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Photo Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

Long way down

For most of his tenure behind the bench of the Edmonton Oilers, coach Ken Hitchcock has more or less assumed the role of the kindly old uncle, at least publicly, when it comes to addressing the shortcomings he inherited with his team. More often than not, he’s accentuated the positive whenever possible while trying to coax effort and results from the players he has to work with.

That took a left turn after an indifferent 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks at Rogers Place Saturday. With the Oilers now six points out of a wildcard spot in the Western Conference, Hitchcock ditched his Mr. Nice Guy persona, grabbed a rubber hose and applied it liberally during his post-game availability. It’s something Hitchcock has done countless times during his long NHL coaching career, but it’s the first we’ve seen of it here.

So, here we are. The Oilers fired Todd McLellan after a 9-10-1 start. In comes Hitchcock, who is now 15-16-4 after the loss to the Sharks and, for the first time, sounding as frustrated as McLellan often did near the end of his run. If McLellan and Hitchcock, who have combined for 1,272 wins as head coaches – McLellan has 434 and a .594 points percentage while Hitchcock has 838 and is .601 – can’t push this team over the top, who can?

You know things are bad, as they have been for most of the last dozen years around here, when the Belanger Triangle, former Oiler Eric Belanger, who is now a TV analyst with RDS, chimes in as he did last night on Twitter:

TESTIFY

Hitchcock knows how he wants this team to play. He said so the day he took the job. He has made those expectations clear to his players. He got was he was looking for Thursday in a 4-1 walk past the Minnesota Wild to snap a six-game losing streak. Not so much, not at all actually, against the Sharks, who are a better team than the Wild and didn’t need all the help they got from their hosts.

“We didn’t even give ourselves a fighting chance,” said an obviously agitated Hitchcock. “This, for players, has to be really unacceptable. To play that way, with so much at stake, to be able to move with two or three points of eighth place and play this way, it can’t be acceptable . . . I don’t have the answers, but we can’t play this way and actually expect to win hockey games, not at this time of year. Quite frankly, not ever. Maybe in an exhibition game.”

Instead of playing hard on both sides of the puck as they did against the Wild, the Oilers apparently thought trading chances on odd-man rushes against the Sharks was a better game plan. They had breakdowns and missed assignments – Leon Draisaitl losing the handle on Evander Kane on San Jose’s second goal was notable but not the only one — all over the place. The Oilers have shown they can follow the game plan, yet too often choose not to.

“I think it’s a symptom of something much bigger,” Hitchcock said. “It’s priorities and what’s important. It just can’t be acceptable. At this time of year the coaches can’t want it more than the players. In the end, the players just have to reach a point where they’re just sick of it.” For context, Hitchcock’s entire post-game availability is here.

WHAT NOW?

Anybody paying attention knows this team has deficits. We’ve talked and written about lack of balanced scoring, not having enough depth on defence and inconsistent goaltending until we’re blue in the face. There will be games when this team doesn’t have enough talent and is simply overmatched even when the game plan is followed to the letter. Until the team is made-over in the longer term, that’s the reality.

This isn’t the kind of team that can blow-off game plans and collectively shrug when proven coaches like McLellan and Hitchcock provide a blueprint based on what they know works as it applies to the personnel they have. If the players the Oilers have now, a group that’s won nothing and accomplished precious little, aren’t willing to buy in, what’s next?

Game after game, year after year, we’ve listened to a losers lament coming from the Oilers’ dressing room. We heard more of the same Saturday. When do regrets give way to results? We know the Oilers aren’t good enough now, but when the players can’t even bother to try to give themselves a chance, you get what we have here – yet another exasperated coach and condolences from Eric Belanger.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • Dark Knight Returns

    Okay, I will post again because I’d really like to read that analysis, cheers for “yes, I’d read that series “ and trash for “nah, I wouldn’t read it”.

    Hello writers in the Nation!
    I’m writing to request an article: given that the Oilers won’t make the playoffs and you guys might feel the financial pain from advertising going thin into the Spring, can you put together an article or a series of articles on who could the Oilers be getting back from each team when McDavid requests a trade?
    So for example, if McDavid is traded to Anaheim, what do you think is the return?
    If traded to Arizona, and see on.

    That would be an interesting series and we might as well warm up to the idea.

    #FreeMcDavid

    • 99bestever

      DNR you are obviously a fan of a different team. McDavid is not going anywhere!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Stop 🛑 with these STUPID comments about McD leaving!!! Everyone else can go but McDavid will take this team to the Stanley Cup. He’s not a quitter! He’s not going to take your stupid comments seriously!! You must have been in the outhouse when God handed out the brains 🧠!!!

    • Todd the electron rod

      What if he does request a trade? Is there an obligation to trade him? He signed a contract. He’s an employee.
      I suppose his options would include sitting out and forfeiting salary? Seems like a bad idea.

        • Derzie

          Connor doesn’t talk. It’s easy to guess what he may or may not be thinking. Only he knows. He’s competitive and has been a star his whole life. He knows what’s wrong/right in the OBC. Don’t kid yourself that he doesn’t. I’m sure his parents and handlers know even more.

  • Viperx

    Honestly I didnt think the game was as bad as many others we have witnessed this year. Ya they sucked, but the sharks are a damn good team. Tough road trip coming up, time to loose for hughes!

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    If you guys think about it, the name “Oilers” is very appropriate for this franchise, because they ruin everyone they touch. Think about it. Remember Pat Quinn? Legendary coach, one of the greatest in the game. But as soon as he comes to Edmonton, he sucks. Todd McLellan. Great goach, helming one of the best teams in the league for 7 years. But as soon as he comes to Edmonton, he sucks. Peter Chiarelli, good in Boston, creating a perennial cup contender. But as soon as he comes to Edmonton, he sucks. This franchise has this wonderous, almost supernatural, ability to turn gold into well you know. The only reason Connor hasn’t been affected, yet, is because he has anti-Oil powers that allow him to continue to pursue Art Ross’ despite the team being even worse this year.

    Speaking of which, is he still 1 point behind Kucherov, or did Nikita grab a couple of points during Tampa’s win yesterday?