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Ranking concerns about the Edmonton Oilers

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Photo credit:© Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Yaremchuk
6 months ago
There is a lot wrong with the Edmonton Oilers right now.
The team looks lost in their own end, they aren’t getting good goaltending, the best player on the planet is out with an injury, and all this is happening while both the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche are off the historic starts to the season.
Again, things are not going well.
During stretches like this, it can be hard to tell what’s actually a problem and what’s being overblown. Slumps are going to happen throughout the course of a season and when they happen at the start of the year, the overreactions can be intense. 
The Oilers are not the only team going through this right now. Look at the Calgary Flames. They were still above .500 when Nikita Zadorov made his comments to the media, including this doozy:
“Last season was different. It was Darryl, now there’s no Darryl so there are no excuses. You guys don’t like hard coaches, you don’t like soft coaches, you don’t like good coaches. It’s a new day league. You come up here and you play hard & leave everything on the ice.”
The Oilers are not alone in their early-season struggles.
There are plenty of different reasons why they’re losing but which ones classify as major issues and which ones are things that will sort themselves out? I wanted to try to figure that out.
To do so, I’ve decided to list all of the things currently going wrong and grade them on a scale of 1-10. If it has a one rating, then it’s not actually that big of a deal and we won’t be talking about it in a month. If it’s a ten, then it’s a major issue that could cost this team their season. 
Let’s dig into it.

GOALTENDING

Oct 21, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele (55) celebrates a game winning goal during overtime against Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner (74) at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Rating: 7 out of 10

The Oilers goaltending has not been good to start the season. They have a team save percentage of .851, which is second worst in the entire NHL behind only the Carolina Hurricanes. 
I know that some will point to a few flashy saves that Jack Campbell made against the Minnesota Wild and use that as a reason to say that he hasn’t been all that bad this season. Some will look at the issues that the team is having in the defensive zone and say that it would be impossible for any goalie to thrive in this situation. 
I think that’s a load of crap. The Oilers have not gotten good enough goaltending through six games.
Have the Oilers given up some quality looks? Absolutely. But their goalies have not been stopping a high enough percentage of those chances either.
The team sits dead last in the NHL with a high danger save percentage of .648. Second last in the entire league is the Winnipeg Jets with a .720. That is a massive gap.
The Oilers have also been giving up the sixth-fewest scoring chances/60 at 5v5 and the 11th-fewest high-danger shot attempts according to Natural Stat-Trick.
They are simply not getting bailed out as much as other teams have been. You can sit there and say that it’s all on the defencemen, but at some point, the goalies need to be treated as part of the team as well. They need to be better.
The reason I’m giving this one a 7/10 is that there’s no guarantee that it’s going to get better. Jack Campbell has been incredibly inconsistent for over a year now and while Stuart Skinner was exceptional as a rookie, he has not looked the same so far this season.
I believe that Skinner is a legit 1A goalie, and I do think he’s going to bounce back. But if he doesn’t, this team is in trouble.

DEFENSIVE ZONE STRUCTURE

Rating: 5 out of 10

This is the one thing that a lot of fans are latching onto right now and I get it. Evan Bouchard has made a handful of really bad turnovers and there have been a lot of goals that are a direct result of veteran defenseman just losing a man in front of the net.
It’s very easy to see these breakdowns and when you combine that with all the talk during the preseason about how Jay Woodcroft is changing up the defensive structure, you get a very strong narrative.
My number for this one was higher before I had a chance to chat with fellow Oilersnation writer Bruce Curlock on Oilersnation Everyday. He preached patience and said that he believes the Oilers are capable of bouncing back out of this slump. If you want to listen to the segment, it starts at the halfway point of the show:
I think it will be better than it has been through six games? Absolutely. Do I think the Oilers will ever be elite at defending in their own zone? No.
Still, they should be able to get their defensive zone up to a level where it isn’t sinking them and that’s why I gave this one a five out of ten.

COACHING

Rating: 1 out of 10

“Fire Jay Woodcroft”
“Fire Dave Manson”
“Fire Dustin Schwartz”
Coaching is not the issue here. The Oilers have gone through a lot of coaches in the Connor McDavid era and Woodcroft is without a doubt the best. If they can’t get it done with him, then I’m not sure this group will ever get it done.
The play can’t simply be to fire another coach. 
It’s been a tough start to the season but I don’t think we’re at a point where the coaching staff has lost the room or anything like that. This coaching staff has led the Oilers to three playoff-round victories in two seasons. They’re fine.
Would I like to see some things done differently? Of course, you’re never going to agree with everything that a coach does, but that doesn’t mean he needs to be fired.

THE DEPTH

Rating: 2 out of 10

There is a pretty long list of depth pieces that are off to disappointing starts. Evander Kane, Connor Brown, Ryan McLeod, and even someone like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have all struggled out of the gates. 
The Oilers are at the point where the players who aren’t playing with McDavid and Draisaitl need to do more than just survive. They need to outscore the other team. Right now, that’s not happening.
Still, there is a lot of talent in this forward group and I believe that they will turn it around. We’re not even 10% of the way through the season and it’s way too early to be saying that Connor Brown should be put on waivers so that his bonus doesn’t kick in next season.
They have some guys who are struggling to score right now. That is a fact that I cannot dispute. But there will come a point where that group gets hot and we’ll be sitting here talking about how the Oilers have the best top nine in the league.
At 5v5, their team shooting percentage is 11th worst at 7.3%. Last season, it was 9.14%. Get ready for some positive regression.
Every season, the Oilers go through a four to six week stretch where they look like one of the worst teams in the NHL. This season, I guess we’re just getting it out of the way early instead of in December or January.
Take a deep breath. This team will eventually get hot and things will be fine.

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