Jan 12, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) scores a goal against Edmonton Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Conference Call Tuesday: Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Oilers

Regular Season Record: 29-44-9

Western Conference Ranking: 14th

Season Series: 3-0 Blackhawks

 

Summary: 

The Oilers didn’t make much of a splash in 2013-14, despite hiring a new coach, bringing in a new captain, and having an even bigger youth influence than in years past. Their downhill descent since losing in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final seemed to continue, as the Oilers fell back early, and never had a chance at the post-season after Christmas. Even the Blackhawks, who have historically struggled with the Oilers, especially in Rexall Place, found a way to beat Edmonton in all three games this season, scoring 15 goals in the process.

Although the Oilers were far out of the playoff race by spring, management made an impact, bringing in two new goalies in Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth, and finally shipping Devan Dubnyk out of town. Scrivens was the star of the show in the Oilers’ best game of the season, when he posted a 56-save shutout against the Anaheim Ducks in a 3-0 win. Dubnyk spent time with the Nashville Predators, but eventually ended up with the Montreal Canadiens, now fourth on their goaltending depth chart, backing up Dustin Tokarski in Hamilton.

The end of their season also saw the end of an era, as Ryan Smyth called it a career, and was honored by Oiler fans for his two stints in the city. His number 94 will no doubt hang from the rafters of Rexall Place sometime in the coming years.

 

To get an inside view at the Oilers’ organization, we sat down with Dave Mallett from OilOnWhyte.com:

 

BU: What did you expect from the 2013-14 season before it started, and how did the Oilers disappoint?

I expected improvement. The Oilers played better than they had in recent years during the lockout shortened season, even sitting as eighth seed for a time before another losing streak. I think the abrupt coaching change made some nervous, as the increased success came under Ralph Kreuger. But, Dallas Eakins was the big hit shot, coveted league wide, or so we were led to believe.

After Craig MacTavish added Boyd Gordon and Andrew Ference, and let go of Shawn Horcoff, there was optimism. No one could have predicted the free fall Devan Dubnyk would see, though. Being out of the playoff scene by November was massively disappointing.

BU: MacTavish wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger this season. Are you happy with the way the GM is taking this team?

Quite happy. MacT is bargaining from a weak position in many aspects. He has few assets that are expendable and the ones that are have limited value. He can’t offer immediate playoff hopes, nor can he offer a sunny locale year round. The additions of Scrivens and Fasth in net was tremendous, and he let go of very little. Gordon and Hendricks proved solid pick ups. Perron of course was a steal. Jury is still out on Smid trade but the team wasn’t much worse without him. He can avoid the Jesse Joensuu types this July 1 though.

BU: What should MacTavish’s #1 goal be this off-season?

A top 2 defender. The team needs an anchor in the back end who sets the gold standard. These kind of players may not be available, so he may be faced with signing contracts like the Nikitin one in order to bridge the gap while the teams young defenders develop in Oklahoma.   Aside from that, he needs to remake the third line, adding at least one power forward and a veteran centre.

BU: It’s been seven long years since the playoffs were played in Edmonton, and it seems they haven’t got any closer as the years go by. How long will it take until they get back into the post-season?

 

The Oilers will make the playoffs next year (2015-16). MacT will need one more off season to tweak the roster. Now, it’s well known that the Oilers needed a culture change. Eakins brought that. If, and this is a big if, the team buys in 100% every night, they could be competitive. Realistically, however, the playoffs are coming here just before the new arena opens.

BU: Did Andrew Ference meet your expectations this season?

Yes. He was never intended to become a top 2 defender here. He fought hard, scored some goals, and helped bring some toughness. But, he is also in his mid-30′s, and came to Edmonton to retire at home. If pieces are added and he falls down the depth chart to where he fits best, he will excel further. As captain, he has been A1, a great example for the young leaders on the team. In the community, he has become well known for his involvement, even marching in the Pride Parade here in Edmonton just a few weeks ago.

BU: The Oilers went from one of the worst starting goaltenders in the NHL, to a strong tandem with Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth. How confident are you that those two can hold their own next season?

Very confident. While both goalies have relatively small sample sizes, they appear to have come as advertised. Dubnyk seemed to be slowing down, even disengaging from the intensity of the game at times. This tandem, though, is much better positionally, and most of all, especially with Scrivens, reacts more quickly and shows excellent lateral movement. I have faith in these two goalies.

BU: Do you forsee Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, or RNH moving this summer? Will one of those players be the key to a turnaround?

Nope. Unless the Oilers have another bottom three finish, I don’t expect any players to be traded from their top line. That trio could develop into one of the best in hockey given time. After all the heartache, even management will be hard pressed to trade one of them. The team is building through the draft and free agency. Not by risky trades.

BU: Ryan Smyth is no-doubt an Oilers legend. What was it like seeing him go, and how will you remember #94?

Smyth’s retirement was a great moment in team history. (Although a loss there would have led to the team picking Aaron Ekblad at the draft.) I felt for the guy, especially when he left the Kings just as they began their ascent into the Stanley Cup playoffs the season after he left them. He deserved a cup and he could have had two of them! But he came here! To Edmonton! He gave up a team on the rise to join the only team he ever loved. He was quoted as saying he wished the team had made the post season in his three years back, but it never happened.

Regardless, his last game was a great sports moment. Our young players watched as fans, players and executives paid tribute to one of the NHL’s favourite sons. They saw what Oiler fans admire and support: hard work, total dedication and integrity. He is a bellwether for the team, an example and an enduring legend.

BU: What will it take to not only crawl to the top three in the Pacific Division, but take out wild card teams like the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, and your rival Calgary Flames along the way?

It will take a full buy in from the players. We all know Edmonton needs some size to go with their skill, and better defensemen. None of that matters, though, if the players aren’t giving themselves over to the systems, to the coaching staff and to the game itself. In past seasons, players seemed to back away from being competitive, playing with their bodies and back-checking with any level of ferocity. If the team refuses to try and match the physicality and never say die attitude of perennial contenders they will find it hard to attract the last few elements they need to become a championship team.

BU: What is your prediction for the Oilers’ 2014-15 season?

[2014 3rd overall draft pick Leon] Draisaitl makes the team, [David] Legwand or [Olli] Jokinen are signed as third line centre, Yakupov is again misused, traded for nothing and then scores a point per game in his new home. Hall breaks ninety points, Perron gets injured, Nuge scores 30 goals, while Mark Arcobello surprises once again.

 

Special thanks to Dave from Oil On Whyte!

 

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