Men naturally want to solve the problem, and thankfully sports isn’t like a relationship. I’m sure for many fans cheering for your team can cause much more frustration and angst than any relationship you’ve been in, especially when your team is underachieving.
The Oilers sit in 29th place. They are eight points out of a playoff spot on December 8th. Without question they are the most disappointing team in the NHL.
So what is the problem?
There are many, and as the losses mount I’ve read and heard many theories as to why the Oilers are back in Suckville.
1. The Oilers are too slow and they lost too much skill up front.
It has been talked about all season. They definitely aren’t the fastest team in the NHL. Are they slower than last season? Benoit Pouliot, Jordan Eberle and David Desharnais are gone. They’ve been replaced by Ryan Strome, Jujhar Khaira and Mike Cammalleri. Speed-wise, I’d say Khaira versus Pouliot, Strome versus Eberle and Cammalleri versus Desharnais are pretty close. On defence, Andrej Sekera is out and he’s been replaced by Eric Gryba. For sure a downgrade in speed.
The thing is, however, the Oilers are scoring goals 5×5 at the exact same rate as last year. The Oilers scored 2.02 5×5 goals/game last year. This year they have 2.03 per game. Their lack of speed isn’t hindering them from scoring goals. However, the biggest difference is their ability to defend at 5×5. Last year they allowed 1.70 goals/game at 5×5. This season it is at 2.59 — a massive swing.
Sekera’s absence plays a part, without question, but their inability to defend has killed them. Also, they’ve reinserted the “five-star” giveaway back into their play. The Oilers didn’t give up many “easy” goals last year, but this year bad decisions at the offensive blueline have led to transition goals and bad decisions defensively have led to easy goals. I’d argue those are mental errors more than lack of speed.
I don’t think the Oilers are much slower than last year, but it is accurate to say they aren’t any quicker. Speed could be a factor, especially if we believe the league overall is quicker. How come they can score at the same rate, but are getting crushed defensively at even strength? I don’t know the exact answer, but I’m certain goaltending and bad decision making has cost them. Also the fact Peter Chiarelli admitted in May he would give more opportunities to his young D-men hasn’t helped. Darnell Nurse has been very good, but Oscar Klefbom and Matt Benning, and even Adam Larsson to a smaller extent, have struggled. It would have helped to add another veteran defender (not Yohann Auvitu) as a security blanket to help in case not all the young D-men took a step forward.
2. The coach has lost the room.
This gets tossed out when a team is losing. The team loved the coach in May, and if after 28 games, during which they’ve dealt with adversity, the team suddenly is tuning out the coach, then I’d be concerned with the level of competitiveness inside the dressing room. It is hard to prove or disprove this theory, since none of us are in the room when the coach addresses the players. When teams start to tune out a coach, it is usually when the best players aren’t on the same page as the coach. I’d be shocked if McDavid feels this way. I think this theory is often tossed out, hoping a coaching change can solve all the woes, but often there isn’t much to it.
3. The Oilers room is dysfunctional.
Again, extremely difficult to say when we are not a player on the team. I see the players interact on a small scale, but that is only a glimpse. They aren’t a very vocal group, but they weren’t last year, either. They have a few personalities, and while they might miss the Rah-rah chats of Matt Hendricks, it is difficult to say what has changed.
We can go off what we see on the ice, and the Oilers have too often come out flat. They have been outscored 31-23 in the first period. Only Montreal has allowed more first period goals. Last year the Oilers outscored teams 71-66 in the first period. They were +14 (88-74) in the second period and +15 (78-63) in the third. They didn’t crush teams in the first period, but they weren’t down early like they have been this year.The Oilers have allowed a goal on the first shot of the game four times, the second shot four time and shots three-five another four times. Would lack of focus or preparation be an issue?
When you are down that quickly, that often, it is safe to say it is a concern. Many former NHL players have told me the coach’s job is to provide you with enough information so you aren’t surprised by how a team attacks or defends. That is the preparation a coach can do, but the mental and physical preparation falls on the players. The movies show coaches having the great motivational speeches prior to games, but that isn’t reality 82 games a year. Players, past and present, from many different teams, tell me a big rah-rah speech from a coach is rare.
