GETTING STARTED: A FIGHTING CHANCE

EasyWayHardWay

By the time the end of November rolled around last season, the Edmonton Oilers had dashed any hopes fans had that they’d kinda-sorta contend for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Meaningful games in March and April? The Oilers were done by December.

With a rookie coach in Dallas Eakins and a difficult schedule that saw them play 16 of their first 27 games on the road, the Oilers did a face plant with a 3-9-2 record in October and followed up with a 5-8-0 record in November to finish the month 8-17-2. Thanks for coming.

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The simple fact goaltenders Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera couldn’t stop a beach ball played a significant part in that. Sam Gagner’s busted jaw didn’t help. Add in holes on the roster that included lack of a top-end on the blue line and you get what we got – a team playing catch-up without the horses to do it for the final 55 games of the season.

It’s reasonable to believe Ben Scrivens and Victor Fasth will provide better goaltending than Dubnyk and LaBarbera did at the start of last season based on what we’ve seen. It also looks like GM Craig MacTavish has filled some of the holes – not all of them – with the additions of Benoit Pouliot, Nikita Nikitin, Mark Fayne, Teddy Purcell and Keith Aulie.

While we’ll have to wait to see how those additions play out, what we do know is Eakins is no longer a raw rookie as an NHL head coach and that the Oilers have a favorable schedule to start 2014-15. That’s not insignificant.

SOME CONSISTENCY

Consistency

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The shortcomings of Eakins, real and perceived, during and since his debut as an NHL head coach have been duly dissected here and elsewhere. So have his off-season attempts to expand his coaching horizons after feeling his way into the job with 10 thumbs in 2013-14.

While we don’t know exactly how much one season of hard knocks and learning on the job will improve Eakins as a coach, what we do know is after a carousel behind the bench that’s included Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger and Eakins, the message and the person delivering it won’t be changing for the first time in four seasons.

“I think more than anything this year it’s going to be nice to have some familiarity with the head coach,” Jordan Eberle told Chris Westcott of Inside The Oilers. “I think for me, and this is my fifth year coming up, I’ve had three new head coaches now. I think it can be a good thing and a bad thing sometimes too. We finally have a guy where we can pick up where we left off and I definitely look forward to that for sure.

“It’s huge. It’s one thing that really hurt us at the start of the year. No knock against Dallas, obviously. He was coming in and things change and that’s how it is. I’ve had that a few times. It will be nice to have the same guy come in and we’ll have a lot of familiarity when it comes to practicing, the way he speaks and what he expects so I think that for sure will help.”

SCHEDULE SAYS . . . 

Schedule

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After playing just 11 of their first 27 games at Rexall Place last season, the Oilers will play 13 of their first 24 at home this time around, including seven of their first 10 in October.

That, in itself, hardly guarantees a points windfall considering the Oilers were a decidedly lame 16-22-3 at home last season (13-22-6 on the road), but Eakins and his revamped roster won’t have to face a Murderer’s Row or live out of a suitcase right out of the blocks.

They open against the Calgary Flames Oct. 9. They’ll play the Vancouver Canucks twice, the Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes, Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators the rest of the month.

THE WAY I SEE IT

Thinking

To be clear, a year of experience for Eakins and a better schedule doesn’t mean we’re going to see a 180-degree turnaround by the Oilers in the first couple months of the season, even with the bar set to low a year ago – the Oilers didn’t win their fifth game until November 16, when they beat the Flames to get to 5-15-2.

I do believe, however, that having continuity with Eakins, not to mention Craig Ramsay and Rocky Thompson on staff instead of Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith, will eliminate some of the growing pains we saw a year ago and give the Oilers a fighting chance to get out of November without being absolutely buried in a chase position.

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Of course, there’s much more to do to get to March and April with something to play for – I still don’t see the Oilers as a playoff team, even if everything falls their way – but surviving the face-palm that was October and November a year ago this time around is a start.  

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.


  • Quicksilver ballet

    With more changes to the coaching staff this summer, than last summer. Could the players learn to just tune Eakins out? Play for a coach (Craig Ramsay) who’ll tinker with the chosen system and play to his players strengths first, before finding fault in them. MacTavish has done all he’s going to do for Eakins now. The players have the power, and after a very poor first impression, Dallas is about to find out how much respect he’s earned.

    The few players that matter on this team punt this all hat no cattle character by Christmas.

    With the same major holes that sunk this team last season still not dealt with. Adding a few role players to the roster will have little effect. There are half a dozen serious contenders in the McDavid sweepstakes, and our Oilers are certainly one of them. Enough of this hope crap. Let reality have its day and focus on landing Conner McDavid. Only he could help turn this gong show around.

    • HardBoiledOil 1.0

      I think you have won the grump of the day award. Even the serious one will have trouble topping (or is it lowering below)this.

      However your observation that there are more coaching changes this year than last is interesting. I would like to here from the crowd (which includes all of the MSM in this town) that have stated that coaching stability is critical on this.

      However, you are inaccurate when you state that the major holes have not been addressed. Completely different goalies, likely 3 new Dmen and abut 1/3 of the forwards being changed out (vs. last years start of the year lineup) says differently. How successful these changes are remains to be seen

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Still searching for a 1st or 2nd line center Eddy. Still seasrching for a couple top pairing blue liners as well. Question marks in goal to boot.

        Didn’t see any of these areas addressed this summer. Tell me the guys that did come this way, didn’t do it for the overpay/money issue alone? What we’ve seen this summer is all of the deck chairs Titanic variety, no? Grumpy or realist, it’s a fine line that separates the two these days.

        • Nuggets

          My point being he has “addressed” the goal tending with Dubnyk, Bryz and LaBabera out and Scriens and Fasth in. I accept we will not know how well it has been addressed until well into the season. But you shouldn’t claim it ahs not been “addressed”.

          The D has been “addressed” with addition of Nikitin, Fayne and Marincin (likely). Again how well this works out remains to be seen.

          The lack of size and “willingness to battle” has been addressed by the addtion of the likes of Hendricks, hopefully with Pouliot and Purcell and by shipping sammy snowpants out.

          No doubt the center situation is a huge hole which will has not been addressed in any meaningful way to date.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            Do you really need to wait and see how this plays out?

            What was needed were a couple 25+ minute a night guys (centerman and a blue liner) Not numerous 15 minutes a night types to plug the holes like they did this summer. Look at what playing Ference 20+ minutes a night has done to fan perception of his game. Andrew is a 15 minute a night guy when he’s effective.

            C’mon Eddy, you’re smarter than that.

        • Nuggets

          I’m still not set on our goalies. Combined they barely have a year experiance. Maybe one turns out to be a great one, who knows. Scrivens has a good attitude and from what I’ve seen some fire in his guts but can he be a number one? Lots if questions marks and turning over the team as much as macT has will compromise team chemistry.

          No hope or dissapointed here yet. Just neutral. Let’s wait until December to see how these guys do.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        While he’s always the downer around here, “Next Up” isn’t really off… There are stil huge holes at center and defence, and both new goalies are unproven. As much as we all hate to admit, Oilers could very well be in the Lottery again next year.