Another playoff season–another disappointing exit for the Edmonton Oilers. It’s an important lesson for the Chicago Blackhawks.
This isn’t to say the Oilers can’t still figure it out. One knows there are legions of examples of teams that failed for years only to finally put it all together. The 2018 Washington Capitals are one. How about the 2019 St. Louis Blues? Even the 2016 and 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins were written off as has-beens before ripping off two Cups in a row.
The Tampa Bay Lightning could argue it, too. But the Oilers story is different, one that includes nearly a whole decade of high picks, including generational players in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
And yet–they’re out again, something the Blackhawks front office should be studying closely.
A Tale of Two Tracks
Unable to salvage a win on home ice for Game 6, the Oilers are out in six at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights, an organization built on players rejected by their previous team. From there, the Golden Knights made shrewd deals to bring in players that fit what they were trying to achieve. The result? Four Western Conference trips in six seasons–of existence. They gambled on Jack Eichel and his back. Eichel responded with a terrific series to put Edmonton away.
Or what about Jonathan Marchessault, who buried a natural hat trick to push Edmonton out of the playoffs Sunday night? Florida left him exposed during the draft–he’s been a major piece of Vegas’ puzzle. A glance at the roster sees a team acquired primarily by expansion and trades. They have prospects waiting as well. Literally starting from nothing, Vegas has built itself into a formidable opponent.
Edmonton took a different track. Turmoil in the front office and often on the bench led to an identity crisis. In spite of being gifted three consecutive first-round picks, taking Draisaitl third overall in 2014, and then McDavid first overall in 2015, the Oilers are still scuffling–albeit in the playoffs.
In the throes of a two-goal deficit mid-way through the third, head coach Jay Woodcroft had his two stars out there together. They never scored. It was evident that if Vegas stayed disciplined, even-strengthened play was kryptonite for Edmonton.
It isn’t their stars fault. The fault lies with management, who through nearly a decade of fortuitous luck in the lottery and chances to build right–built a flawed foundation. Even Ken Holland, who oversaw three Cups in Detroit, can’t crack the code to Edmonton’s woes.
A Cautionary Tale for the Rebuilding Blackhawks
The old saying “all that glitters is not gold” can certainly apply here. Here are the Blackhawks, gifted with the first overall pick and the chance to draft Connor Bedard. They’re being presented a get-out-of-painful-rebuild card.
But what’s next?
Precisely what general manager Kyle Davidson has alluded to–a process. The e that swept Chicago following the lottery win inevitably will die down and make way for the reality. It’s still a rebuild–just a much faster one. Even the New York Rangers, gifted with lottery luck and able to sign former Blackhawk Artemi Panarin showed some restraint.
Yet they’re also victims of playoff disappointment in spite of being loaded.
The Blackhawks that won three Cups in six years built for years before nabbing Jonathan Toews third overall and Patrick Kane first overall. It was a year of rebuilding and then a playoff appearance in 2008-09 that ended in five games. A season later, they’re champions.
From Duncan Keith being drafted in 2002 to them hoisting the Cup, it was eight years. Bedard speeds things up, especially with some pieces (Lukas Reichel, Kevin Korchinski, Frank Nazar) falling into place. Hitting on the draft picks is one thing, But developing and surrounding them with the right players is a whole other ball of wax. Even more, it’s knowing when to bring them up and when to let them “over-ripen.”
Drafting Bedard will be the easy part. Putting the rest together is when the pressure begins. If anything, the Blackhawks and their fans should remember that old adage.
Especially since all that glitters in these playoffs has been by the six-year-old Golden Knights.