So why are the Oilers such slow starters? I’ve asked them and they all respond with a similar, “If I knew the answer, I’d get us to change.”We’ve seen major errors in the first five minutes of the game occur too often this year. Are they trying too hard? Thinking too much? I don’t know, but they definitely don’t have the same swagger they had last season.
4. The GM misused the cap.
I believe he did. I recognize it is hard to sign players to one-year deals in free agency, especially early on, but sitting with over $7 million in cap space doesn’t make much sense to me. When McDavid’s contract kicks in next season, I understand it will impact the cap, but that is next year. Sure, it might be difficult to manage the cap this year, but that is one of the main jobs of the GM. Saying it is difficult is accurate, but it doesn’t excuse the GM from finding ways to better the team, or insulate them in case all the young players weren’t ready to take a step. The managing of this year’s cap has not been good. I believe it has played a factor in the team’s struggles. How much is almost impossible to determine, but I believe it has.
For me the biggest weakness has been their special teams. They are absolutely killing them. I’ve written many times how the PK issue has been a problem dating back to November, 2016. And since it is has been that long, I believe it is fair to question how Jim Johnson is teaching it. Something is being lost in translation. Too many easy seam passes keep victimizing the Oilers. Of course, the players wear some of the responsibility — they are on the ice — but the messaging or the system isn’t working and it hasn’t for 13 months.
Cam Talbot has a .918sv% at even strength this year. He’s stopped 487 of 530 shots. Last year he was at .926 (1630 saves on 1759 shots). He is down slightly. If he had made four more saves this year he’d be at .926. However, his PK sv% is down significantly. Last year he had a .876sv% on the PK, 39 goals on 317 shots. This season he surrendered 17 goals on 85 shots, .800sv%. That is a massive difference. To match last year he would have needed to allow seven fewer goals.
Laurent Brossoit’s numbers are very similar to Talbot’s. He has a .917sv% at EV and a .795 on the PK. Both goalies have been crushed on the PK, but much of that is due to terrible coverage in front of them. The goalies haven’t helped the players, and the players haven’t helped the goalies. The group has been a disaster on the PK. The fact the PK has struggled mightily for over a year makes me look more at the system and how it is being taught.
With the PP, on the other hand, I look more at the players. The Oilers’ most skilled players are on the man advantage. There is more flow and creativity on any team’s powerplay. Coaching devises a few set plays, but much of the success or failure falls on the players’ ability to adapt, react and execute. If anything, I think the coaches have stuck too long with the same players — almost being too loyal. It is a fine balance, because offensive players thirst for PP time. I find it hard to point the finger at the coach when Leon Draisaitl has zero PP points. I don’t believe he has lost his skills from last year, but he has lost his confidence on the powerplay. He and Milan Lucic have combined for zero goals. They had 21 last year.
CAN IT BE FIXED?
The return of Adam Larsson and Andrej Sekera will undoubtedly help, but they might not be back for another two or three weeks respectively. It might be too late then, if it isn’t already. Cam Talbot could be skating again next week, but skating and being ready to play are very different. I truly have no idea what Brossoit is capable of. Last year he had a .928 sv%, granted in only eight appearances, but he should be better than the .876sv% he has this season in nine appearances. The uncertainty in goal is far from ideal.
If it doesn’t turn around, then there needs to be changes. This team should not be in 29th place. The GM, coaches and players share that responsibility and if they don’t rebound then the organization has to re-evaluate all three of those positions and decide if a change is necessary.
Something is amiss with this team, and right now I’m not sure the organization knows exactly what is the biggest problem is, because they are many.
What is your theory?
MONTH OF GIVING
Thank you to Brent for his great bid and to Auto City Edmonton for the awesome automotive package.
Day 6: The Ultimate Made to Measure experience.
- A Jack Victor custom made suit. Made in Canada.
- And $500 in shirt, ties or accessories at Mr Derk. Pick whatever you want.
- Includes all the tailoring for your suit and all the clothes you purchase.
- In store consultation with Sterling Derk to ensure you fill out your wardrobe properly.
Thanks in advance. All proceeds go towards Santas Anonymous.