SLOW TRAIN TO NOWHERE

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Sure, the Edmonton Oilers appear poised to come off the rails for a ninth straight season, but at times like this it might be helpful to lean on the words of owner Daryl Katz in his open letter to fans last January 20th and understand that his team is at least on the right track. Or not.

To Oilers Fans Everywhere: 

“We all thought this was going to be the year the Oilers turned the corner. Obviously, that hasn’t happened, and it hurts. It’s frustrating – for all of us. For our fans, for our players and staff, and for everyone in our community who shares a common bond around a game, a team and a city that we love.”

The entirety of Katz’s plea for patience by fans, insistence that everybody in the organization is accountable and disappointment over “personal attacks” directed at POHO Kevin Lowe can be found here. Katz, or somebody else writing on his behalf, later continues: “That’s our vision. We are committed to it — and we’re confident that we are on the right track.”

While I agreed to a point, as many of you did, it appeared the Oilers were on the “right track” with some of the additions GM Craig MacTavish made this off-season, only the most optimistic fans expected the team finish in a playoff position. Too many holes at centre, lack of depth on the blue line and unproven goaltending. I had them 12th. You? 

Today, at 4-7-1 after a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers to open a five-game road trip and with Taylor Hall on the shelf for at least another couple of weeks, the “right track” letter by Katz rings hollow. Fact is, the Oilers, who face the Boston Bruins Thursday, could be an afterthought yet again in the Western Conference by the time they get home. 

THE WAY I SEE IT

Binoculars

Through 12 games, the Oilers are two points better than they were last year when they went 3-8-1 in their first dozen games on the way to a 4-15-2 start that had them playing a chase game in the standings the rest of the way. We could be in for a repeat, and that’s somewhat surprising to me. Here’s why: 

  • While I can’t think of anybody who considered Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth proven No. 1 NHL goaltenders, I thought the tandem was an upgrade on Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera, architects of the disastrous start of 2013-14. They haven’t been. Dubnyk had an .894 save percentage in 32 games here last season. LaBarbera was .870 in seven games. So far, Scrivens sits at .897 and Fasth at .861. Fasth, coming off a groin injury, struggled in Philadelphia.
  • The Oilers again sit near the bottom (28th) of the NHL with 43 goals against and are 29th in goal-differential at minus-13. Much of that falls to Scrivens and Fasth, but they’ve been victimized by glaring errors in defensive coverage and giveaways. I expected a much less error-prone group with the additions of Nikita Nikitin and Mark Fayne.
  • Benoit Pouliot, hailed by some advanced stats people as a very good signing based largely on his ability to drive possession, has been only OK. Not terrible, but not good enough with 1-3-4 so far. Teddy Purcell has 1-4-5. Again, only OK. With Hall out, coach Dallas Eakins needs more from them.

THE BOTTOM LINE

BottomLine

The above isn’t a complete checklist of what’s ailing the Oilers. We’ve discussed the decision not to bring in a proven veteran to bolster the middle between Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Boyd Gordon. The power play has been ineffective in recent games. Now, there’s no Hall to drive the attack.

With the bar having been set so low, I still believe, as I did in pre-season, this edition of the Oilers is better from top to bottom than the team we saw last year. That doesn’t mean, it’s becoming painfully obvious, this group is even close to good enough to push for the playoffs, “right track” or not. 

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

    We have no idea what this team is or what it’s supposed to be.

    We hire a coach who wants them to be iron man contestants instead of hockey players and his game plan is a swarm defense along with forwards who are hard to play against. Problem is we didn’t draft those players in the previous four years as we drafted high end skill. I wouldn’t have a problem with high end skill in the first round, it’s the complete waste of the next five rounds in getting players up to this team that is most concerning.

    We have a GM that didn’t do anything other then draft number 1’s and wouldn’t trade because he was afraid of losing it. He’s fired and you would think we would go look for somebody experienced…nope we go back and grab another rookie GM who without picking up the phone to another team to find out the harsh reality of trading in this league, promises us bold moves and trades because he’s “impatient”, but with only four real tradable assets and they are all the paid core.

    My favorite part of this organization that so proudly lives on it’s past laurels. We tried a tandem goalie combination after Cujo left in Mikhail Shtalenkov/Bob Essensa and within a season we were out looking for a number 1.

  • The scouts have failed....

    The sound of Brian Burke laughing has become louder and louder and gone from a snicker to a full on belly laugh.

    How does Lowe look at himself in the mirror?

    Embarrassing is an understatement.

        • The scouts have failed....

          yeah actually I do and I find it hilarious that anyone who has a brain and has seen what Burke has left in his wake of the teams he has left thinks he would be laughing at Lowe. He left the Canucks and Leafs in shambles, was exposed as a fraud in Anaheim, and has had VERY little to do with the flames “success” but yes he should be laughing at Lowe.

          • Serious Gord

            Burke got the sedins and kesler. they were first in the division when he left – apparently over personality conflicts with ownership. They did very well after he left. They were certainly not “in shambles”.

            He got pronger and a cup for anaheim before being offered huge dough to go to TO where, like so many others before him, he failed. like edm much of to’s issues are at the ownership level – not just the gm level.

            Burke is a good to great gm/executive who had the sense to hire treliving and to not fire the coach.

            While he wouldn’t likely be my first choice, i would take him in a heartbeat over KLOWE.

          • Serious Gord

            I would not be trumpeting him getting pronger as he was the beneficiary of circumstances and that was Pronger asking for a trade out of here (and quite honestly that is how you end up trading for stars – by circumstances). As for Niedemyer that was more Scott’s brother playing for the team that Burke was GM of at the time and Scott saying he wanted to play with him, you and I as GMs could get Scott to sign. Brian Murray was the man who built that ducks team and Burke trumpets the glory.

            In terms of the Not’s he got one of the sedins because they were terrible, and I will give him credit he made a good trade for the other (and the same can be said for lowe who got pronger). His scouts did a good job of getting kesler it would not be him (and if you want to say that he hired the person that hired blah blah blah then I will respond by saying look at what his teams have subsequently done and what they did in 2000 – 02) which has not been good.

            Compare the number of trades won and lost, the draft picks turned out, and the free agent signings and compare them to Lowe it would be close.

  • smith

    The funniest thing about the flames successes is it can almost all be traced to Feaster who is no longer with the team. Yes he made some large mistakes but it also looks like the flames coaching, drafting, developing and player acquisition improved a lot. The flames current GM has improved the goaltending and brought in some large facepunchers (Bollig, Engelland) who have been terrible.

    When the numbers catch up to them the flames will sink in the standings and we will have to see if the GM can take the appropriate steps to keep moving them towards contending in the next few years.

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      No matter how you shape it or try mitigate the pain by castigating the Flames the reality is we are dismal and the Flames are rising to the challenge. Right now our team is the embarrassment of the league.