logo

Easy Decision is Rarely the Right Decision

alt
Photo credit:Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
3 months ago
The right decision if usually the hardest.
When you are trying to lose weight, it is easy to skip a workout rather than work out.
It is easier to eat unhealthy food rather than prepare a healthy dinner.
For the Edmonton Oilers, the easy decision would be to fire Jay Woodcroft. Many owners and general managers who were disappointed with their team’s performance often went the easy way and fired the coach. “You can’t fire the entire team,” is often uttered when this occurs. Or “We need a new voice.” In some cases, it works out, but more often than not, after a week or two, the “new coach bump” wears off and the same issues resurface.
The Oilers’ main issue can’t be fixed by the coaches. It needs to be fixed by the players.
The weakness that has plagued the Oilers for years is still here. They gift goals. They try to force offensive plays rather than make the simple play and live to fight another day.
Recent examples: Evan Bouchard midway through the 2nd period of Monday’s 3-2 game has no chance to stop the Vancouver forward exiting their zone, and instead of just retreating back into a 2-on-2 he steps forward, puts himself out of position and Vancouver scores on the odd-man rush.
Last night, Darnell Nurse had a strong first 40 minutes, but then in the first two minutes of the third, instead of just dumping the puck in deep when he had time, he spins off and tries to beat Carpenter. He gets pinned against the wall and the Sharks score the 3-1 goal on a 2-on-1. He can’t make that play. Especially at that time and position on the ice. Just give it back to Ryan McLeod in the corner and the plays stays alive. Instead, Nurse tries the risky play and it cost the Oilers. He needs to be better.
Those decisions have occurred regularly for the past five seasons in Edmonton. Whether they had Todd McLellan, Dave Tippett or Jay Woodcroft. Until the players make a collective decision to make the smart play, and not the risky play, especially when there is lots of time remaining in a game, they will not win. Ever. I don’t care how much talent they have. You can’t outscore your mistakes all the time.
At the start of the season Mattias Ekholm spoke about the importance of needing to be comfortable in low scoring games. Learning that you don’t have to push for the goal every time. Of course, they want to be aggressive, and mistakes will occur over a course of a season, but for the past few seasons no team with as much talent as the Oilers has given up easy goals as often as they do.
Emotions are running high in Oilersnation right now. People want a scapegoat. Fire the head coach. Fire the goalie coach. Trade this player. I understand the rationale to want to make a change, but from my seat any change like that will only be a smokescreen and temporary fix of the real issue. Until the Oilers core group of leaders — their top-six forwards and top-four defenders — collectively agree to a new standard this team won’t win.
Stop talking about it. Actually, do it. Repeatedly. Hold each other accountable, and Jay Woodcroft, needs to do the same as a head coach. Be confident enough to bench a top-10 skater to get the message across. The leaders and the coaches need to meet and outline exactly what their standard will be. And then actually enforce it. To date Woodcroft hasn’t shown a willingness to do this. That falls on him. It might cost him his job, but it might be better to instruct him he needs to remind the players of their standard and them hold them accountable when they don’t reach it.
Firing a coach will appease the emotional frustration of the owner and some fans and media, but I don’t see it helping unless the players commit to change. Woodcroft has only coached 132 games. The Oilers have the 6th most wins and 9th most points. Their first 12 games this season have been brutal, and the only reason he gets fired is if the organization believes a new coach will be able to get more out of this group. When Woodcroft became head coach in February of 2022 the players were willing to listen. He made some systemic tweaks and it worked, but 132 games later, the same player issues are still here. They take too many low percentage chances trying to make plays, rather than be patient, make the safe play and be confident they will create more chances. That needs to change.
Change is hard. Ask someone trying to lose 25 pounds. The first 10 are easy, but the last five are difficult. You need self-discipline. You need friends to encourage you, but also remind you of your goal and how you plan to achieve it. It is no different for the Oilers.
They desperately want to win the Cup, but until their on-ice decisions improve, they will keep defeating themselves.

PP OUTAGE…

It is clear the Oilers’ first unit PP is lacking confidence. They are missing passes they normally complete. They are forcing too many passes.
The PP had two chances in the first 13 minutes of the game last night and didn’t score, and then they had a PP in the final two minutes and managed only two shots on goal. Neither a high-danger chance.
Their top players are lacking their usual offensive confidence. It is apparent. Will that magically change with a new head coach? Maybe, but I do believe Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will regain their offensive touch at some point regardless of who their coach is. They need to work their way out of a slump, like every other player.

