Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish feels optimistic about his team’s future despite a last-place finish in the Western Conference standings.
MacTavish gave his head coach a vote of confidence Tuesday and said while it’s hard to determine where the team is in its development stage, he feels most of the “heavy lifting” has been done.
“We’re closer to the end in my mind than we are to the beginning in terms of the development of this team,” MacTavish said Tuesday at a season-ending media availability.
Expectations were higher in Edmonton this season but the team struggled from the start and finished with a 29-44-9 record for 67 points, good for a 28th-place finish in the 30-team league.
There were a few bright lights for the Oilers. Taylor Hall had a strong year with 80 points in 75 games and fellow forwards Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had productive campaigns.
Defensive woes were a constant problem. The Oilers struggled on the blue-line and between the pipes, allowing a league-worst 270 goals.
MacTavish has no plans to add anything “middle of the road” to the current defence core and feels the team’s younger players can fill those positions.
He does plan to target a high-end defenceman in the off-season.
“We need a few pieces that can really move this thing along,” said MacTavish.
The GM added that Eakins — who completed his first season as an NHL head coach — has a bright future with the team.
“I’m convinced this guy is the right coach to lead us into much more successful times ... he’s relentless,” MacTavish said.
Despite the foundation of young, talented offensive players, the Oilers managed only 203 goals. The goaltending situation was unsettled throughout the season as netminder Devan Dubnyk struggled in the starter’s role.
Dubnyk was dealt to Nashville at the trade deadline and the Oilers acquired Ben Scrivens from Los Angeles. Scrivens and fellow mid-season acquisition Viktor Fasth posted decent numbers as Edmonton finished with a 14-13-3 mark over its last 30 games.
MacTavish said there is plenty of work ahead and admitted the team did not live up to expectations. But he likes the young core and is confident improvement can be made.
“We’re building our team around this group,” he said. “And you have to have pieces in that locker-room that you view as guys that are going to develop into winners and guys that are going to develop into superstars.
“I feel strongly that we have a number of those pieces in there and those are the guys we’re going to build that team around. I want them to feel the ownership, I want them to feel the loyalty from myself and the coaching staff that we have the confidence in them to drive this team forward.”