EDMONTON - General Manager Craig MacTavish is promising change.
Not beating around the bush at a year-end press conference Monday at Rexall Place, MacTavish made it clear that the Oilers will be a more complete team when the puck drops on the 2013-14 season.
"Our overall team strength and depth has to be improved upon," he said. "It's my position that we've got to address that to a large degree and we're going to be trying to do that through personnel changes.
"We want more toughness, more meat and more depth in our lineup."
What the Oilers don't need to worry about is high-end skill. They have it in spades. With Taylor Hall leading the way, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins not far behind, and Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz entering the mix with exceptional rookie seasons, the Oilers have a bevy of legit NHL stars in tow.
But it was the Bottom 6 that let them down.
“We have to add some role players,” said MacTavish. "In today's NHL, even marginally, you have to be a threat to score. We had a lot of guys that the best they were going to be in any given game was a non-factor. The few times that they did (produce), we ended up winning those games. We've got to get more of an impact from them and add some complementary pieces."
MacTavish and the Oilers head into the summer with assets and plenty of roster space to work with. Ryan Jones, Lennart Petrell, Jerred Smithson, Mark Fistric, Nikolai Khabibulin and Ryan Whitney will all become unrestricted free agents on Jul. 1.
The latter will not be brought back. As for the others, only time will tell.
In goal, the backup situation isn't set in stone. The Oilers could go out and acquire a depth goaltender, but the GM was impressed with Khabibulin's season and could be looking to bring back the Stanley Cup-winning veteran.
Devan Dubnyk is still No. 1 after a season in which he collected a 14-16-2 record, 2.57 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. There are improvements to be made there, too, however.
"Devan took a step this season and his numbers were good," said MacTavish, "but he's got a little further to go to be a lop-level goaltender in this league. Not to suggest that goaltending was the reason for the situation we were in. He took a lot of good looks, night in and night out."
Up front and on the restricted side, Sam Gagner, Magnus Paajarvi and Theo Peckham's contracts are set to expire as well.
"Consequences. There are consequences," said MacTavish when asked about Peckham's future with the Oilers. "The consequence for Theo was he never really got the opportunity to get back in (the lineup). When Theo came to camp, he put himself well behind the eight ball and we had to go out and trade for another player (Mark Fistric) to do his job."
Considering that, MacTavish expects as many as six to eight new players on the team next year ("At this stage in our development as a team, there's every reason to expect there's going to be at least that many"). While the Bottom 6 is in need of an overhaul, the same can be said of the defence.
"Even if we can't do anything on the back end, we'll do better," said MacTavish.
The reason being, internal growth on the back end is as solid as it's ever been in the Oilers pipeline. Martin Marincin has had a fantastic season with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons, posting seven goals and 30 points in 69 regular-season games. The 21-year-old was also named as the Barons' Defenceman of the Year and could be ready to make his NHL debut at some point next season.
Then there's Swedish standout Oscar Klefbom, who's expected to challenge for a roster spot at the outset of camp.
Still, the weight of the world can't (and won't) land on the shoulders of rookies. It's incumbent on everyone to step up and bring their best. Fact is, the group that was in a playoff spot up until the trade deadline was the same one that lost nine of its final 12 games.
"I'm pretty optimistic we can get some of the immediate growth and change," said MacTavish. "Internal growth is dependent on the commitment of our players. There's no greater motivator than failure. You have to feel the failure, channel it into motivation and use it to develop yourself as a player.
"Our group is a little naive to how hard you have to work to have success in this league, but there's lots of optimism about our ability to grow internally."
MacTavish said the work of Head Coach Ralph Krueger will be reviewed as well, but that it's his duty to provide the staff with "better tools" to compete next season.
"We got together this morning and will continue that throughout the week to discuss a myriad of things. There are some concerns and questions I have for Ralph and I'm sure he's got plenty for me as well. We'll have those discussions down the road, but we can't lose sight of the fact that we can't continually place blame on the coaches."
Vowing to make changes through trades and free agency this summer, MacTavish says the upcoming NHL Entry Draft is equally as important. The Oilers are currently slated to pick seventh overall, one spot behind the Calgary Flames, but that could all change tonight as the annual NHL Draft Lottery is held at the TSN studios in Toronto.
The Oilers have a 4.7 percent chance of winning the lottery and stepping to the podium with the top pick for the fourth straight year. If the seventh pick is retained (or if the Oilers drop to eighth, assuming another team below them wins), things could get a little more interesting.
"I think it's obvious that Seth Jones (defenceman with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks) is the consensus No. 1 pick," said MacTavish. "But we might do something with the seventh pick, if we're there. We're very receptive to moving back."
The NHL Draft Lottery can be seen live tonight on TSN at 6:00p.m.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick