Home > Uncategorized > Rebuilding the rebuilt Oilers in 5 not-so-easy steps

Rebuilding the rebuilt Oilers in 5 not-so-easy steps

Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish, left, and president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe (if still in the picture) have their work cut out for them in transforming the floundering franchise back into a Stanley Cup (or at least playoff) contender. That challenge might not be as daunting as pessimists persist, however, and could be accomplished with just a handful of moves.

QMI Agency
Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish, left, and president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe (if still in the picture) have their work cut out for them in transforming the floundering franchise back into a Stanley Cup (or at least playoff) contender. That challenge might not be as daunting as pessimists persist, however, and could be accomplished with just a handful of moves, which I’m about to dictate and dissect in this blog post.

I think we, as Edmonton Oilers fans/followers, can agree that even in the midst of this two-game winning, umm, (streak?), this team needs an overhaul — again.

Yes, it’s time to rebuild the rebuild — at least to some extent.

So, where do we start? Or where should general manager Craig MacTavish be starting?

That’s debatable. Some would argue that championship teams are built from the crease out. Others would insist that defence wins championships. Then there are those who believe run-and-gun firewagon hockey from the Oilers’ heydays can enjoy a resurgence and we’ll simply “outscore” the opposition.

The latter approach clearly isn’t working this season. Either we don’t have enough offence. Or we’ve over-rated the offence we do have. Or the kids carrying the offence are, heaven forbid, still kids and not capable of dominating night in and night out. It’s most likely a combination of all those trains of thought.

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But for the sake of this blog — and the fact the Oilers have missed the playoffs for eight years running; 2,782 days since their last post-season game if we must do the math — we’re going to construct (or rather reconstruct) Edmonton’s roster in a matter of minutes.

In fact, we’re going to simplify it into 5 easy (or not-so-easy) steps.

A true do-it-yourself model.

Here goes nothing . . .

Cam Ward

Step 1: Acquire Cam Ward

We need a proven starting goaltender and there might not be a better one available. That’s not to necessarily say Cam Ward is available, but I’m assuming he could be had considering his recent struggles and injury-proneness with Carolina and the Hurricanes’ relative success in his absence thanks to the tandem of Anton Khudobin and Justin Peters. If they believe in either of those goaltenders long-term, they may be willing to part with Ward and his $6.3-million cap hit, with two years remaining on this escalating contract that carries annual salaries of $6.7 million next year and $6.8 million for 2015-16.

Ward also comes with a Stanley Cup-winning pedigree, having hoisted hockey’s holy grail in 2006 after beating, ironically, the Oilers in a seven-game series. Ward was the biggest difference-maker back then — yes, even bigger than Fernando Pisani — but, lest we forget, that was 2,782 days ago and he hasn’t accomplished a whole heck of a lot in the 7 years, 7 months and 11 days since then in terms of winning hardware.

Further, Ward is from nearby Sherwood Park, Alta., a suburb of Edmonton, so it would be a homecoming for him and his young family. His wife is from Red Deer. Paired with Ben Scrivens of Spruce Grove, Alta., who would need to be re-signed (preferably at a hometown discount, $1.5 million per year let’s say), Edmonton’s goaltending woes could, finally, become a thing of the past.

This wouldn’t be a cheap risk, but it would be a “bold” move that could come with a very worthwhile reward. Of course, Ward would have to want to come home for this deal to come to fruition as the soon-to-be 30-year-old has a modified no-trade clause.

Assuming he’s willing to waive it, what would it take to get Ward? It depends if Carolina is pushing for a playoff spot at the March 5 trade deadline, with Ward still a non-factor in that push, then the ’Canes may want some “win-now” pieces. The Oilers have Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky to possibly satisfy those needs as an upgrade, or as depth, on the wings. But more than likely, Carolina would want a defenceman to address their weakness (which also happens to be Edmonton’s current weakness). Jeff Petry fits that bill, as would have Ladislav Smid before he was dealt to the Calgary Flames for cap space (and peanuts).

Conversely, if Carolina trends downward over the next month and finds itself out of the post-season running, then maybe this deal is delayed until the NHL draft in June. At that point, Edmonton’s first-round pick (which will likely be top 3) becomes extremely attractive. Or perhaps even next year’s 2015 first-rounder instead if Edmonton has its eyes on a 2014 top prospect — cough, Aaron Ekblad, cough. The Oilers have plenty of defensive prospects they could part with in such a deal, including former first-rounder Oscar Klefbom, Dillon Simpson, David Musil, Martin Gernat or Joey Laleggia.

The deal: Edmonton acquires Cam Ward and a conditional 2nd-round pick in 2015 in exchange for Jeff Petry, David Musil and the Oilers’ 1st-round pick in 2015. The condition being that Ward starts more than 50 games for Edmonton in 2014-15; if he doesn’t, the Oilers get the pick.

