What now for the Edmonton Oilers?

Dallas Eakins 9

The Edmonton Oilers are 0-3-1 through their first four games. It’s an ugly time for a franchise that absolutely could not afford another slow start. Where does the team go from here?

The Balance

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This is an extremely tough time of year to make decisions.

There’s a temptation to be emotional, to react to a team that just isn’t getting the job done. Long-term planning and the big picture are all too easy to lose because of the results of a short span of time. It’s important for anybody who is responsible for the big picture not to lose himself in short-term results or the heat of the moment. That’s when the big mistakes get made.

There’s a reverse temptation, though, the temptation to sit quietly and assess. An NHL season is a long thing, but it doesn’t take much time at all to dig a hole which is impossible to overcome later. Sometimes changes need to be made and just waiting for things to turn around doesn’t cut it.

It’s a lot easier for anyone (myself included) to understand that in theory than to execute it in practice.

Position-by-position

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The Wings: This looked like a strength entering the season. It’s looked like a strength even through the losses. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle and David Perron are all known quantities; parts of the solution. Benoit Pouliot and Teddy Purcell are veteran NHL’ers; they’ve looked like veteran NHL’ers. Nail Yakupov looks much improved to me at both ends of the ice. In those six players are the foundation for three real NHL lines, and the Oilers have been using them exactly that way. Matt Hendricks has been doing his part on a defensive zone line, and so far Edmonton’s gamble on Jesse Joensuu looks reasonable. There is depth at this position, too, guys who looked good in camp and can plausibly step in when injury hits. There’s no need to make changes here; this position is the least of the Oilers’ worries.

Centre: This looked like a weakness entering the year, and it has lived up to expectations. Dallas Eakins said his team had two NHL centres entering training camp. The situation’s a little better than that because Mark Arcobello has looked just fine in the role he’s been assigned, much as he did when given an opportunity last year. The guy who isn’t getting the job done early is Leon Draisaitl. There’s no shame in that; he’s 18 years old and given that he’s a worse player now than he’s going to be at any point in the future. It would be easier for him if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins hadn’t missed the last two games, but that’s not the reality of the situation.

Defence: This might still be an improved group from last year, but it isn’t good enough. Justin Schultz and his rotate-a-rookie partner aren’t even close to what a top NHL pairing needs to be. Nikita Nikitin, Jeff Petry and Andrew Ference all suffered injuries in the preseason; they’ve played but the results have been up and down and it’s fair to wonder to what degree nagging injuries are playing a role. Mark Fayne has shown flashes but he too has been up and down. Darnell Nurse is 19 years old and Brad Hunt isn’t up to the task of playing 17:00 per game at even-strength.

Goaltender: Viktor Fasth had one good game, then got hurt early in his second. Ben Scrivens had a somewhat difficult preseason and that’s carried over to the start of the regular season. The Oilers’ defence hasn’t made it easy, but the team’s 0.831 save percentage has not helped either.

What Should Be Done?

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Bring in an NHL centre. This is a priority. Gambling on both Arcobello and Draisaitl to be able to hold down important jobs was never a safe risk to take, and there’s a lot of risk associated with sticking a star prospect like Draisaitl into an unhealthy situation. We can’t know the full range of options open to Edmonton here, but one obvious one is Kyle Brodziak, who the Minnesota Wild would apparently love to dump. It doesn’t have to be Brodziak, of course, but it is essential that another NHL centre joins the organization to solidify the position. That would allow the Oilers to send Draisaitl back to junior to further his development and to ice four legitimate NHL pivots.

Recall Martin Marincin. Marincin and Petry were the team’s best defensive tandem a year ago, taking on the toughest available minutes and doing surprisingly well in them. Marincin adds some size, a lot of smarts, and another guy capable of moving the puck to the mix. Is he a perfect fix? No. But both Petry and Justin Schultz have performed better when paired with legitimate puck-moving options with some defensive presence.

