfortable with their current roster spot on the bottom two lines.
Hopefully Ryan Jones’ inconsistent play will be isolated to this season as he’s been quite good in most respects prior to his recent eye injury.
If that is not the case, his roster spot may be in jeopardy.
Oilers' Justin Schultz
The Oilers must upgrade their defense core.
While it may be very challenging to do this for MacTavish, he has committed publicly to being bold and aggressive.
Improving his defense is critical to the Oilers having a much better regular season next year and making the 2014 playoffs.
While a handful of potential additions, such as Mark Streit, might be available via free agency, the Oilers will likely have to trade at least one of their talented young forwards, one of their current defensemen, outside of Jeff Petry, Ladislav Smid, Nick Schultz or Justin Schultz and likely a first- or second-round pick to get a first-rate rearguard.
That may seem like a lot to give up, but Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin are at least another year away (or should be) as the Oilers must continue to develop defensive prospects with care and a long-term view.
If MacTavish can make all of this happen over the next four to five months then the Oilers have a realistic chance of making the 2014 playoffs.
Anything less may mean another high draft pick in 2014, and a significant number of fans are likely to say they have finally had enough.