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[Author's note: Power rankings are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever really doesn't tell you anything you didn't know. Who's hot, who's not, who cares? For this reason, we're doing a power ranking of things that are usually not teams. You'll see what I mean.]
8. Dallas Eakins
It was, what, like a week and a half prior to Dallas Eakins' dismissal that Craig MacTavish said that firing the coach wasn't really a feasible option for the club right now?
The obvious and logical question many had at that point, then, was, “What changed?”
Well for one thing, the Oilers kept losing, a lot. That — capital-T “That” —MacTavish presser was on Dec. 5, and while the Oilers won their next game, 2-1 against San Jose, they then dropped their next four as well, losing by a combined score of 13-5. Neither of those numbers is encouraging. The ultimate disgrace, though, was the truly and deeply abominable effort turned in by the Oilers Sunday night against the Rangers. They lost 2-0, but played a brand of hockey that was so deeply offensive to the sensibilities of those unfortunate enough to watch (shots were 21-16!) that MacTavish or those above him with the political clout to really put an arm on his neck clearly felt as though something had to be done.
Now, given his earlier comments (and, rather bizarrely, those in the “I just fired a guy” presser that followed) about whether Dallas Eakins was particularly to blame for these losses or indeed the current state of the entire team — specifically: He was not — the decision to fire him came as a bit of a shock.
Because when “something has to be done” and we all agree intellectually that this one guy isn't to blame, doesn't firing him seem... I don't know, strange?
Boss: “Hey Steve I heard your work truck caught on fire?”
Steve: “Weird, right? I don't know what happened, I was just driving along and the darn thing just started smoking and then it was on fire and then it blew up. I don't know what happened.”
Boss: “Yeah so it turns out the engine's pistons was just a few potatoes I wrote 'piston' on. I told some people I thought it would work but I knew it wouldn't. Sorry about that. Probably should have let you know or something.”
Steve: “That seems bad. But what are you gonna do, right?”
Boss: “Yeah, so please understand this isn't your fault.”
Steve: “Okay good.”
Boss: “And also you're fired.”
This is insane!
The Oilers are now on their sixth coach in seven years, and it's not totally clear whether Eakins' replacement will stick beyond this season. At some point, you can't blame the coach any more. That point was three years ago.
7. Taylor Hall
Well when you go through coaches as often as the Oilers do, and people like to appeal to authority as much as hockey writers do, you knew it was only going to be a matter of time before the “Uncoachable Jerk” label landed on someone in the Edmonton dressing room.
That it landed on Taylor Hall — beautiful, perfect Taylor Hall — isn't that surprising. He's the face of the franchise, for better or worse, because he's its best player in a landslide. He also encapsulates all the “LOOK HOW MANY TIMES THEY PICKED FIRST AND THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED ANYWAY!!!!!!” angst that has been felt in the Edmonton fanbase and media (psst, they're one and the same) for the last few years.
(As an aside, and I've said this before: Edmonton might be the unluckiest team to ever pick that high three times in a row in the history of the NHL. Taylor Hall became the best left wing in the game pretty quickly after he joined the league, albeit aided by Alex Ovechkin's move to the right side. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is and will continue to be a very good and potentially even great center in this league, but he's been plagued by injury and he's basically on an island with no shelter to speak of as “A Real Center In Edmonton.” And Nail Yakupov is a decent to good right wing who's obviously still developing and for my money has taken a good-sized step forward this year especially, but who's not even as good as Jordan Eberle. Those top three picks netted them a left wing, center, and right wing, all of which are nice to have but never addressed the Oilers' real problem: lack of defense and goaltending. You can argue the team should have taken Ryan Murray over Yakupov based on need and the relatively thin margin between them, talent-wise; at least trade down with Columbus and get something else out of the deal. But the Best Player Available in three straight drafts were at positions where the Oilers didn't need as much help as those players provided. A really tough bounce in that regard, compounded by the fact that none of them are what you'd call a borderline generational talent, i.e. Not Steven Stamkos, and the team's inability to draft reliable NHLers after that No. 1 pick. And unfortunately, Darnell Nurse isn't walking through that door, at least not as a reliable top-pairing defenseman within the next year or three.)
