The Edmonton Oilers have been, by far, the worst NHL team since 2006, and over that span they’ve been one of the worst pro sports franchises in North America all together. This season will (with 99.9% certainty) be the 10th straight season the Oilers miss the postseason, tying an NHL record.
With such ineptitude comes the inevitable pointing of fingers. Whose fault is it that Edmonton has wallowed in the cellar of the NHL standings for so many years, despite piling up first-overall draft choices and top prospects year after year?
Well, it’s almost impossible to say with certainty what started this monstrosity of a tire fire some 10 years ago, but there’s no question that, since then, many decisions made by Oilers management have negatively affected the club. Today’s list will examine the top 15 reasons, specifically, that the Edmonton Oilers have been so bad for so many years.
Every item you’ll see on this list can boil down to one thing, and that’s bad management. I say this because you’ll notice that’s not an item on the list; that’s because all of the items are shining examples of bad management. In a sense, this list could be called “how Edmonton’s management has screwed the pooch for the past decade,” but we stuck with the less-abrasive title. Enjoy:
15 Overpaying Mediocre/Bad Players
Every NHL team is guilty of it from time to time, but the Edmonton Oilers have been exceptionally poor with awarding mediocre players large contracts to remain or come to Edmonton.
Today they have Nikita Nikitin and Andrew Ference on the payroll for a total of $7.5 million. Nikitin’s contract is up this year, but Ference has yet another year left on his deal. Mark Fayne ($3.63 millioncap hit) has been on waivers this season, and that’s on just the 2015-16 squad.
Looking further back, they gave a long, large contract to Shawn Horcoff in the middle of a career year (2008). They gave “The Belanger Triangle” (Eric Belanger—where offense goes to disappear) a multi-year deal in 2011. The list goes on and on.
14 All Youth, No Experience
As the old adage goes, you can’t win without experience. The Edmonton Oilers have tried admirably to remedy this, but they forgot that the experience they acquire must also be useful on the ice moving forward.
Some of the experience the club has added over the years has become useful—current Oiler Matt Hendricks comes to mind—but they’ve had far more strikes than hits. We mentioned Belanger and Ference above (the latter hasn’t worked out well on the ice, but he has been a great community guy). Cam Barker and Denis Grebeshkov are few other examples of experienced players who weren’t able to contribute.
13 Lack of Mix in Top-Six
TSN and NBC analyst Ray Ferraro has repeatedly stated that this is one of the major issues in Edmonton, and I’d have to agree. For the past five seasons, the Oilers “core” has consisted of a collection of solid offensive forwards, but it lacks a certain element of toughness.
Namely, the core we’re referring to is Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. They’ve been billed as “soft skill” players, and although that tag isn’t fair to all three of these guys, it is fair to say the Oilers would benefit from a big, strong power forward in the top six. Leon Draisaitl could add that in the future, but it’s likely that he, too, is more skill than sandpaper.
12 Living in the Past
Of all the terrible things that Dallas Eakins did as head coach of the Oilers from June 2013 until December 2014, one thing he did that was great was he stripped the Oilers locker room of all of the old photos and paraphernalia celebrating the dynasty days. As great as those days were, it seems that the success of that 1980s team follows the current team around and casts a large shadow over them.
I’m not talking so much about the jersey retirements, but more so the relentless flogging of the old boys club from executive levels. One example that comes to mind is the 30th anniversary celebration of the first Stanley Cup (1984) back in 2014. What the heck was that? Are they going to do one every 10 years now? Do other teams do this nonsense?
11 No Bonafide No. 1 Goalie
Since Dwayne Roloson—who was only a true number one for a few seasons with Edmonton at the tail end of his career—the Oilers haven’t had a goalie they could call a bonafide starter. They of course bobbled the Devan Dubnyk situation thanks to former GM Craig MacTavish publicly stating he didn’t think his goalie was good, despite the fact that he had actually been pretty good up to that point.
They’ve cycled through many a goalie since Roli’s departure, and not a one has really been capable, Dubnyk aside. What ever happened to Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers? Mathieu Garon? And everyone remembers the adventure that was 39-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin.
10 Toxic Player/Management Relationships
The clearest example of this was the public feud between Sheldon Souray and then-GM Steve Tambellini. Souray felt he’d been rushed back from injury in 2009, and he spoke to the media about his feelings. To be fair, Souray should learn to keep his mouth shut at appropriate times, but it’s not like he was wrong in his assessment of Oilers management.
A more recent example of this is last season when a frustrated David Perron spoke out against the organization, hinting that there are problems from top to bottom. Needless to say, Perron was given his walking papers shortly after the public outcry.
9 Lack of “Bold” Moves
When Craig MacTavish took the helm in 2013, he promised there would be “bold” moves. During his two years as Oilers GM, he didn’t make a single trade that you could consider bold, unless you consider sending Sam Gagner and Magnus Paajarvi out of town as "bold."
Unfortunately, had Mac-T kept his promise, he might still be sitting in the GM chair. Conventional wisdom now states that the Oilers need to subtract actual value in order to add it on the blue line, and that means trading a Jordan Eberle or a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Peter Chiarelli knows a thing or two about bold moves (he traded Tyler Seguin in Boston), so perhaps we’ll finally see one soon.
8 Head Coaching Carousel
Since 2009, the Oilers have employed a staggering seven different head coaches (including the interim stint from Todd Nelson in the latter half of 2014-15). That’s simply too many head coaches, especially considering how young this team has been for the past six years.
