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Photo Credit: Ian Kucerak / Postmedia

WWYDW(FE): Time For a Coaching Change?

The Edmonton Oilers are on a four-game losing streak, so, naturally, it’s time for the pitchforks to come out.

This skid started off with a disappointing showing in Seattle against the Kraken in which the Oilers didn’t really show up until the third period. At home against L.A., it was another slow start in which Edmonton seemed to take a mediocre opponent lightly, as there simply wasn’t a full 60-minute effort.

The third loss came against the Minnesota Wild, the best team of the four from this current skid. Minnesota came in hard, scored a pair of goals early, and Cam Talbot slammed the door as the Wild cruised to an easy win. And then there was last night’s loss to the Bruins, a frustrating one because Boston was coming in on the second leg of a back-to-back in which they played in Vancouver the previous night.

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Boston went up 2-0 early on, the Oilers battled back to tie the game, and then the Bruins scored with just a few minutes left on the clock to earn the win. It was certainly the best effort from the Oilers during this four-game stretch, as Edmonton outshot the Bruins 43-30, but the results just weren’t there.

The problem for Edmonton as of late has been offence. Early on in the season when the team was rolling, scoring goals wasn’t an issue. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were going nuclear and the power-play was unstoppable.

But the power-play wasn’t going to operate at 40 percent efficiency all season and McDavid and Draisaitl, as good as they are, can’t carry the team alone. A major problem for the Oilers has been getting depth scoring. This is nothing new and has been an issue in every season since 2016-17, but it appears Edmonton’s bottom-six is worse than ever this season.

In 554 minutes at even-strength when McDavid and Draisaitl aren’t on the ice, the Oilers are being outscored 34-to-16, a goals for percentage of 32. The goals for percentage sans McDavid and Draisaitl in 2021 was 35, it was 39 in 2019-20, 42 in 2018-19, 44 in 2017-18, and 49 in 2016-17.

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So, who gets the blame here? Is it the players? Are they not doing enough? Or is it Holland? Did he not make the right additions over the off-season to make the team better? Could it be Dave Tippett? Is he not getting the most out of the team? It’s never as simple as pointing the blame at one individual, but if somebody is going to wind up getting axed for a prolonged cold streak, it’ll be the coach, not the general manager.

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That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday FRIDAY EDITION question. Are the Oilers due for a coaching change? Is Dave Tippett the issue here? Or is he doing the best he can with a flawed roster? 

It’s difficult to tell if Tippett’s coaching is the problem for the Oilers but there are some worrying signs. Consistently coming out of the gate slowly and not putting in full, 60-minute efforts is a major problem. The same goes for the team’s poor defensive zone play and the fact that the bottom-six always seems to be a place for offence to go to die.

Some of this can certainly be chalked up to personnel. The Oilers are dealing with injuries on their blueline, so their defensive zone play isn’t going to be perfect. But even when the team was healthy there were plenty of gaffes on the defensive side of the puck. The bottom-six is far from elite on paper, but new additions like Derek Ryan and Warren Foegele are posting significantly worse on-ice shot and goal differential results this year than they did last.

Now, before you tell me ‘they were 9-1! It’s only a four-game losing streak!’ let me remind you about the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Penguins started off quite well that year and sat at 15-6-4 after 25 games, pretty close to the 16-9 record the Oilers currently sport. The team then went cold in December and January, highlighted by a five-game losing streak around the turn of the new year.

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Head coach Michel Therrien was fired in mid-February with the team sitting at 27-25-5. Dan Bylsma, who was coaching the Penguins’ AHL affiliate, was called up and the Penguins went 18-3-4 the rest of the way and then went on to win the Stanley Cup.

I’m not saying that if the Oilers fire Tippett and replace him with Jay Woodcroft that they’ll go on and win the Stanley Cup, but this situation illustrates the fact that a coach isn’t safe just because of a hot start. The Penguins were also coming off of a trip to the Stanley Cup Final and even that wasn’t enough to protect Therrien from getting the ax mid-season.

I also don’t think firing Tippett is inevitable at all. The team is dealing with injuries and a mid-season slump and Tippett has earned enough clout that he’ll surely be given a chance to work out of it. But if February rolls around and the Oilers are still struggling? It wouldn’t at all be shocking to see the Oilers fire Tippett and move in a different direction, especially considering he’s in the final year of his contract.

Another thought… While Woodcroft seems like the logical name to be Tippett’s replacement because of his great work in Bakersfield and his familiarity with so many of the players in the organization, there’s another veteran head coach out there with a closer tie to Ken Holland. Mike Babcock, who was hired to coach the Red Wings back in 2005, is waiting for his next NHL gig and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Holland go that direction.

What say you, Nation? Would the Oilers be better off without Tippett? How much rope does he have? If he does wind up getting fired, who should the replacement be? Let us know!


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