Coming into the season, a lot of people expected Edmonton to, well, not challenge for the Stanley Cup, but at least be a contender for a playoff spot. As of right now, the much loathed Oilers sit in last in the Western Conference, with 35 points and are second worst in the NHL, leading Buffalo by 3 points. Edmonton didn't simply slip out of playoff contention, they charged headlong into the bottom of the standings with abandon. So why did a team that's drafted so highly over the past several years and has had plenty of time to rebuild fall so far from expectations? Does this mean other teams entering a rebuild have something to worry about?
The phrase I see tossed around so frequently by Calgary fans with regards to Edmonton is "too skilled". They imply that Edmonton somehow missed the bus on work ethic, toughness, and size, and that retaining players like Ales Hemsky is the cause of that. This, of course, is utter nonsense. While Edmonton has been filling its top six with players that dreams are made of, the bottom six has been filled with players that most teams are thrilled to cast off- Luke Gazdic, Will Acton, Ben Eager, Boyd Gordon, Mike Brown, and most recently, Matt Hendricks. And as bad as the bottom six is, it's nothing compared to the defense.
At best Edmonton's defense could be described as a collection of players nobody else wanted. A far more accurate description would be a collection of garbage. Most Calgary fans remember Andrew Ference, a fan favorite who was traded during a bus ride and basically left on the side of the road for Boston to pick up. How many Calgary fans remember Ference playing top pairing minutes? The fact is, Ference was about at his best in his time with Calgary, and has been on something of a downward slope since. He's now the captain of Edmonton (fair enough, captaincy should have nothing to do with skill) and the number two defenseman on the team behind the very train-wrecky Justin Schultz. The two have combined to form a possession black hole that amazingly enough is surpassed in awfulness by the guy Edmonton traded former number one defenseman Tom Gilbert for: Nick Schultz. The defense is rounded out by such luminaries as Anton Belov, Jeff Petry, Philip Larsen, and Corey Potter.
This brings us to the nub of Edmonton's problem: the brain trust running the operation up North (or down South, for me) have simply ignored the rest of the team in favor of the top six. The top six is mightily important, but so is the full roster. It's tremendously important to fill out the entire roster with the best players possible, not just the top end of the roster. Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean that Edmonton's ignoring the problems on defense and the bottom end of the forwards- it could mean they actually think these are good collections of players.
So how does this apply to Calgary- a team nearing what Edmonton was several years ago? To start with, Calgary needs to make sure they take the right lessons away. No assuming that skill players are bad: the fact is, skill players win games. Calgary needs to maintain a strong defense (one of the biggest reasons Calgary is ahead of Edmonton in both possession numbers and standings is the quality of the defense) and not be afraid to trade some of the less certain futures away (low end picks) for quality bottom six players.
All that said, the real takeaway, is best explained by @MacSapintosh on twitter:
Many minor upgrades over time eventually lead to an overall large upgrade. Tambo basically did that in reverse and look observe the results.— Sapp Macintosh (@MacSapintosh) January 15, 2014