Maybe you thought Dallas Eakins was a pompous ass (I did) whose strut considerably outstripped his resume when the Edmonton Oilers named him head coach. Maybe you prefer the approach of Todd Nelson (I do) and want to see the interim tag removed from his title and have him signed as bench boss of the Oilers.
There’s been plenty of debate and discussion about Eakins, canned by the Oilers after a miserable start to his second season, and Nelson, promoted from OKC to mop up the mess with the season lost and fans counting down the days to a ninth straight year out of the playoffs.
If you remove style from the equation and stick with substance – for me, that means wins and points — there’s not much doubt in my mind, as I’ve written before, Nelson is an upgrade over Eakins. I’m not here to argue that again. Eakins was sacked after 31 games with a record of 7-19-5 for 19 points and a point percentage of .306.
Nelson coached his 31st game in a 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings Monday. Nelson’s solo record, after five games in tandem with GM Craig MacTavish, is 11-16-4 for 26 points and a .419 point percentage. That tells me most of what I need to know as far as the coaching debate goes.
It also tells me, and this isn’t stop-the-presses stuff, MacTavish is going to have to do a helluva lot more than address who coaches the Oilers before fans get even a remote sniff of contending for a playoff spot. You’ve said it. I’ve said it. Jason Gregor talked about it on his show again Tuesday. If MacT doesn’t provide whoever is behind the bench with better players and more of them, a coaching hire is a fart in a wind storm.
Had Eakins gone wire-to-wire at .306, the Oilers would have compiled 50 points this season. If the Oilers played 82 games at Nelson’s rate of .419, they’d finish with 68 points. The Oilers are getting better results with Nelson running the show, but those results aren’t close to good enough.
The point totals of the eighth-place team in the Western Conference over the past four full seasons (82 games) have been 91, 95, 97 and 95. Even Ralph Krueger’s .469 percentage from the 48-game 2012-13 season doesn’t translate to the Oilers being within a $5 cab ride of the post-season when projected over 82 games – it works out to 76 points.
Simply put (again), we can debate whether Nelson is the right guy for the job or play what-if and talk about the possibility, remote as it is, that a big fish like Mike Babcock or Todd McLellan or Ken Hitchcock might end up in Edmonton, but it won’t matter until the team is better. Way better. Five or six players better.
That falls to MacTavish, and, given his assessment of where the team is now compared to where most people believe it is — with much of the roster already turned over on his watch — I have very little faith he’ll be able to identify the missing pieces, let alone acquire them. None, actually.
Having the third or second or even the first pick at the 2015 Entry Draft isn’t going to make the Oilers competitive. Rushing Darnell Nurse into the NHL next season isn’t going to make the Oilers competitive. Naming Nelson or pick-a-name as coach won’t get it done either.
We know this. So does MacTavish. Doing something beyond talking about it is the trick we’ve yet to see. Call me doubtful.
WHILE I’M AT IT
The Oilers have so many glaring holes on the roster it’s difficult to pick just one or two, but one of the things that catches my eye is the lack of offensive production from the back end – not that the forwards are any hell either.
With Jeff Petry gone to Montreal, the team’s top six offensive producers on the blue line of those still with the team are Justin Schultz (5-20-25), Oscar Klefbom (2-10-12), Andrew Ference (2-9-11), Nikita Nikitin (3-5-8), Mark Fayne (2-5-7) and Martin Marincin (0-1-1). They’ve combined for 64 points.
Only Buffalo’s top six is worse. Edmonton’s blue line is so devoid of production that 27 teams get more points from their top three defensemen combined than the Oilers do from their top six (Buffalo and Vancouver are the exceptions).
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.