When a team has played as well as the Edmonton Oilers had going into Tuesday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, they’ve earned some slack from their coach. That’s exactly what they got from Dave Tippett after a listless 3-0 loss to a team they probably should beat for fun right now.
While it’s not a card any coach wants to play or should play very often in the course of a season, Tippett picked the right time to give his team a pass after seeing an impressive 8-1-2 stretch, including a pair of knock-down-drag-out games against the Calgary Flames sandwiched around a win over the St. Louis Blues, come to an end.
Tippett could’ve opened a bowel on the Oilers for not being ready and taking care of business against a banged-up Arizona outfit that had lost five games in a row. He could’ve lamented how his team soiled the sheets by falling into a “trap game.” While those are two points that’ll come in handy down the stretch, doing so wouldn’t have changed the outcome.
Smart coaches know when to use the carrot and when to go to the stick to get the most out of their teams. Tippett certainly falls into that category, so it’s no surprise he opted for the former in the post-game media scrum. I’ve seen it and heard it countless times over the years.
You and I and the players themselves might not be buying what Tippett was selling, but that doesn’t matter. What matters inside that dressing room is that, after seeing his team play a lot of really good hockey over the last dozen games, the coach had their backs — at least publicly — on a night they weren’t close to good enough.
“We didn’t have much juice tonight,” Tippett said. “I was worried about that yesterday. I was worried about it this morning. I was worried about it before the game. We just finished three real emotional games, real hard games. You could tell we didn’t have much in the tank. You can tell when guys are trying to try, but there’s just nothing there.
“When you’re trying to try, they’re looking at you coming off and you kind of look at them, ‘Got any more?’ They’re looking and ‘That’s all I’ve got.’ That’s where we were tonight . . . you’re trying to find lightning in a bottle a little bit. You try different pairs. You throw something out there that you hope sticks.” For context, the entire interview is here.
Whether it was physical fatigue, lack of mental edge, some combination of both or you think it was just a crappy effort for which there is no excuse, Tippett’s approach Tuesday isn’t one he’s had to go to more than a time or two with this group on the way to a 28-19-6 record. That doesn’t make the effort or the result OK, but there will be moments like this over 82 games.
I expect the San Jose Sharks, who beat Calgary 3-1 last night, will see a much better Oilers’ team when they come calling at Rogers Place Thursday. I’d be stunned if that’s not the case. They owe the coach one, and that’s a debt better paid sooner than later.
DOLLARS AND SENSE
If you don’t ask you don’t get, so it’s no surprise to me that a veteran agent like Anton Thun threw out a number like the $8-million AAV Jacob Trouba got as a comparable for Darnell Nurse the other day. Thun represents both players. It’s pie-in-the-sky stuff of course and would be a gross overpay for Nurse no matter how many UFA years Ken Holland would be buying.
It makes far more sense for Holland and the Oilers to be looking at a two-year bridge deal, as Bob McKenzie of TSN is reporting. That’s a contract that absolutely has to come in under $6 million and one that gives Nurse a chance to prove he’s worth more. It also frees up some cap space over the short-term for the Oilers.
I like Nurse and the dimensions he brings, but unless he shows he can put together back-to-back seasons of 40-plus points, he’s not worth any more than a guy like Josh Morrissey, who makes $6.25 million, on a long-term deal. As it stands today, I have a problem thinking Nurse is worth more than Colton Parayko, who signed a five-year deal with St. Louis worth $5.5 million a season.