Can't, or won't? It almost doesn't matter at this point.
The Edmonton Oilers are once again failing their way to a reward, like a C+ student with helicopter parents. Poor Auston Matthews is probably checking out the West Edmonton Mall website right now for good food court spots, since all of us, viscerally, know that the Oilers are going to win the draft lottery again.
Watching the Oilers these days falls somewhere between painful and infuriating – and I'm neutral; I can't imagine what it's like for someone who lists themselves as a fan of the team. The defense is still in shambles, the goaltending hasn't been able to cover enough. These have been problems for years and in light of the news that Nail Yakupov had requested a trade, it is borderline offensive that the Oilers haven't made a blockbuster move this season (or last, for that matter).
Now, I understand that big trades are difficult. But if Ryan O'Reilly and Dougie Hamilton can get dealt at the draft in blockbusters, then obviously it's not that hard. Edmonton's draft day work included swaps that netted them goalie Cam Talbot and defenseman Griffin Reinhart, while trading away blueliner Martin Marincin.
With the benefit of hindsight, none of these moves achieved their objectives. Talbot deserves the least blame, since his stats and play have been markedly better than last year's starter, Ben Scrivens. But he hasn't been the silver bullet Edmonton needed him to be. Would Eddie Lack, Michal Neuvirth or Antti Niemi (all available around the same time as Talbot) done any better? Tough to say.
The Reinhart-in, Marincin-out scenario is much more clear-cut. Reinhart still struggles with the speed of the NHL, while Marincin – an analytics darling dating back to his Oilers days – has become a growing favorite of Mike Babcock's in Toronto.
And let's keep in mind: Edmonton's defense was already atrocious. Looking back at our Yearbook, you'll find Oilers correspondent Rob Tychkowski pose the following pre-season question about free agent signing Andrej Sekera:
"Can he be what the Oilers expect him to be: a top-pairing guy who chews up 25 hard minutes a night? And can Justin Schultz, who is expected to be a focal component, rebound after taking a big step backward?"
It was a resounding "no" on Schultz, traded to Pittsburgh at the deadline. And Sekera has fared better, but only by comparison. The veteran is averaging less than 22 minutes per game and according to Quality of Competition stats, he has only faced the third-toughest minutes on the blueline among regulars, behind Oscar Klefbom and Mark Fayne. With Klefbom injured since mid-December, the Oilers have counted on Sekera for more, but he has not been the game-changer they needed.
This is not Sekera's fault, by the way. This is a structural problem. This is about the Oilers marching into the season with no No. 1 defenseman yet again. This is a blueline that featured Nikita Nikitin, Andrew Ference and Eric Gryba in the top seven of our Yearbook depth chart (Darnell Nurse was No. 8!). And the defensemen themselves are only part of the problem, since Edmonton's forwards aren't exactly 12 Patrice Bergerons out there.
Trading Yakupov and let's face it – somebody else, even if it had to be Jordan Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – surely could have landed a No. 1 defenseman, or at least two veterans better than the blueliners already mentioned. Heck, we know Dougie Hamilton was available and how long has Travis Hamonic been waiting to get back to Western Canada?
But once again, the Oilers couldn't get things done. I knew they wouldn't make the playoffs back in November when Connor McDavid got hurt and sadly, I was not wrong.
Maybe next year? Ugh.