Dec 19, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Edmonton Oilers right wing Jordan Eberle (14) attempts to score on Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) late in the third period at the Pepsi Center. The Avalanche defeated the Oilers 4-2. Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Edmonton Oilers should use the Colorado Avalanche as a template for success

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:

Dec 27, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov (81) shoots the puck in front of New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) in the first period at Verizon Center. Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Feb 6, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Boyd Gordon (27) controls the puck against New York Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi (5) during the first period of a game at Madison Square Garden. Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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!

Tags: Ales Hemsky Avalanche Colorado Edmonton Edmonton Oilers Erik Johnson Oilers Sam Gagner

  • robnas94

    First proposed trade makes sense, as Washington obviously does not know what to do with Orlov. But they’re not getting Girardi for what was offered. They can have callahan because he’s a piece of crap, but I have faith in Sather to get Girardi re-signed. He’s too important to the franchise right now.

    • Will Agathis

      Thanks for the quick comment! To me, Washington feels that Orlov has a lot of skill, but might need a change of scenery. The only thing is I find it unlikely that they trade him without packaging Martin Erat or Michal Neuvirth (who both want out).

      I think that the Rangers re-sign either Callahan or Girardi and I think they keep the 28-year old captain over the 30-year old defenseman even though they are both really good players. Only getting Gagner in return doesn’t make the trade unfair but it is pushing it. Keep in mind that the Rangers have a lot of young homegrown talent and are missing a lot of picks because of trades.

      Thanks for reading!

      • robnas94

        Very true, it would be in the best interest of the Oilers to go for both Orlov and Neuvirth if they can, seeing as how they can use all the help they can get in goal despite scrivens’ recent surge. I feel as though erat would do well in a place like NJ. As for the rangers’ FA’s, I have to disagree with you there. I think callahan will either be traded or he will walk, because he is Drury 2.0 on the making. His style of play will wear him down to nothing eventually so it is time to move on from him. I see Girardi as our next captain, plus he is our only top right handed defenseman (stralman and klein are not that great). Girardi and McDonagh make up our top defensive pairing and although we desperately need a top center (stepan and brassard cannot be our number one guys without richie next year), I dont want gagner for girardi. Just my two cents!

        • Will Agathis

          I know that Neuvirth would be a great option in Edmonton because Ilya Bryzgalov has been very weak this year and they need someone to split the games with Scrivens so he doesn’t burn out. He’s also very young. Orlov would obviously be a valuable asset to the team. Maybe they could work out Gagner for those two? Who knows. I would not be a huge fan of Martin Erat going to the Devils as a Devils fan because he’d be an expensive player that wouldn’t help their scoring woes much.

          You think they’d rather keep their 30-year old d-man than their 28-year old captain? I personally think Callahan is incredibly overrated based on what he offers as a player. To the Rangers, I realize he is quite valuable. He actually reminds me of David Clarkson in that sense. He’s a role based player whose skills likely wouldn’t transfer to any team. It’d need to be the right system. That makes sense that you wouldn’t want Gagner for Girardi because it’ll be tough to say goodbye to Girardi. But you get assurance in Gagner being in NY until July 2016 and he has been on pace, in multiple seasons, to be a 50-point forward. But if I were the NY brass, I’d try to work out Staal for Gagner straight up. That would work for both sides too. What do you think?

          • robnas94

            I totally get what you’re saying about the Rangers situation, its just from a Rangers fan perspective I would have a hard time accepting resigning Callahan at all. Even if it was at a discounted price. Being that I watch as many games as possible, he is t the same player he was two years ago. The homegrown grinder style team we had when we made it to the conference final is completely phased out now. So many guys have come and gone since then, and now with a high octane offensive team, callahan just doesn’t fit in. I like what he did for the rangers as their leaderleader but he was tortorella’s captain. Its time to move on with AV. We have guys like kreider and nash now, as well as the resurgent zuccarello, and guys like Duclair and buchnevich in the system who are also offensive guys. miller and kristo are also average prospects who – together – can replace Callahan’s role as a grinder and a scorer. As far as defenders go? Well McIlrath is in limbo with injuries and readiness for the NHL and Brady Skjei is at least two years away. Connor Allen looked good on his few appearances this season, but the fact that Klein is a third liner, Stralman may not be resigned, and McIlrath is a high risk player, I worry that losing Girardi means we have no top right handed defenseman left in the system. And they’re not easy to find. Therefore I think signing Girardi takes precedence over throwing an undeserved (and soon to be unfulfilledunfulfilled, because of injuries) contract at callahan. Besides, a lot of people (me being one of them) are tired of callahans antics and style of play. He’s not the ideal leader, despite what others may say.

