The Edmonton Oilers are idling in the All-Star break.
Part of me wishes they could just have kept on playing, what with 11 points in their past 6 games. But while it will be critical for the players to pick up right where they left off, the club’s head office needs to be in gear, too.
That and more in this edition of…
9. It initially slipped past me when Brigette Lacquette was named to the Canadian Women’s Olympic Hockey Team. But she is the very first indigenous woman to ever play for that team. Bravo to her, and all who supported Brigette along the way during her career. Good luck!
8. I didn’t watch the NHL All-Star game. My sense is that a majority of fans like the new format. And I certainly get the vibe off the players that they really enjoy it as well. I personally liked it better when it was an actual professional hockey game. I realize it hasn’t been that for decades, now. It just doesn’t flip my arial anymore. But glad Leon Draisaitl & Connor McDavid made the grade.
7. I found it ironic that NHL Chairman Gary Bettman voiced frustration over COVID restrictions in Canadian markets. Canada’s death rate due to the pandemic is less than half of what it has been in the U.S. where health measures have also been half. And if it wasn’t for Edmonton and Toronto, the 2020 season may never have been completed. How soon they forget, hey…
6. If the COVID numbers in Alberta (Edmonton in particular) continue to trend in a better direction, I would anticipate Rogers Place can and should soon get back to full capacity (with some health measures). I hope that’s the case for all involved, including Daryl Katz . Mr. Katz has sunk millions into this franchise and right now he is not getting a good return on that investment. Some that say, “Ah, Katz can afford it”. That’s easy to say when it’s not your business or your money. In my experience it’s a lot different when the shoe is on the other foot.
5. It was with great interest this week that I watched as Shawn Horcoff was named Assistant General Manager of the Detroit Red Wings. My one and only meeting with Horcoff was over a decade ago when he was still Oilers captain. It was at a function in Edmonton and my son happened to be with me. Horcoff, sizing up my then 10-year-old boy, quickly produced an Oilers logo’d puck and posed for a picture with him which we still have. Now, of course that sort of thing doesn’t necessarily foreshadow someone becoming a hockey executive. But it did display one thing that I believe every good G.M. has: Class. Congrats to him.
4. The more I talk with people in Edmonton and elsewhere, the more I realize that the club came much closer to a coaching change than Ken Holland will let on or that most of us realized at the time. In fact, had the Oilers lost that Calgary game, I very strongly suspect that there would have been a media conference hastily scheduled the next day. Discussions had been had. Displeasures in the state of the club at that moment in time had been stated in no uncertain terms. But at the end of the day, the General Manager built this roster and not the coaching staff. While you may not be a massive fan of Ken Holland’s work here, I do think he’s an honorable man. And he was not prepared to hang Dave Tippett out to dry. I don’t know about you, but I can respect that.
3. I am worried about the goaltending. If the goalies the club has now are perfectly healthy, then I agree there’s a chance the team will be o.k. I have a lot of time and respect for Mike Smith . If he’s sound physically I have little doubt that he can still make an impact. If the much-maligned Mikko Koskinen is limited to about a 3 rd of the games has a track record as an adequate NHL backup. The problem? That was two big “ifs” in two sentences. This tandem has already been the 2nd-best pair in back-to-back playoff exits. And while I don’t blame Mike Smith for the Winnipeg sweep, who will argue that Connor Hellebuyck was the best goalie on the ice? If that happens again, I won’t blame the goaltenders. it will be an avoidable failure on the G.M.’s part.
2. As we sit in the middle of the All-Star break, the Edmonton Oilers are 23-16-3, 5 th in the Pacific and with games in hand on 3 of the 4 clubs they are chasing. Despite that horrific losing skid, the club is not in a bad position. But nor are they in a good one. To say the year hasn’t gone as planned would be an understatement. Why aren’t they better? Why aren’t they more consistent? I submit it’s because there’s a hole in the Oilers donut. And it’s too big of a hole between your best and an admittedly impressive young crop that’s coming. They still aren’t deep enough. That showed during the losing skid. And unless something is done about it, it is likely to show up again in the playoffs…provided they get that far. The Amateur scouting side of things in the Oilers organization gets passing grades in my book, Assistant General Manager Keith Gretzky, and Bakersfield coaches Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson . The Director of Amateur scouting Tyler Wright . The Condors are 12-1-4 in their last 17 and enjoying a terrific season in the AHL. That, despite a steady march of young pros headed up to the big club. And a healthy collection of prospects bubbling under in College and Junior. And of course, Ken Holland gets credit for that, too. It’s his organization.
1.But it is fair to scrutinize the pro scouts. Most of the players brought over the past 2 years have been described as “depth”. The 2020 deadline acquisitions of Mike Green and Andreas Athanasiou were ultimately utter busts. The Oilers would have been better off keeping Sam Gagner (plus I think they underestimated how much Sam meant to the room). Since then, it’s been the likes of Colton Sceviour . Devin Shore . Kyle Turris . Slater Koekkoek . Brendan Perlini . Derek Ryan . And don’t get me wrong. Those guys are good pros that can play a useful role. My intent is not to dump on them. But we’ve seen a parade of this quality of “depth” for a decade, now. If your team is truly improving, your acquisitions need to get progressively stronger with it. The status quo isn’t good enough. You’re no longer just plugging in vets until the kids graduate. You’re trying to win now. Some throw all the pro scouting decisions in the bin but that’s not fair, either. It’s hard to argue that Cody Ceci hasn’t worked out. Dislike his contract and the price tag if you will but Duncan Keith has been the club’s best Defenceman since Christmas. Zach Hyman has been very good. And hey…I liked the Turris acquisition, too. You won’t hit every pitch that’s thrown to you. And you can’t hit the ball of you don’t swing the bat.
But sights need to be set higher. As just one example, listen to Bob Stauffer’s radio show. I’ve heard names like Lawson Crouse (Arizona), Mason Appleton (Seattle), Nathan Bastian (Seattle at the time, later claimed by New Jersey), Mason Marchment (Florida) and Nick Paul (scored against the Oilers, went head-to-head with Connor McDavid ). Most of those names would have made this club better. Stauffer works for the club, don’t they listen (like just about everybody else in town)? Yes, it’s easier said than done to make those deals. But a team’s color commentator also can’t grind harder than the guys on the hockey side. Or maybe Bob should scout for them, too?
The key difference between many of the names they did bring in and most of the players I just listed is the point at which their careers sit today. They are in the Oilers price range. The cap is real, after all. But these newer names also still have runway. They’re generally a bit younger and would still have a chance to develop along with the rest of the group. There’s no guarantee any of the existing guys will even be in the league next year.
It’s not too late to fix this. There have been enough hits to make this team competitive. But there are also enough misses to make us wonder if the 2022 edition of the Oilers is a lot better than last year’s model.