If necessary, sign a goalie. The “if necessary” part depends on Fasth’s health. The Oilers rolled the dice this year (understandably so) on two guys with good track records, neither of which had proven himself as a starting goalie. That’s a reasonable bet, but only if there are two options. If Fasth is going to be gone for any length of time, the Oilers only option is to hope that Scrivens bounces back, and that’s living a little too dangerously for my taste. If Fasth will be back soon, there’s no need to give up on the position just yet; these guys have each started only two games and have good long-term records. If not, it’s time to phone for Tomas Vokoun.

Deployment. I have no complaint with the way the forward group is being managed. The Oilers came in with a plan and to my eye the plan still seems pretty reasonable up front.

The trouble is on the blue line. The cast isn’t all that strong, but there are some good options here and the coaches need to find two effective pairings. I wonder about Nikita Nikitin, who came back really early from a camp injury – there might be a guy playing through injury there but he and Mark Fayne weren’t getting the job done. Between those two guys, Petry, Schultz and Marincin the team needs to find two pairings and someone to play with Ference. On balance over four games, I’d suggest Schultz is the guy who has played himself to the third unit, but the Oilers could always opt to move Nikitin down until he’s fully recovered and move Petry or Fayne over to the right side.

But the details are less important than the essentials: get Marincin into the mix, keep Petry in the mix, and for the sake of all that is good and holy don’t send Schultz out with any more rookies to play top pair.

Does that fix everything? No; this is a process and it’s going to take a while. But as Dallas Eakins said the other night, it’s a game of inches; any positive change that can be made is worth making and there are a few options at Edmonton’s disposal.

What about Eakins himself? I’ve never been a fan of firing the coach after four games. This team made a choice in the summer, and it needs to have the courage of its convictions.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Spydyr

    It would also help if the are truthful about each players abilities.

    1) Justin is a lousy defensemen. yes he is a one trick pony and even that he is just good and not even great at.

    2) Andrew is old and his abilities are best for a 3rd pairing and as a 7th defensemen.

    3) Our top line of Hall-Hopkins- Eberle is not capable of 20 or more minutes a night. Only Hall is but I would only limit that even.

    4)Martin deserves to be here and not down there. If he is down in OKC he is their to learn to play the Right defense position. Since it is our week side.

    5) Send both Daisaitl and Nurse down. They are not playing enough and they are not ready for this. JMHO

  • Zarny

    AN OPEN MESSAGE TO THE MANAGEMENT, COACHING STAFF & EDMONTON OILERS’ PLAYERS

    IT IS THURSDAY OCTOBER 16TH 2014 & TENS OF THOUSANDS OF US OILERS’ FANS NEED TO GET THIS MESSAGE ACROSS TO YOU ALL. NONE OF US ARE PAID MILLIONS OF DOLLARS A YEAR, THE MAJORITY OF US BARELY MAKE ENDS MEET, BUT WE PAY A HUGE AMOUNT FOR GAME TICKETS, FOOD & DRINK & OILERS’ STUFF AT REXALL. WE LOVE OUR TEAM. WE HAVE BEEN PATIENT, FRUSTRATED ANGRY, DISAPPOINTED & ALREADY THIS SEASON, WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH. THAT’S RIGHT ENOUGH

    UPPER MANAGEMENT & POHO

    YOU SIT IN YOUR FANCY OFFICES COLLECT YOUR FAT SALARIES & CARE LITTLE FOR US MERE MORTALS. YOU SAY YOU HAVE THE TEAM’S BEST INTERESTS AT HEART, BUT WE HAVE STOPPED BELIEVING YOU. DO THE RIGHT THING & RESIGN. FORCE YOUR RESIGNATIONS ON MR. KATZ.

    MR MACTAVISH, YOU GALLANTLY LED US TO THE CUP IN 2006 – YOU ARE A KEEPER

    COACHING & SCOUTING STAFF

    I AM LOST FOR WORDS ON YOU MR EAKINS. YOU NEED TO STEP ASIDE BECAUSE YOU ARE WAY OUT OF YOUR DEPTH & THE FANS WILL NEVER TRUST YOU. MR ACTON – YOU ARE NOT TOP COACHING MATERIAL EITHER. MR RAMSEY & MR THOMPSON – I AM SORRY YOU HAD TO SEE THIS FIASCO FIRST HAND. MR CHABOT PLEASE LEAVE THE BUILDING IMMEDIATELY, YOUR BELONGINGS WILL BE FORWARDED ON TO YOU EVENTUALLY.

