Before I begin, I would like to point out that I am not an Edmonton Oilers fan by any means. I am certainly a fan of Canadian hockey and would like all 7 Canadian National Hockey League (NHL) teams to succeed, but I do not have any specific allegiance to the Oilers. Therefore, I will take a more objective and unbiased look at what exactly has gone wrong in Edmonton.
There is no denying that the Oilers are a storied franchise with a short yet rich hockey history that started in 1972 in the World Hockey Association (WHA). Since their integration into the NHL in 1979, they have won 5 Stanley Cups, 7 Conference Championships, 9 Division Championships and have 12 individuals that were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as Oilers, not to mention the fact that this was Wayne Gretzky's team. So, where did the franchise go wrong?
Outside of the 2005-06 season, when the Oilers lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup finals, the team has not had much on-ice success since the start of the new millennium. From a management, scouting and coaching standpoint, the team has not been run well and I believe that, in effect, has been the main reasons for the team's demise. You could argue that the team has not been able to land some big name free agents, but a well-run organization that gets on-ice results would be able to do so. Some hockey people in the media have argued that a reason the Oilers have had little success in landing big name free agents is because of the weather in Edmonton; I don't believe that. If the Oilers were successful, players would want to play for them.
First, management. The trio and consecutive tenures of Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini and Craig McTavish, all equally contributed to the downfall of the Oilers. Don't get me wrong, they are each good hockey minds in their own right, I just believe their decisions in running the Oilers majorly contributed to the teams lack of success since 2000, when Kevin Lowe was first promoted to General Manager replacing long-time and successful Oilers General Manager, Glen Sather.
Second, scouting. It is easily recognizable to notice a team's dysfunctional scouting department when, since 2009 and to present, including what certainly looks to be a top-3 overall pick in this year's NHL draft, they have drafted in the top 10 but have had no on-ice team success to show for it. This includes 3 consecutive years of drafting first overall. Now, there is certainly some luck involved in the draft, there is no denying that, and certain draft years may not be as deep as others, there is no denying that as well. However, with an adequate scouting department, and losing for so many years now, the Oilers should have developed some elite NHLers and a top farm system. This has not happened and there is no excuse for it. Furthermore, the Oilers have refused to trade some of their top players in order to progress forward in rebuilding process.
Finally, coaching. The Oilers have just not been coached well for the last number of years and it seems that, more recently, there is a revolving door at the head coaching position; Tom Renney, Ralph Kruger, Dallas Eakins and now Todd Nelson. That is 4 different head coaches since 2010, how can a team possibly succeed under those circumstances? Certainly, management could be blamed for not hiring the right coach in the first place, but all the above coaches have had some success with other organizations, whether in the NHL or AHL, so what's the problem?
It is simple. Management has not done a good enough job managing this team, the scouting department has not done a good enough job at scouting players both for the draft as well as for trades, and coaches have not done a good enough job at coaching this team.
The players on the ice can only do so much, especially when they lack skill, defense and a starting goalie, but hockey players, as individuals, cannot just do it alone. After all, hockey is truly a team game. This is ultimately the responsibility of the organization, the management, scouting and coaching.
It will be interesting to see how long this "rebuild" in Edmonton actually takes and if the team is able to find some success in the near future. Personally, I would like to see the Oilers succeed. As it turns out, luck may finally be on their side as the Oilers won the 2015 NHL draft lottery and will be once again be drafting first overall. By all accounts, that pick will be Conner McDavid.
Photo courtesy: NHL.com via the Edmonton Oilers