It’s not often the aroma inside Rexall Place improves when the Edmonton Oilers move out and the Canadian Finals Rodeo moves in every November, but the smell of horseshit seems like sweet perfume compared to the stench of defeat Oiler fans have endured.
Besides, the CFR will pack up and move on down the road when their gig is done. The Oilers, meanwhile, have been stinking up their barn for seven years on end, and there’s no end in sight for fans who, it seems obvious, have been holding their noses long enough.
With the Oilers taking a 3-10-2 record into a four-game road trip that begins against the Florida Panthers Tuesday, I don’t have any answers for a season that’s already gone sideways and pushed the faithful over the edge. If I did, I’d sell them to Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish and Daryl Katz. They know how to sell a bill of goods. Perhaps they’d buy one.
What I do have, though, is observations and opinions. Mostly random stuff that’s been rattling around my head as the odor of ineptitude and losing has heightened. Nothing profound – no MacTavish must trade so-and-so for this-or-that guy. No fire everybody from Lowe to Joe Moss just 15 games into a season that already seems lost.
Fans in what people used to call Oil Country have pretty much covered all those angles with all the venting around here lately, and that’s to be expected. This was, after all, supposed to be the season the Oilers finally pushed for a playoff spot, the season fans saw the pay-off for their patience. At the rate they’re going, the Oilers could be out of post-season contention earlier than in any season since the 2006 Stanley Cup run.
It’s gone desperately wrong . . .
Fans who want to see Lowe sacked aren’t going to get their way, at least not now. I’m not saying fans don’t deserve to get their way because Lowe has been the architect of the disaster assembled here, even if Steve Tambellini kept a chair warm for MacTavish until he was shown the door. All I’m saying it’s highly unlikely to happen.
Firing Lowe now won’t change the fortunes of this team in terms of making the playoffs this season, which they won’t, or missing them, which they will. Lowe sticking his shoe down his throat with his ill-timed and pompous "six rings" comment in pre-season was the last straw for many fans, but outside the satisfaction of getting that pound of flesh, I don’t see that move making the Oilers better in the short term.
Might Katz give Lowe, a close friend, the option of stepping down next off-season with some face-saving spin attached? Perhaps. I see that possibility only if this season as a whole is an unmitigated disaster – unlikely because, whether you want to hear it or not right now, this group of players is better than the record indicates. It can’t stay this bad, can it? I believe it’s time for Lowe to go, but Katz hasn’t asked me what I think.
As for MacTavish, I suspect he’s been humbled somewhat already by finding out it’s a lot easier to talk about making bold moves, as he did last summer, than making them. Rookie mistake. His bad. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than to set yourself up for criticism as he did.
Trying to right that wrong now with the team off the rails, however, might be the worst thing MacTavish could do. Until the team pulls out of the death spiral it’s in, there are nothing but sucker deals waiting for him. If you were an NHL general manager, wouldn’t you love the opportunity to make a deal with MacTavish right now? I’d be calling him.
I’m not saying MacTavish can’t or shouldn’t make a significant deal under the right circumstances, just that it’s next to impossible to do so for anything approaching fair value in the compromised position he’s in right now.
Like MacTavish, coach Dallas Eakins grabbed everybody’s attention early with his no-nonsense "I’ll do things my way" approach. He seemed a bit bold for his own good, frankly, given he’s a rookie as an NHL head coach. That said, he came in with a definite sense of what he wanted done and it seemed a welcome change from Ralph Krueger.
Tactically? I’m not going to sit in the cheap seats and pretend I know more about drawing up breakouts and defensive systems than Eakins does. It’s clear there’s been adjustments and nuances the players haven’t grasped. The swarm defensive scheme? That probably works better when a team gets a timely save or two when a mistake is made. Just a thought.
As for speculation and questions about whether Eakins has already "lost the room," if that’s even a possibility, that’s a more damning indictment of the players than of the rookie bench boss. What, a bunch of players who haven’t won a damn thing can’t be bothered to listen to the message and, more important, act on it when it’s delivered? Really? What, pray tell, has this group of players accomplished that would allow them that out? Nothing.
As for talk about canning assistants Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith, that’s not something MacTavish should even entertain during the season. Off-season? Perhaps. That should be up to Eakins. Then again, what should happen and what does happen, as we’ve seen here these last few years, are often distinctly different matters.
Saturday’s no-show in a 5-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings was something I didn’t expect. It came as close to team looking like it has quit or didn’t care as anything I’ve seen in years. It came on the heels of a closed door meeting by the players. If that’s not alarming, I don’t know what is.
We’ve talked for a long time about the mix of personnel on this team and how it’s lacking. There’s no question the line-up isn’t put together right. Much of the talk has come in the context of the type of player needed – a banging winger, a big centre, a first-pairing defenseman, a veteran presence who brings some gamesmanship. Fair enough.
What about the mental make-up and character? Are there enough hate-to-lose guys in that dressing room? Enough glue guys? Enough talk-is-cheap-just-bust-your-ass guys? I think not. I don’t see it. I like Andrew Ference as an addition. He knows what it takes to win. Who else does?
And what about the core players? What about Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Have they performed like the Six Million Dollar Men they became when management threw big money at them before their entry level contracts were even done? Rhetorical question. They haven’t.
I get it that locking up Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins long term before the cap went up probably made fiscal sense, but does it make sense for them as players? With fortunes already guaranteed just out of their teens, are they as hungry and driven to succeed as they could be or is life pretty good, win or lose?
I don’t know the answer, but the question is worth asking.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.