Some people in Edmonton probably still want to point to August 9, 1988 as the reason for the team’s current struggles, but the Oilers still won another Stanley Cup after shipping Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles in “The Trade,” so that shoots that theory out of the water.
More recently, some might point to the 2007 Trade Deadline, when the team sent its captain, Ryan Smyth, to the New York Islanders, but that squad was already on its way to missing the playoffs and they had to make sure they got something in return for Smyth, as he would hit free agency following the season.
So how did they get here? Blame Kevin Lowe.
The former Oilers defensemen was the general manager from June 2000 until July 2008 when he was promoted to President of Hockey Operations and picked Steve Tambellini as his replacement. At the end of last season, Lowe axed Tambellini and replaced him with Craig MacTavish, his former teammate and the man who coached the team throughout Lowe’s tenure as General Manager.
It would be easy to point the finger at the players that have underachieved (Hello Nail Yakupov), but at some point, you have to look at the architect – they guy that came up with the blueprint for building this team – and that is Lowe.
And this team is horribly constructed.
Starting with the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Edmonton has had 18 first round selections, including three Top 21 picks in 2007 and the 2010/2011/2012 first-overall triumvirate. Here’s a breakdown of those picks by position:
Left Wing: 3
Right Wing: 2
Half of your picks were centers? 14 of your 18 selections played up front? Two of those three picks for the blue line have come in the last four drafts, so in the first 11 years of Kevin Lowe – a seven-time All-Star and six-time Stanley Cup-winning defensemen – selected one defensemen, Alex Plante, who played 10 games with the Oilers.
In the 2012 Entry Draft, the third consecutive season where Edmonton had the first-overall selection, eight of the first 10 players chosen were defensemen, but the Oilers took Sarnia Sting left winger Nail Yakupov because having picked Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the first round in six consecutive drafts meant the team still didn’t have enough firepower upfront.
All but one of the defensemen from the final 2012-13 roster are no longer with the team, while Yakupov has struggled to produce in Edmonton and several of the defensemen chosen behind him have already become fixtures on the blue line for their respective teams.
In addition to being poorly constructed, Lowe and the Oilers franchise haven’t exactly put their plethora of first-round picks in an environment conducive to success.
Since “Mac T” was fired following the 2008-09 season, Edmonton has cycled through five different coaches. There was one season with the late Pat Quinn, two with Tom Renny, one with Ralph Krueger, one and a bit with Dallas Eakins and now Todd Nelson is at the helm after taking over for Eakins earlier this year. That means that in five professional seasons, Eberle and Hall have had four coaches. Nugent-Hopkins has had a new coach every year, same with Yakupov. Losing combined with little stability on the bench can stunt a young player’s growth. It’s actually a testament to how skilled the likes of Eberle, Hall and “The Nuge” are that they’ve managed to put forth the seasons they have thus far given the much change they’ve endured. Imagine where they’d be with an experienced coach on the bench for a couple seasons.
And that all falls on Lowe.
After putting this team in a hole as the general manager, he has done little to help dig them out as the man with final say on all hockey matters. This team should be better. They’ve had lots of time and an abundance of top talent to choose from in the draft to help right the ship and steer the franchise back towards success, but it hasn’t happened.
Kevin Lowe is the only constant through all of it. He’s the reason the Oilers are where they are.
Come back tomorrow for Ottawa Senators: How Did We Get Here?