For most of the new generation of Oiler fans, Craig MacTavish is known for his success as a coach in the 2006 playoff run, and his lack of success as a GM. So you would have to go back some years in the fanbase to know that MacT, as he came to be known, more or less had his career, arguably his quality of life, resurrected by 80’s Edmonton Oilers’ GM Glen Sather.
Charged with vehicular manslaughter, MacTavish, a former full-time NHLer with the Boston Bruins, even spent time in jail, later accepting an invitation from Sather to try out for the Edmonton Oilers. MacTavish would later flourish in a third-line role for the Oilers, the perfect pivot slotting in behind Wayne Gretzky, and Mark Messier, and of course, eventually moving upstairs in the Oilers’ organization.
Fast forward to today’s version of the Edmonton Oilers, current General Manager Peter Chiarelli seems be applying that same reclamation template to the current version of the blaze orange and blue, signalled by his most recent signing of Zach Kassian to a one year, one more chance contract. Kassian sounds to be motivated and excited by the opportunity, in spite of the pay reduction.
There is a lot of potential value in a NHL reclamation project. Typically a player of that type can be secured for a reasonable low price, (whether Kassian will or won’t succeed is a question that remains to be answered) and showing a practice we hadn’t really seen utilized by post Sather GM’s. The ideal template is to identify a troubled young talent who is on the ropes, and nurture him back to health in a safe environment.
In some ways it harkens back to the Edmonton Oilers’ first GM who had a penchant for such projects, some of which were not always successful.
The Oilers first GM/President/Coach Glen Sather, had a string of successes with his first reclamation projects: Craig Mactavish was rescued from jail, sobered up, cleaned up, and eventually brought some much needed two-way play to the 80’s Oilers. He may be one of the best reclamation projects in the history of the NHL. But Slats did have others, and its interesting to compare with what Chiarelli has on the go.
Slats’ Other Projects Over and Above MacT
Petr Klima: Traded out of the Red Wings organization in the Jimmy Carson trade of the 1989 – 90 season because (among other things), he went on a bender with Bob Probert during the 1985 Wings’ playoff run (ironically enough) against the Oilers. Klima didn’t do much during the Oiler’s playoff cup run that year but did score a memorable goal five-hole on Andy Moog to end the longest overtime in Stanley Cup final history against the Boston Bruins.
Closest Chiarelli Comparble: There isn’t one really but we’ll put Kassian in this spot as he is talented and a recovering alcoholic. The two players have different skill sets, and comparable demons.
Outcome: Remains to be seen for Kassian, but Klima did more or less clean up his act and went on to score over 200 goals over the balance of his NHL career with the Oilers and Tampa Bay Lightning before retiring.
Joe Murphy: Murphy was a former first overall pick of the Detroit Red Wings (they weren’t always great at drafting and developing!) who was essentially a throw-in in the 1989 – 90 Jimmy Carson blockbuster trade. In Edmonton, he turned his game around a complete 180, scoring 15 points in the 1989 – 90 playoffs and went on to have a productive career (528 pts. in 779 NHL games). One of Slats’ more notable reclamation projects.
Closest Chiarelli Comparable: Hard to count this one because he has never left the Oilers organization, but, Nail Yakupov could draw a lot of comparisons to Murphy. They were both first overall pics (Murphy, 1986; Yak, 2012). Yak is the big tease but his appeal is rapidly losing its allure. He didn’t learn from his episodes with Eakins how to keep drama out of the media, recently starting a war of words with Russian national coach Oleg Znarok. He remains a challenge to coach and has very little value on the open market. Still, Chiarelli has not discarded him from the organization (a la Schultz). My guess is he sees something salvageable in the future, at least, significantly more than if he flogged the player on the open market now.
The Outcome: Murphy ended up having a productive if not spectacular career. Yakupov could have the same, if he gets his attitude and hockey sense adjusted.
Jason Smith: Picked up as a defensive support in the 1998 – 99 season. Prior to his trade to the Oilers, the former first round pick had not really established himself as an NHL player when he became Oilers’ property. However, Smith eventually turned out to be one of the best defensemen of his type to don the copper and blue, a huge part of the 2006 playoff run and memorable captain of the Oilers.
Closest Chiarelli Comparable: Maroon is a small scale reclamation project but could be classified as one nonetheless. Not a full-time player in the Anaheim organization, he has seen his career bloom on McDavid’s wing providing, physical prowess and deft touch as a power forward. Once again, not a direct player type comparable, but both were/are needed for their physicality and toughness.
The Outcome: Still too early to tell but Maroon is proving full value, as Anaheim eats half his salary and is sure to be a 20 plus scorer on McDavid’s wing next season, especially if he improves his skating.
But while reclamation projects can be good value there can be risk. After leaving Edmonton, Sather was burned badly on his trade for Eric Lindros as well as Theoren Fleury. In Lindros’ case, Sather didn’t get good value (over-paid), and in Fleury’s case, New York offered too many temptations for someone who wasn’t prepared to battle them.
As for Chiarelli’s current projects, it’s too early. But it is encouraging to see him think out of the box for solutions to the team’s problems. As long as the risk level is low (as it has been to this point) these experiments won’t outright cost the organization anything significant. As for Yakupov, well, that risk was taken in the 2012 draft. If Chiarelli can salvage something, it will be a bonus.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!