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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

If it’s not one thing…

So, we’re 20 games into the season and the Edmonton Oilers are in a far worse position in the standings than even the most jaded and cynical critics had them in when everybody was making their bold pre-season predictions. Remember all the talk about the Oilers being Stanley Cup contenders after serving notice last season when they put up 103 points? Sure you do.

I was one of those people talking that way. Even with some holes in the roster, I saw the Oilers as Cup contenders – not favourites, but in the mix for sure – because of the confidence and experience they had gained going two rounds deep into the playoffs after spending a decade out of the post-season. In my books, those things matter, or should, when sizing up what comes next.

What we’ve seen so far in 2017-18 does not remotely resemble that. This is not what I (and I’m guessing many of you) saw coming. That’s not even a guess, actually. It’s easy enough to look up what media folks and fans alike said and wrote going into this season. Here we are today and the Oilers are 7-11-2 for 16 points after Saturday’s 6-3 loss to the Dallas Stars. They had 23 points from a record of 11-8-1 at this juncture a year ago.

Here in Oil Country, where you can pretty much set your watch to people overreacting for good or for bad, everybody is wondering what the hell has gone wrong here. That’s troubling on two fronts. First, while it’s good fun to poke a passionate fan base over getting too easily worked up one way or another, I don’t think that’s the case now after 20 games. Second, when it comes to figuring out what the hell has gone wrong, the answer is multiple choice. Why are the Oilers so bad? Let us count the ways. That’s trouble.

WHERE TO START?

Oct 19, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom (77) blocks a shot against the Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) during a game at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

With the Oilers assuming a prone position near the bottom of Western Conference standings, as close to Stathlete John Chayka’s Arizona Coyotes as they are to a playoff spot, the problem is you can’t put your finger on just one or two aspects of the game that have put the team where it is now. Coach Todd McLellan and GM Pete Chiarelli have issues on multiple fronts.

The I-Called-It Crowd will say they saw some of it coming. There were questions about depth on right wing. The argument Chiarelli shoulder have bolstered the blueline rather than go with what he had until Andrej Sekera returned from injury had some merit (more than “some,” it appears). Many observers, me included, saw those holes as blemishes rather than fatal flaws that would be mitigated by talents like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson and Cam Talbot. Obviously not.

Klefbom has not been close to the player he was on either side of the puck during his breakout season of a year ago. Neither has Talbot, who has a .903 save percentage now after going .919 last season. Despite producing points at a slightly better rate (1.25 PPG to 1.22) than he did on the way to winning the Art Ross Trophy a year ago, McDavid hasn’t been able to drag this mess to success because he doesn’t get nearly enough help.

There are some common threads. The Oilers don’t score enough goals (ranked 29th with 50 and 27th in GPG at 2.50). While the power play has crawled into respectability in terms of percentage (10th at 21.4), the penalty kill remains miserable (29th at 74.3). The numbers aside, the complicating factor, as I see it, is the Oilers haven’t been able to put enough aspects of their game together on any given night to win or, at the very least, get points.

When the Oilers manage to score enough, Talbot has an off-night or the defence gets loose and they give up too many. When Talbot is on and the team is tight defensively, the Oilers attack can’t put the puck in the ocean off the end of a pier. When the power play is clicking the penalty kill is awful, or vice-versa. Too often, when McDavid and Draisaitl are held in check, the secondary scoring isn’t there. On and on . . .

NO EASY ANSWERS

Simply put, McLellan and Chiarelli can’t point at any one aspect of this team and say, “Here’s the fix.” The return of Sekera, as good as he was last season, won’t be a cure-all on the blueline. Splitting up McDavid and Draisaitl, by itself, isn’t a magic bullet up front. I see the acquisition of Mike Cammalleri as a good bet, but is it a game-changer? I think not. Big picture, that’s OK because from where I sit it looks like several little fixes and upgrades in different areas are what this team needs.

The problem is that approach takes time. Time is something Chiarelli had plenty of this past off-season but does not have now. Twenty games in, the Oilers aren’t even close to what most of us thought they’d be and are in danger of missing the playoffs – as McLellan talked about after the loss in Dallas. Without the luxury of tweaking over time, it follows that the next move might be something bigger and more immediate. Will Chiarelli choose to play that card? If that’s his master plan now, he’d better get on with it. 

