There exists an old adage, “history repeats itself.” In many cases the statement rings true, it answers why humans still look for trends in all facets of life. In the sports world, however, history tends to repeat itself almost as often as it is self-contradicting. There is not always a formula for success in sports because no two situations will ever be remotely similar. This, to many, is sports 101, but should be established nonetheless as I try to argue against my earlier generalization.
Nowadays, it is very difficult to not be impressed by Colorado’s recent turnaround. After being the second worst team in the league last year during a shortened season, Colorado cleaned house, dusted itself off, and came back this season hotter than ever. But what is most impressive about this turnaround is that they did it neither by making a splash in free agency nor by investing big time money. Instead, they went back to their roots, traded for former Avalanche mainstay Alex Tanguay, and also drafted Nathan MacKinnon with the first pick in the draft. But aside from that, not much was required. This leads me to my main point: why can’t Edmonton reproduce this type of success?
Edmonton does not invest much in free agency, just like Colorado; in addition, while Colorado has had only three top-10 selections in the last 15 NHL drafts, Edmonton has had six in the past seven drafts. Look at both teams’ top-six forwards, top-four defensemen, and top goalies:
Line 1: (Gabriel Landeskog: #2 overall in 2011 draft; Paul Stastny: 2nd round in 2006 draft; Nathan MacKinnon: #1 overall in 2013 draft)
Line 2: (Ryan O’Reilly: 2nd round in 2009 draft; Matt Duchene: #3 overall in 2009 draft; P.A. Parenteau: signed in 2012
Pairing 1: (Jan Hejda: signed in 2011; Erik Johnson: acquired in 2008 for Kevin Shattenkirk [#14 in 2007 draft]/Chris Stewart [#18 in 2006 draft])
Pairing 2: (Nick Holden: signed in 2013; Tyson Barrie: #64 overall in 2009 draft)
Goalie: (Semyon Varlamov: acquired in 2011 for the #11 selection in the 2012 NHL Draft; Jean-Sebastien Giguere: signed in 2011)
Line 1: (Taylor Hall: #1 overall in 2010 draft; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: #1 in 2011 draft; Nail Yakupov: #1 in 2012 draft)
Line 2: (David Perron: acquired in 2013 for Magnus Paajarvi [#10 overall in 2009 NHL draft]; Sam Gagner: #6 in 2007 draft; Jordan Eberle: #22 in 2008 draft)
Pairing 1: (Nick Schultz: acquired in 2012; Jeff Schultz: signed in 2012 [was a prolific free agent at the time])
Pairing 2: (Andrew Ference: signed in 2013; Mark Fraser: acquired in 2014 for Teemu Hartikainen)
Goalie: (Ben Scrivens: acquired in 2014; Ilya Bryzgalov: signed in 2013)
These lineups show multiple similarities between the two franchises. First, both teams have had very high draft picks in recent years. Second, all the teams’ top-six forwards were high draft picks or major trade acquisitions or big-name free agent signings. Additionally, both teams heavily invested in one defenseman (Johnson in COL, J.Schultz in EDM) and worry much less about the surrounding cast. Finally, both teams have young goalies that were phased out of their franchises (Varlamov in WSH, Scrivens in TOR and LA) and were acquired cheaply as well as a veteran backup.
But why, then, has one team been shockingly successful while the other has, for some reason, continually struggled? It’s not talent. In fact, analysts are hard pressed to find a more high-octane offense than that of Edmonton. In four of Gagner’s season, he was on pace for 50 points (minimum 60 games played). In the past two seasons, Taylor Hall has eclipsed the point per game mark. Eberle has had a 76 point season and is just 23. And the list goes on.
Is it the goaltending? As soon as Scrivens arrived, the team has noticeably improved its play, but is still 29th in the NHL and just above average (5-3-2) in its last ten games. After recycling coaches year-by-year, Edmonton finally thinks that Dallas Eakins is the right man for the job. With a proven track record as a coach and a strong playing career to boot, Eakins has not yet proven that he is the right man (or the wrong man) for the job.
So what could it be overall? The biggest difference between the two team is total chemistry. When Colorado needed defense and had a glut on offense, general manager Greg Sherman pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal, turning a talented defenseman and a winger (Shattenkirk and Stewart) into a high-upside defenseman in Erik Johnson. Edmonton, on the other hand, has been shipping out many of its forward prospects in exchange for defensemen and more late round draft picks that will not break the top-6 label.
So what does Edmonton need to do? First, maybe invest a draft pick on a defenseman. Drafting Darnell Nurse does help matters, but maybe Edmonton should have used one of those #1 selections on a defenseman. Of course, they could draft a defenseman this year, but if they want to be taken seriously, a trade should be on the horizon. That is why I recommend the following two trades:
1. Edmonton Oilers send Ales Hemsky to Washington Capitals for Dmitry Orlov
Edmonton has seven top-six forwards currently and only two top-four defensemen. Trading for a player like Dmitry Orlov will allow the team to reach new heights defensively. No longer would Ben Scrivens need to pull fifty-nine save games out of thin air. In exchange, Washington could add another top-six forward in exchange for a defensive prospect.
2. Edmonton Oilers send Sam Gagner and 2015 2nd round pick to New York Rangers for Daniel Girardi
Here is the big trade that I was mentioning. In this acquisition, Edmonton would follow Colorado ca. 2009’s move and would invest heavily in Daniel Girardi, a star top-pairing defenseman. Of course, an important factor in this deal is Edmonton’s ability to keep him in Canada for the future, which may be difficult. However, New York ultimately has a lot of talent on defense and has been trying in vain to re-sign him. Acquiring Gagner and a draft pick would make up for the loss of Girardi. Additionally, analysts have thrown around Brad Richards’ name around as a potential compliance buyout candidate this summer. Adding another center would thus be essential for New York as Alaine Vigneault tries to build a dynasty replete with offensive and defensive talent.
So what do you think of these trades? Do you think that Edmonton could do better? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for reading!