Hall, Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins have already played for more coaches than most players will throughout their entire NHL careers. It’s tough to find consistencies in systems and messages when the person delivering them changes every 12 months. With Todd McLellan at the helm, this trend is fully expected to stop.
7 Poor Scouting (Amateur and Pro)
One general manager can only see so much, so as a result he’s forced to rely on the word of his scouting team when it comes to evaluating both amateur and professional players. Unfortunately, there’s evidence that the scouts from both factions have failed the organization in a major way over the past decade.
From the amateur standpoint, look no further than their ineptitude at the draft, which really dates back to the 1990s (or perhaps even the late 1980s). They’ve picked a few good players in the first round (often first overall), but beyond that they have almost nothing of note.
From the pro scouting side there are tons of examples, but to pick out a few let’s go with Nikita Nikitin, Andrew Ference, and Lauri Korpikoski. Nikitin was brought on to play a top-4 role, but he’s not even able to play an NHL role. Ference was signed to a fat contract as a UFA and was named captain, but he too can’t fill an NHL role at his advances age. Korpikoski is ineffective, and has had one of the worst Corsi ratings on whatever team he’s been on since 2010.
6 Defensive Wasteland
As the old adage goes, “defense wins championships.” Looking at the top-six defensemen for the Oilers every season since 2006, it’s pretty obvious why they’ve been about as far removed from a Stanley Cup as possible for a decade.
It’s been a deficiency for far too long, and that’s simply unacceptable for any team. Seriously, who has been the best Oilers defenseman of the last decade? Maybe Lubomir Visnovsky? Sheldon Souray? Since the departure of Chris Pronger (more on that later), the woes on the Oilers blue line have been pronounced.
5 Bad Asset Management
Every NHL team’s cupboard of assets differs from the next, but well-managed teams seem to get better bang-for-their-buck on their assets. I can think of a few examples within the past year that prove the Oilers are terrible at asset management, and perhaps that hasn’t even changed with Peter Chiarelli at the helm.
First, we’ll talk about Jeff Petry. The Oilers were forced to trade him—a useful, legitimate second-pairing defenseman—at the deadline because they had made the choice to pay Justin Schultz more money the previous season. Keeping Petry should have been top priority of then-GM MacTavish, but if you HAVE to trade him then make sure you’re getting good return. The two draft picks (2nd and conditional 5th) they got from Montreal don’t really qualify, but hey, the Oilers treatment of Petry from day one diminished his market value so they only have themselves to blame.
Then there’s the Griffin Reinhart trade at the last draft, made by the “new regime.” Trading a 16th and 33rd overall pick in the deepest draft in over a decade for a defenseman who, by all accounts, had already stalled in his development? That’s bad asset management, even if Reinhart eventually plays a regular shift in Edmonton.
4 Poor Player Development
While their drafting has been poor, their player development strategies have been equally bad. The Oilers have been accused of rushing players to the NHL when they’re not ready, or even putting players in roles they’re not ready to fill, thus setting them up for failure.
I remember back in 2011-12, the Oilers played Anton Lander in the NHL for 56 games. He was nowhere near ready, proven by the fact that he played the bulk of the next two seasons in the AHL. Then there’s the minutes that every coach has gifted to Justin Schultz over the years, despite the undisputed fact that he’s, at best, a bottom-pairing power play specialist.
3 Pronger Void Never Filled
Lauren Chris Pronger broke the hearts of every person in Edmonton by demanding a trade out of town just days after the Oilers fairy-tale run to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final came to a disappointing end. Pronger was (and continued to be for another five or six seasons) one of the best defensemen in the NHL, making him almost impossible to replace.
We’re closing on 10 years now, and the Oilers have not come close to replacing Pronger in any way. Virtually every team that has won the cup since the year 2000 has done so with a stud defenseman anchoring the club, and there’s still no end in sight for this problem in E-Town.
2 Kevin Lowe
On an executive level, there’s only one man who has been in Edmonton for the entire decade of futility, and that’s Kevin Lowe. Although his role in the day-to-day hockey operations has diminished (finally), he still collects a paycheck from owner Darryl Katz and has some sort of role (a little unclear) with the club.
Lowe did do some good things that helped immensely in the 2006 run, but since then his moves have been questionable at best and despicable at worst. Fans turned on Lowe so badly a few years back that they were renting billboard space throughout the city, calling for the dismissal of Lowe.
Lowe’s attitude in his infrequent press availabilities haven’t helped, either. Whether he was having a public spat with an opposing GM, classifying Oilers fans as “tier 1” (season ticket holders) and “tier 2” (the less-wealthy ones, essentially) fans, or claiming he knows “a thing or two about winning,” he always seems to come off as a pompous ass.
1 Daryl Katz
When Daryl Katz purchased the Edmonton Oilers from the EIG in 2008, it seemed like a good thing at the time. The team would have its first singular owner since Peter Pocklington, automatically making business that much easier to conduct (the EIG was made up of over 30 affluent locals who scrambled to buy the team from Pocklington in the mid-‘90s in order to keep the club in Edmonton).
Katz is a shrewd businessman, so it’s surprising to me that he doesn’t see the value in separating personal relationships from business relationships. However, all available evidence suggests that Katz has given the benefit of the doubt to the “old boys club” a little too often. The very fact that both Lowe and MacTavish still get paid by the Oilers is evidence of this.
Lowe reportedly even went into Katz’s office at the height of the “Lowe Must Go” campaign to offer his resignation. The offer was vehemently rejected by Katz, who just so happened to idolize Lowe and the 1980s Oilers in his younger days as a successful entrepreneur in Edmonton.