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • Hemmercules

    I’m done losing sleep over this team. Too many underachievers this season. No chemistry that lasts more than a game or two. Confidence and effort just isn’t there for some reason. I will keep watching with a faint sliver of hope until they get officially eliminated. It’s mountain to climb but it can be done.

    • winteriscoming

      Or was it over achieving last year and we are now witnessing their actual level of play. I heard the hype before the season but I didn’t see players to meet those lofty levels. Sorry you can’t come into a season with our a right winger that can play on your first or second line.

    • Clayton

      The problem is two-fold…the Oilers counted on players repeating their career years from last year and players continuing their development progressions. Neither has happened. Career year players have regressed to their career average levels and player progression has levelled out for many players. The right move would have been to improve the team and if career years were repeated or progression continued it would have just made the Oilers stronger.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      I remember last year our problem was exactly the same as what’s outlined in the article. Gully said; “Seems as soon as you plug one leak another springs up” .

      You were never cup contenders, but the playoffs, in this league, are NEVER decided 20 games in. Not anymore.

      You can still make it. You are better than us last year: we had literally half a team and made the playoffs. The objective should never have been the cup, it should have been the playoffs, then people wouldn’t be so disappointed and want to burn the wagon.

      We fixed our special teams and we made it with only half a season of productivity from Johnny.

      These are facts.

        • BringtheFire 2.0

          “Why are you so interested in the Oilers?”

          1.) If the Oilers are good, we get to beat you in the playoffs. If you are bad, we do not.

          2.) I am a Canadian male who loves watching hockey. Edmonton has Connor McDavid. Duh.

          3.) Edmonton hockey fans have suffered enough and deserve better.

          • BringtheFire 2.0

            “Just go away…”

            But am I wrong?

            C’mon, friend…red and blue together makes purple. Colour of royalty. Let’s come together.

            * takes cfour by the hand, whispers *

            Together.

          • cgyearnall/edmfreeloaders

            They deserve nothing….they would whine if they were hung with a new rope..throwing jerseys away..shamefull from any fan anywhere…10 top 7 gifts for sucking ..really..you think you deserve more..take another toke off your crackpipe..ignore reality..you pity city looser

  • Arnie

    I agree that PC missed a great opportunity in the off season to upgrade the team and failed to step up. He basically wanted his cake and eat it to by hoping for the team to go further but not using some of his draft choices and some our defensive depth on the farm to build for today. The team hasn’t played as bad as their record shows, a little better goaltending and a few breaks and they could easily be at least at .500. Sacrifice our higher drafts for 2018 and Mantha or Paigan, Maroon, Strome and Benning for Sushinkov, Galchenyuk and Collin Miller. Put enough into the deal for Galchenyuk so that they agree to picking up half of his salary. Then you talk Russell into a trade at the deadline all of a sudden we have skill and speed to burn throughout the roster and we have cap room to keep RNH and re sign Nurse long term to a similar salary as Larson and Klefbom. We are not that far away but if we are to resurrect this season we do not have a lot of time left to be just sitting around.

  • Oilfan11

    I actually did call it this summer and got ripped on by other fans. Can’t depend on player development and guys having career years every year, especially when other teams are going out and actively improving their teams while you weaken your own team. Add the fact there’s a pretty big existing injury that wasn’t dealt with in any way and its a recipe for failure!

  • Rama Lama

    It pains me to say this but the season is over……..no way we can come back from this giant hole that the organization has dug!! Bad trades, bad coaching, have played a significant role.

    We traded Hall and Eberle away…….and we were told that they were not part of the solution. Yea PC thought he was so smart …….I suspect Hall and Eberle are seething and laughing at the same time. Pretty soon RNH will be traded for a few magic beans and we will be told by Oilers Management that he too is part of the problem.

    PC has real explaining to do as does TM………the look on Connors face lately says it all!!