Tyler Myers

Step 2: Acquire Tyler Myers

This step is a little trickier, especially since Myers seems to be improving since Ted Nolan took over the coaching reins. Myers is a monstrous defenceman — listed at 6-foot-8, 219 pounds (and gaining) — and the Oilers have had a heart-on for him since his draft year in 2008. They reportedly tried to trade up to get him before Buffalo took him 12th overall, with Edmonton settling for scoring winger Jordan Eberle at 22nd. Myers won the Calder Trophy in 2010, but Eberle has arguably had the more successful career to date. That said, defencemen tend to take longer to develop and the Oilers would still likely make that swap in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself.

Myers’ contract is also somewhat of a concern, with a $5.5-million cap hit through 2018-19, or for five more seasons. But it was frontloaded and actually declines steadily in annual salary from $5 million next year to $3 million in the final year. With the league’s salary cap expected to increase exponentially over the next few years, this concern really isn’t a concern at all. And Myers, who only turns 24 this weekend, could be a bargain by the end of his current contract. This could be a steal of a deal. Please, nobody tell the Sabres that.

Myers also has Alberta roots, having been raised in Calgary for his teenage years — his Texan father is employed in the oil and gas industry — so he might be warm on coming to Edmonton, not that it’s much worse climate-wise than Buffalo.

Make no mistake, though, Myers won’t come cheap. The Sabres and Oilers have a decent trading history, but Buffalo would want a scoring forward — and preferably one better than Linus Omark (insert link to evil laughter sound clip here). Eberle, who is the same age and has a similar contract ($6 million per, also through 2018-19), immediately comes to mind. But Eberle tends to be a complementary player, and Buffalo may want more of a game-breaker who is marketable to its fan base with the Sabres just starting their rebuild. Hmm, that sounds like Nail Yakupov would fit the bill as a recent first overall pick who played junior just over three hours away from Buffalo in Sarnia, Ont. This could be quite the match, with both teams meeting each other’s needs in a classic 1-for-1 swap. Buffalo already has a ton of top-end defence prospects, including a pair of towering 2013 first-rounders in Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen.

The deal: Edmonton acquires Tyler Myers for Nail Yakupov.

Marc Staal

Step 3: Acquire Marc Staal

The New York Rangers are, strangely, struggling to sign both captain Ryan Callahan and shutdown defenceman Dan Girardi. It’s possible both deals get done before the aforementioned March 5 deadline, but if not, rumours are persisting that the Rangers would move one or both despite their obvious importance to that franchise’s Cup hopes. Part of that hesitation on signing Girardi could come from the fact the Rangers already have $3.975 million committed next year to Marc Staal, a similar-but-three-year-younger defender. If Staal came off the books, it’s likely the Rangers could afford Girardi at that price, though Girardi could command $5.5 million on the open market and will likely get paid one way or the other.

Not coincidentally, the Rangers also just traded for another stay-at-home defenceman in Kevin Klein from Nashville. That is now a strength for New York and one of Girardi or Staal would seem expendable. Here’s hoping it’s the latter.

There’s no guarantee Staal would stay in Edmonton past next season, with some speculation that he’d prefer to join brothers Eric and Jordan in Carolina. But one season, especially a winning one, could be enough to sell Marc Staal on becoming a long-term Oiler.

It’s worth the risk for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact Staal would make the perfect partner for Myers and give Edmonton a formidable top pairing for the first time in a long time.

If anybody is willing to take a chance on Ales Hemsky, my hunch is Glen Sather would be that guy. The Rangers’ GM has expressed past interest in the pending free agent, and Hemsky brings some of the skill-set New York lost in sending Marian Gaborik to Columbus. Hemsky could potentially click with Rick Nash and make the Rangers that much more dangerous in the playoffs. Plus, it’s very likely New York is on Hemsky’s wishlist for destinations as a UFA, so if he performs reasonably well, it’s entirely possible he could re-sign with the Rangers in the summer.

That said, Hemsky’s trade value does not equate to Marc Staal’s. The Oilers would need to add something, likely a defensive prospect — of which they have an abundance. I could see Slats wanting Dillon Simpson, the son of former Oilers forward-turned-broadcaster Craig Simpson.

The deal: Edmonton acquires Marc Staal for Ales Hemsky, Dillon Simpson and a 2015 fourth-round pick.

NHL 2013 - Blue Jackets Defeat Hurricanes 5-4

Step 4: Acquire Brandon Dubinsky

The Oilers need to get bigger up front, particularly in their top six. Dubinsky is a 6-foot-2, 216-pound centre that plays big and physical. He turns 28 in April and will be entering his ninth pro season next fall — that makes him an experienced veteran by hockey standards, entering what should be the prime of his career.

Can you tell where I’m going here? Yes, he’s the ideal replacement/upgrade for Sam Gagner on Edmonton’s second line. Gagner is three years younger and might have a higher offensive ceiling or be more talented with the puck, but Dubinsky appears, on paper, to be a better fit for the Oilers.

