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Off the Top of My Head: Oilers special teams, Steve Staios off to Ottawa, and Dave Tippett is back in Seattle

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Photo credit:© Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
7 months ago
Anybody paying any attention at all knows scoring goals hasn’t been the Edmonton Oilers’ problem in recent seasons, preventing them is what’s led to them coming up short in pursuit of winning a Stanley Cup. We’ve seen it time and again.
So, when Jay Woodcroft talked about emphasizing improved defensive play to start the season during his media availability Thursday, a lot of ears perked up. Of course, history tells us talk is cheap, especially when you’re playing games against partial NHL rosters in pre-season. Still, I’m guessing a lot of people watching this team would like to see how an approach like that would look when the Oilers get back to playing for points.
“We want to be a great defending team, but I wouldn’t even use the word ‘defending.’ I’d use checking,” Woodcroft said. “I want us to be a great checking team. I think the best place you can check is in the offensive zone. We spend a lot of time talking about being good in that area, so you don’t have to worry about defending in your own area, in your own zone.”

BY THE NUMBERS

May 14, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Vegas Golden Knights right wing Jonathan Marchessault (81) shoots the puck as Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner (74) defenseman Darnell Nurse (25) attempt to block during the second period in game six of the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
The Oilers scored 325 goals to lead the NHL last season, but they were 17th in goals allowed at 260. In 2021-22, they were seventh in goals-for at 290 and 16th with 262 goals-against. Simply put, being middle-of-the-pack in goals-against dulls much of the edge Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and the Oilers’ even-strength attack and prolific power play provide.
“We do know how to defend, but I think that the mindset was ingrained in our team from our opening meeting and training camp,” Woodcroft said. “A good portion of practices through this first week of training camp have been dedicated towards that. In the end, the coaches are making it important, the players are making it important.”
There are no negatives to being historically good on the PP or in turning McDavid and Draisaitl loose at even strength, but the Oilers can’t leave Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell holding the bag as the only line of defence. Hang fire when it’s time to hang fire, but clean things up when the other team has the puck. Not to overlook it, getting the Oilers’ mediocre penalty killing sorted is part of trimming those goals against.

STAIOS MOVE NO SURPRISE

Steve Staios leaving his role as a senior adviser with the Oilers to join the Ottawa Senators as president of hockey operations isn’t a surprise. It’s simply another example of how relationships, who you know, and familiarity matter in the hockey business. Staios will work alongside general manager Pierre Dorion.
Ottawa majority owner Michael Andlauer and Staios go way back so a reunion was a matter of time. Staios was GM of Andlauer’s OHL Hamilton Bulldogs from 2016-22 before joining the Oilers, with whom he played 573 of his 1,001 NHL games. The Bulldogs won OHL titles in 2018 and 2022 with Staios running the show, so the boss is sold on him.
Here in Edmonton, what remains to be seen is what changes will be forthcoming in Oilers hockey ops now that Jeff Jackson is calling the shots as CEO of hockey operations. What happens with GM Ken Holland when his contract ends after this season? What about assistant GMs Keith Gretzky, Bill Scott, and Brad Holland?
Will Jackson make significant changes in the front office with the team in win-now mode on the ice? Does he need to? Maybe Staios leaving creates an opening for Sam Gagner.

BACK TO SEATTLE

Oct 1, 2021; Everett, Washington, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett watches play against the Seattle Kraken during the third period at Angel of the Winds Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
So, after a detour of three seasons that brought Dave Tippett to Edmonton to coach the Oilers in May 2019, he’s in Seattle for an encore with the Kraken, this time as a coaching advisor.
Tippett left the Kraken after a year as a senior adviser – he helped Seattle set up everything from its training facility to coming up with the team’s name — to join the Oilers because he saw a chance to win a Stanley Cup. No cigar. After putting together a 95-62-14 record (.596) over the course of 171 games, Tippett was out in February 2022 in favor of Woodcroft.
With this move, you can make an argument that Tippett, now 62, still has a chance to win a Cup, but it’ll be in the Emerald City not here in Edmonton. Good luck to him.

WORTH REPEATING

“Frankly, I was a little nervous. I put a lot of work in this summer and wanted to do well, and I was just really excited to go out and have a good performance and just keep building on the things I’ve been working so hard on.” – Campbell after a 34-save outing in a 2-1 win over Calgary Friday in his first pre-season game.

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