It seems like an impossible fix.
A team mired in the cellar of the Western Conference for years, with loads of offensive talent but saddled with an atrocious defense and sub-par goaltending, the Edmonton Oilers near-future looks bleak, at best.
Year after year, the season begins with optimism and hope that this will finally be the year that the once proud franchise finally turns the corner - that all the pieces collected through the sacrifice of consecutive seasons at the bottom of the standings would finally blossom and take the team to the next level.
It hasn't happened yet, and by the look of this season's results, it isn't going to happen overnight, either. The Oilers have seemingly tried everything to turn around their fortunes, but there are still a few changes the Oilers can make to truly begin to turn their constantly sinking ship around.
3 Clean House
The Oilers, once upon a time, were the most feared team in the National Hockey League. The likes of Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr terrorized the league during the 1980's.
Two players who were major players for the Oilers during the glory years are still associated with the franchise - head coach and general manager Craig MacTavish and President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe. Both rank in top 10 of of the franchise's games played leaders (Lowe is at the top of the list with 1037 games played with Edmonton).
Lowe has been part of the team's management team for the past 15 years, and his first coaching hire was MacTavish, who served as head coach from 2000 to 2009. MacTavish was brought back into the organization in 2012, before becoming the GM in 2013.
While the two have enjoyed some success in the earlier years of their tenure, the past nine years have been a downright catastrophe. How a team that comes within one game of winning the Stanley Cup goes nine straight seasons (we're including this year) without a playoff berth is beyond reprehensible. Many will point to the loss of Chris Pronger, among others, as the beginning of the Oilers freefall after the 2006 Finals appearance - but there is no excuse for the recent futility of this organization.
Other teams would have cleaned house years ago. Kevin Lowe has well past worn out his welcome in Edmonton, and is seemingly clinging only to his legacy as a player and some sort of partnership with equally putrid owner Daryl Katz - and no, that's not harsh. Any owner who chooses to recycle the same men who've proven to be incapable of fixing the problem deserves to be removed from the team themselves, if that were somehow possible.
2 Hold the Cheques
The Oilers seem to be constantly wondering why their "rebuild" isn't working, considering they've had high picks for years. A team with talents like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov can't possibly be that bad, can they?
As we all know by now, the answer to that is a resounding yes. The problem, though, doesn't lie with those young stars - it's the talent they've been surrounded with that has led to the consistently poor results.
Look at some of the contracts the Oilers have on their books as we speak, and then either scratch your head, perplexed, or maybe shake it in disgust:
Teddy Purcell: 3 yrs./$13.5 mill. ($4.5 mill. per)
Nikita Nikitin: 2 yrs./$9.0 mill. ($4.5 mill. per)
Benoit Pouliot: 5 yrs./$20.0 mill. ($4.0 mill. per)
Mark Fayne: 4 yrs./$14.5 mill. ($3.625 mill. per)
As it stands, this is the core of the Edmonton Oilers (other than the top picks referenced earlier).
Do these names scare anyone? No. Do they exude confidence? No. Are they players you immediately point to as players you'd want on your team? No.
1 Shore Up the Backend
This might seem like an odd thing to say, but this might have been the worst possible year for the Oilers to be in the discussion for the first overall pick. If the Oilers land with one of the top two picks, they'll be tempted to add one of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel - two potentially elite offensive studs that any team would love to have.
The problem is that the Oilers don't need any more "potential offensive studs." Their issues lie on the defense and in goal, and the numbers show as much:
Goals Against Since 2010-2011:
2010-2011: 260 (28th)
2011-2012: 232 (23rd)
2012-2013: Lockout Shortened Season
2013-2014: 267 (30th)
2014-2015: 151 (29th) - after 46 games
Suffice to say the Oilers have issues keeping the puck out of their net. While they have Darnell Nurse coming up through the system for their d-line, they'll need some better options in goal - at least better than what they've had recently (Devan Dubnyk, Ilya Bryzgalov, Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth). Like a good quarterback or a top-end pitcher, great goaltending can go a long way in not only helping a team win, but also stopping the bleeding while the rest of a young franchise is developing.
This offseason, Lowe and MacTavish (for the sake of Oilers fans, though, let's hope it's someone else in charge by then) need to focus on solidifying their goaltending situation. They don't need to look far for inspiration, either - the Calgary Flames were supposedly in the same boat as the Oilers at the end of last season, but the acquisition of Jonas Hiller, combined with the strong play of backups Karri Ramo and Joni Ortio, have helped turned the Flames into a borderline playoff bubble team.
Antti Niemi and Braden Holtby are both unrestricted free agents this offseason - but if the Oilers are serious about "rebuilding" and are actually thinking about moving one of their top players - or their upcoming top pick - they would be wise to move those assets for someone who can stop the puck and give this team a legitimate chance to at least stay in games every single night.
Until they deal with some the issues, the Oilers will continue to be the Oilers of the present - and they'll never get back to being the Oilers of the past.
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