The Edmonton Oilers are in a world of hurt.
I mean no disrespect to the Ottawa Senators when I say that the Sen’s appeared to be a welcome antidote for what is ailing the struggling Oilers. But that 3 rd period Oilers collapse to a 30 th place club landed hard and deep, both inside the dressing room and out.
What does the General Manager do about this?
That and more in this edition of…
9. Fragile teams often find a way to lose.
8. Goaltending has been an issue for most of the year for Edmonton. And it was again Saturday. I certainly don’t put the loss solely on Stuart Skinner , although he was clearly the 2 nd best goaltender on the ice.
7. Alex Stalock has cleared waivers and will try to find his form again in Bakersfield. If he can, it’s found money in terms of organizational depth: A goalie with 151 NHL experience if you need one in a pinch. But let’s not kid ourselves, either. Stalock hasn’t played an NHL game since August of 2020.
6. I watched Josh Brown of Ottawa with interest. He’s a rugged 6-5 220, an ingredient the Oilers lack. But he’s also right-handed. Who on Edmonton’s right side would he play ahead of? Although who wouldn’t have taken his 1-Assist, 3-Hit, 12:57 performance from last night? Brown will be a UFA and the Sen’s aren’t close to being a playoff team.
5. Ethan Bear was a healthy scratch for Carolina Saturday. One hand, it does support my opinion that some people over-value what Bear would have meant in Edmonton this season. But on the other, listen: Ethan is still a young guy that will go though peaks and valleys like most developing D-men of his experience. One healthy scratch does not a bust make. I wouldn’t overreact.
4. Zach Hyman wasn’t 100% when he first came back off the IR. There were a lot of bad things about the Oilers COVID pause. But 2 silver linings among the good things: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins won’t miss as much time as if the schedule had just kept on as per normal. And from what I hear…Hyman’s upper body injury is now all healed. He certainly looked more like himself Saturday and set up the 4-4 goal.
3. The Oilers are too easy to play against. The active roster as it sits today (especially the bottom 6) isn’t well enough equipped to answer back when their opposition intimidates. We saw it on the road trip against both St. Louis and the Islanders. But they’re also not as physically assertive as you’d want to be against a team like Ottawa. Zack Kassian is inconsistent in this department. But he’s at least a threat and a big reason why he’s valuable to have in the lineup. And he’s not enough. Darnell Nurse is too valuable on the ice to be in the penalty box . And too often Leon Draisaitl has been their most physical forward. I’m willing to bet the best players on the club know it. The players usually know before anyone else.
2. The Oilers 3 rd pairing was absolutely eaten alive Saturday night. The buck does stop with the players. They are the ones paid to stop the guys on the other team. But while Evan Bouchard and William Lagesson’s mistakes are shown on a loop by the sports stations for the next 24 hour, a hard question also needs to be asked about the coaching. These 2 guys have less than 100 NHL games of experience between them. If it isn’t Jim Playfair’s job to put his guys in a position to succeed…then what is it? That pairing made me nervous from the word go. But then it was allowed to spiral out of control without any real change from the bench. And I don’t necessarily mean sitting them. After all, young developing guys like Bouchard need to play. But all the 3 pairs remained locked in. And Dave Tippett is the man who gives Playfair all the responsibility and latitude with the D, so some of this gets on Tippett, too. I am on record as saying this slide is not primarily on coaching. But this specific example from last night sure didn’t help my comments to age very well.
1.Previously in this space I have made the case that a shakeup is probably the best, first step in trying to solve this dilemma. A trade. A different ingredient in the room and on the ice. And last night’s result did nothing to change my opinion. It remains to be seen whether the current NHL investigation into Evander Kane will even allow him to be an option in Edmonton. But let’s assume for a second that he is cleared and is free to sign anywhere. Could he be that missing ingredient? Should he be? I’ve seen some people say, “who cares about the off the ice stuff, all we should care about is whether he can play”. Well, as someone who has spent a large chunk of my career managing people (as fond as I sure am of The Cult of Hockey it is not my day job), I am confident in saying that point of view is rather short-sited and rife with potential complications.
In my own experience, most people with things like addictions, anger issues and a general lack of good judgement eventually present those traits in the workplace. By then, while it may not be your “fault” as a manager it sure is your problem. And its not just that employee. Others in the workplace are usually impacted by the behavior, too. In fact, the rest of the office is often the bigger, longer term issue and harder to solve.
I don’t have much doubt that Evander Kane possesses the talent and the physical attributes to be a difference maker in the Oilers lineup. He has a reputation of being able to score and be tough to play against…2 attributes the Oilers desperately need more of right now. Would I wish for Kane 1) to get the help he needs/deserves to straighten his life out and 2) help the Oilers in the process? Damn straight I would, on both counts.
But on a fragile professional sports franchise in mid-season, the warning signs on this guy flash bright red. If Ken Holland eventually does elect to go this route, it will come with a substantial amount of risk. I don’t necessarily want Holland and his pro scouts to be risk adverse, either. There’s such a thing as being too conservative. There is evidence of that in this roster. It’s a question of “how much is too much”?
The saving grace (if you will) could be that if the NHL nods o.k. and you get it done with Kane and it is strictly a short-term deal. A free agent “rental”, if you will. Because anything past that (until you see more evidence for yourself that this leopard has changed his spots) isn’t just a risk. It’s a bigger, broader gamble with deeper implications.
But after last night’s collapse…how much more willing will Ken Holland be to roll those dice?