Paging Ken Holland, paging Ken Holland.
Cleanup on aisle 22. Urgent clean up needed on Aisle 22.
To say the Oilers are struggling is an understatement.
Edmonton sits 22nd in the NHL standings after a horrific 2-11-2 run over their previous 15 games.
Since December 2nd they are dead last, or close to the bottom, in many NHL categories.
They are last in points with six. Montreal is 31st with eight.
They’ve allowed the most goals per game at 4.13. Columbus is 31st at 3.88.
Their PK is last at 63%. They’ve allowed 17 goals on 46 kills. Chicago is 31st at 67.8%.
They’ve allowed the first goal a league-worst 14 times. Montreal and San Jose are tied for 30th at 12 first goals allowed.
They have the worst Sv% at .868%. The have allowed 60 goals on 457 shots.
They are 28th in goals/game at 2.50.
Their powerplay is 24th at 17.1%.
It has been an awful stretch.
Last night the Oilers had a great start. They peppered Sergei Bobrovsky with 16 shots in the first period, while only allowing seven against, but Bobrovsky made some great saves and the game remained tied. The Oilers couldn’t capitalize on their power play, and then early in the second period the Panthers scored with the man advantage. Edmonton has allowed the first goal in 23 of their past 27 games and last night was the ninth time the first goal allowed was a power play goal.
And then the Panthers slowly and methodically clawed the life out of the Oilers and won 6-0 with some late third period power play goals.
“This is a true test of the leadership,” said Darnell Nurse post game. “It is easy to be a leader when you are 9-1 or 16-5. It is easy to lead a team and go out and be a rah-rah guy then. Getting out of this is a test for all the leaders on our team. Getting out of this is what is going to make our team better. There is no excuse. You have to show up every day with your hard hat on. That is the only way you will get out of this. There are no tricks to it. You have to show up every day and do the same amount of work. That is our job and that is what we have to do. This is when you really have to lead.”
Nurse is correct about the players in the room. But what about the general manager? He needs to step up and help the team.
Their major weakness is his responsibility. They need better goaltending. Yes, they have other problems, but the main problem is goaltending in my eyes.
Last night was a prime example of how good goaltending can keep you in the game until the forwards and defenceman find their strides. Bobrovsky was outstanding as the Oilers created some great chances. But he stopped them.
Mikko Koskinen was in position on the Panthers’ first goal, but it went off his glove and in. He couldn’t make the big save. It wasn’t a bad goal per se, but I thought it was saveable. Late in the first period, Bobrovsky robbed Jesse Puljujarvi. Had Puljujarvi scored no one would have blamed Bobrovsky. Good goalies make those saves, and they limit the number of soft goals.
Edmonton hasn’t had enough of that from their goalies this season.
The problem is there isn’t an easy fix. Sure, it would help if Mike Smith gets healthy. But he won’t play tomorrow or Tuesday by the sounds of it. Best case scenario is next Thursday, and even that is doubtful. Stuart Skinner won’t be out of protocol tomorrow so at the earliest he is available will be Tuesday in Vancouver. However, he is a rookie. I’d still take him over Koskinen, but expecting a rookie to suddenly be sound and solid every game is a big ask.
I do wonder if the reason Holland has yet to make a coaching change is that he knows the goaltending issue is his responsibility. Is he waiting to see if Smith can get healthy and be steady? Probably, but when will that happen? Hard to say if it does.
Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill won’t do Holland a favour and trade him Braden Holtby for a mid-to-late-round draft pick. He knows Holland is desperate so the ask will be higher. And the Stars are still in a playoff battle themselves. I doubt they move him today.
The Rangers would consider moving Alexander Georgiev, but they want pieces that can help them now. They aren’t looking for draft picks. They already have a first and two seconds in the 2022 draft. They are looking to improve their team on the ice, and they are one of the few top-tier teams with an abundance of cap space. They have over $7m in cap space. They could easily keep Georgiev for the playoff run and move him in the summer, rather than risk it now in case Igor Shesterkin gets injured. I don’t see the Rangers in a rush to move him today unless they get a great return.
Adding a goalie right now is challenging.
But Holland put himself in this position. In the summer of 2020 he tried to sign Jacob Markstrom, but supposedly Holland didn’t want to go longer than five years. Calgary offered six years at $6m and Markstrom signed there.
What is perplexing about that decision is that in the summer of 2021 Holland signed Darnell Nurse and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to eight-year extensions and Zach Hyman to a seven-year deal. I recognize that Nurse will be 27 when his deal begins while RNH was 28 and Hyman 29, but Markstrom was only 30. Sign him for six years and his deal ends the same age as Hyman and RNH.