So now Darren Dreger is out there throwing bombs at this kid, whose only crime as far as we actually know is being by far the best player on an awful and unlucky team. All this nebulous stuff about, “He doesn't want to change his game,” and “He's not good in the room,” sounds awful familiar — a certain high-scoring left/right wing in Washington, and a Stars center who used to play in Boston spring readily to mind — and doesn't in any way address the issues at hand.
What happens if you trade Taylor Hall, other than, “You don't get someone who's as good as Taylor Hall?” This kind of thing is not working out so well for Peter Chiarelli, certainly, and anyone trying to paint new spots on this particular leopard is off on a particularly ill-advised fool's errand, noble (some would say Quixotic) though it may be to say collectively that you want to get better in some tangible way.
Since Taylor Hall started playing in this league, his 5-on-5 goals-for numbers are 181 for and 186 against. The rest of the Oilers? 334 for, and 474 against. Minus-5 to minus-140, and we're acting like Taylor Hall of all people is the problem? Good lord. How dumb do you have to be?
Here's who benefits if Taylor Hall hits the block and commands anything other than, say, a Lindros-like haul: The team who acquires him. It's hard to envision a situation in which the whole of Hall isn't greater than the sum of the parts of his return.
6. Oilers fans
I can't even imagine watching this sideshow and having a vested rooting interest in what happens with it. All this jersey-throwing stuff started in Edmonton, and frankly at this point they shouldn't even be able to play games at Rexall because of the steady precipitation of jerseys being tossed on the ice with regularity both during and following live play.
Anyone can see that this is a disaster, and Oilers fans have seen it time and time and time and time and time again for years now, with no resolution. Like, people have been blogging about what's wrong with the Oilers since the salary cap era began, and the problems haven't really changed: The same people are in power, and the same on-ice product. Save for that year Chris Pronger spent playing in this city, which he almost certainly felt was what Hell feels like, the team's been pear-shaped and just brutal to watch.
Why do people spend money on this? Please stop for the love of god.
5. Todd Nelson
On the one hand, you always have to feel good about a guy getting his first shot to coach at the NHL level. It's nice to think about.
On the other, you always have to feel bad for someone coaching the Oilers because he's essentially taking a long walk down a dark and damp hallway, and at the end someone is going to put a bullet in his head because he couldn't win with a fundamentally broken roster.
This is essentially a 51-game audition to be the head coach in Edmonton instead of skipping back to Oklahoma City, and Nelson seems for all the world like a good coach. Say what you want about the Oilers' drafting the last few years, but Nelson has wrung some very nice seasons out of their AHL talent in his four-plus years behind the bench (winning percentage never lower than .546, and only one season in four with fewer than 40 wins).
The good news is expectations are going to be low for actually making an improvement on the ice. He could win 20 games out of 51 and be considered some sort of hero as long as he brought about some sort of nebulous change in The Culture.
But we all know how it ends. Even if Nelson gets the job, he lasts a year, maybe two if he's really lucky, before he gets canned like all the others. Because the Oilers still have giant holes in their roster from front to back, and no coach can succeed under those conditions. Everyone knows that, including the Edmonton front office.
Hmm, a career AHL coach with great results who only has limited experience in the NHL and who has a great track record as a developer of players and not necessarily anything beyond that. Where have we heard that before with the Oilers?
4. Gerry Fleming
This is the better promotion within the Oilers organization. Going from AHL assistant to AHL head coach is a pretty nice move, especially because you get the assurance that in a few years, you're probably at least going to get a look with the big club when the current guy gets fired.
And the Oilers are helicoptering Kelly Buchberger in to help? Man, what a deal! Buchberger, though.. hmm. I definitely know that name. I feel like he used to play in the NHL. I wonder what team he played for. Oh that's right, it was Edmonton.
Well at least putting a former NHLer best known for his days as an Oiler in positions of power has always worked out for this organization, eh?
