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Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Package Deal

In hockey, like out in the business world, there’s something to be said for fit and familiarity as they pertain to the people you work with. It’s no surprise, then, those factors come into play with most NHL coaching staffs. All things being equal, most people prefer to work alongside those they know, trust and are philosophically aligned with. It’s human nature.

It’s no surprise that when Todd McLellan arrived in town to take over as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers after parting ways with the San Jose Sharks in April 2015, Jay Woodcroft and Jimmy Johnson, his assistant coaches with the Sharks, arrived shortly after and filled the same roles on McLellan’s staff here. Woodcroft had been with McLellan since 2008-09. Johnson joined McLellan in San Jose for the 2012-13 season. Fit. Familiarity. Friendship.

They essentially arrived in Edmonton as a package deal. If the Oilers miss the playoffs this season after making the post-season with 103 points in 2016-17, it’s not a stretch to think they could end up leaving town the same way. I don’t think that’s McLellan’s fault – I’m not of the mind that he’s lost the room, as some people have suggested during a 17-19-3 start, or that he’s regressed as a bench boss since last season – but it is his problem.

Woodcroft and Johnson are his guys. They are also in charge of special teams that, to understate, haven’t been nearly good enough this season. Woodcroft is primarily responsible for the power play, which goes into tonight’s game vs. the Los Angeles Kings ranked 22nd at 17.0 per cent after finishing fifth last season at 22.9 per cent. Johnson runs the penalty kill, which is dead-last by a $5 cab ride at 71. 8 per cent overall and is sub-60 per cent at home after finishing last season a middling 17th.

IT’S BROKEN

Jan 8, 2017; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan follows the action in the third period against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre. The Senators defeated the Oilers 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

“The penalty kill and power play are important parts of the game and not just from a statistical basis, but from a confidence perspective,” said McLellan, who saw his Oilers waxed 5-0 by the Winnipeg Jets on the last day of 2017. “Your team gains a lot of energy from a goal for and loses a lot from a goal against and we’ve been on the short-end of that for a long while,”

The troubling thing about that quote is McLellan said that way back on Oct. 27 and nothing has changed since then. The penalty killing has actually been worse lately than it had been, as Jason Gregor touched on today. We’re 39 games into the season. It’s not jumping the gun, far from it, to ask when we might expect to see some improvement on that front.

The coaches don’t play the game, the players do, so I’m never on the front lines of those prone to yelling “fire the coach” (or the coaches) the moment things go sideways. I’m not going to start now. That said, from where I sit this mess looks like equal parts failure to execute and failure to draw it up right – having the right players in the right places. Everybody, coaches and players, get some on them when it’s this bad.

I’m sure that’s a conversation McLellan has had with Woodcroft and Johnson more than once already. He knows them. He trusts them. There’s a lot of history there and they have enjoyed some success in the past together. I get it. Right now, though, what McLellan, Woodcroft and Johnson are doing with special teams isn’t close to good enough and whatever they accomplished last season is becoming a speck on the horizon in the rear-view mirror pretty quickly.

In the business that is the NHL, results trump all, including familiarity, fit and friendship. Miss the playoffs? We’ll see how that plays out soon enough.

WHILE I’M AT IT

I just want to give a shout out to Kerry McGowan of Trilogy Oilfield Ltd. McGowan, who has a long history of supporting charitable causes around the city, donated four loge seats to tonight’s game against Los Angeles at Rogers Place to aid in fund-raising for the Hockey Helps The Homeless event that’ll be played May 11.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • Dan 1919

    I’m seeing a lack of effort to fix it in all honesty. Why hasn’t Nuge been put on the 1 unit instead of Draisaitl. Why hasn’t Puljujarvi been put on the 1 unit instead of Letestu. What is the advantage of doing nothing here, I don’t understand it?

  • Dean S

    Package Deal, fire Peter Chiarelli, put Lucic on waivers if he won’t waive his no trade clause.
    Instant Culture change. Done
    Lets make the Oilers fast and exciting again (like the 80’s).

    • Dan 1919

      I wouldn’t say Lucic is the problem, he’s a good player. It is starting to look like there’s too many Lucic’s on this team in 2018 when the league is going more and more towards explosive players. Draisaitl can skate fast and I’m not even saying I’d trade him, but him, Lucic and Maroon are all big bodies that slow the play down rather than push the envelope, explode and get guys out of position. At the end of the day Chiarelli got over confident in giving Eberle away. Sure both him and the team needed a reset but if there was nothing to be had in a trade for another top 6 winger, then they should have just kept him. The Oilers need to add more explosiveness and creativity to their top 6. If they match up well they can dominate, if a team is able to defend them like Winnipeg, you can tell the game is already over 5 min into the first.

      • Randaman

        Maroon will be traded at the deadline for picks. That opens up one spot for some much needed speed. Letestu will be traded at the deadline for picks. Khaira needs to be playing 4th line Center on a regular basis. I would also be trading Benning & Schlepy too but that’s just me.

        • Dirtbag Daddy

          I noticed that you indicate a plural in the number of draft picks. When you are dealing from weakness you may be lucky to get a bag of pucks for some players. You will be lucky to get a draft pick for Maroon. Don’t get me wrong as I like his size and that he can score goals but all he is proving is that he needs McDavid to be consistent. If that is what other general managers think, would they want him?

  • Consultant

    Finally we discuss the elephant in the room and actually name the PP and PK coaches instead of just our daily gripe about the PP and PK percentages. Until now I wasn’t even sure who’s responsibility the PK was, Woodcroft or Johnson.