HOW BAD IS IT?

This start is bad. Really bad. Prior to this season only seven teams in the salary cap era had five or less points in their first 12 games.
TEAMSEASONGPWLTOTPTSFinal PTS
San Jose Sharks2023-2412110013??
Edmonton Oilers2023-241229015??
Arizona Coyotes2021-221211001357
Chicago Blackhawks2021-22121902468
Ottawa Senators2020-21122901551*
Arizona Coyotes2017-181211001370
Buffalo Sabres2014-15122901556
Buffalo Sabres2013-14122901552
Columbus Blue Jackets2011-12112901565
The Oilers and Sharks have made it nine. None of the previous seven teams made the playoffs. They Senators had the best finish, 23rd out of 31 teams, while the rest finished 27th to 31st. None of those teams had made the playoffs the previous season or had consecutive 100-point seasons. The Oilers have more skill, but do they have the will and commitment to turn their season around?
Last year Edmonton was 10-10 after 20 games. They went 40-13-9 in their final 62 games to finish with 109 points.
If the playoff cut off is 95 points, the Oilers need to go 40-20-10 in their final 70 games. Or 41-21-8. That is a lower winning% than they had over their final 60 games. It will be difficult, but not impossible.

TOUGH DECISIONS…

Would Jackson fire Ken Holland? Anything is possible, but that move would likely only cause more uncertainty as the head coach would be waiting for his name to be called. Rarely does a new GM come in and keep the head coach long-term. I also suspect any trade Holland wants to make will need Jackson’s approval.
Another fascinating decision will be what the Oilers do with Connor Brown. He isn’t injured seriously enough to be placed on LTIR. He could return within a week to 10 days, and when he plays his 10th NHL game his $3.25m bonus kicks in. If the organization puts Brown on waivers, it sends a message to the rest of the group that they don’t believe they can make the playoffs. That is a slippery slope for an organization. Once you deem losing is acceptable, when you aren’t in a full rebuild, it sends the message to your players that giving your best isn’t the standard. Many only see the risk of having Brown’s bonus carry over to next season, and of course that is less than ideal, but losing him on waivers or burying him in the minors presents risks as well.
I expect he will be back in the lineup, and they will try to push for the playoffs, but by the trade deadline if they aren’t in then they could become a seller and ship out some salary. Warren Foegele’s $2.75m contract or Cody Ceci ($3.25m for one more season) or Brett Kulak’s $2.75m for two more years are options. If the Oilers shed salary, then Brown’s bonuses, or most of it, won’t have to carry over to next season. I expect this is the path they will choose.
And then there is the option of making a trade. Will Jackson and Ken Holland look at making a major shakeup. If they think it is worthwhile, who will be moved out. Trading Jack Campbell’s contract will be very difficult, not impossible, but difficult. An off-season buyout seems most likely at this point. The Jordan Binnington rumours don’t make much sense to me. Why would St. Louis move him for Campbell and other pieces. They get a worse goalie, with only $1m in cap savings.
It is easier to manage when things are going well. But when things are tough, and make no mistake they are really tough, that is when you need good leadership. I expect frustration, but Jackson and Holland can’t let frustration lead them to spur-of-the-moment decisions that will negatively impact the organization long-term.
The Oilers are playing horribly. No debate. But they are not devoid of talent. They need to find ways to get their talent to play better. Maybe a coaching change will do that, but history suggests it usually masks bigger issues. And the Oilers biggest issue has been here for the past four seasons.
They are unwilling to play a smart, safe and disciplined game when necessary. Until the commit to those changes, I don’t see a coaching change doing much.

THE #NATIONVACATION TO ARIZONA

Oilersnation is headed to the desert! Escape to Arizona on our next Oilersnation Vacation presented by Alberta Blue Cross from Feb 18-20th, 2024! Join the party for just $1,999/person (double occupancy rooms). Your ticket includes roundtrip flights from Edmonton, two-night stay in a popular hotel, transportation to the airport and premium hockey game tickets! Limited spots are available so don’t hesitate to get your ticket now!

Check out these posts...