MacTavish has reportedly been scouting Columbus as of late, and Dubinsky has been on Edmonton’s trade radar in the past when he was with the Rangers. It’s also no secret that Gagner is being shopped ahead of March 5, with his no-trade clause kicking in this summer.

Gagner is in the first of a three-year contract with a cap hit of $4.8 million and an annual salary of $5 million for each of the next two seasons. Dubinsky, like Marc Staal, a former teammate of his, is signed through next year at a cap hit of $4.2 million with a salary of $4.65 million. He, too, would have to be sold on Edmonton going forward, but again it seems like the right kind of a gamble.

Gagner may not be enough to get this deal done straight up, but add in another forward with size who “could” have Dubinsky upside and Columbus probably pulls the trigger.

The deal: Edmonton acquires Brandon Dubinsky for Sam Gagner and Tyler Pitlick.

Thomas Vanek

Step 5: Sign Thomas Vanek

Last but not least, the Oilers will need to replace Nail Yakupov, and to a lesser degree Ales Hemsky. Assuming Vanek doesn’t re-sign with the Islanders before March 5, or before July 1, he will be an unrestricted free agent — and a coveted one at that. The Islanders really want to keep him and he has found chemistry with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, so this could be a mute point sooner than later.

If Vanek reaches the open market, expect Edmonton to be all-in . . . again. Don’t forget the Oilers already signed Vanek once, when he was a young emerging sniper in Buffalo, inking him to a seven-year offer sheet that is now expiring. The fact the Sabres matched that contract is probably a good thing for Edmonton’s sake as the salary figures were ahead of their time, but Vanek is now in his prime and worth every penny.

Vanek just turned 30 years old, so he’s another veteran and he has decent size, listed at six-feet, 217 pounds. He’s a finisher, having twice scored 40 goals on weaker Buffalo teams.

Vanek has a history with Myers and, as mentioned, he previously agreed to terms with the Oilers, so it makes sense that he’d be willing to come to Edmonton. A little known fact is that Vanek, who hails from Austria and will captain his country at next month’s Sochi Olympics, has already called Alberta home. He lived in Lacombe, less than an hour south of Edmonton, as a 14-year-old prodigy, dominating the AA midget ranks before moving on to the USHL in Sioux Falls, S.D., and later the University of Minnesota. Vanek is well versed in cold winters from all his hockey stops, so that shouldn’t scare him away.

Falling short of Vanek, then Gaborik, Devin Setoguchi or, dare I say, Dany Heatley could fill that void as a UFA signing.

The deal: Edmonton signs Thomas Vanek to a 5-year, $35-million contract.

In conclusion . . .

Simple as that, the Oilers are rebuilt (again) and ready to contend for the playoffs, much closer to a Stanley Cup parade than they are today.

Given all that, the Oilers would still have their first-round pick in June, and should be able to select either Aaron Ekblad or Sam Reinhart — both of whom could be ready to make the NHL jump next season.

Past that, the Oilers will also need to fill some depth roles, with 3 to 4 forwards and at least one defenceman. A couple of those holes will likely be filled from within, but there could also be free-agent options.

As a depth defenceman, I would like to see Edmonton sign Keith Aulie, who was paired with Myers in the 2009 world juniors but has yet to find a permanent NHL home. He’s big — listed at 6-foot-6, 228 pounds — and a shutdown type that could play alongside the emerging Martin Marincin in a sheltered third-pairing role. If not Aulie, then perhaps the 6-foot-4, 218-pound Anton Belov sticks around in that capacity.

At forward, I have penciled in Ryan Jones, Jesse Joensuu and Luke Gazdic as players who seem to have earned Dallas Eakins’ trust and admiration. Those three could be back, and, of course, Ryan Smyth might have another year left in the tank. But I think they could find a bigger, grittier and, most importantly, younger version of Smyth to play with Boyd Gordon and, presumably, Jones on a third line. Referencing capgeek.com’s list of UFAs, I’d like to add one or two of Nikolai Kulemin, Steve Downie, Blake Comeau and David Moss — in that order of preference.

If all those transactions came to pass, Edmonton fans could be welcoming this team to the ice in October:

Forward

Taylor Hall-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Jordan Eberle

David Perron-Brandon Dubinsky-Thomas Vanek

(Kulemin/ Downie/Comeau/Moss)-Boyd Gordon-(Ryan Jones)

(Jesse Joensuu)-Matt Hendricks-(Luke Gazdic)

Defence

Tyler Myers-Marc Staal

Andrew Ference-Justin Schultz

(Anton Belov/Keith Aulie)-Martin Marincin

Goal

Cam Ward

Ben Scrivens

Obviously, if Ekblad/Reinhart and-or 2013 first-round defence prospect Darnell Nurse force their way onto the roster, we would have to make room for them. But that’s a nice luxury to have, as opposed to forcing the issue and pressing youngsters into roles they aren’t yet ready for.

Long story short, the future is still bright in Edmonton and could become so much brighter with a handful of realistic moves between now and next season.

Your thoughts?

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