The Patient Approach

Patience. It’s a concept beloved by the most optimistic of people. It has been said that good things come to those who wait.

Oilers fans have been waiting for those good things to happen for over a decade. They have suffered without playoff hockey in 11 of the last 12 seasons since losing in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006. They’ve earned the first overall pick in four of those seasons, and they have picked in the top 4 of the draft two additional times in that span. It’s been a painful era of Oilers hockey.

“Patience” is a tired old refrain for Oilers fans.

The winner of this year’s Stanley Cup will be the fifth different team to win the Stanley Cup since 2009. A closer look at the processes that Pittsburgh, Chicago, LA, and Boston went through while building the cores of their championship teams shows that patience may be a virtue after all.

The Penguins Stanley Cup team in 2009 featured draft picks Marc-Andre Fleury (2003), Evgeni Malkin (2004), Sidney Crosby (2005), Kris Letang (2005), and Jordan Staal (2006). In 2009, they traded for Chris Kunitz at the deadline. Coincidentally, they won the Stanley Cup that season. It took the Penguins 6 years to acquire all of the core pieces that would help them win their first Stanley Cup since 1992.

Matt Murray (2012) and Jake Guentzel (2013) were key players in the Penguins’ recent back-to-back championships. Phil Kessel was acquired by the Penguins in 2015. It took Pittsburgh 12 years to acquire all of the major pieces of their core that allowed them to win the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017 (meaning that group’s first Stanley Cup Finals appearance came 13 years after taking Fleury).

The Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup winning core has consisted of Duncan Keith (2002), Brent Seabrook (2003), Corey Crawford (2003), Niklas Hjalmarsson (2004), Jonathan Toews (2006), Patrick Kane (2007), and Marian Hossa (signed as an UFA in 2009). It took them 7 total years to obtain all of the major pieces that helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2010 (8 years after the process started), and subsequently in 2013 and 2015.

The Boston Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup championship team was constructed over the course of 7 years. Patrice Bergeron (2003), David Krejci (2004), Milan Lucic (2006), and Brad Marchand (2006) were the Bruins’ picks that were major contributors to that team. 2006 was an important summer in Bruins franchise history. Boston traded Andrew Raycroft to Toronto for Tuuka Rask, and Zdeno Chara signed on as a free agent. Phil Kessel was drafted in 2006 and traded for the picks that became Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight, and Dougie Hamilton in 2010. Seguin played on that 2011 Stanley Cup team. It took 8 years from when Bergeron was selected for the Bruins to reach the finals and to win the Stanley Cup.

The Los Angeles Kings started their building process by drafting Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick in 2005. It continued by adding Wayne Simmonds (2007), Drew Doughty (2008), and Brayden Schenn (2010). Simmonds and Schenn were traded to Philadelphia for Mike Richards in 2011. Jeff Carter was acquired mid-way through the 2011-12 season for Jack Johnson. It took the Kings 7 years to acquire all of the core players from their 2012 and 2014 championships.

It has taken Vegas all of one season of existence to reach the Finals… they are an anomaly the likes of which we will never see again, so they’re not worth analyzing. The Capitals, however, are a different story. Their current core features draft picks Alexander Ovechkin (2004), Niklas Backstrom (2006), John Carlson (2008), Braden Holtby (2008), Dmitry Orlov (2009), and Evgeny Kuzentsov (2010). TJ Oshie was acquired by the Capitals in 2015, 11 years after the Capitals began their building process by drafting Ovechkin. Here they are in the Stanley Cup Finals, 14 years later.

Here’s a quick look at other contenders from this past season that have made the Stanley Cup Finals recently:

Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne (2004), Patric Hornqvist (2005, traded for James Neal in 2014), Roman Josi (2008), Ryan Ellis (2009), Mattias Ekholm (2009), Craig Smith (2009), Seth Jones (2013, traded for Ryan Johnasen in 2016), Viktor Arvidsson (2014), PK Subban (acquired for Shea Weber in 2016)

Core Acquisition Period- 12 years
Stanley Cup Finals Appearance- 13 years

Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos (2008), Victor Hedman (2009), Nikita Kucherov (2010), Tyler Johnson (2011-UFA), Ondrej Palat (2011), Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012), Ben Bishop (acquired from Ottawa for Cory Conacher in 2013), Jonathan Drouin (2013, traded to Montreal for Sergachev in 2017), *Brayden Point (2014- did not play in Finals in 2015)

Core Acquisition Period- 5 years
Stanley Cup Finals Appearance- 7 years

It has taken these championship calibre teams (including both iterations of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup teams) anywhere from 5-12 years to acquire all of their major core players, with the average being 8.35 years.

