a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

Welcome to Oil Acumen. All Oilers, all the time... Occasionally other stuff.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

02/03/15 Odds & Ends: Six Dead Horses Get A Beating


Here are six more topics you've read about before, but (hopefully) from a different viewpoint.

I have to start with Dallas Eakins because of his recent interview. There's a lot of backlash about the fact that Eakins didn't take any ownership for the complete disaster that was his tenure with the Oilers. Fair enough, I thought the guy was doing a bad enough job to deserve to be fired so he deserves some of the blame in my view. But there's one problem with that: he doesn't have a job anymore, and the people who hired him do.

I'm not going to say Eakins deserved more time - he struck me as a bit of a tyrant and I think that's showing with the body language of the team - but if you were hoping to land another job some day would you appear on the radio and go: "well, I completely screwed up a team that was ready to take the next step"?

Or would you say something like: "I thought I'd have more to work with"?

On Enforcers

I've been thinking about Luke Gazdic lately, and enforcers in general, and something came to mind: if you've built a team that needs Luke Gazdic to defend it, then you've built the team wrong. No offense to Gazdic the person, but if he's got a spot on an NHL team it's because it's a weak team.

On winning NHL rosters, every player serves a purpose; each man has some use in helping the team play better hockey. The idea behind an enforcer is that he allows other players to free-wheel around the ice without fear of getting hurt or intimidated, which is a fundamentally flawed rationale when it comes to team building. If the other eleven forwards can't function properly without an enforcer to protect them, then they can't function properly. That's why the enforcer is going the way of the dinosaur.

An OEL Trade??

I've been reading about Oliver Ekman-Larsson perhaps being available. There's no way that's true, unless all the knocks to the head Don Maloney took as a player are finally coming home to roost. There might have been a time when an aggressive and smart team could have acquired OEL, but that time has passed. If it was somehow possible, I'd throw Eberle and the 2015 first round pick out there. That pick isn't likely to be first overall, but it would give Arizona a chance at two picks in the top five or so. Huge value for a rebuilding organization, plus a proven scorer with term and youth enough to be valuable to a rebuild.

When the Oilers' rebuild began, we all knew that there would be casualties if it meant building a balanced team. That time has come. But Ekman-Larsson isn't going anywhere.

Draft Position and Expectations

Being drafted first overall is a funny thing, because it's relative to the other players that are available. Would Yakupov have gone first overall in a draft that included Taylor Hall? Nathan MacKinnon? John Tavares? There's no way to know for sure, but it brings some interesting perspective to mind. Imagine that Yakupov was drafted third overall relative to his class, like Leon Draisaitl.

Draisaitl played 37 games for the Oilers right out of the draft, and had nine points. No big deal - he was a third overall pick, not ready for the NHL and everyone said so. Back to Junior he goes. Would Yakupov have benefitted from a demotion earlier in his career?

Draft position doesn't say as much about a player as we sometimes think. There was an automatic feeling that Yakupov would be in the NHL right out of the draft because the previous two first overall picks did it. I won't criticize the Oilers too harshly for falling into this trap, because I thought he could play in the NHL right away too. What's more, Yakupov had 9-11-20 in his first 37 games, which is over double Draisaitl's total. But Yakupov was far from a complete player when he was drafted, and unfortunately now he has to learn to be one in the world's best league.

Hidden Asset Value

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Oilers keep getting the results of a rebuilding team because they keep behaving like a rebuilding team. That's why you don't trade a player like Boyd Gordon, or even David Perron.

Money aside, the bottom line of sports is something called "winning". Asset management doesn't just come down to what you can get for player X. In Perron's case, there's some truth to the notion that the Oilers wouldn't want to re-sign him for more money, but how do you assign value to him helping the team get closer to making the playoffs next year? I'm not suggesting that Perron is the difference between making the playoffs and not making them, but he certainly helps next year. And if the Oilers are still sellers at next year's deadline, could they still get a second round pick for Perron? I think so, especially if the rest of the team were to be improved next year.

Boyd Gordon is similar. There's value for the Oilers in showing the rest of the league that they're not just going to continue a cycle of rebuilding. That's why UFAs and players with NMCs and NTCs won't come here.

When it comes to the Oilers, you have to talk in terms of what they should do and in terms of what you think they will do. They should hang on to good players like Gordon and Perron and Petry for next year, improve the team around them, and push hard for the playoffs. What they will do is maximize the value they can get for these players because they've accepted that they're still not going to be good enough next year. There's a clear divide there, but the latter course of action is why the team keeps failing to improve. Dennis King had a good line on the Monday morning Lowdown with Lowetide, saying (I'm paraphrasing here) that the Oilers don't have enough ingredients to make anything good for dinner, so they might as well throw out the bread too.

Oh, and do you remember when the Oilers decided to trade Kyle Brodziak? They spent the next several years trying to replace him, with more than one failed attempt. Let's not do it again with Gordon.

Roster Whac-A-Mole

Matt Hendricks is another player I would hang on to. It's hard not to like the guy, especially with the season he's having. His situation reminds me of Nick Schultz, though: I like the player but not the cost to acquire him. Devan Dubnyk is reviving his career, both on a poor team in Arizona and a good team in Minnesota. MacTavish's words that "if you have to ask the question, then you know the answer" are now infamous, but I don't see how they're any less true about Scrivens and Fasth than they were about Dubnyk.

I'm borrowing a term from Bruce McCurdy here, but the Oilers continue to play Roster Whac-A-Mole by filling one hole and opening another. That's inevitable when you build a team, but the problem is that the Oilers have traded a center and a goalie for two wingers (Gagner and Dubnyk for Purcell and Hendricks). MacTavish said he doesn't want to fill holes at the expense of opening others (link), and yet that's precisely what he has done.

MacTavish's moves aren't so bad individually, but when it comes to team building they're ugly. He strengthened the wing by weakening the all-important center and goalie positions, and then weakened the wing by trading Perron for a pick.

It goes back further, too. MacTavish strengthened the team's cap position by trading Horcoff, which weakened the center position (I know people will say Gordon replaced Horcoff, but then who replaced Belanger's role?).

The Oilers are strong on the wing and weak everywhere else, which is why they should be trading wingers out, not bringing more in at the expense of other positions.

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