Good afternoon Blackhawks fans. I hope your holiday season has been a good one. Mine has and one of the reasons why is the current state of the ‘Hawks.
Winners in 10 of their last 11 games, the ‘Hawks are rolling. I’m as confident as ever that they are the class of the league. Our forwards are skating hard, our defensemen are in sync, and the 3 headed monster in net is playing lights out (well 2 now…we’ll miss you for the time being, Mr. Darling). It truly doesn’t get any better than this for a hockey club.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are our neighbors to the west. A once proud franchise, the Edmonton Oilers are in total and complete disarray. This week they fired head coach Dallas Eakins amid a 1-15 skid. Losers last night, they have now lost 16 of 17 games. They are an organization that needs a total rebuild. Grantland recently did a piece chronicling the Oilers woes and lessons to be learned from the mess. If you’re a hockey nerd I highly recommend the article.
Reading it led me to a question: why do some rebuilds work and others falter? The situation in Edmonton wasn’t any less dire than the one with our ‘Hawks when Chicago started the rebuild in the mid ‘00’s. Everyone remembers the state of the organization. What is different however is how the two clubs went about rebuilding their teams. There are several key decisions that shaped both the Oilers and the Blackhawks. Let’s take a look at them.
Build up the middle
The ‘Hawks decision to draft Jonathan Toews was a pretty easy one. The consensus #3 ranked prospect behind Erik Johnson and Jordan Staal in the 2006 NHL Draft, Toews was thought of as a potential franchise center. When St. Louis selected Johnson #1 and Pittsburgh took Staal at #2, Toews was the obvious choice at #3. However, what if Chicago had decided a highly-skilled winger from the University of Minnesota was a sexier pick? Phil Kessel had just finished an unbelievable freshman season as a Golden Gopher and was thought of as a sure-fire 40 goal scorer in the NHL. What if the ‘Hawks had decided they needed goal scoring more than all-around, 200-foot play? As dynamic and good a player as Phil Kessel is, I think it’s safe to say there’s no one in the world of hockey who would trade Jonathan Toews for him.
Which leads us to the Oilers. Going into the 2010 draft Taylor Hall was widely considered the best prospect. Most analysts had Hall higher than Tyler Seguin. However, the thinking was that the gap between the two players wasn’t substantial. Scouts believed Hall had a slightly higher ceiling but that Seguin had a chance to be a #1 center. In my humble (and obviously limited) opinion, if everything is close, you always draft a center over a winger. Franchise centers are too valuable in today’s NHL. I believed it then and I definitely believe it now. While Hall is a very good player, watching Seguin mature into one of the most feared players in the league must be extremely hard for Oilers fans.
Toughness and character matter
Drafting Seguin in 2010 would have freed the Oilers from the idea they had to take a center in 2011. While Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was the #1 ranked player in the draft, had Edmonton drafted Seguin they could have turned their attention to a different kind of player in 2011. Gabriel Landeskog was the consensus #2 ranked prospect in the draft and was someone many believed would one day wear the ‘C’ for an NHL club. He was skilled offensively but possessed the very important un-measurable traits that culture-changing, franchise players have. Simply put, he was thought of as a leader. Though Colorado is struggling this year no one believes it is Landeskog’s doing. You have to wonder what the Oilers would look like with Seguin centering the first line and Landeskog wearing the ‘C’ and flanking him on the left.
What does this have to do with the ‘Hawks you ask? Because the ‘Hawks had their franchise center (who possessed the toughness and leadership qualities you want in your franchise player) drafting Patrick Kane #1 overall in the 2007 draft was a simple call. It may seem ludicrous now but there were scouts who believed center Kyle Turris was the best prospect in the draft. Turris was a highly thought of prospect who many believed could turn into an All-Star center. However, I think we can all agree the right player was selected. It pains me to think about Kaners flying up and down the ice with the Philadelphia Flyers or Arizona Coyotes.
Don’t forget about defense!
It’s almost laughable (and indefensible) to look at the Oiler’s roster and see how many similar players they have. And it’s becoming very apparent Nail Yakupov was the wrong decision for the type of team Edmonton has/had. Notice I said ‘type of team’. For some organizations a goal scoring, offensive forward would have been the right call. Nashville comes to mind. Minnesota could have used him at the time. Buffalo obviously needs offense. But when you’re the Edmonton Oilers and you have Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins AND Jordan Eberle what on earth are you doing drafting an offensive forward??? Yakupov was the #1 ranked prospect in the draft and this is all in hindsight I know, but isn’t that the reason general managers are hired? To make the right decisions (even if they go against the grain) and see a little into the future? What makes it worse is the fact that the 2012 draft was loaded with high-potential defensemen. Are there any Oilers fans that would rather have Yakupov over Ryan Murray, Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Rielly, Hampus Lindholm, Matthew Dumba, Derrick Pouliot, or Jacob Trouba??? Are there any general managers that would? Anywhere?
One of the reasons the ‘Hawks could take Toews in 2007 is because Dale Tallon (who should get more credit than he does) felt comfortable knowing he had Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith already in the system and on their way to becoming dependable, NHL defensemen. Again, it is indefensible that in 4 straight drafts Edmonton selected 4 highly similar offensive players while overlooking one of the most important positions in hockey. In the 2013 draft the Oilers did select defensemen Darnell Nurse but it was too little, too late.
If you’re the Edmonton Oilers or Oilers fans, would you rather have a core of Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, and Yakupov or Eberle, Seguin, Landeskog and Jacob Trouba (or Ryan Murray, or Morgan Rielly, or Hampus Lindholm?!!)? I think the answer is pretty clear.
What drives this writer crazy (and makes my hockey heart hurt for Oilers fans) is that even I knew what they were doing was wrong as they did it. Because, as ‘Hawks fans, we’ve seen how important it is to have a franchise center and because the last TEN Stanley Cup winners have all had franchise (or close to franchise) centers it seems to me the decision to draft Tyler Seguin #1 overall in 2010 should have been an easy one. And if Edmonton had drafted Seguin #1 their entire rebuild could have turned out differently.
This holiday season let’s all be thankful for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook, and Duncan Keith. And let’s not forget the men that made it all happen, Dale Tallon and Stan Bowman. All you have to do is look to the west to see how it can all go so badly wrong.
Lets go ‘Hawks!