It took these teams anywhere from 6-14 years to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time as a group, with the average being 9.5 years.

Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston, and LA took anywhere from 6-13 years to win the Stanley Cup after drafting the first piece of their core groups, with the average being 8.4 years. If Washington were to win the Stanley Cup this season, that range would be 7-14 years, and the average would go up to 9.3 years.

So where do the Oilers stand in comparison? Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011), Oscar Klefbom (2011), Darnell Nurse (2013), Leon Draisaitl (2014), Connor McDavid (2015), Jesse Puljujarvi (2016), and Kailer Yamamoto (2017) are the Oilers draft picks that appear to be large pieces of the future core of this team. Cam Talbot was acquired for picks in 2015. Adam Larsson was acquired for Taylor Hall in 2016. Milan Lucic was signed as a free agent in 2016. This summer will mark the 7th year since the Oilers started drafting this core of players. If you really want to include Taylor Hall’s draft selection in this analysis, then it’s been 8 years. However, I did not include the Predators drafting Shea Weber in 2003 in this analysis. Both players were traded for right-handed defencemen that are with the teams now. I didn’t include Weber because he is not a part of the Predators’ core presently; and I won’t include Hall either because he is no longer a part of the core of the Oilers.

The Oilers would have to go to the Stanley Cup Finals and win next season in order to have as quick of a rebuild as Chicago and Boston did. The 09 Penguins and the 15 Tampa Bay Lightning built Stanley Cup finalists faster than the Oilers’ current pace. However, the Oilers still have 7 years to match the Capitals’ pace.

Three of the four teams that have won Stanley Cups since 2009 have acquired a top forward via trade leading up to or during the season in which they won, with Boston being the exception. Three of those teams all drafted right-handed offensive defencemen, with Boston being the exception again. Its interesting that the team that Peter Chiarelli managed was the exception to both of those trends. Anyway, I digress.

The frustration that has built up in Edmonton as a result of missing the playoffs this past season with the expectations that were created by the team’s playoff appearance in 2016-17 is evident. Oilers fans want everything to be fixed in an instant, but the reality is that an instant fix isn’t always possible. Nor is it always the best scenario. “Patience” is the last thing that Oilers fans want to hear about, but it’s a possibility that is worth exploring prior to next season.

The problem with trading for immediate help is that it comes in the form of older players that are at or nearing their peaks. A decline in performance is inevitable, and the time at which the decline will begin is always unpredictable. That can limit or shorten a team’s window of opportunity to win championships.

Oilers fans and media have shared the idea that the Oilers are wasting prime years of Connor McDavid by missing the playoffs right now. They are fearful that if Chiarelli doesn’t make trades to help the team now, then the Oilers will continue to waste Connor McDavid’s best years. A player’s prime years are from the ages of 24-32. McDavid is 21 years old. We haven’t seen the best of McDavid yet. We are still three years away from seeing the start of his best years. Chiarelli said that any of the players that would be taken around where the Oilers will be picking in this year’s draft won’t help the team for 3-4 years. That math lines up quite nicely with the start of McDavid’s prime.

McDavid’s new 8-year contract starts next season. Justin Faulk is a 26-year old right-handed offensive defenceman that is available via trade right now. If his prime years end at the age of 34, then he would be in his prime for all 8 years of McDavid’s new contract. After that 8 years though, Faulk would be a declining asset on a roster with McDavid in the middle of his prime (assuming that McDavid would re-sign with the Oilers upon becoming an UFA). I’m sure that McDavid would be more apt to re-sign in Edmonton if there were a top right-handed offensive defenceman in his prime on the roster.