          • Will Agathis

            It would be nice to keep them altogether, but how realistic is it? Klein is a top-4 defensemen, giving the team four of them. That’s unusual. If they want offense, they’re going to have to sacrifice. And I believe that they want offense. I know they have a great defense but the offense needs a piece or two.

            I understand that Girardi is more valuable to the team than Callahan, but if I recall, talks have not at all progressed with Girardi as with Callahan. In the end they cost the same and we both know who is more worthy of the money, but that’s not to say it’ll happen. Losing a captain to free agency doesn’t happen very often, even if he is just the de facto captain from a previous regime. Nonetheless, I believe that this team’s offense has a bright future in their new AV-led system.

          • robnas94

            As for Staal for Gagner, also not worth it. With Del Zotto gone and no longer being counted on for future dominance, the Rangers’ top three of McDonagh Girardi and Staal must stay together in my opinion. Who else do we have? John Moore, Stralman, and Klein. Subpar defensemen. Our defense after Sauer went down has relied mostly on the first three I mentioned. They are what makes the defense one of the best in the league. To see one of them go for an inconsistent, unproven, risky center would kill me. Especially after all the previous failures by Sather.

          • BillHK

            Don’t let the win/loss columns fool ya. Bryan has played well since he signed on. The D in front of him has been very week. The Oilers have a rookie call up from the AL in their top 4 right now…

            Gagner for Staal might be quite interesting.

  • FranKo Mango

    This is not a template. It’s you telling us who we should trade for. That’s bullshit!!

    • Will Agathis

      I never said: “I will now provide a template.” I did mention what the differences were and what Edmonton needed to do. Sadly, they have all the pieces (except on defense) and cannot get anything together. Thus, the template is not long and drawn-out like I would recommend for Buffalo.

      There’s not much I’d recommend besides drafting d-men early and trading for a big name two-way defenseman. Aside from that, they’re a great team in my opinion. Thanks for reading!

  • BillHK

    Trade 1, yes. Trade 2, no.

    • Will Agathis

      Why wouldn’t you want Dan Girardi? The other trade rumor that keeps popping up is Kyle Clifford for Sam Gagner. I’d rather have Girardi any day of the week. Wouldn’t you? He’s your classic defensive forward (I refuse to call him a two-way because he’s just so useless on offense). Is it the 2nd round pick that you don’t want to lose? I’d like to hear what you think.

      • robnas94

        Coming from a Rangers fan, Girardi is far from useless on offense. He led all Rangers defensemen in scoring in the playoffs when we made it to the ECF two years ago.

        • Will Agathis

          I was talking about Kyle Clifford and was saying that he is basically a stay-at-home defenseman playing the wing. I know that Girardi is a weapon.

          • robnas94

            Oh yeah that makes sense then. I dont know why the oilers wanted him for gagner haha

          • BillHK

            Not sure that the Oilers wanted him for Gagner. But that was the rumor.

      • BillHK

        As an emotionally scarred Oilers Fan, I would love to have a durable D like Girardi, but Gagner and a 2nd would be too much to give up.

        Girardi is UFA at the end of the season and the Oilers are not shooting for the playoffs, so the so chance of him leaving is too high. Besides, Gagner’ trade value is at a low point right now plus the Oilers 2nd round pick is like a late 1st round pick.

        • Will Agathis

          I think that the trade has problems (but numerous benefits for both sides). The Rangers defensive prospect pool isn’t very deep and a big part of this deal is contingent on Edmonton’s ability to keep Girardi in Oil City. Nonetheless, Gagner’s play is constantly being overshadowed by Yakupov’s hot streak, Hall, RNH, Eberle, and Perron. In fact, I think you could put any marginally talented center in that role and he would reach the 35-40 point mark. But I digress.

          They could turn it around or, at the very least, re-sign Girardi and give themselves a very strong, well-balanced team going into ’14-’15. I don’t know if Gagner’s value is that low. He’s on pace for 50 points. That 2nd round pick will sting, but you can’t just keep piling on draft picks forever, it hasn’t worked out for them yet…

          • BillHK

            The Oilers actually have quite a few defensive prospects in three system. They’ve given away a few draft picks recently.