The pitchforks are out in Edmonton.
After starting the season on a 9-1-0 tear, a stretch in which the team has dropped 10 of 13 games since the beginning of December has erased the Oilers’ hot start. Edmonton now sits in ninth in the Western Conference in terms of points percentage with an 18-13-2 record.
So, what now?
Things won’t get any easier for the Oilers as they’re set to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night without Connor McDavid, who’s in COVID-19 protocol. The Leafs, of course, dominated the Oilers in Edmonton back in December with a 5-1 win. Since starting the season 2-4-1, Toronto has won 19 of 24 games.
After that, the Oilers have a stretch in which they’re only scheduled to play one game, a home date against the Ottawa Senators, in nearly a two-week span. Three of Edmonton’s home games in January and one road game in Winnipeg against the Jets have been postponed due to COVID restrictions in Canada.
If there was ever a time for the Oilers to make a change, it would be following the game against the Leafs, as the team would have a considerable amount of time to collect itself and start moving in a different direction.
While many have criticized the roster assembled by Ken Holland, who, for the first time in his tenure with the Oilers had cap space to work with last summer, it’s unfathomable to imagine the organization pulling the plug on their president of hockey operations after just two-and-a-half years. Holland is on a five-year contract, has led the Oilers to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, and the organization, for better or worse, believes he brings stability that they’ve previously lacked.
The much more likely person to take the fall for Edmonton’s terrible play is head coach Dave Tippett, who’s in the final season of a three-year contract. While the roster certainly leaves much to be desired, Tippett has shown a lack of creativity in getting offence out of anybody on the Oilers other than Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and his unwillingness to give some young talent the opportunity to play more has been puzzling.
Following Edmonton’s 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Monday, Tippett appeared visibly frustrated, more so than at any points during his time with the Oilers. This kind of press conference suggests that Tippett knows he’s under pressure.
here is dave tippett's full presser, which lasted a full … *checks notes* … 1:54. pic.twitter.com/VyITxLamzm
— zach laing (@zjlaing) January 4, 2022
Holland has never fired a coach mid-season during his time as general manager in the NHL and his mantra is to operate with patience. But, on the other side of that, Holland has also never been in a situation like this.
His first coach with the Detroit Red Wings was the legendary Scotty Bowman. After he retired, Dave Lewis took over and led the team to back-to-back 48-win seasons. Lewis didn’t have his contract renewed because the Wings hired a star up-and-coming coach, Mike Babcock, who made the playoffs in each of his 10 seasons in Detroit before leaving for Toronto. Finally, Jeff Blashill was promoted from the AHL and took over the team as they slowly moved into a much-needed rebuild.
There was no instance in Detroit in which a team with expectations this high performed this poorly. The hottest any coach’s seat got was probably when the 124-point Wings lost to the Oilers in the first round of the 2006 playoffs in Babcock’s first season behind the bench. But that isn’t the same as potentially missing out on the playoffs during the prime of McDavid and Draisaitl’s careers.
Should we expect a coaching change in the coming days? The reports are mixed.
Elliotte Frieman appeared on the Vancouver sports show Donnie and Dhali on Tuesday and said that he believes the Oilers are discussing the possibility of making a change. Friedman also mentioned in his 32 Thoughts column on Tuesday that it’s difficult to get a read on what Holland will do, as patience is his mantra.
— Donnie & Dhali (@DonnieandDhali) January 4, 2022
Also on Tuesday, Darren Dreger said on TSN’s Insider Trading that his sources have indicated that we won’t see a coaching change in Edmonton unless things get considerably worse.
Per Insider Trading, Darren Dreger reports "sources indicate there will not be a coaching change (in Edmonton) unless things get considerably worse. It feels we could be revisiting this game-by-game but in the moment, not seriously considered" #Oilers
— Brennan Klak (@nhlupdate) January 4, 2022
Both reports from the national level seem to indicate that a coaching change isn’t inevitable, but the best way to get a gauge on what Holland is planning is likely at the local level.
On Tuesday’s edition of Oilers Now, Bob Stauffer and Mark Spector spoke about Tippett and the article that the latter wrote for Sportsnet defending Edmonton’s head coach a few days ago. Spector doubled down and said that firing the coach isn’t the solution but acknowledged that it’s a possibility. Stauffer then went on to talk about the team’s impending break and how it naturally gives Holland a chance to make a change. He was also critical of Tippett’s inability to get anything out of the team’s bottom-six and how they appear very easy to play against.
It isn’t a good sign for a coach when he starts to get criticism on the team’s state-controlled media program, which functions largely as a vessel to soothe the fanbase.
In my mind, all of this adds up to Tippett being on the hot seat and Holland considering a change. If the Oilers get pounded by the Leafs, it wouldn’t be shocking at all to see Tippett fired. But it also wouldn’t be surprising to see Holland take a conservative approach, use the break to quiet things down, and look for a trade to improve the roster before giving Tippett the sack.
Whatever it is, something needs to happen soon. The wheels have fallen off beneath this team and it’s difficult to see them getting back on track if everything remains the same.