  • Natti_89

    Anyone have any actual solution to our record? Fire the coach or gm – ok so then what? Trade the mall – ok then what? I personally believe the issue is just chemistry within the team. Why they haven’t found traction for putting up a few wins ….maybe pressure? Maybe the team needs other assistance (motivational speaker, seriously) to get their mojo back. This team has no confidence and honestly, love or hate the deals Chiarelli has made or the coaching decisions, I don’t think changing either will do anything. Gotta get a goal outlined with emotional outcome

    • Reinman

      Like Don Cherry says, when 30 players are terrible, you fire the coach. Get Todd Nelson! I wish he would have got the job from the start to be honest. He had a real knack at getting the most out of his players. He paid his dues with the Oilers, and then when the job became available, and he auditioned and did great things in a short time, they went out and hired TMac. Slap in the face. Bad Karma, we are probably paying for that now.

      • GK1980

        Man I am sick of firing Coaches. Eakins was a train wreck but other coaches seemed to be alright previous to Eakins (Kruger). Fire TMac and then the team has to learn all new systems and throw yet another year out the window. Team needs to look at each other in the eyes and figure this out on their own.

    • Odanada

      See my post below regarding team “chemistry”
      I cannot verify the story as I am not in any way involved with or near the team.
      But something is going on.

  • Clayton

    It is only one thing. One simple thing has gotten the Oilers into this mess. Consistently losing trades. The worst part is that it seems everyone except the Oilers seemed to know what they were getting in the deals. Reinhart…came as advertised…borderline NHLer. Sure…drafted high…but had shown since his draft year that he wasn’t likely to be a top D-Man. Then Hall for Larsson. No way to knock Larsson…he has come as advertised…a very solid second pairing D-Man. Problem is the Oilers gave up a much better player and a piece that if packaged properly with a prospect or pick could have yielded a top pairing D-Man. And then Eberle for Strome. Strome is producing exactly like he has year after year. You can’t lose those trades (including losing out on Barzal and Aho) and expect your organization to move forward. And yes…I know Larsson is playing as a #1 D-man…but imagine how solid the D-Corps would be with him in a #3 role and having a legit top pair in front of him!

  • Northcom

    There are few players on the oilers that deserve any recognition, RNH at least plays both ends of the ice, McDavid is well McDavid but needs to bring back the defensive aspect of his game he had last year, Draisaitl is lost on the ice, he passes when he should shoot, he shoots when he should pass, he’s got a 10m dollar brick that seems to be dragging his game down. When it comes to goal Talbot is playing below average, Dallas pulled their goalie when he let in 3 goals on 12 shots, Talbot let in 4 goals on 16, where was the hook? There is no sense of urgency and the team needs to get fired up, the GM needs to pull the trigger but only if it helps the team, oilers management seems to get fleeced on trades recently, there is not much for sale so it could be difficult to get someone worth getting. I like the Oilers but can’t watch them anymore it’s just to depressing because of there lack of consistently and effort from everyone, I hate to think the season is over but there is no reason to believe the future will be any better then the first 1/4 of the season….. The players should be ashamed for disappointing the fans, we are the worst best team in the league, that is on the players.

  • morsecode89

    I think this article once again let’s Chiarelli off the hook. He inherited a team that had Hall, Eberle, Yakupov, RNH, Klefbom, McDavid and Draisaitl. The first three of those players are gone, and I like Adam Larson a lot, but the returns for each of the ‘problem’ players has been a down grade in talent, goal scoring, and skill.
    Yes, Oiler fans are reactionary, but we’ve been gifted a once in a generation talent. And we were sold the Peter Chiarelli, Bob Nicholson, and the new coaching staff were here to lead this oiler team out of a decade of darkness. The thing is, the season we were all waiting for looks to be spoiled once again by bad management. A thing oiler fans have become used to over the last 12 seasons.
    IF this team misses the playoffs, and they likely will with the hole they’ve dug themselves, do you really want the man who constructed this roster to make that big ‘splash’? Frankly, judging by the results of the team this season, and the results of the players Chiarelli brought in and so quickly jettisoned elsewhere, I am rather terrified of him making another trade.
    The narrative listed above seem to be correct. Talbot is struggling, Klefbom is struggling, there’s no secodary scoring. My issue is that it seams like it was knee jerk, desperation trades, or trades based on playoff performances (12 games) that have put us in the oil in this current position. I don’t know about you, but if this season is lost, the last thing I want is to watch another oiler traded at his lowest value go elsewhere and thrive in the near future.

