Cotton Eyed Joe

The Edmonton Oilers have been a moribund franchise since the early 90’s. That’s almost 25 years folks.

Not only the product on the ice has been subpar for nearly all those years but the team’s management, it’s development system, scouting, drafting and even the “in game” experience have been so far behind the gold standards of the league that you can’t even see the top from here.

Now, there are some signs of a pulse in the victim what with the hiring of a stats guru (although, it should be noted, at a distance and presumably part time) as well as the hiring of a a new individual to oversee the arena experience that has been pretty much the same since Rexall Place came into existence.

Hiring a couple of new assistant coaches, demanded by fans for years, could have the most immediate impact but that remains to be seen since, even the most accomplished of those new hires, Craig Ramsay, while certainly a superb hockey player in his day, has a very checkered coaching history. In fact he’s had a couple of shots at head coach and been fired both times. You certainly have to think Ramsay is a step up from his predecessors who essentially had no experience when the Oilers hired them…so there is that,

But the more cynical observer might well have some reservations about the commitment to change that seems to be blowing in the wind.

When your loyal fan base is tossing expensive jerseys, booing the team off the ice and renting billboards demanding the guy in charge of hockey operations get fired, you might think some dramatic changes might have been triggered.

A similar situation in Vancouver triggered the firing of the President/GM and the head coach although the Canucks’ recent record is far superior to the Oilers’.

Then, at his latest news availability, Craig MacTavish revealed that he firmly believes Justin Schultz has “Norris Trophy potential” and  then dropped this bombshell:

I think the analytics on players is very important; I disagree with the way it assesses our group a lot of times, but it leads us to ask different questions that we wouldn’t otherwise ask. At the end of the day I’m evaluating our team based on watching them 65 or 70 times a year and I think I have a pretty good idea where the value is.

Commitment to a new way of thinking OR does this sound disturbingly like these proclamations from a year or so ago.

Yes, Kevin, there is a concern.

The same guy who has been running the hockey team is still, at least on paper, in charge.

The new General Manager is the old coach who was turfed for non performance, Rick Howson has been recycled from Columbus, the new head coach is pretty much a case study in inexperience and, although there is some new perspective among the assistant coaches, is that really a peg for Oiler fans to hang their hopes and dreams for the season?

One wonders if the hiring of Tyler Dellow was merely a sop to the advanced stats movement or, even more cynically, just to get the Oilers’ most effective and persistent critic to shut the hell up.

While many in the Oilers’ fan orbit deify MacT, he still has left the team with gaping holes at C, still has not acquired a top pairing defenseman and is entering the season with TWO unproven NHL starters in goal.

Remember when MacT said he wasn’t interested in acquiring any mid level talent on the blue line:

In my mind, I’d like to add a very high-end defensemen. I think, I wouldn’t be alone with 29 other GMs in that objective. But, to me I won’t be adding anything in the middle. And, if I can get something this is really going to move the dial of our team from the back end, I’ll be involved in those discussions and consider that.

Mark Fayne and, especially Nikita Nikitin, are exactly the the types of players he said he wouldn’t be acquiring and yet…here we are.

Now, Fayne has shown some pretty nice numbers in New Jersey but he was playing in a system designed to choke the life out of opponents (and the game of hockey) and he accomplished those numbers playing on a team in the weakest division of the weaker EC so, on a team that can’t play defense and is lodged in the ultra tough Pacific Division it’ll be interesting to see how he fares playing Big Boy Hockey ®. I’d wager his possession numbers take a huge hit in Edmonton.

MacT apologists also defend his inability to land a veteran centre to take the heat off Hopkins and to shelter the new young German but there were numerous options available over the summer…in fact so many that some teams managed to hire 2 or, in Nashville’s case, the Predators have acquired 5 of them in the past year and now have TEN centres on their NHL depth chart.

Jim Nill in Dallas has added 4 NHL centres in his time on the job in Dallas which, not coincidentally is exactly the same tenure MacT has in his NHL GM career.

And that will be the subject of our next post as we assess the comparative success of the two rookie GM’s in “Duelling Banjos”

Until then, remember to smile when you next hear Cotton Eyed Joe at Rexall Place….and remember to “watch what they do…not what they say”







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