    PLAYERS

    SOME OF YOU ARE STAR QUALITY IN ONE AREA ONLY, HOCKEY IS ABOUT BOTH ENDS OF THE ICE AND “HAVING SOMEONE’S BACK” GOALTENDERS SHOULD STAY IN THE NET NOT TRY AND PLAY HOCKEY FROM BEHIND IT. YOU ARE A NET MINDER NOT ANOTHER PLAYER WHO SCUTTLES TO AND FRO BEHIND THE NET. DEFENSE? COME ON GUYS YOU NEED TO UP THE ANTE & FORWARDS? LEARN HOW TO HAVE BETTER PUCK CONTROL – GIVEAWAYS MAKE YOU LOOK REALLY STUPID. AND IF YOU ARE HONOURED TO WEAR THE “C” PLAY LIKE IT MEANS SOMETHING – STOP TAKING NEEDLESS PENALTIES AND PLAY HOCKEY.

    MR KATZ

    FINALLY MR KATZ DO SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR LOUSY TEAM. YOU ARE A DAMNED GOOD, ASTUTE BUSINESS MAN. YOU HAVE MADE MILLIONS & CONSTANTLY TELL US HOW MUCH OF AN OILERS’ FAN YOU ARE. PLEASE PROVE IT NOW BY CULLING THE DEADWOOD FROM THE ORGANIZATION & SHOW US FANS SOME RESPECT. WE ULTIMATELY PAY FOR A HUGE PART OF THE OILERS’ REVENUE.

    SIGNED – ONE OF THOUSANDS OF FED-UP FANS

    Ugh dam, I just spilled my large rum and coke, can things get any worse?

      • BlazingSaitls

        Completely agree with this comment.

        MacT is well spoken and educated – but so what? Being well spoken and educated does not mean capable, and MacT has made some terrible moves. Hiring a rookie head coach, supposedly after a phone call with DE where the job being discussed was for assistant coach. This is super-bush league management. Getting the right coach, especially for a rebuilding team like the oilers, is crucial, and should have entailed interviewing numerous candidates and checking that the winning candidate had a sound plan and systems approach that worked with the resources the oilers have.

        MacT screwed up big time hiring DE, and he should be held accountable as well. This team needs new management. MacT talked about being held accountable when he took the job, but I highly doubt he will heed his own words.

        The Oilers will not make the playoffs this year or next, and will set a new NHL record for incompetence. The goal of the NHL is to win the Stanley Cup, and step one to achieving that goal is to make the playoffs, yet this management group can’t even get their team close to reaching step 1, and the owner won’t hold the accountable.

        What a sh*tstorm.

  • Spydyr

    And for once, can we have some decent mother trucking goaltending please? Scrivens, just 2 things:

    -pretend it’s the beginning of 2014. Turn back your damn calendar. Reset your computer clock.

    -everything chabot tells you, do the opposite. Or get on the phone with Ranford and double check first. What are the oilers going to do? Release you? It’s easier for them to release Chabot than you.

  • Serious Gord

    Oilers management reminds me of bad/delusional yahoo hockey pool management:

    “I drafted X players so they’re going to be good. I’m going to play them all the time instead of picking up other players. Even if they’re bad, beyond bad, and other players might be better, they just need time to turn it around. Any game now they might turn it around. Any game now. Please…any game now…”

  • Admiral Ackbar

    Where’s the defensive accountability on this team?

    TSN is covering so much of the Oiler’s woes lately. National attention to this tire fire’s tire fire.

  • Renegade

    In Katz eyes, Lowe is doing a wonderful job. Running a business isn’t about winning, it’s about making money. Lowe has put together a money maker, the home games are always selling out, the media deals, etc.