3. Edmonton media
That stuff Craig MacTavish said about the blood on his hands? Well, Lady MacBeth he isn't, but if the Edmonton media who have been ravening for “a change” of some sort more or less since the second Eakins took over, bringing his horrible carrots and celery sticks with him, want to have a look down at their own hands, there's going to be some indelible spots on there as well.
Part of the reason for the firing is the idea, I'm sure, that the Oilers don't Try Hard enough. We've heard it time and again how they don't go to the net hard enough and there's not enough Leadership and no one Wants It, as though these players were all prideless mercenaries who care only about individual stats and their fat paychecks.
The idea that Rob Tychowski or whoever cares more about whether the Oilers win or lose than, say, Taylor Hall, is ludicrous, but because these are people who Go To The Games and See What's Wrong and are In The Room they're ready to dismiss out of hand any notion that this has been a team which has suffered unbelievably bad luck and major roster issues that go beyond the power of any coach living or dead to repair.
Should the Oilers have been able to overcome Ben Scrivens' .890 save percentage? Yes, if they'd tried harder. Should they have been able to shoot better than 7.4 percent? Yes, if they'd wanted it more.
Anyone who would argue this way has a fundamental lack of understanding — or willful ignorance of — everything we've learned about hockey by digging into the numbers over the last several years. Anyone who would argue this way doesn't see that having one real NHL center and two real NHL defensemen and no real NHL goaltending is a much bigger contributor to The Culture Of Losing than, say, a coach whose team only appears to not-go to the net because they also happen to not-win a lot.
Enjoy the doughnuts, though. Don't all circle them at once.
2. Kevin Lowe
I can't even imagine what it's like to be this bulletproof. How many GMs get to come along, how many coaches fired, how many scouts re-assigned? Being this teflon is some sort of amazing achievement that really ought to be marveled at (though obviously not celebrated).
1. Craig MacTavish
“Well Craig here we are again with this team being crap and you having to make a tough decision. Should you acknowledge that you screwed up in putting together this roster? You kinda have to, don't ya, bud?
“If you're being honest with yourself you have to understand that all — yes, all — this team's problems ultimately land on you because you've had two summers of trying to put anything resembling a full NHL team on the ice and wholly failed to do so. What's Leon Draisaitl even still doing on this team other than running around with a plastic sword and telling everyone he's a knight? Boyd Gordon as the No. 2 center? Come on.
“You made some good additions, in theory. Benoit Pouliot was a wise enough investment; he's at least driving play in the right direction relative to the rest of the team. Mark Fayne, too, has been okay in getting tougher assignments. Have things gone perfectly? Of course not. Are they overpaid? They have to be to come to Edmonton. But really, those issues are the least of your problems.
“And the defense! Remember when you said Justin Schultz could win a Norris one day? What was that about? Remember when you traded for then extended Nikita Nikitin at $4.5 million despite the fact that he couldn't hack it on the bottom pairing in Columbus? Remember how you tried to run Jeff Petry out of town? Remember how you thought Brad Hunt could be a legit NHL offensive defenseman. Evaluating the blue line isn't your strong suit. You know that now.
“And really, after that Scrivens trade last year, that looked so smart, you had to be feeling good, especially when he performed well while basically being under siege every night. But this year he's turned back into a pumpkin of a career backup who never should have gotten this much trust in the first place. It happens and it's unfortunate, but here we are.
“You had to fire Dallas Eakins, right? Had to. Blood on your hands and all that, but if you have a sacrificial lamb to offer up instead of yourself, you have to use it. You get bloody, but you buy yourself a little more time in charge of your own destiny before someone comes in and makes the harder decisions for you. Dallas might have been Your Guy but at the end of the day he wasn't making you look too good, either via you having placed your faith in him, or him being able to make Your Roster look in any way decent. Man, it sucks having to go through that, probably more so for him, but what were you going to do? Fire yourself? That's not how it works. Like I said, you've got the extra time now. Better do something with it before everyone sees just how badly you pooched this one.
“Man, this looking in the mirror and being honest with yourself thing isn't easy.”
(Not ranked this week: Intellectual Honesty.
Word to Jay Feaster.)