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STAUFFER STUFF: Wheels in Motion

Tuesday, 03.09.2013 / 1:34 AM / Blogs
By Bob Stauffer
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STAUFFER STUFF: Wheels in Motion

A week ago I hosted a “Hot Stove” session with Edmonton Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish as part of the Kids Kottage Golf Tournament. The message from MacTavish was simple: time for the Oilers to take the next step as an organization and truly gain some traction.

In April of 2012 I wrote in “Stauffer Stuff” that the Oilers needed to continue allow things to grow organically with their young corps.

But 16 months later, the Oilers are at a stage where they now must put the wheels in motion.

To begin with, the Oilers sophisticated fan base deserves more than what we have seen; specifically over the last four seasons, as Edmonton finished 30th, 30th, 29th and 24th overall.

While the reward has been Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Darnell Nurse, the reality is that the losing needs to end and the Oilers need to evolve through the course of this season into a legitimate playoff contender.

The Oilers have seen significant change occur over the last six months.

David Perron (pictured) was acquired this off-season from St. Louis in exchange for Magnus Paajarvi.

The aforementioned MacTavish is now GM with the capable Scott Howson assisting him. MacTavish has already shown a willingness to accelerate the Oilers growth in an effort to improve the team, as evidenced by the Magnus Paajarvi for David Perron trade.

The skilled Perron joins, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov, Jordan Eberle and Sam Gagner in an Oilers top six that in theory should be the strength of the team.

MacTavish also traded away a stalwart of his during the 2006 Stanley Cup run -- team captain Shawn Horcoff to the Dallas Stars -- in a move that will expedite the growth of the Oilers through an obvious leadership change.

The Oilers brought in veteran Boyd Gordon to be their third line centre and defenceman Andrew Ference both through free agency.

Gordon is an exceptional faceoff man and a good penalty killer and his role is clearly defined. Ference joins the likes of Anton Belov and Denis Grebeshkov on a remodeled Oilers defence that should be able to transition the puck more effectively to Edmonton’s talented bevy of young stars.

In total, seven skaters (Paajarvi, Horcoff, Eric Belanger, Lennert Petrell, Teemu Hartikainen, Ryan Whitney, Mark Fistric) who played at least 20 games in 2013 during the lockout-shortened season are no longer with the Oilers.

If replacing roughly 30 percent of the Oilers roster isn’t an “Oil Change” I don’t know what is, but in the end those changes likely won’t be the most significant of the off-season for the Oilers.

MacTavish also replaced Head Coach Ralph Krueger with rising star Dallas Eakins out of the Toronto Marlies.

Eakins, had an almost “cult-like” buy-in from many credible Toronto media–based personalities.

For Eakins to be successful in Edmonton though it will be about substance over style.

As the season wore on last year, the Oilers found themselves being consistently outshot and getting picked apart by the veteran teams with experienced coaches in the Western Conference.

Even during Edmonton’s five-game winning streak right around the trade deadline last season, the underlying numbers revealed a clearer picture of where the Oilers were really at as Edmonton was outshot 151-127 during that stretch but outscored the opposition 25-7.

The Oilers finished the season outshooting the opposition in just 11 of 48 games.

Krueger and returning Oilers Assistants Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith had several obstacles to overcome last season.

They were a coach short of a full staff, had limited practice time because of lockout-compressed schedule, not to mention a short training camp and they had a young team. This proved to be a recipe for disaster in implementing the type of structure and process needed to win in a more defensive Western Conference.

Eakins will inherit a maturing team with their top seven scorers back, and also has a veteran NHL Assistant Coach in Keith Acton, to help complement Buchberger and Smith.

A new Head Coach is not a magic elixir to cure the ills of the last few seasons, but Eakins is coming in at the right time in my opinion.

The Oilers get 32 games against teams from the more-offensive Eastern Conference, which plays right into the Oilers hands.

Eakins will also get a full training camp with a less compressed travel schedule.

It won’t happen overnight but if the Oilers systems play improves to the point that Edmonton outshoots their opposition in at least 50% of their games, the team will gain traction and be in the mix for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The time has arrived for that to come to fruition!

INSIDE THE OILERS