Up the creek ... without a paddle

A pair of Oilers fans were decked out in their best shame gear when the skidding club hit San Jose...

A pair of Oilers fans were decked out in their best shame gear when the skidding club hit San Jose last weekend. It has since gotten even worse for the Oil, with 17 losses in the last 18 games. (Courtesy of Claire Jacobsen)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:48 PM ET

EDMONTON -- How long will it take to clean up Daryl Katz's terrible and terribly expensive mess?

If everything goes perfectly, and that's asking a lot, given that the same guys who got Edmonton into this situation are the ones in charge of getting them out, you can expect the Oilers to be contenders in about seven years.

And that's if everything goes perfectly.

According to a blueprint used by some NHL teams and player agents to analyze and evaluate organizational progress, consistent 100-point clubs and Cup contenders need at least five of the following ingredients.

-Three of the NHL's top 20 forwards.

-Two of the NHL's top 20 defencemen.

-One of the NHL's top 10 goalies.

"If your goal is to be an elite team, and I presume that's what this community wants, it's having five or six of those things," said Edmonton-based player agent Ritch Winter, who advised Marian Hossa to pick Chicago based on the criteria. "If you have six of those, you're contending for the Stanley Cup every years. If you have five, you're a 100-point team."

Teams can get away with as few as four of the ingredients, provided one or two of them is in the top two or three in the NHL at his position -- like Martin Brodeur in Jersey -- and the club has about a half dozen other players on the cusp of the top 20.

If the blueprint is accurate, and the rosters in San Jose, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Washington (and Detroit's, when they were on top) suggest it's pretty close, then where are the Oilers in their development?

Not close.

Right now, they have maybe one of those elements in Lubomir Visnovsky, but he'll be 39 or 40 in five or six years, which is how long it'll take to assemble the rest of the parts. It's a moving target, remember, and as new players are coming in the front door, the best guys from the current lineup will be getting old or leaving out the back. Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner are both unrestricted free agents in two years.

"If they hit four home runs in four straight drafts, get a Lidstrom, Rafalski, Datsyuk and Zetterberg in each of the next four drafts, the last two players will take two or three years to full develop and that brings you to seven years," said Winter. "If you draft well and effectively, then you're seven years away."

It's not until four or five of the pieces are in place, said Winter, that high-profile unrestricted free agents will consider signing to complete the puzzle. A middle-of-the-pack team could happen sooner, but the contender Katz promised when he took over, that's a long way in the distance.

What about the Colorado Avalanche? They turned it around in a year.

No they didn't. The Avs had 12-straight seasons with 95 points or more before last year's rare stumble, winning a playoff series as recently as 2008. And they started amassing the key ingredients on this year's team six season's ago (Wojtek Wolski in 2004, Paul Stastny in 2005, Chris Stewart in 2006, T.J. Galiardi in 2007 and Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly in 2009). And they're still not there yet.

The Oilers have some prospects they hope can be stars in Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Linus Omark and Anton Lander, but they were saying the exact same things about Sam Gagner, Tom Gilbert and Andrew Cogliano when they arrived, and none of them have ever seen a playoff game.

Edmonton fans know from experience that you never count chickens before they hatch and you never count on kids until they've proven themselves consistently in the NHL.

So Kevin Lowe and Steve Tembellini could be starting from scratch. Starting from worse than scratch, actually, because they have to make room for the new talent by moving the old, and that's not going to be easy.

They already have nearly $46 million committed to 12 players next year -- Visnovsky (5.6-million cap hit), Shawn Horcoff (5.5), Sheldon Souray (5.4), Dustin Penner (4.25), Ales Hemsky (4.1), Tom Gilbert (4.0), Nikolai Khabibulin (3.75), Patrick O'Sullivan (2.9), Steve Staios (2.7), Robert Nilsson (2.0), Ethan Moreau (1.75) and Ladislav Smid (1.3).

It doesn't leave much room for the other 11 guys, perhaps as little as $11 million depending on where the salary cap goes for a group that includes Gagner, Cogliano, Gilbert Brule, Ryan Potulny, J.F. Jacques, Mike Comrie, Denis Grebeshkov, Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk, who all become restricted free agents and perhaps Eberle, who'd be a $1.1-million cap hit.

Trading their way out of this will be next to impossible. Not when so many of the expensive veterans are under-achieving and have two or three years left on their deals.

The Oilers will either have to begin employing cutthroat management, buying out contracts and shipping veterans to the minors or simply riding out the deals, if Katz is cool with paying $59 million for $45 million worth of results.

The Oilers won't tell their fans what their plan is, but from what we've been led to believe by their on-air spin doctor, the goal is to finish in the lottery four years in a row, load up like Washington, Pittsburgh and Chicago did and rise back up to glory.

Sounds feasible when you say it quickly and don't give it much thought. But, in reality, it's so full of holes it should be in a Reuben sandwich.

For starters, a lottery pick in not an automatic franchise player. Patrick Stefan, Pavel Brendl, Rostislav Klesla, Raffi Torres, Stanislav Chistov, Alexander Svitov, Kari Lehtonen, Nikolai Zherdev, Andrew Ladd and Benoit Pouliot were all lottery picks from 1999 to 2005 -- that's 10 out of 35 players, nearly 30%, who were major disappointments.

Another half-dozen are decent players, but nowhere near top 20 in their positions.

Are Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin really on the same level as the building blocks in Pittsburgh, Washington or Chicago?

"There isn't a Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin available in this year's draft," said Winter.

Consistently bad finishes aren't necessarily a ticket out of the slums, either. From 2000 to 2005, Atlanta, Columbus and Florida each had three lottery picks. The Isles and Wild had two each. And where are they now?

And what about possible mistakes at the draft table? The Oilers took Jason Bonsignore at four, and Steve Kelly and Boyd Devereaux at six, and went totally off the board for first-round picks Alexei Mikhnov and Jesse Niinimaki, neither of whom ever played a game in the NHL.

And what if, heaven forbid, the Oilers finish 18th overall next year and pick 12th? There goes the home-run quick-fix reload. And what will they do with these kids when they get them? Grooming prospects isn't exactly their strong suit.

No, a championship-calibre team doesn't happen automatically just because you get a couple of high picks.

The Oilers have been waiting for 20 years for the scouting, development and management arms of their organization to bring them back to the next level and it hasn't happened.

So let's hope the plan runs a little deeper than tanking it for four years and waiting for the saviours to fall in their lap.

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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