Oilers Stuck In Fantasy Land

If you are ever privileged enough to take a trip to Disneyland Park in California, you’ll have the unique opportunity to enjoy a specific theme land titled Fantasy Land. Specifically geared toward the young at heart, this place has plenty of attractions for the enthusiastic fan. The Mad Tea Party, It’s a Small World, and Sleeping Beauty Castle are all entertainment pieces that you can enjoy while walking around through the park. The one piece you may not notice, deeply hidden within, is Disney’s new addition: The Edmonton Oilers franchise.

Coming off of the abysmal 2010-2011 NHL season, where the team found itself at the bottom of the league in points and wins, the Oilers were primed to take a step forward this year. Not only did they add the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, to their roster, but they also had another year of development for all their young offensive forwards in the bank. Cap the offseason by trading for Ryan Smyth and the Oilers looked like a team on the rise. And though fans knew that a Stanley Cup run was still far away, there was hope.

As we approach the halfway point of the 2011-2012 campaign, time has shown that some progress has been made for this franchise. They sit in 26th place out of the 30 franchises and their offensive group continues to get better. Jordan Eberle has made strides to become their best player with Nugent-Hopkins, Smyth, and Hall not far behind. But from an outside perspective, something just doesn’t seem right. A glance at the headlines surrounding the franchise and you might think they’re getting ready for the playoffs. Trade rumor winds have blown in ideas such as acquiring talents such as Ducks forward Bobby Ryan and Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash. The fascinating thing is that people continue to forget two biggest weaknesses of this team: goaltending.

Cap restrictions aside, acquiring offense is the last thing that this franchise needs. Over time, the core group of Hall, Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins will be the force that the teams needs. Instead, the Oilers’ top area of concern is how to improve their goaltending situation. You don’t have to be a scientist to figure out that Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk aren’t part of the future. Scour their minor league system and you’ll come to the conclusion that Yann Danis and David LeNeveu aren’t part of the solution either. With four goalies and no remedy in sight, the team needs to look outside for help.

While drafting a goaltender would be ideal, that is simply not an option – given the fact that it would probably be four years or so before the draftee would see the light of day in the NHL. By that point, the Oilers would be ready to make a serious playoff push – not something a rookie goalie would want to deal with. So where does that leave General Manager Steve Tambellini? It is time to start dialing the phone to other organizations.

Could they find ways to acquire one of these netminders?

Cory Schneider – Vancouver Canucks – Age 25 – RFA in 2012
Sergei Bobrovsky – Philadelphia Flyers – Age 23 – RFA in 2013
Anders Lindback – Nashville Predators – Age 23 – RFA in 2012
Braden Holtby – Washington Capitals – Age 22 – RFA in 2013

Any of these four could easily break onto the team as the future in net, with Schneider being on the top of the wish list. All of these players will be restricted free agents when their current contracts run out, a bonus to Tambellini in the long term but could be something that drives up the initial cost.

Believe it or not, finding a long-term solution in net is more important than fixing a suspect defense with a rotation lineup due to injury. Once the net situation is solved, then the organization can begins to piece together a defense worth talking about – more specifically a defense without assistant captain Ryan Whitney. If the Oilers start fixing the backend of their roster, maybe they’ll finally find a way off of the teacups and into the playoffs.