Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish intends to spend his team’s final 16 games of the regular season assessing who falls into what category. MacTavish makes it clear that, even with the Oilers all but out of playoff contention in the NHL’s Western Conference, there is plenty on the line the rest of the way. Namely, jobs for next season.
“We’ve got to evaluate who is part of the solution and who is part of the situation we’re in, part of the problem we’re in,” MacTavish said after the team skated at Rexall Place on Monday. “We have to see who is going to be a part of what we want to build.
“We’ve got to play well, we’ve got to play hard, and we’ve got to represent our team with the intensity and effort we’ve established here over the past many years. If you can’t live up to those expectations, then you’re going to be on the outside looking in.”
With the Oilers in danger of going from playing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final against Carolina last spring to missing the post-season in a span of 10 months, general manager Kevin Lowe intends to be active this summer – be it via free agency or trades.
Like MacTavish, Lowe will be keeping an eye on the final 16 games as he tries to decide who’s expendable in overhauling a team that is 11th in the conference with a 30-30-6 record for 66 points. Given all the players who have underachieved, that’s a lengthy list.
“It is what it is,” MacTavish said. “I’m not going to say it’s anywhere close to being enjoyable, but we’ve got a purpose and a sense of what we want to accomplish from now until the end of the year.
“It’s an important time in a lot of respects. On the outside, the perception might be that it’s not all that important but, actually, it’s very important.”
Lowe, unable to make a move to bolster a playoff push at the NHL trade deadline, traded popular Ryan Smyth to the New York Islanders for Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Marra and a first-round draft pick after he and agent Don Meehan couldn’t come to terms on a multi-year contract.
Barring a remarkable finish and a playoff spot, Lowe will have all spring and summer to assess what went wrong.
“When you’re here, you’re professional and you work hard to try to get better as a player, as a teammate and as a team,” veteran Steve Staios said. “It’s a very difficult situation to be in but when you show up at the rink you work hard and you work out.
“You’ve got to bring it in that way and have some pride in yourself and your teammates.”
Aside from Jarret Stoll and Petr Sykora, none of MacTavish’s forwards has had a season to remember. Shawn Horcoff, who had 73 points last season, has 45. Joffrey Lupul, the biggest name Lowe got back in the trade that sent Chris Pronger to Anaheim, has 15 goals after scoring 28 with the Ducks in 2005-06. Raffi Torres has 13 goals after 27 a year ago.
In the absence of Pronger, and with Marc-Andre Bergeron traded, the top-scoring Oilers defenceman is Staios, with 17 points.
Complicating matters, the Oilers are a banged up team. Stoll, Petr Nedved, Ales Hemsky, Ethan Moreau, Marty Reasoner, Tom Gilbert and Mathieu Roy are out.
“With some of the injuries, right now it’s difficult,” MacTavish said. “The one thing you can always control from an individual perspective is that you can go out there and play hard.
“It’s going to be a very difficult task over the next month for everybody, It’s uncharted territory for us in a lot of ways, thankfully, but it’s going to be more difficult than what I think anybody would have anticipated.”