I paid money to go to the Halloween game. I even got the wife into my old Oilers jersey from the '06 run. We were so cute it was horrifying; truly a deep Halloween costume. I was feeling a comeback there, but it didn't go well. Neither did October. Let's review.
A few days ago I was putting together a post about the statistical differences between the first ten games last year and the first then this year. By eye I honestly expected to find that the Oilers were better this year than last, but the numbers didn't bear that out. At all. I scrapped the post because I felt there was no need to pile onto this team. It's clear that the Oilers aren't there yet. Who needs more numbers?
In many ways, the Halloween game was a microcosm of the season so far. Offensively the pieces are there, but in the defensive zone the team is a mess. I'm reminded of the 2007-08 season when it was clear that the team didn't have the personnel to break out of the defensive zone, and they ended up bringing in Lubo to shore it up. Too bad they didn't really have the depth to absorb the loss of Stoll and Greene.
I felt that Leon should have made this team out of camp, but I also see the cap constraints and development potential that left him in the AHL. I'm less disheartened by the fact that he started in the American League than I am encouraged that he seems to have found his scoring touch at the next level.
I'm a fan of Brandon Davidson as a story, and as a player too, to a certain extent, but the fact that he's playing 20 minutes against the arch rivals is a tell to end all tells. The Oilers are painfully weak back there. Davidson brings some nice things, but I saw him get lost on the defending part more than once. What's more, Flames players literally skated around Andrew Ference like he was barely there, which isn't to say that he was never good, but he's not good any more. He cannot keep up, full stop.
On the positive side, I see shades of Keith and Seabrook in Nurse and Klefbom. I'm not suggesting those Oilers will necessarily ever reach those heights, or that they're even the same kind of players, but when the Blackhawks signed Brian Campbell they did it without knowing just how good their two young studs would become, and that sunk them in cap hell. Feels a lot like where the Oilers are now. With that said, those young Oilers are nowhere near complete.
The Oilers came out of last October 4-5-1, but it was also clear that everyone - the fans, the players, the media, the bloggers - had had enough of the old regime. 4-8-0 feels better under these circumstances than 4-5-1 ever did. The Oilers also proceeded to win four games over the next two months (4-17-7), and I think we can say that barring disaster we won't get there again.
As we all know, the biggest problem with this team is the defense. Over $11 million in more-or-less dead money becomes available in the off season after Nikitin, Purcell and Scrivens go bye-bye, and perhaps more if they dump Ference. But guess what? There's not much help available in free agency. There isn't even a Sheldon Souray to hang your hat on (no offense to Souray, but the Oilers were swinging for the fences before he inked his deal). The only big name worth considering is Dustin Byfuglien, and even though I love the way his name is spelled, I'd hate to be typing it for the long term when he's about to turn 31 in March. Keith Yandle, Dan Hamhuis, and Christian Erhoff are risky for the same reason. The league has started to figure out that they need to hang on to players for dear life, and the players have realized that there isn't as much incentive to go to free agency in a cap world as there once might have been.
So we're left with a trade. In the next year, Peter Chiarelli is going to make a trade that will alter the course of this team for the long haul. I wrote the same thing almost word-for-word back in September of 2011 when Tambellini was running this team. I truly expected the GM to see that a big move was the only way to make the team complete, and it never materialized. I don't think any of us see this going the same way now. Chiarelli has shown a willingness to move important players, and frankly that's what the organization needs.
Remember that sense of entitlement that has crept in over the years? It could be because nobody is untouchable. I'm not saying the Oilers need to blow it up, but they need to give in order to receive what they really need, and that will simultaneously send the message that no individual is above the team as a whole.
Todd McLellan says all the right things. Overall, I love him as a coach, and what he has said about this team is a breath of fresh air in our stale crypt of an NHL town. But accountability doesn't just come from the coach. I'm not saying you trade players just to send a message, but when you trade an important player to get something you desperately need, the message comes through to everyone. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. What we need is results.
None of that is going to happen right away. I don't fault Chiarelli for not fixing the problems all at once, because not only has he got to evaluate players he's not familiar with, but he is also handcuffed by abhorrent contracts from the previous regime. But he has also seen the same things that you and I have seen. And unlike years past, you can bet that the talking points haven't gone unnoticed.
The question is: what's next?