With all of the talent the Edmonton Oilers have accumulated over the past few seasons, the team is extremely close to taking the next step and finally competing for a playoff position. It can be argued that the team should already be at that point, but as 2013 proved, the Oilers are still missing some crucial elements to help round out the roster.
The Oilers are in a fortunate position to have so many talented young forwards and to have signed free agent Justin Schultz prior to the 2013 season, but the team needs to change the dynamic on the ice.
Here are the five missing pieces keeping the Edmonton Oilers from being a playoff team.
Bold moves may be one of the missing pieces to the puzzle for the Oilers.
While this is no longer a missing piece, this piece was holding the team back from competing for a playoff spot.
Steve Tambellini was often criticized for his slow decision-making process and his unwillingness to make some hard decisions regarding personnel.
Take the Sheldon Souray situation. The way it panned out was embarrassing for the Oilers franchise—from the albatross contract to the memo not to attend training camp when Taylor Hall was about to enter his first season. Everything about the situation was mishandled by Tambellini.
Enter Craig MacTavish. When he became GM, he outright said that he was impatient and was willing to make bold moves in order to take the team to the next level.
This approach could come back to haunt the team—if, for instance, they were to trade a player, like Jordan Eberle or Magnus Paajarvi, who then goes on to have a stellar NHL career—but sometimes you have to take a risk in order to try to shake things up.
The writing appears to be on the wall for Shawn Horcoff and his tenure with the Oilers.
Shawn Horcoff is a great player for the Oilers and a pretty decent captain, but the captain of such a young franchise needs to hold players accountable and lead by example.
Horcoff plays the game with a ton of grit and heart but lacks the skill to be able to help the talented young players or to play with them. Thus, he has been relegated to the third line since “The Kid Line” has come to prominence in the NHL.
Lately, the NHL has seen a trend of young players assuming captaincy roles on teams, and this very well could happen in Edmonton, but the team could also be well served by promoting a guy whom the young players respect and who can lead by example on the ice.
Ladislav Smid is a name that comes to mind from within. Though he's not as vocal as some of the other Oilers, Smid leaves it all on the ice every game and is a strong example of the effort needed to help the franchise take the next step.
The Oilers need to find a defenseman who can anchor the team like Chris Pronger did in their miracle Stanley Cup run.
The Oilers only have to look back to the 2005-2006, when they brought in Chris Pronger, to see what kind of impact one legitimate No.1 defender can have on a team.
While Dwayne Roloson was a marvel, it can be argued that Pronger almost single-handedly carried the Oilers to within one game of the Stanley Cup, and since Pronger left town under dubious circumstances, the Oilers have floundered.
Edmonton has nice complementary defensive pieces in the likes of Smid, Schultz and the developing Petry, as well as the future potential of a guy like Oscar Klefbom, but it lacks a player who can log big minutes against the top stars in the NHL.
There are few of these types of defenders available in the NHL, but the Oilers have the assets to go out and make a serious effort in an attempt to acquire one.
Energy player Ryan Jones has fallen out of favor in Edmonton.
The teams who have had success and are able to compete for playoff positions season after season feature role players who are more than just bodies on the ice; they go out there and serve purposes and play roles.
Whether it is a shutdown line or an energy line, the Oilers need to find the right balance of skill and grit on their third and fourth lines that will not only change the culture of the team but also provide a different dimension to the Oilers attack on a nightly basis.
Ryan Jones, a one-time fan favorite, is likely to find himself on another team next season due to the fact that his energy wasn’t there after returning from injury, and his contributions were nowhere to be found.
The Oilers need to be able to roll four lines at any given time if they ever want to be legitimate playoff contenders.
The Oilers could use an energetic power forward like David Clarkson amongst their ranks.
The Oilers can have all the speed and puck skill in the world, but unless they can add a physical presence or two to the lineup, they will continue to be a relatively “easy” team to play against.
The team is likely to make a serious push for players such as David Clarkson and Nathan Horton. Both are free agents at the end of the 2013 season and would bring an added dimension to the Oilers attack.
Edmonton needs to establish a bit of an edge and could use more truculence throughout their lineup, not only to provide a bit of security for the younger speedsters up front but also to set the tone for the rest of the team.
If the Oilers could add a big, physical forward to one of their top two forward lines, the team could finally begin to take the next step and compete for a playoff spot.