Edmonton Oilers’ moves about needs, eyeing a playoff spot

Gene Principe and Mark Spector discuss the trade of Nail Yakupov from the Edmonton Oilers to the St. Louis Blues.

If we can agree that the Edmonton Oilers were a broken organization on April 24, 2015, the day Peter Chiarelli took over as general manager, then that gives us a place to start.

From there, with Chiarelli having dealt away a No. 1 overall draft pick for the second time in just over three months, it is less about each individual transaction and more about the big picture being painted in Edmonton.

Nail Yakupov for a third-round draft pick and an East Coast Leaguer? Well, it felt better when Kris Russell showed up at practice the next day, even if the two moves weren’t necessarily connected.

Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson? Well, Milan Lucic will fill Hall’s spot, and haven’t we all been in agreement for years that Edmonton’s defence was its biggest issue?

“We try to address needs, and fix them,” explained Chiarelli. “Yes, we’ve traded high-profile players since I’ve been here. But we want to make the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup. That’s part of the recipe.”

Since this time last season, Chiarelli has added two capable, 23-minute defencemen in Larsson and Russell, and signed goalie Cam Talbot to a three-year deal. He has moved the 5-foot-11 Yakupov, a career minus-88 player in four seasons, and added the 6-foot-3 wingers in Lucic, Pat Maroon, Zack Kassian and Jesse Puljujarvi.

Four of the starting six on defence are listed at 6-foot-3, and the smallest, Russell, comes from solid Caroline, Alta., rodeo stock and might be the toughest of the bunch.

“Here’s what I look at,” Chiarelli began. “In addition to (Connor) McDavid, Puljujarvi and (Drake) Caggiula, who are offensive players that are new — and a couple were no-brainers — also look at Lucic, Larsson and Russell. Those three are character players, who play in difficult areas.

“Yes, defending is how you win. Adding character is another part of it. But we’ve added offence too.”

Russell is a shot-blocker who centreman Mark Letestu says, “is like having a second goalie out there on the PK.” He and his agent overestimated a free agent market this summer, and now the Oilers will test-run the scrappy 29-year-old; able to sign him long-term this winter or let him walk at season’s end.

Russell’s spot in the top four tucks Darnell Nurse nicely onto the third pairing, a better place for a young defenceman, and slots Mark Fayne into the No. 7 hole, an expensive but better option for Edmonton.

“Nothing is given in this league. It’s all about earning it. I’m looking forward to that,” said the son of a rodeo bullfighter. “I was proud to be a Calgary Flame, I’m not gonna lie. But I’m extremely happy to be an Edmonton Oiler.

“I’m committed to this team and everything about this city now.”

Who knows what kind of success will greet Chiarelli’s Oilers, in only his second season at the helm. And yes, like every GM he has moves he’d like back (read: the Griffin Reinhart trade).

But if you check off enough boxes, and add McDavid at the top of your lineup, eventually things have to turn around. Don’t they?

“Insanity is sticking with what you’ve always done and ending up with the same results,” observed head coach Todd McLellan. “It’s on us now. It’s on the coaching staff; it’s up to the players to come in and perform.

“He’s shuffled the deck and made a number of changes.”

As a coach that left a properly constructed team in San Jose, then walked into the train wreck that was the Oilers, McLellan is slowly beginning to see a roster that resembles what successful, winning NHL organizations have.

“We’ve got more size. Maroon, Kassian, Lucic… more size that plays on a regular basis,” he said, asked to assess the improvements since last season. “We’re quicker on the back end as far as puck skills and our ability to move it. Our goaltending has been solidified — or at least we believe it has.”

Check, check, check.

It’s been a decade since these Oilers played a playoff game. It’s about time that box got checked off as well.

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