Edmonton needs to pull that
The Oilers need to address their defensive game by trading away a player they
say they'd rather keep.
TORONTO, ON -- Edmonton's first half of the 2013-14 NHL season is
probably very close to the polar opposite of what this team had
expected at the start of training camp.
The Oilers are dead-last in the Western Conference and would be 30th
in the entire NHL if not for the Buffalo Sabres, who can't seem to put
the puck in the net.
Much has been made about the Oilers' season, thus far. When it comes
to offense, they're not that bad. Their top four scorers -- Taylor
Hall, Jordan Eberle, David Perron and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- are
getting the job done.
Simply put, this team cannot play defense. And I'm not knocking guys
like Andrew Ference and Anton Belov... I'm talking about the entire
bloody team, overall.
There is not a single regular player on the Oilers with a plus-rating.
Crack jokes about Nail Yakupov's minus-25 all you want, but Sam Gagner
is right behind him (-18), followed by Justin Schultz (-17), and Hall
and Nugent-Hopkins aren't far off (-13).
Sure, goaltending has stunk, as well, but when you're hung out to dry
most nights, it's hard to build up your stat-sheet.
The Oilers need help. They need outside help.
This isn't a situation of the players not listening to the coach, or
being unwilling to mesh well under Dallas Eakins' system. They'd like
to, but they're not a Dallas Eakins type of team.
Hall isn't going to be an amazing two-way winger. Schultz won't be a
shutdown defenseman. Yakupov isn't a physical specimen.
If Oilers management wants to fix this mess, they can't wait for Oscar
Klefbom and Darnell Nurse to bail them out on the blueline. It's time
for GM Craig MacTavish to be a little more aggressive on the phone
lines. This team has been bad for far too long. The season looks like
a write-off, but you need to show this young group you still have
faith in them. It's time to shake things up...
...as conservatively as possible.
The Oilers don't need to trade Hall, Eberle or RNH. That's somewhat
counter-productive. Let the offensive boys do what they're supposed to
do. This team needs defensive-minded players, at both ends of the
Ales Hemsky will command a solid return once he's dealt. MacTavish
needs to bring in defensively-responsible assets in return. They don't
need draft picks.
Same can be said for Ryan Smyth. If the Oilers feel the season is a
wash -- and it pretty much is -- then it's time to move him, as well.
Granted, the salary cap can be a pain when attempting to complete a
move or two at this point in the season, but that shouldn't stop the
team from trying. And we all know MacTavish is trying.
But the move this team really needs to make is one they say they don't
Yakupov has to go.
The 2012 first-overall pick will never be a superstar in Edmonton. At
least, not with Eakins (or someone like him) behind the bench. And
this isn't a knock on Eakins. It's just the truth. Yakupov will not
flourish under the system the Oilers' currently have in place, and
keeping him not only hurts his development, it hurts the team, as
well. I've chatted with members of other NHL clubs, and they share the
There are 29 other teams that would love to get their hands on Yakupov;
they know he's struggled, under the current circumstances. His value
may have dropped a tad, but it hasn't deteriorated. That's the reality
of the situation. If the Oilers want to better themselves, moving
Yakupov for an NHL-proven/ready No. 2 defenseman is the way to go
Whether this happens before the March 5 trade deadline or in the
summer, it needs to happen.
Edmonton's in a position for another top-five draft pick, and they'll
no doubt have their eyes set on Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad.
If MacTavish doesn't move Yakupov this season, would what I outlined
still apply if they draft Ekblad? Maybe. Or maybe they decided to deal
him for a top two-way forward.
The bottom line is the Oilers need to address their defensive game and
it's time to come to the realization that Yakupov's short time in
Edmonton is just about over.
They tried. It didn't work. You move on.
Things will get better in Edmonton, eventually. It's time to show the
fans they're working towards that.