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There are bad starts and then there’s what the Edmonton Oilers have done in the first four games of the 2014-15 season. No wins, three losses and one overtime loss. A goal differential of minus-12, which by comparison makes the Buffalo Sabres look like a Jennings Trophy winner, and their coach just called them a pee-wee team.
Yes, losing your top center to injury is devastating, which might provide some cover for losses like last night’s at the Arizona Coyotes. But the time has come to acknowledge some simple truths about this Edmonton Oilers team:
1. They don’t know how to win.
That’s not a generalization or some abstract concept. They simply don’t understand how to win in the National Hockey League. They get knocked on their asses, and they just fold.
They trailed after the first period 36 times in 82 games last season; they rallied to win seven times and earned a point three times. That’s a .194 winning percentage. They’re 0-for-2 already this season.
2. Put me down on the “Ralph Kruger got a raw deal” petition.
He wasn’t given long enough to grow with the young players who supported him, and he brought some semblance of a structure to a team that summarily lacks it this season.
Dallas Eakins was hired by Craig MacTavish because he coveted him and because he felt the need to put his own stamp on the team. And every night there are screen grabs showing how much the Oilers have learned from Eakins about defensive coverage:
This happens, like, once per game.
3. Crazy thought, but given they play in the Western Conference, maybe that second-line center spot should have been addressed with something other than a rookie or a second-year guy.
4. I used to yearn for the Oilers to make the playoffs because I wanted to see Hall and Eberle and the Nuge and the Yak on that stage. Now I’m yearning for them to make the playoffs to keep Connor McDavid as far away from the gravitational pull of this black hole of young hockey talent as possible.
How abjectly terrible have the Oilers been during this stumble of a start? Let’s look at some of the reviews from around their loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday night:
Throw out the old “you can’t make moves now from a point of weakness” argument all you want. It applies in most cases, but not here and now with this organization. If you don’t do anything now, and the suffering continues, and the air in the dressing room goes toxic, guess what? You just went from a point of weakness to a point of feebleness.
So instead of gambling on that not happening, GM Craig MacTavish needs to get to work immediately on a transaction of significance. That means leaving the third and fourth lines and third-pair defense alone, and finally biting the bullet on trading one of the franchise’s elite young forwards. Now, that probably won’t be star winger Taylor Hall or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but even from a so-called position of weakness, there’s no reason the Oilers couldn’t land a better-than average haul in a deal for winger Jordan Eberle. He’s 24 years old and the type of proven scorer you can build a bidding war around. You might not land an equally proficient scorer in return, but you might get a top defensive prospect for a player like that. You might be able to improve your depth in a number of areas for a player like that.
When you give up 15 goals in the first three games of the season, for the second year in a row, it is extremely valid to question if the defensive system Dallas Eakins and Craig Ramsay have put in place, and players Craig MacTavish provided them with are good enough.
… The Oilers organization continues to believe that they know more than everyone else. It is fine to think that, but they need to learn to be more humble about it. Keep those viewpoints within the confines of their offices, especially when you're not winning.
I'm not saying the brass shouldn't have confidence, but the Oilers have to stop over promising and under delivering.
We all remember the, "I think I know a little bit about winning, if there’s ever a concern,” statement from Kevin Lowe when he hired Craig MacTavish and Scott Howson. Lowe knew how to win as a player. No one can debate that. He was a fierce competitor and more valuable on the ice than many give him credit for. But winning as a player is far different than winning as GM. There is no direct correlation between winning as a player and winning as a coach or GM.
Bill Torrey, Al Arbour, Glen Sather, Craig Patrick, Scotty Bowman were the coaches and GMs of the Islanders, Oilers and Penguins when the won back-to-back Stanley Cups. None of them had great success as players, but they excelled as coaches and general managers. Many great players have become coaches or managers, and rarely do they have the same success. It is much different building a winner than it is being the player who helps the team win.
Aaaand we’re back. As with Devan Dubnyk last season, I don’t think Ben Scrivens is a terrible goaltender but he is having a tough start. When Edmonton acquired him last year, he was playing at his confident best and the Oilers had figured out a few things about themselves. This season, Scrivens was behind during camp and hasn’t recovered, and the Oilers (partly due to their long, long audition process during preseason) are still sussing out how the defense works and now we’re four losses into the actual campaign.
Devan Dubnyk 2013-14 October as an Oiler: 2-5-1 4.01 .878
Ben Scrivens 2014-15 October as an Oilers: 0-2-0 5.22 .800
The twitter and the verbal is way down on Scrivens, but as with Dubnyk a year ago I’d suggest we take a more patient approach. This is the same guy who set record a year ago with 59 saves in a shutout (most in the expansion era). So hold your muskets at bay, ladies, this guy can play. His NHL SP by year: .903, .913 and .916 a year ago, and given time his save percentage will move back closer to the career number. If you’ve ever seen small sample sizes skew the view in sports, you know this to be true.
You know this to be true. You know this to be true.
From Jonathan Willis of Cult of Hockey on the center spot:
The responsibility for other decisions falls higher up the food chain. That the Oilers’ centre depth chart was weak entering the year was no mystery; it was practically the only topic of offseason conversation for Edmonton fans. With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins hurt, the group is beyond weak; it has one player who was a full-time NHL’er a year ago on it. Any team looks bad down its No. 1 centre; few teams look as bad as Edmonton. There are NHL’ers who would help ease the pain a little rumoured to be available; general manager Craig MacTavish’s willingness to pull the trigger on a deal early could prove pivotal to the team’s fortunes.
Tyler Dellow writes:
(Miss you man…)
I'm no hockey guru, but come on! How friggin hard is it to collapse to the front of the net when things aren't going well? The craptastic Flamers do it all the time; The Oilers looked OK when they did it last season. Get some mother lovin confidence doing things the easy way and then get the boys to try out the fancy system against the crappy teams, or the crappy lines, or the shiny match ups within a game. Hey, maybe this was the test drive of the fancy system against the crappy teams? Oh right, this isn't Fantasy Island.
Sweet Jebus, I'd settle for the trap right now! Bore me to friggin sleep as long as there's a notch in the win column when I wake up.
How does a professional coach not realize that a team lacking mental toughness needs a nice simple plan to start the season on a positive note? How does he not use the preseason to get his team ready to start the season? How does he think a team of losers is going to just turn it on come game time on opening night? Damn near every fan in the city didn't like the way things were shaping up in the pre-season; Sure, a few guys who will be on the team next year or the year after looked good – they were never going to start the season with the Oilers. Yup, Dallas learned from his mistakes but he made a few new ones to start his second season. I see a pattern of overestimating his affect on the players.
And soon its MacT's turn to demonstrate whether or not he's learned anything. Gagner - ruined. Cogliano - clobbered. Gilbert – greased. Petry – alienated. Marincin - bent over and spanked. Penner – run out of town. Hemmer – alas poor Hemmer, I knew him Horatio! Horc – Oh, Captain, my Captain. Eberle - flying like a brick. Yak – showing some bounce, but is he a super ball? Hallsy – poor Hallsy. Anyone think sticking around for 82 games of this horror story is going to turn Draisaitl into a diamond? How about Nurse? Everyone to the life boats, women and great big man-children first!
A house cleaning would seem in order at this point. Either on the roster or, perhaps more effectively, in management.
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