Like many teams, the Edmonton Oilers have a shopping list going into the trade deadline as well as the offseason. They have tremendous young talent, but they have a few glaring weaknesses that have been well documented. The need for a top six power forward, a top pairing defenseman and a No.1 goaltender are at the top. The problem is, what team doesn’t have a similar need. Those three commodities are hard to come by and not easily made available by other teams.
There is another area that the Oilers could use some help in as well that might be more attainable. While they are supremely talented and have more potential than almost any other team in the league, they aren’t exactly a hard team to play against. They don’t get under opposing team’s skin, they don’t really get in anyone’s face and they generally don’t do much to get other teams off their game.
Beating a team with pure skill is certainly entertaining and when working is quite exciting. However, that is not a formula that works consistently. The Oilers need a player that can play in their top nine that will be a thorn in the side of opponents night in and night out. Someone that can agitate on a regular basis and still put the puck in the net. They need a super pest.
The great Oiler teams of the 1980s had more pure skill than anyone, the type of skill that could beat teams on a nightly basis, but they also had more than just that. They also had two of the most famous NHL super pests in Ken Linseman and Esa Tikkanen during that decade. Both players played in the top six and contributed offensively, but drove the other team nuts.
Linseman, nicknamed “the Rat,” played just two seasons in Edmonton, and part of a third, and put up 33 goals and 182 penalty minutes in his first season there playing on a line with Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson. Tikkanen played seven seasons for the Oilers and averaged almost 30 goals and over 100 penalty minutes a year in his tenure.
The Oilers currently have nobody that can lay claim to that role. Ryan Jones may be the closest and could develop into it, but he needs to bring a more consistent game each night. Players around the league like Brad Marchand, Max Talbot or Alex Burrows represent the modern version of Tikkanen and Linseman, all being able to play that same versatile role. They are also keys to their respective team’s success. The first two have Stanley Cup rings and were integral pieces and Burrows is on a team regularly fighting for the President’s trophy and has been to the Cup final.
The Oilers need to target a player in that mold. Those three, with the exception of Talbot, may not be available but there are other candidates around the league that can also be looked at. Players like Cal Clutterbuck, Wayne Simmonds, Andrew Shaw or Steve Downie all would fit the bill and while there would certainly be questions around the availability of the aforementioned players to varying degrees, what does it hurt to kick the tires.
The Oilers are certainly capable of winning games with the talent they currently have, the problem however is that they cannot do it consistently. They need a sparkplug, someone to inject energy into the lineup, and someone who is not a fourth liner playing five or six minutes a night, but is integral to the offence as well.
Steve Tambellini’s main focus, as it should be, will be on bringing in one of the three big needs they have, but adding an agitator that can score may bring as many dividends in the long run.