    Success in any organization or any endeavor for that matter starts with accountability. Hockey is a results based industry. The only question that remains is sample size, 39 games seems plenty to me. Time for change.

  • The Future Never Comes

    I get where your coming from, that the players do need to play and take onus, but having played my whole life pretty competitively- a bad coach can most definitely alter the games outcomes. It seems they are not pushing the right buttons this year to get the team/individuals going, the coaches best currency is icetime/ accountability of his players. I don’t think he uses it enough. I also think he is a really good talker, but not so great walker. I think behind the camera lights, he doesn’t have the answer anymore.

  • BringitbacklikeSlats

    Robin,
    I know you don’t consider yourself as MSM anymore (I think I heard you say that on radio), but having been there I’d love to know you’re take on the local vibe surrounding hard questions.

    I get how it used to be. That someone like Sather needed to trust a journalist before he’d give them anything inside etc. So it wasn’t really a great idea for guys to fire off hard questions to the coaching staff if they hoped to come away with enough to keep them employed.
    But with the advent of technology it seems the days of insider writers is gone. So my question to you would be why you think there’s still so much reluctance for writers to ask the hard questions anymore. Even after 10 years of crap there was a reluctance to call out the old guard for their incompetence. Perhaps fans have a shorter leash now because of that long run of shame. We were given some hope last year and it’s been all but washed aside with the pathetic way the teams seems to be run right now.
    I mean that special teams is an absolute joke. How McClelland doesn’t address it personally until last week is pretty unbelievable given the gravity of the situation. It strikes me as poignant in that if he truly felt his job (and his Asst’s) was in jeapardy, he’d have done something several week earlier.
    I don’t know about you, but that smell of unaccountability that fillled the air when the old boys club was running things apparently still linger. Some things never change.

    • I don’t sense any reluctance to ask tough questions. The way I see it, the biggest roadblock to getting a straight answer is the advent of the scrum. There was a time when reporters could question coaches and players in smaller groups and that allowed for more time to follow up with second and third questions if you didn’t feel the person you were interviewing was being totally forthcoming. You were in a corner of the dressing room or in a hallway somewhere. You could actually talk to people without them having to answer questions into a microphone with 15-20 or more people listening in. Now, players and coaches get brought out, everybody gets the same thing. The post-game for the coach is at a podium. Don’t like the answer? You can ask a follow-up question but what you can’t do is demand the answer you’re looking for. There’s a lot of people waiting to get their own quote or clip. You don’t get the same time to work an interview the way you used to. Staff that handle media want one-and-done when it comes to coaching availability. Players are made slightly more available, but it’s not a whole lot better. I’d rather time to work a guy, but a lot of people on the beat now don’t get the same opportunity we used to. When you do press in that podium-type set-up, you get the kind of reaction we saw from Kevin Lowe years ago when he got frustrated with the line of questioning from a local columnist.

      • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

        So what you are saying is it is getting very hard to have some unique news that can set you apart from other news groups. On top of that it is easier for the coach and players to hide behind canned answers. I do not envy you a job trying to get to “Real News”

      • BringitbacklikeSlats

        Thanks for taking the time to respond at such length Robin. You have a unique perspective of having been part of that old school.
        Strikes me as a real shame when you have a League likely spending all kinds of big money to marketing/consulting firms to increase popularity of the game…yet here you have a systemic closing off of access to insight. It’s too bad, but I guess it’s unlikely to change.
        Glad there’s people like you to remind us all of how it once was.

  • Danoilerfanincalgary

    So much anger from the fans and deservedly so, being rational right now is difficult but my opinion is that team depth is still an issue here and there are players in the lineup that should still be getting seasoning at the minor league level. Everyone knows who they are no need naming the guys. Really it should be Pete’s responsibility to of had more seasoned vets in the lineup at the start of the season but I guess hindsight is easy as an armchair gm. Bottom line is it is the guys in the room who are ultimately responsible for the Oilers situation they need to figure it out. They will miss the playoffs but for their diehard fans sake please play better and give us something to actually enjoy watching instead of the nonsense you gave us New years eve we have grown weary of that garbage. Signed sad, mad and frustrated life long Oiler fan.

  • Connor McFly

    This organization is broken from the top down. There is no leadership from Nicholson down through the ranks. Scouting, player development, and effective coaching are all showing no real results. Someone has to wear that. This article was a limp-wristed apology blaming no one. So who is at fault for this debacle RB…the fans?

      • Spartacles

        Great article. Any clue why the staff seem reluctant to make changes to the top PP unit or change the setup? Also why do the oilers not play a traditional box where you keep the puck to the outsides and don’t force the play (which has led to many a break down)?

  • Ted

    Oh to have a goalie …… A real goalie! As a teddy bear I could defend a net by doing nothing better than Deadbot trying to find something to save that’s not there … Here’s where the OILERS fail biggest … Crap goal and deflation even as Lucic said!!

  • TruthHurts98

    This feels like the decade of darkness all over again. Last year was just a good dream in the midst of many a nightmare. Such are the facts of being a diehard loyal Oiler fan… sigh.

        • The Future Never Comes

          Lucic in OT earlier this year, quite obviously burning a point away. Sekera in OT the other day, when he’s been bad since returning. Sekera on the PP right after returning, even though showing no signs of improvement since his return. Letestu and Lucic on PP unit all year when Lucic has little finishing ability and cement hands, can’t take or make a quick pass. Letestu turns it over for the other team to ice at least once or more per each powerplay. I typically agree with you and Gregor the most on here, but not this time.