I recently was on vacation in Phoenix, Arizona. I was at a Calvin Klein outlet where I bumped into the Assistant General Manager of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades Jarrod Brodsky. We chatted for a few minutes, and at one point during the conversation he mentioned that this year for the Blades, which has gone fairly well with a 4th place standing in the Eastern Conference, was more of a developmental year compared to next year when the Memorial Cup, Canada’s most prestigious junior hockey championship, is held in the city. Their school of thought is that, while winning now is good, next year we should really put on a show for our fans.
The NHL and WHL are quite different animals, but that school of thought is maybe what Edmonton Oilers management is applying to this years team. It’s quite evident that there are holes on the roster. The need for a quality defenceman has been there since Lubomir Visnovsky was dealt for Ryan Whitney, who has been a disappointment for the most part. The need for another veteran checking forward persists as well. The number of times this team has gone into the third period with either a lead or manageable deficit and come out with a loss is remarkable.
Right now the organization is still surviving the wrath of owner Daryl Katz based on the footprint of the rebuild. At one point though that will have to change. 2012-13 may be the most important year in the past decade for the franchise as a whole. It represents the last year in which two cornerstones of the rebuild, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, are under contract with the team. Ditto for Magnus Paajarvi. They of course are restricted free agents once their Entry Level Contracts end, and the team will still retain their rights. Just as these young players once auditioned for the right to be selected by the Edmonton Oilers, next year the roles will be reversed so to speak: the organization will audition to keep these players in the fold long-term.
Oilers fans let me ask you this: would it scare the daylights out of you if either Eberle or Hall signed for a short, one or two year contract? That scenario, which is purely an example, would indicate that they have no faith in the organization. The players that the team worked to scout, develop, draft and hone need to have faith in the direction of the team. Steve Tambellini, Kevin Lowe, Daryl Katz and the entire organization need to convince the player representatives of Hall and Eberle to sign in Edmonton long-term, and make a commitment to the team and city.
And if the “Big Three” aren’t willing to sign long-term, that doesn’t bode well for the future of center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or any free agents the team would hope to attract. A successful season next year, and hopefully a playoff appearance, would do wonders in that regard. If the team made the playoffs this year, there would be a very good chance that there would be a dropoff next year. Hence Steve Tambellini standing his ground.
It’s not just Eberle and Hall either. Ryan Jones, Ryan Whitney, Ladislav Smid and Nikholai Khabibulin are unrestricted free agents after 2012-13. 7 players from the team’s current roster currently have contracts beyond next season. Turnover could be high.
It’s not even limited to players. Tambellini and Head Coach Tom Renney both have expiring contracts this summer. Whomever is at the helm both on the bench and upstairs next season will very likely be in charge once the losing is supposed to end.
2012-13 may be the single most important season in this franchise’s post-Glory Days history. Oilers management knows this, and need to make a run of some sort to convince the cornerstones of the rebuild that this is, in fact, turning around. Not that any of it is justified. Alas that is a discussion for another day.
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