We were having a discussion the other day in the BLH chat group, analyzing the sorry performance our boys put in against the Jets the other night and trying to figure out what it might mean come the start of the regular season. Yes, I know it’s preseason. We all know it’s preseason. But preseason is a great time to sit back see how the guys developed over the summer, evaluate line combos, and especially to see who amongst the fresh blood is really busting their ass every shift to make the show come October 14th.
We’re seeing that pretty consistently out of Caggiula, which a certain BLH writer may or may not have predicted back in July… I’m also seeing that fight in Versteeg; I think he’ll end up with a contract for at least a season, and I hope he can infuse some of his multiple-Stanley-Cup-winning magic vibes into this squad. Looch is still big and slow but he’ll get there. Even if he can’t quite keep up with McDavid yet and realize just how little work he actually has to do to rack up points just being on the ice with Him, he’ll get there, and his presence just makes me feel better knowing that the potential goons on opposing teams this season will absolutely be thinking twice before trying anything funny. Puljujarvi is looking okay, he certainly killed it in the junior games a couple weeks ago, but I don’t think his North American hockey IQ (or stamina) is quite there just yet, and he could definitely benefit from a few months at least in the A.
But I mean, other than that, it’s kind of business as usual with these guys, isn’t it? Kind of listless, a little soft, definitely on the razor’s edge of being a complete disaster dumpster fire of a season again should one of our big guys go down long-term, no? I can’t even begin to imagine what losing someone early in the season like Klef, or Ebs, or RNH, or god forbid, He Whose Collarbone Shall Not Be Named would do to this team. Which really brings us to the heart of the issue facing this Oilers team right now: Depth.
This Oilers team, with the amount of seriously amazing skill it has up front, absolutely does not have the depth to be a serious contender this season if everyone isn’t running at 100% healthy for the vast majority of the season. Think about it this way: if Klef goes down, our top LHD is back to being Andre Sekera. If Larsson goes down, our top RHD is back to being Mark Fayne. (Now, I’d like to think BDavey could pick up that slack and run with it like he had to last season, but still, the point stands.) If Connor or Nuge or Leon suffers an injury, where are the classic “depth guys” to step in and at least attempt to fill that huge void? In Bakersfield? Doubtful. You know where they are? In Chicago, or Pittsburgh, or Los Angeles, even Florida and Nashville now to an extent. They’re being drafted and traded for and developed specifically by these teams to fill key depth roles with the understanding that top-12 forwards and top-6 defencemen occasionally need to be pushed into non-ideal minutes and situations. Do you picture Anton Lander or Griffin Reinhart or Iiro Pakarinen in your mind when you think of those situations? Because that’s what we’ve got.
You know who this team reminds me of the last few years? The late-90s-to-mid-2000s Blackhawks, just before they got Toews in 2006 and Kane in 2007. Train wrecks, basically. But remember, even when they got Captain Serious and Kaner, it still took them a couple years to become a serious playoff team. How did they do this? Why has Chicago won 3 of the last 7 Stanley Cups? Well it could be because they have two or three star players carrying the team. That would be an easy assumption to make; it’s been the case for some Stanley Cup winning teams throughout the years. Hell, it’s been the modus operandi of the Edmonton Oilers for the last decade. Draft a couple studs and screw the rest of the lineup, people come for the stars, and they’re who will get us to the cup. Right?
Except that’s not how the NHL works anymore. The Blackhawks have won 3 cups in 7 years because Niklas Hjalmarsson is a third pairing defender on that team. They have or have had the Andrew Ladds, the Marian Hossas, the Kris Versteegs, the Brandon Saads, and the Andrew Shaws to bolster their lineups and step up to fill the holes when need be. They aren’t the guys necessarily putting up 65+ point seasons ever year, but they are solid and reliable and tough, and teams stocked up in those particular skill departments are the teams who consistently string together winning seasons and ultimately end up wining championships.
As indescribably amazing as Connor McDavid is, he can’t win us a Stanley Cup on his own. As defensively sound as Adam Larsson is, he isn’t going to swing our goal differential into the positives on his own. As big and strong as Milan Lucic is, he isn’t going to be able to fight off the opposition on his own without the support of the third- and fourth-liners who we need to bring in to make this a playoff team for years to come. If we make the playoffs this season, suffice it to say that I will be surprised. We’re flush with skill guys, now we need to focus on the d-word. The Edmonton Oilers need to start trading for and drafting and developing depth players, and fast, before the p-word starts entering our vernacular in a serious way.