McKenzie on Oilers: ‘Bleak situation in Edmonton’

A pair of ugly losses over the weekend have made an already sour fan base in Edmonton further nauseated.

Bob McKenzie was asked to address to Oilers in each of his Monday morning radio circuit hits in Winnipeg, Montreal, and Edmonton.

Here’s what he had to offer that afternoon via Leafs Lunch on Toronto’s TSN 1050, when it was suggested to him that “it sounds like something’s got to give there,” and that “this can’t keep going on.”

“You wouldn’t think so,” agreed McKenzie. “The fan base in Edmonton has completely lost faith in the Oilers. I think you can really sense that if you read Terry Jones’ column in the Edmonton Sun this morning. Peter Chiarelli is right in the crosshairs.

“Pete’s been a very good general manager in the National Hockey League. But if you look at a lot of the moves that he’s made to try and make a young team that had the benefit of winning the lottery and getting Connor McDavid - virtually all of the moves that he’s made to try and make that happen, to surround McDavid with the right pieces and address what were perceived to be weakness of the team and fill holes, nothing has worked.

“The Lucic contract has been mostly a disaster. Hall for Larsson - he’s just playing terrible hockey right now, and Hall of course won an MVP last year. You mentioned the Eberle-for-Strome trade… Griffin Reinhart. Even trading Caggiula for Manning and then Manning being a healthy scratch for a number of games. Just about every button that he’s pushed, it hasn’t worked.

“And as I said on Edmonton radio this morning, the really concerning part about all of this is when you look at how this Oilers team is constructed and you see the gaping holes that they’ve got beyond McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins up front - when you look at their blueline and see how bereft it is of top-end defensemen, and probably lacking depth as well - you look at it and you say, ‘Where’s the path to get better.’

“So even if they do decide to make a regime change with the general manager, when the new general manager… this is why I think Edmonton Oilers fans are upset, because whether it’s us on the outside looking in or Oilers fans or media looking at it, they’re going, ‘Okay, so you bring the new GM in and you’re in Year Four of the Connor McDavid life cycle here, and so what do you do? Okay, maybe we should trade our first-round pick. Maybe we should trade Jesse Puljujarvi’ Do you really think that those moves are going to cure what ails the Edmonton Oilers.

“Listen, I didn’t have a problem with them trading their first-round pick the year that they traded for Griffin Reinhart. The problem, as it turned out, was Reinhart wasn’t the right bet.”

Leafs Lunch co-host Gord Miller injected the oft-cited fact that the New York Islanders used that draft pick to select Mathew Barzal.

“Well, exactly,” agreed McKenzie. “And that 2015 draft was light-out. So you picture the Edmonton Oilers with Mathew Barzal or Thomas Chabot or Brock Boeser or any number of guys - Kyle Connor. Every hole that the Oilers have, one of those holes could be filled by whoever they could have taken with that draft pick.

“But we were all under the impression that they’d filled the bucket up with Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle and Hall and McDavid and all of these young guys, and now they had to turn this youthful group of prospects and young guys and they had to take the next step. Do the Dean Lombardi exercise where the bucket of prospects is filled up, now you’ve got to trade guys like Simmonds and Jack Johnson and bring in your Jeff Carters and your Mike Richards to try to put you over the top. And people thought the Oilers were kind of at that point, where they had to take a step. But they bet wrong, obviously, on Griffin Reinhart and that set them back enormously.

“The path forward is the one that… I can’t even imagine what Connor McDavid’s thinking right now. You’ve got the best player in the game and he’s doing everything he possibly can and then some. And yet inside he’s got to feel like he’s dying inside a little bit every game with the Oilers out at bat. I can only imagine he looks at it and says, ‘Where’s our path forward. How do we get better fast.’

“And I can only tell you - and it’s a different time and place - but when he went to Erie as a 15 year old, those first two years in Erie when the Erie Otters weren’t very good, that ate him up.

“I wrote in my book Hockey Confidential - there’s a chapter on Connor McDavid in there - and I talked to him and his family about those first two years. His dad Ryan, a couple of times during the first and second year, would have to drive down to Erie just to talk Connor off the ledge because they weren’t winning. And the funny thing is nobody expected Erie to win just because Connor showed up. And nobody expected the Oilers to win a Cup just because Connor showed up.

“But very rapidly over his time in the OHL, the Erie Otters - led by McDavid - became a model franchise and a powerhouse. And now the exact opposite is happening here.

“So it’s a bleak situation in Edmonton right now, boy oh boy.”

It was pointed out to McKenzie that despite the misery, the Oilers were still within striking distance of a Wild Card spot in the West.

“One quick note on that,” added McKenzie on his way out of the segment. “And I mentioned this on Edmonton radio this morning too. What a superficially low bar to set. I know everybody is saying, ‘We could still make the playoffs. We could still make the playoffs.’

“But you look at the way the team is constructed and you say, ‘Do you honestly believe that this team, as currently constructed, with even one or two tweaks between now and the trade deadline - do you honestly think that’s a team that can contend for the Stanley Cup for the next number of years.’

“And the answer, of course, is no way.”