  • Space Pants

    Wow, I wish I had some of the problems of you guys. I’ve barely worked in 3 years, everyone I know is unemployed, and I am still meeting more and more people every week that are between the age of 40-60 and can’t get a job.

    I’ll gladly be a sheep and unconditionally cheer for my team that is only 6 points behind the 3rd place Flames.

    Perspective is a hell of a drug.

      • Space Pants

        Thank you for even giving a crap. I’m just so tired of the constant whining and trolling that has been going on lately. We’re turning into Americans being at each others throats all the time. I’m sure you all know someone who is unemployed or struggling. There are tens of thousands of us in Alberta right now , if not over a hundred thousand. If you want something real to b!tch about, come hang out with me for a day. It’s a daily struggle just to remain positive and look for positive things right now. Alberta’s population is 4.146 million multiplied by the 8% unemployment rate (which is only people on EI, not people already off it). The result is 331,000. factor in children and it still has to be well over 100,000.

        Sorry for the long winded verbal diarrhea reality. Maybe some people will finally grow up or open their eyes when it happens to them. Like some others have commenting on, I’m just tired of the constant negativity vibe happening lately. I’m ready to leave all this hit behind and I probably just really should. I also grow my own f@cking beets though.

    • MontanaMan

      Good points Space. With tens of thousands out of work, the Oilers disappointing first quarter isn’t a first world problem. Sad that if you or I don’t perform (or if there isn’t enough work) we are terminated with a limited severance. Any of these hockey players don’t perform, they get the remainder of their lucrative contract paid out. All the best to you and hope you find something soon.

    • Serious Gord

      Calgary has a game at hand so let’s give them another point to make it 7. That’s 7/16 or 44% better than the oil. Perspective is all about… perspective.

  • Odanada

    I am not in close contact with anyone on the team but the story/rumour is this:
    A girlfriend of one player cheated on him with a teammate and was found out.
    This kind of thing is dressing room poison. Teammates are supposed to have each other’s backs; like a brotherhood. When this sort of thing happens it fractures dressing rooms and destroys chemistry.
    Usually a team trades the offending player to stabilize the room – but what happens when both players are valuable? What can the Coach do? What can the GM do? What can the Captain do, especially when the Captain is all of 20 years old?
    This is not getting better anytime soon.
    Any suggestions?

      • Odanada

        Nor am I, but there IS something going on with this team. I read an oblique reference to this “story” in the comments section of an Oiler blog. Not sure I was reading it right, I asked for clarification. They confirmed. I guessed at the name of one of the players involved and a commenter supplied the other. They said the press knows, but won’t write about it, which is fine.
        Remember Iafrate and Leeman with the Leafs? These things do happen and it’s never good.

        • BringtheFire 2.0

          “I read an oblique reference to this “story” in the comments section of an Oiler blog…”

          Which is where any self-respecting journalist would look for clues.

          • Odanada

            I suspect no journalist would touch this. Draisaitl is a multi million dollar investment that the Oilers are hoping they can salvage. This goes mainstream and the public shaming will ruin him in Edmonton.
            I’m sure journalists know the real story but risk team access if they go public. There is a lot of money on the table.

    • OldOilerFan

      I’m not in the dressing room and I don’t get worked up on rumours, but I think there is some meat to this rumour that keeps floating around. How do you explain a black eye to the media? Eye infection/concussion? The team spoke all of last year and over the summer how good the room was, they all want to play for one another etc. This year? Something happened….

    • Space Pants

      Not sure if you meant to respond to me, but you are 100% correct. Surprisingly, some of the Flame trolls nailed the story. It happened in public, people know.

      • Odanada

        OK. I’ve just back tracked on this sight and found the Flame trolls exposé.
        I honestly had not linked this to the black eye incident. That story goes with Nurse throwing the punch.
        What I’ve read is that Nurse was not the aggrieved party – he must have just taken a side and acted on it.

          • EzraElliott

            Can someone please clarify what this rumour is? I try to stay out of the fray, but the black eye is suspect, especially considering that the hit would not have led to the result we saw.