    As crazy it seems, but it’s almost like they make money for being a lousy team. All the hockey media is giving them press and there is no such thing as bad PR.

    If you want change, then you have to make the business lose money. Stop going to games, stop watching them on tv, and stop making such a big deal in the media. When the fans stop caring, that’s when change will come.

  • ubermiguel

    This team needs to break down the game to its simplest forms; three lanes straight north/south, five zone in the defensive zone, offensive zone triangle and then execute on the individual pieces. Execute on positioning, execute on completing passes, execute on tying up the opponent’s stick, execute on maintaining possession on the boards, etc etc etc. Execute at game speed in practice. Remove all weird systems and the game becomes one that’s won on skill and effort where it’s easier to hold the players accountable.

  • Rdubb

    for the life of me I did not understand why the management kept Hunt around and sent MM down to OKC. So what if Hunt has a good shot and is good on the PP, we have so many talented forwards that keeping Hunt for this reason and this reason alone is NUTTS…
    The D pairings should look lie this:
    MM – Petry
    Schultz – Fayne
    Nikitan – Ference
    Klefbom as the 7th
    Nurse back to juniors
    And if & when MacT trades Petry for a legit 2nd line C move put Klefbom with MM and keep Nurse as the 7th if the trade is done before he is sent back. Nurse can then practice with the BIG BOYS and rotate in and out, not to mention little injuries here and there…
    Just a thought, what do you think?

  • Anton CP

    Don’t blame players and inexperienced for losing, look at the Flames they don’t have a good team on paper. yet they are 3-2 after 5 games.

    Coaching is the key, in the preseason Eakins should have the core of the team playing so they can get used to the line combinations. The chemistry and goaltending to be sharp. They played all the rookies in the preseason so now the play of the team has not gel. Structure wise the forwards don’t back check, the defense out of positions and the goaltending has not been sharp.

    Too many odd man rushes against, goalie not stopping shots. Players got out muscled in front of the net.

    That’s what I see, how about you guys at Oilersnation?

    Coaching change is needed, the players are not buying what Eakins preach!

  • Sean17

    Oh well, football is still on for bit and now an entertaining world series starting up the oil are out of it and maybe I’ll check out some cricket or handball or an exciting game of Darts on TSN. I just can’t watch them anymore. My wife says i’m going to have serious health issues with my heart, I tell her it already happened during the Calgary game

  • Oiler fan in Dallas

    last year on October 29th Eberle was talking about “must win” games (they lost the next two). They are now two weeks ahead of that schedule…who would of thought after four games of an 82 game schedule we would be in a “must win” situation.

    I said it last year and i say it again…the players are not buying whatever Eakins is selling. Watching this train wreck is sad. We need a coach, someone with real experience, someone that can teach basic defensive coverage. Hell even bantams and midgets can be taught that.

    I had high hopes for Eakins but “hope is not a strategy”. Time for yet another change!!!

  • Oiler fan in Dallas

    I so wish I had a switch on my face that could choose a team and direct my hockey passion that way. I am stuck here I love the Oilers I grew up watching 5 Stanley Cups. I was at Northlands when they won the 4th cup. It is indelibly printed on my brain to cheer for the Oilers. If I am not Rescued from this I will have only one choice NOT watch the NHL. I can not watch any other team because the moment the Oilers win one game I will start to Hope. The only person who ever won in the land of Hope was Rambo and he had a big Knife.

  • Zarny

    @Rama Lama

    What are you going to do when changing the coach accomplishes SFA?

    The problem in Edmonton isn’t and hasn’t been coaching. They have gone through veteran coaches, a technical coach with Renney and 2 newbies with Krueger and Eakins and not a single one of them had success.

    The problem isn’t the coach. The problem is the players.

  • Zarny

    @The Last Big Bear

    What making it rain jerseys will do is guarantee not a single player with talent will ever want to play in front of a bunch of cray-cray Edmonton fans.

    The Oilers made the Flames look like a Bantam team for 40 minutes of the 1st game and some clown throws a hoodie on the ice.

    If you’re a player around the league that simply tells you to never play in front of that fanbase…like ever.