Solutions to the 3 Biggest Problems Faced by the Edmonton Oilers in 2013
2013 was a season of missed opportunities for the Edmonton Oilers that saw the team once again finish outside of the playoffs extending the postseason drought to seven straight seasons.
While the Oilers have a handful of highly skilled forwards, it became obvious as the condensed season came to a close that the team was lacking in several key areas.
Nail Yakupov emerged as another potent threat for the team and Justin Schultz provided the team with a skilled puck-moving defenseman, but overall, the Oilers didn't perform up to expectations.
The three biggest problems facing the Oilers in 2013 were physicality, defensive struggles and a lack of complementary forwards to fill out the bottom three lines.
Here are the solutions to the those three biggest problems that led to the Oilers' struggles in 2013.
Honorable Mention: Goaltending
While the goaltending of Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin might not have been big problems for the Oilers this season, it certainly appeared that the tandem wasn't quite the answer in net either.
Dubnyk had pretty solid numbers, posting a 2.57 goals against average and a .920 save percentage but never really seemed to step up and cement his place as a bona fide No. 1 guy for the Oilers.
While there aren't a lot of free-agent goaltenders heading into the 2013 offseason there is one name that stands out from the list and who could be a great addition for the Oilers.
Mike Smith, formally of the Phoenix Coyotes may not have had as good of a season in 2012-2013 as he did the season before, but Smith has emerged as a legitimate No.1 guy in the NHL and at the age of 31 could be a solid option for the Oilers should they look to secure him to a multi-year deal.
Smith is already used to the tough opposition in the Western Conference and has played on a Phoenix team that, like Edmonton, has had their share of struggles over the years.
Adding Physical Forwards Such as Nathan Horton or David Clarkson
Since assuming the role of general manager for the Edmonton Oilers, Craig MacTavish has said all of the right things and is promising change in Oil Country for next season.
While Edmonton certainly has the assets to acquire some physical forwards via trades, the first step should be to look to add players via free agency.
Two potential targets for the Oilers could be Nathan Horton and David Clarkson.
Horton, 27, has a long history of serious injuries and would represent a significant risk/reward move for the team. When healthy, Horton has proven that he possesses high-end offensive talent as well being able to play the game with toughness that the Oilers currently lack on their forward lines.
Horton is coming off a six-year, $24 million contract with the Boston Bruins and will likely command $3.5 million per season on his next deal, but at 27, he still has plenty of good hockey left ahead of him.
David Clarkson is another rugged forward who proved last season that he also has the ability to provide offense when called upon.
The New Jersey Devil had a very strong season on a subpar Devils team. Clarkson registered 24 points in 48 games but managed to rack up 78 penalty minutes in the process.
The Oilers need a player or two who isn't afraid to play the body, and if they could move a player like Ales Hemsky to free up salary space as well as a roster spot, an addition of a physical power forward would help to make Edmonton harder to play against next season.
What may not be known is that Edmonton has quite the cache of young defensemen in its organization who could have the potential of making an impact on the NHL level as early as next season.
Oscar Klefbom is expected to compete for a position next year and guys like Martin Marincin and Martin Gernat might not be too far beyond, but it is unrealistic to think that these young players will help solve the Oilers defensive woes.
Edmonton needs a legitimate top-two defender capable of playing big minutes and matching up against the top players from across the NHL.
With a relatively weak free-agent pool of defensemen heading into the 2013 offseason, the Oilers will likely have to acquire a solid defensemen via trade.
Edmonton would do well to look at a team such as St.Louis as a potential trade partner, as both Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk are restricted free agents entering the offseason and will command raises from their current $3.16 million and $1.3 million contracts, respectively.
Pietrangelo has emerged as a franchise defenseman this season and it is unlikely that St.Louis would ever part with him, but Shattenkirk also appears ready to play significant minutes in a major role.
With the Blues taking on Jay Bouwmeester's contract with one-year and $6.68 million left, as well as Barret Jackman's contract with two years and $3.16 million, the team will have hard decisions on its hands as far as money allotted to defensemen.
Edmonton could part with its seventh overall draft pick and players such as Sam Gagner (who is also currently a restricted free-agent) or Magnus Paajarvi to try and acquire a top defender for next season.
Role Players Who Can Contribute
The Oilers woefully lacked offensive contribution from their bottom two lines, and this lack of offensive depth as well as role players was one of the most pressing issues faced in 2013.
Players like Ryan Jones, Ryan Smyth and Eric Belanger were all expected to play key roles for the club but at times appeared to hinder the team rather than help it.
Jones and Belanger are likely gone, and Craig MacTavish will look to add players who can step into a certain role for the team and contribute in that vein.
It is unlikely that the Oilers are looking to add older players to their roster, as moves such as the Ryan Smyth trade or the Belanger signing have proven to be disappointments.
There are plenty of unrestricted free agents who would make great additions to fill out the Oilers' third and fourth lines, such as Raffi Torres, Ryan Clowe, Eric Nystrom, Derek Roy and perhaps even Dustin Penner (though it is more than unlikely Penner would ever sign in Edmonton again).
Players like Torres and Nystrom are the types of on-ice pests that are great agitators as well as hard-working players who would slot in nicely into the third line for the Oilers.
Clowe and Roy will likely command too much money and will not want to assume a third-line role, but both would be great additions. Roy is a talented forward who would bring veteran presence who can win timely faceoffs and provide some points.