Everyone in the hockey world could sense big changes were in store for the Edmonton Oilers this summer. Let’s face it: the Oilers have been basement dwellers in the NHL for the better part of a decade, showing very little potential despite the amount of skill on the roster.
Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli vowed to make significant changes after spending his first year as general manager assessing the organization’s strengths and weaknesses to finally determine what was needed to turn all of the talent into a successful hockey club. It was a foregone conclusion that Chiarelli would move at least one of Edmonton’s young talented forwards to acquire a defenseman, though there were a myriad of rumored deals in the works.
In the span of a week, Chiarelli has given the Edmonton Oilers a brand new identity.
It all started at last week’s NHL Entry Draft. There had been extensive speculation about whether Edmonton would keep its first-round pick or pair it with a roster player to trade for a much-needed defenseman. However, the Oilers’ miraculous draft-related good fortune once again reared its head as 6’3″ 203 lb skilled right-winger Jesse Puljujarvi fell to the Oilers at the fourth overall pick. Prior to the draft, there was a solid consensus among all draft experts that there was an elite “top three” of prospects, which included Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Puljujarvi. Naturally, Chiarelli could not pass on such a highly-touted player as Puljujarvi, virtually taking the decision of whether to use the pick or trade it right out of his hands. Plus, using the pick to take yet another strong player would ultimately make it easier to trade one of the core forwards for that much-needed defenseman.
To the dismay of the masses in Oilers Nation, however, the player that was moved was Taylor Hall.
Hall was shipped to New Jersey in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson. On the surface, many view this trade as a severe overpayment by the Oilers, and it probably is. Edmonton should have gotten more in return for Hall, or should have been able to make the deal using one of the Oilers’ other young forwards, such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, for example, who is not nearly as valuable an asset and player as Hall. The problem, however, was that even the most casual hockey observer could tell that the Oilers were in desperate need of a defenseman; as a result, the price was astronomical.
Larsson will fill a need in Edmonton. There’s no question about that. He is a young defenseman with a right-handed shot capable of playing big minutes on a top pairing, and he still has plenty of untapped potential. Still, Larsson will be under the microscope after being traded for one of the best young players in the game.
But the restructuring of the team wasn’t done there.
On the opening day of free agency, the Oilers landed one of the top free agents, Milan Lucic, signing him to a seven-year, $42 million contract. Before Hall was traded, it was reported that Lucic and defenseman Jason Demers were visiting Edmonton to meet with Chiarelli and take a tour of the Oilers’ new arena ahead of free agency. There were even multiple reports that Lucic had agreed to sign with Edmonton, though he dismissed such reports since nothing could be official until free agency opened July 1. Once Hall was moved, however, those rumors started to make a lot more sense since the Oilers would need some kind of “replacement” for Hall on the left side. You have to believe at this point that Chiarelli was more than confident that he had Lucic locked up before he traded Hall. After all, Chiarelli and Lucic already knew each other well from Chiarelli’s days as Bruins general manager, where Lucic played for eight seasons. Lucic even listed his loyalty to Chiarelli as one of his reasons for signing in Edmonton.
I have to admit, as an Oilers fan I have wanted Lucic on the team for years. The seven-year term is concerning for a 28-year-old power-forward when you consider how hard he plays the game, though he has only missed 10 total games in the past six seasons. But that’s the risk you take in free agency, and that’s the term you have to give in order to land a player of Lucic’s caliber.
Lucic’s attitude, style and ability will make him a great fit in Edmonton. He brings toughness and grit, and his veteran experience, which includes a Stanley Cup championship, will go a long way in helping the crop of talented but inexperienced Oilers players.
Plus, Lucic seems genuinely excited to be joining the Oilers.
“I think the Oilers have been missing a little bit of attitude and a little bit of swagger over the last couple years, and that’s something I bring to a team,” Lucic told Sportsnet following the signing.
It was believed Lucic had narrowed down his list of possible teams to Edmonton and, most likely, Vancouver. But the appeal of playing with superstar Connor McDavid played a large role in his decision.
“It basically came down to the McDavid factor,” Lucic said. “From what I saw just in one season as an 18-year-old was something special and I think for Oilers fans, with him, you can start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I truly believe with a special player like that it’s inevitable he’s going to do something great and that’s something I wanted to be a part of.”
The combination of Lucic and McDavid should be quite something to watch this season. Lucic is a four-time 20-goal scorer, including this past season in which he scored 20 goals and 55 points in 81 regular-season games with the Kings, adding three assists in five playoff games. He has 159 goals and 397 points in 647 career regular-season games as well as 26 goals and 64 points in 101 career playoff games with the Bruins and Kings.
The Oilers also signed goaltender Jonas Gustavsson to a one-year deal at $800,000 to be Cam Talbot’s backup, as well as Mark Fraser, who signed a one-year deal at $575,000.
It’s doubtful that Chiarelli is finished making changes this offseason. It will be interesting to see what the roster looks like come October.
Featured Image Credit: Andy Devlin-Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club