  • Hockeyfan

    Hearing all the “who could have seen this coming” is hilarious. i was here making that exact call several times, but no, name calling and insults were fired my way. I asked why would chialie brown sign mcd before drai? I typed how last year was unsustainable for the oil roster as it was, now it is even worse. i wondered aloud if 7albot was really the goalie you all aid he was. i ?ed Russell at 4 for 4, drai at 8.5 for 8, mcd at 12.5 for 8. I said the dcorp were suspect. All you fans are just that, fans, with no real knowledge of the game and most just stumble along towing the line, going yah yah, our team is because powdered milk and spector says so. Get some realism and try to view things in perspective without the oil smeared glasses.

  • Serious Gord

    No mention of Mclellan’s failings Robin? And not much of it for Chia?

    I think both are very heavily to blame through mistakes of omission, commission and lack of foresight ( a big slow team in a league that gets faster by the day).

    Contrary to many (the majority surely) I think Mclellan is not a proven successful coach. His record in San Jose can be argued to have been poor – particularly when it counted. His record in EDM is, so far, just barely above .500.

    Chia left the Bruins in a mess according to many in the Media in that market (which is far more critical of home town teams than Edmonton) as they suffer from the same speed deficit.

    Perhaps someone should start a pool for how long before the media start to criticize the management.

  • Oiler Al

    Too many players , positioned to play above their grades! The only real …. on good team….. forwards that are top 6 are Mcd, Dria, and Nuge. Guys like Luc, Maroon ,Strome and Drake are third Liners on a good team.Gryba and even Russel are number 7 and 8 guys.Pakarinen ,Khair and even Letestu dont make many NHL rosters.

  • CMG30

    What went right last year? #1 was Talbot standing on his head and papering over holes on the defense. #2 Connor McDavid and others having career years. #3 few key injuries.

    What’s going wrong this year? #1 Talbot is only average. #2 Top line has been dominating possession but not scoring. #3 PC opted to trade away talent in the offseason while everyone else was trying to get better.

    What’s going right this season? #1 RNH!

    All in all, this heap lands at the feet of PC. We’re near the cap in spending and at the bottom of the standings. We have boat anchor contracts to guys like Lucic and we’ve frittered away top tier talent like Hall and Eberle for pennies on the dollar. Don’t fire the coach, sack the GM!

  • MrBung

    Who cares what the I called it crowd said or is saying. Let’s not ignore the fact or cloud it. They are bottom of the league territory right now. Unacceptable and everyone in management and coaching should be on notice. No excuses. This is the team he took into the season. The apologists have to stop making excuses for management and coaching.

  • Stallions #35

    I am scared…haha. I want him to not touch anything because he has done enough damage but if he doesn’t do anything, we are in trouble. I want him to fix it but he might move Nuge for less that what he is worth in return…see Hall and Eberle. Hi rock, meet hard place. We need him to find more Maroon types of deal, or we need the opposing GM to pull a Chiarelli.

  • Big Nuggets

    I do think that Chia is generally failing as a GM, but this roster should be better than its showing, which leaves the coach as the missing peice. I hated the revolving door we had in previous years but perhaps firing the coach will at least be a kick in the pants and a chance to reset. If the romours are true then maybe a new coach will make everyone turn the page and focus on hockey. It looks like we are out of the playoffs, but the season is long and I am not in favour of giving up for a high draft pick. I’m done with high draft picks. This team can win on their own.

  • BringitbacklikeSlats

    Any chance we can keep it to hockey and leave the rumour mill drama for Entertainment Tonight? Let’s all give these guys the benefit of not knowing. It risks making this town toxic like Toronto became to Kessel and drove him away. Let’s be better

  • Klef abs

    I’m in the “I called it ” group 🙂
    There were downgrades at forward positions and no improvements on the d with the hole Sekera was going to leave. And so many things went right last year with half a dozen guys having career years. It just wasn’t sustainable. But most on here called me all sorts of bad things…sobs.

  • Cauliflower McPugg

    Thanks to Darcy (Woodguy) for retweeting this. I howled. It’s not all bad people, we get to witness some stellar snark .

    @BenjaminWendorf
    The best, most obvious part of Edmonton Oilers media consistently eating its own young is they struggle to provide analysis in low-scoring eras where the data needs to be more complex, so shift to manufacturing fantasy narratives and helicopter parenting the clubhouse.