Let’s pretend that the Oilers will select a right-handed offensive defenceman with the 10th overall pick this year. That player will be a minimum of 3 years away according to Chiarelli. That would leave 5 years of McDavid having an impactful right-handed offensive defenceman to play with during the course of his new contract. However, the player that the Oilers would draft this summer will be 26 years old once McDavid’s contract expires. Assuming that both McDavid and the 10th overall pick in 2018 will re-sign once they become UFAs, McDavid will have a right-handed offensive defenceman in his prime to play with for another 8 years. That adds up to 13 years.

I’m not a math guy, but I’m pretty sure 13 years is more than 8 years. I’d take 3 years of the current defence group that made the playoffs in 2016-17 and missed the playoffs this past season in exchange for 5 extra years of McDavid and a top right-handed offensive defenceman down the road. That’s a no-brainer.

Using the 10th overall pick to draft a right-handed offensive defenceman is just one part of what being patient this summer will look like for the Oilers.

Here is the current roster for next season based on the existing contracts and the qualifying offers for the expected returning RFAs once again:

Nuge ($6M) McDavid ($12.5M) Rattie ($0.8M)
Lucic ($6M) Draisaitl ($8.5M) Puljujarvi ($0.925M)
LW Strome ($3M) Aberg ($0.65M)
Caggiula ($0.874M) Khaira ($0.675M) Kassian ($1.95M)

Nurse ($0.874M) Larsson ($4.167M)
Klefbom ($4.167M) Russell ($4M)
Sekera ($5.5M) Benning ($0.874M)
Gryba ($0.9M) Bear ($0.925M)

Talbot ($4.16M)
Koskinen ($2.5M)

Total Cap Hit = $69.941 million
Buyouts: Pouliot – $1.33 million

Total: $71.271 million
Space with $78 million cap: $6.729 million
Space with $82 million cap: $10.729 million

Patience would entail allowing the current defence group to grow and develop together. That would mean not trading Oscar Klefbom. That would mean not rushing Ethan Bear into the line-up needlessly. That would also mean signing Darnell Nurse to a long-term contract. I have predicted that he will get a contract with a value anywhere from $2.5-4.5 million. For this scenario, I’ll give him the maximum value of $4.5 million.

Patience would also entail allowing the forwards the opportunity to show what they’re capable of… yet again. It would mean holding on to Puljujarvi and hoping that he has a break-out season. It would mean giving Ty Rattie an extended look on the top line with McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins. It would mean letting Kailer Yamamoto develop in the AHL for a season. It would also mean allowing Lucic a chance to rebound from his miserable 2017-18 season. Chiarelli needs to add a left winger. Being patient would entail signing an affordable UFA such as Leo Komarov (predicted value of $2.5 million) to fill that spot. Here is what the roster would look like if the Oilers chose to be patient this summer:

Nuge ($6M) McDavid ($12.5M) Rattie ($0.8M)
Lucic ($6M) Draisaitl ($8.5M) Puljujarvi ($0.925M)
Komarov ($2.5M) Strome ($3M) Aberg ($0.65M)
Caggiula ($0.874M) Khaira ($0.675M) Kassian ($1.95M)
Malone ($0.65M)

Nurse ($4.5M) Larsson ($4.167M)
Klefbom ($4.167M) Russell ($4M)
Sekera ($5.5M) Benning ($0.874M)
Gryba ($0.9M) D

Talbot ($4.16M)
Koskinen ($2.5M)

Total Cap Hit = $75.792 million
Buyouts: Pouliot – $1.33 million

Total: $77.122 million
Space with $78 million cap: $0.878 million
Space with $82 million cap: $4.878 million

Komarov would be the only significant addition from the end of last season. The hope would be that there would be significant internal improvement. Lucic, Rattie, Puljujarvi, Strome and Aberg would be counted on to produce some secondary scoring that was missing last season. Klefbom and Sekera would need to be much better and produce more offence than they did last season. Talbot would have to be more solid consistently than he was last season. All of these things are definite possibilities.

The patient approach will be frustrating for Oilers fans. Given that the Oilers are 8 years into this rebuild and recent Stanley Cup champions started winning after that approximate amount of time, its safe to say that the Oilers rebuild has been slower than those of some of their peers. Good things come to those who wait though, and the patient approach will keep the Oilers’ championship window open for a longer period of time down the road.

Next week, I’ll reveal what the Oilers should do and what I think the Oilers will do this off-season.

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