The Edmonton Oilers are in a bad spot now, and with a 4-13-2 record to start the season you would be reading some ‘fire the coach’ articles by now if this were any other franchise. The thing is, they’ve done that already, seemingly every summer since 2009. I guess they could fire a coach in-season, but I don’t think that is going to happen. The alternative? A wild and crazy ride.
Do you remember the famous line uttered by every GM who ever fired a coach? It goes "well, you can’t fire all 23 players" and is followed by knowing nods from all gathered for the media conference. I think we’re about the see the reverse, kind of a "well, you can’t fire 23 coaches" plan.
It started with Ladislav Smid. Dallas Eakins didn’t give him a lot of time on the Smid-Petry tandem and honestly Smid’s skill set doesn’t really fit the Eakins template (get puck, move puck, rinse, repeat) for puck handling. The Oilers sent away Smid partly for cap savings into the next seasons, and that may be the case with more players as the MacT-Eakins tandem makes more final decisions on who can and cannot handle the Eakins way.
Sam Gagner may be in some peril as a center in this system. It’s early, and he’s coming back from injury, but he’s been exposed on this road trip by eye and by math–he’s not in good positions, doesn’t win enough battles and when he’s not helping offensively 89 doesn’t do enough without the puck to warrant top line minutes.
Dallas Eakins is the first coach in forever Edmonton has employed to deliver results without worrying too much about talent development. Eakins has to nurse Yakupov a little, but other than that it’s a results oriented business and those who can’t or won’t will be shot out of a cannon to their new home.
Bottom line: Dallas Eakins has a right to ask each player on the ice to be defensively responsible. We’ve been talking about systems but these aren’t new ideas brought from Mars, these are defensive tactics that require a player to adjust to the situation and mark his man. The results so far show some players have been able to adjust and flourish despite some stumbles, and others appear lost. Gagner has played far fewer games than the others, so there may be a sense that he can recover over time–however, at some point he’s going to pay for indifference or inability with lost playing time, a change in position, or a ticket out of town.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
It began with Belov replacing Smid on the top 4, and resulted in Smid being sent away. Next step: Mark Arcobello at center, Gagner to the wing. The Edmonton Oilers have lost the season already and that is a horrible reality. The next logical step is to refine the roster to better reflect Dallas Eakins, culling those who don’t fit and adding those who are a better match.
Stay close to your internet, this is going to get choppy.