Admittedly I haven’t looked at this angle until now, but I will ask him about the different mindset from one summer to the next. No one can go back in time, but the goaltending struggles do fall at the feet of the GM. He has to find a way to solve it, and if he doesn’t it could be much more difficult to salvage the season. How much more patient can he be? It seems counter productive.
I wrote about the complexities of that decision earlier this week. I won’t re-hash it all again, but even if Holland doesn’t think it is fair or warranted (and I know many can argue with some valid points that it is), he might have to make a change anyway. However, if he does replace Tippet it should be with Jay Woodcroft instead of promoting Glen Gulutzan from his assistant coaching position. Those types of promotions rarely work. Look directly at Philadelphia for the most recent proof: They fired Alain Vigneault and Michel Therrien, and promoted Mike Yeo as interim head coach. The Flyers were winless in nine games when they fired Vigneault. Philly lost their first game under Yeo to push it to a 10-game winless skid. Then the Flyers went undefeated in seven, but last night they had their second 10-game winless streak of the season. Promoting from within had no impact. They are still struggling.
We can look at Philadelphia or Vancouver to see where a coaching change worked and where it didn’t. We can scan many years and see how some work and many don’t. If a coach’s best players are playing well the chance of success improves. If they aren’t the coach loses more. If he doesn’t have enough good players, then ultimately the coach will lose more than he wins.
Edmonton has good players. They need some more. They need more consistent goaltending. But they could also benefit from a change in philosophy. If Holland ultimately makes a coaching change, I’d promote Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson.
RAY OF HOPE…
It is difficult to find any sunshine during the dark times, but it is #PositiveFriday, so if you need something to grab on to to make you believe this season isn’t a complete waste here are a few I dug up.
Edmonton is lucky they play in the Pacific Division. Despite their awful 2-11-2 run they aren’t out of the playoff picture. In fact they are right in it.
Los Angeles, San Jose and Winnipeg also lost in regulation last night. So the turtle derby for playoff positions in the Pacific and the wildcard race is still wide open.
The biggest positive Edmonton has is their record within the division and how many divisional games they have left.
Edmonton is 8-2 v. the Pacific. They’ve already beaten Vegas twice. They have 16 division games remaining and nine are at home and seven on the road.
They play San Jose three times, Calgary and LA three times and Vancouver, Anaheim and Vegas twice.
Edmonton needs to continue to play well within their division. If they do, they will remain in the playoff picture. The good news for them is that none of other teams, outside of Las Vegas, are playing great hockey. They all have flaws. And Vancouver will be without their starting goalie, Thatcher Demko, and their leading scorer, JT Miller, for their next three games against Florida, St. Louis and Edmonton. Misery loves company.
–The Oilers were poised to sign Brad Malone to an NHL deal, but he tested positive for COVID this morning and is now in quarantine. Once he is cleared they will look at it. I sense the reason they were looking at Malone is that he at least brings an element of physicality and a dimension to his game. He plays hard. He competes. He can kill penalties. Right now the Oilers don’t have many players in their bottom six who have any sort of unique dimension to their game. Derek Ryan is struggling mightily. What is his dimension? Malone skates just as well, but is more physical and can kill penalties. Bakerfield’s head coach Jay Woodcroft said this about Malone: ” He is not a wall flower. He is hard on pucks, he can PK, he understands gamesmanship and this has been his best season as a pro.”
Malone wasn’t going to move the needle in high-end skill, but if he increases the competitive level of the player he replaces that is a plus for the Oilers. They have many issues, and one of them is they are too soft as a group. They have too many players without a physical or nasty dimension.
— With Malone getting sick the Oilers still placed Kyle Turris on waivers and will be recalling forward Seth Griffith. He played one game for Edmonton earlier this season, but has played a total of 80 NHL games split between Boston, Toronto, Florida, Buffalo and Edmonton. He is more of an offensive player than Malone.
— Dylan Holloway skated with Bakersfield yesterday and today. Barring any setback he will make his pro debut tomorrow.
— Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mike Smith have been skating on their own and the Oilers are hopeful they can join the team for practice early next week. It seems that the best case scenario has them maybe available for Thursday game against Nashville.
—- The Evander Kane camp believes there will be a decision soon on his playing status. They are hopeful there won’t be any supplemental discipline. If that is true, then it sounds like there is a very good chance he signs with the Oilers.
— The Oilers should remember this quote from Winston Churchill: “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”
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