How Long Before the Oilers Fix Their Issues?by Carter LaCorte January 5, 2022 0 comments
Being one of the NHL’s seven Canadian teams brings a ton of attention towards a club. For the Edmonton Oilers, that attention was exclusively positive during the team’s first 10 games. Aside from a 5-3 loss versus Philadelphia on October 27, they were undefeated. Sadly, it has only gone downhill since the 9-1-0 start.
Now, as they look to close out a six-game road trip, the Oilers have dropped 10 of their past 12 games, only earning the extra point twice. While Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are amazing players, the former has just entered COVID protocol. Luckily, the Oilers’ barren mid-January schedule means that he could just miss another game or two. McDavid has never been a part of the problem. However, the franchise might be coming up on a scapegoat.
Burning Hot Seat
If Head Coach Dave Tippett is truly on the way out during his third season with the club, then he will be exiting with a bang. After a 4-1 loss versus the Rangers, capping off a tri-state area trip that saw Edmonton go 0-1-2, Tippett did not place the blame solely on the one goal, but also on goalie Mikko Koskinen.
“Our goaltender wasn’t very good,” said the 60-year-old coach to the media following the game, breaking the golden rule of never throwing your goalie under the bus. The truth is that Koskinen has not had a great season, with a .900 save percentage and a 3.19 GAA in 20 games. The other goalie on the roster is Mike Smith, who recently returned from injury and has a 3.91 GAA in five games this season.
The team’s record of 18-13-2 is solid, but what matters is how they got there. It has not been pretty of late. If a change is in the works, it shouldn’t start with just Tippett. General Manager Ken Holland, formerly of the Red Wings, has some explaining to do.
Crashing Into the Ground
Do you know how Detroit has been awful lately, only now breaking out of the rebuild thanks to the efforts of Steve Yzerman? Well, after years of success, Holland started to drive the team to the ground. But, after the amount of success the franchise had under him, it was not a huge surprise to see Holland get another shot elsewhere. His tenure with Edmonton? Woof.
The goal of any man put in charge of the futures of McDavid and Draisaitl is simple: don’t waste them. Holland is managing to do exactly that. The team’s back end is deplorable. The goaltending has struggled again this year after Smith had a miraculous season at the age of 38 in 2020-21. That mojo will likely never return for him.
The defensemen themselves are unimpressive. Darnell Nurse was given a huge extension this offseason that is yet to kick in. However, analytics despise his defensive side, even though there has been substantial improvement this season. A general disconnect with metrics has been a theme with Edmonton. Signing the defensively-challenged Tyson Barrie and consistently ragged on Cody Ceci to big deals a few months ago shows that. But nothing has challenged Holland’s crown jewel of deals, the Duncan Keith trade.
Wait, We Still Disagree On This?
The three-time Stanley Cup champion and future Hall-of-Famer spent his entire career with the Blackhawks up until this year, one that has been crashing as of late. So when the Oilers gave up a mid-round draft pick and young defender Caleb Jones for the expensive 38-year-old (who is signed through 2022-23), without any salary retention, people were angered. And sure enough, Keith’s numbers have not been outstanding, even though there has been progress. Per MoneyPuck, Keith has a 44.1 expected goals percentage. That pales in comparison to the 54.6 xG% when he is off the ice.
The wrong takeaway from this is to blame Keith for Edmonton’s issues. For starters, these have been lingering problems since even before McDavid and Draisaitl were drafted. Secondly, it’s not his fault that the Oilers invested so much into him. He is being thrown into the fire. Holland is the one deserving of pitchforks and torches here.
This team still has a good overall record and is in fourth place in the Pacific Division. So, with plenty of time left in the season, it would not be a surprise if they turned things around. Right now, goaltending is at the forefront of their issues. Giving Stuart Skinner another shot could be worth it. The rookie had a .916 save percentage in 10 games during Smith’s absence. If not Skinner, then a trade may need to be worked out. Goalies that could be on the market depending on how things go over the next two months include Semyon Varlamov, Jaroslav Halak, Braden Holtby, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Jake Allen.
The Tippett situation might be developing quickly. Multiple reports have indicated that they have been in contact with former Wings and Maple Leafs bench boss Mike Babcock. However, if they want to make a change, this is a mistake. Riding and dying with old-time Detroit brass has already hurt Edmonton with Holland. This team needs a new type of voice. One which does not damage team morale by forcing a rookie into reputation-harming situations, as Babcock did in Toronto.
Follow Carter LaCorte on Twitter @CarterHudBlog
Main Image Credit:
Embed from Getty Images