It should surprise nobody that fans aren’t happy with the way the last two seasons have ended for the Edmonton Oilers – they lost a play-in series to a decided underdog in the Chicago Blackhawks last summer and then got swept 4-0 in the first round of the North Division playoffs by the Winnipeg Jets this season.
What is a bit of a surprise, and pleasantly so from where I sit, is GM Ken Holland and coach Dave Tippett, the guys who are running the show, received high approval ratings from the 2,216 fans who responded to Postmedia’s annual You Be the Boss survey released today despite those two early post-season exits.
Holland, operating on a bargain basement budget because of the salary cap until now, came in with a 90.2 per cent approval rating, which tells me fans understand the constraints he’s been working under. That’s not to say there’s approval for every move he’s made, because that’s not the case, but it’s recognition that it’s difficult to deliver champagne wants and needs on a beer budget. Going into next season, the Oilers have plenty of holes to fill – Jason Gregor took a thorough look at that here – but Holland at least has some money to work with moving forward.
As for Tippett, he came in at 84.8 in the YBTB survey despite some reasonable debate about how he’s used the personnel available to him and a 1-7-0 play-in/playoff record in his two seasons at the helm. The Oilers were 37-25-9 when the COVID pandemic hit and they went 35-19-2 this season before losing to the Jets – that’s .610 overall, which is the second-best coaching mark in franchise history behind Glen Sather (.616).
AT THE HELM
Records the past two seasons aside, my guess is that both Holland and Tippett got some marks for the way they handled the entire situation with Jesse Puljujarvi, who looked like he might be a lost cause when they arrived with the way he’d been handled. Getting Puljujarvi back in the fold and productive, he had 15-10-25 and looked totally engaged this season, is a feather in their caps. The Oilers could have lost this player for good had they got pissy about how things unfolded. Now, he’s like found money.
You’d have to think bringing in Tyson Barrie, who led NHL defencemen in scoring with 8-40-48 on a $3.75 million contract, played into Holland’s high approval rating as well. Even if Barrie is one-and-done – he will test the UFA market this summer and will likely be too expensive to re-sign even with more cap space available – it was a great get. If Barrie is gone, and if Oscar Klefbom can’t come back from his shoulder surgery, there’ll be more work to do, but we’ll see how that plays out.
A couple of other things from the survey caught my eye. Fans have clearly had enough of Mikko Koskinen as 88.1 per cent of survey respondents want a new crease partner for Mike Smith. Fans have seen enough of James Neal as well – 90.1 per cent of fans want him gone and he was ranked as the likeliest candidate for a buy-out, ahead of Koskinen. Right behind Neal, 86.4 per cent of fans want Kyle Turris gonzo. I thought Turris had a chance to rekindle his career here, but he never got untracked.
In the Captain Obvious Department, Leon Draisaitl (97.1) and Connor McDavid (96.5) led approval ratings. Darnell Nurse was third at 96.3. Two surprises in that department, at least for me, in overall approval ratings were Evan Bouchard (96.1) and Puljujarvi (95.6) in the fourth and fifth spots. Dad played just 14 games and is one of the main reasons why 42 per cent of fans polled don’t mind if Barrie signs elsewhere.
Anyway, the whole survey can be found here. Worth a read.
WHILE I’M AT IT
There was much debate, as was to be expected, as to what length of suspension Mark Scheifele of the Jets deserved for his empty-net goal hit on Jake Evans of the Montreal Canadiens before he was handed four games. I was guessing two games based on what the NHL’s DOPS has done in the past – they’ve been completely unpredictable – but had no real feel for what they’d do.
The thing that stood out for me in the dogpile that ensued was a photo of Nikolaj Ehlers of the Jets (and a linesman) putting himself between the scrum and Evans, who was unconscious and face down on the ice as players rushed in. We’ve seen enough terrible skate cuts in scrums and scrambles to know what can happen. To this day, I’ve never forgotten having to cover the death of a player named Jeff Butler in a BCJHL game back in the 1980’s because of a skate cut.
A tip of the cap to Ehlers for being so aware of the situation while everybody piled in and physically walling off Evans from the mayhem and potential injury.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
- Glass Houses
- Encore in the Crease
- The Price You Pay
- Grease is the Word
- A Different Kind of Animal
- On Second Thought