The Oilers are in rough shape, and with a rested Chicago team coming to town after Edmonton’s loss last night it’s a good bet they’ll be in worse shape 12 hours from now. This is a team crying out for action by the general manager.
This roster has three specific positional flaws that have worked to torpedo what progress the team has made:
- Centre. It turns out rolling the dice on unproven guys at the most critical forward position and then hoping to fix it in the early going if need be wasn’t a very good plan.
- Defence. Two big fixes were added over the summer; one of them (Mark Fayne) isn’t playing much and the other (Nikita Nikitin) is either playing hurt or isn’t good enough or both.
- Goaltending. Ben Scrivens/Viktor Fasth always looked like a reasonable gamble to me, but with any gamble comes the chance of failure and that’s what has happened so far.
Craig MacTavish doesn’t have ammunition to solve all those problems – that’s one of the reasons why I thought gambling on Scrivens/Fasth made sense, because when a team starts from as far back as the Oilers did sometimes the only option is to roll the dice and hope for the best – but he has to solve some of them. Waiting on Draisaitl and Nurse and Klefbom to fix them is not tenable.
I like a lot about Dallas Eakins, but he has made specific mistakes, something an exchange with one reporter (I believe it was Sportsnet’s Mark Spector) highlighted nicely:
- Reporter: When is there accountability? He’s had a lot of top ice time, Justin Schultz, and he leads your team in ice time tonight. When do you take some currency that you have, in ice time (inaudible)?
- Eakins: When we see fit.
- Reporter: Your season’s almost done here for you guys. When do you think you might see fit?
- Eakins: Matty.
The Oilers’ deployment of Schultz has been rational – soft competition, lots of offensive zone starts – but there’s just been way too much of it. I’m often critical of Schultz, but I understand his potential; in his first 10 games or so under Ralph Krueger he looked like a pretty incredible defenceman and his AHL work was extraordinary. What he isn’t doing is progressing, for whatever reason, and at this point in time there is simply no rational argument that he’s the No. 1 defenceman the Oilers are trying to play him as. He’s probably the worst defenceman in terms of current performance that the team has on the right side.
Lowetide used the phrase “the hill you die on” this morning and that about sums it up. The defence isn’t in good shape to begin with but playing Justin Schultz better than 22 minutes per game is asking it to fight left-handed. That may work for Inigo Montoya and the Dread Pirate Roberts, but when all you are is Count Rugen sometimes you have to wait in ambush with a dagger because you aren’t going to win that swordfight even with your good hand.
Craig MacTavish gave his coach a terribly unbalanced roster, and even as the season slipped away he stayed the course. That’s on him, and he’s put himself in the ugly position of needing to make a trade from a position of weakness sometime yesterday. That’s a terrible spot for any G.M., but there’s nothing to be done but to go out and get the best deal available or let the season go.
I don’t see how Dallas Eakins overcomes this start. For the second year in a row the Oilers have started the season in a deep hole, and it’s going to take an exceptional performance the rest of the way (even following a trade) to change things. So far there have been no signs that Edmonton is capable of that exceptional performance.
It’s time for a trade. Then we’ll see about the coach.
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