Edmonton Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish took the podium today to discuss the 'State of the Franchise' and answer questions from the media regarding the team's slow start to the season.
At 4-14-2, the Oilers have seen a disappointing beginning to what was supposed to be a promising 2013-14 season. It's no secret that the team has not lived up to MacTavish's expectations but, beginning on the Oilers' most recent road trip and their loss in Tampa Bay, there has been progress.
"I share in the frustrations," said MacTavish. "Everybody shares in the frustration that the team has not performed up to anybody's expectation but I feel and see progress. We'll continue to focus on that and make changes and try and support this group through personnel changes, when I feel the changes are going to be helpful."
The GM made a few of those changes by trading defenceman Ladislav Smid to the Calgary Flames in exchange for prospects Laurent Brossoit and Roman Horak. Those acquisitions will not help the roster today, but in addition to freeing up cap space to sign goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, the team got a hold of their much coveted goaltending depth and possible future in net.
"I felt we needed more depth in goal. We talked a lot about improving the depth in goal. Everybody trivializes, outside of the organization, the prospect we got in Laurent Brossoit but we view him to be a guy that has the potential to be a number one goalie. We don't have that in the system in that age bracket so that helps."
"I share in the frustrations." -Oilers GM Craig MacTavish
More changes could be coming to the Oilers. MacTavish spoke to the media about the lack of physical presence or ability to score goals in the tough areas of the ice. Those sentiments were also shared by various Oilers' players in the dressing room following last night's 3-0 loss to Dallas.
"We're still very much on that vein of trying to add bigger, heavier people. I was more optimistic at that point with my ability to do that, given some of the current pieces that we have. I was unable to do that in as meaningful way as I wanted to. We added a few guys of that ilk, but we need more for sure. This is not going to be a quick fix solution. But if you look at the game last night, it's clear that we didn't penetrate the tougher, high-traffic area in meaningful ways to score goals. That's got to change. We're going to continue to try and add those pieces."
A big, solid top tier defenceman is lacking on the Oilers roster and their General Manager says they are on the prowl for that physical presence. It is difficult to acquire what every team covets, making the market a stingy place for what the Oilers need.
That also leads to the question of what is expendable as the Oilers look to acquire help for both the immediate future and beyond. For the core group of skilled forwards, the organization is unwilling to part with that youthful talent at this time. It may help in the immediate season, but would hurt the team longterm to lose such valuable commodities, like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Nail Yakupov.
"That's part of the process of trying to apply the analysis to see what we need and how we're going to get out of this," MacTavish explained. "There really isn't a strong precedent for trading players that are 20, 22, 23, 24 years of age that's going to spur us along. Those moves may help in the short-term, but long-term it's going to hurt us overall. I think that's where I come down on that argument. You see there's no shortage around the league of players who are filling that bill now, the Joffrey Lupuls of the world, many players that have been traded off that have developed into good players.
"There's a line of being patient to wait for the current four or five guys that we have that are going to grow and get better and I see that being a certainty, and trying to make something that's going to help us immediately."
MacTavish says it is his job to build trust with the core group of players that will eventually pay dividends for the organization. He says they are worthy of that support.
"My mandate is to support this group of players that we've chosen to lead our team to, hopefully from everybody's perspective, a much more successful period in our franchise. I'm going to continue to support this group. I think the players are worthy of support.
"If I thought for an instant that the situation we're in is because of ambivalence or a lack of work ethic on the players' part, because of a lack of coachability on the players' part then I would be having a much different conversation with everybody here today."
Although MacTavish was clear that the organization is very much invested in keeping its youthful core intact, he did concede that the team is willing to part with another valuable trade option, its high draft picks. The GM said that adding another 18-year-old prospect is not what this already talented, young roster needs. It's time to add a different form of help.
"I guess I can be more clear," he said. "I don't view another first round draft choice to be what we need going into the latter part of this year or next year."
The overall message that MacTavish was trying to get across this morning is that the organization understands the frustrations, but will stay the course and trust in the players and coaches in place, including rookie Head Coach Dallas Eakins.
"It's easy to say I have the upmost confidence in the coaching staff. It's harder for you guys to believe that because of the situation we're in. What this team needs is the continuity in coaching and they're going to get it. I'm completely supportive on how (Eakins has) handled the players, the team and the direction of the team.
"I think in my experiences, he's hitting on all of the right messaging with the players. There's been a significant change in the mentality of the players, in spite of the fact that the result hasn't changed. You can see that when you watch the games. The decision making of the players has changed dramatically from early on in the year. The players are on the right side of the puck. We're a tougher team to play against defensively right now. The next step for us is to add speed into the defensive part of the game. We're now in the right position but we've got to close gaps quicker. I am very comfortable with the direction and the tenor and the tone of the coaching staff and completely supportive of them. I think he's hitting on all of the right messages."
It has been a frustrating era for the organization and its fan base, however they are devoted to winning and, as MacTavish claimed today, are continuing to look into moves that will help push progress along. Because, there is progress that hasn't shown in the record yet.
"People that I speak with around the league are much more optimistic of our team and likelihood that we're going to turn this corner than we are internally, for good reason. We've seen it. I understand the frustration that everybody has."
MacTavish will continue to stay the course and look for the right pieces to keep the team moving forward.