Gear: View of the turmoil in Oil Country by someone in the eye of the storm in Vancouver

As global gasoline prices soar amid fears of a potential oil shortage, Edmontonians are already experiencing an oil shortage themselves.

After an exceptional start to the season, the Oilers are in freefall. A team that led the league in points percentage on Dec. 1 now finds itself on the wrong side of the playoff bar and continues to fall. Worse still, after giving up a two-goal lead and losing to Ottawa in their last game, they don’t look like a team that’s about to find its way.

Times are desperate and frustrating in Edmonton.

Over the past two weeks, general manager Ken Holland has talked about giving permanent problem child Evander Kane a « second » chance (that’s a generous count); superstar Connor McDavid dismissed media inquiries about potential fan response to Kane with a flippant « whatever…it is what it is »; the team’s other superstar, Leon Draisaitl, got caught up in a less than cordial exchange with a reporter; and head coach Dave Tippett fired a few shots in the team’s arc, including openly criticizing his team’s goaltender for a play that Tippett called a « brutal error. »

It is not difficult to understand where the frustration comes from. It is painful to be continually asked what is wrong when there is no simple answer and even more difficult when the tone turns negative.

As someone who has recently been in the eye of the storm when a team’s play fails to meet expectations, I can tell you that it creates incessant noise that gets in the way of the job at hand. It also breeds negative energy, fear of job losses, loss of morale and a dangerous temptation to point fingers.

The unease is felt not just in the offices of hockey operations, but throughout the organization. I can guarantee you that the Oilers ticket sales department is hearing from disappointed season ticket holders, that fan services managers are getting more and more random complaints at Rogers Place, and that the receptionist is being insulted daily by fans. angry calling to vent. This is real life in the NHL, an unfortunate part of the deal.

For what it’s worth, in my opinion, McDavid was put in a tough spot and the questions and comments directed at Draisaitl were off the mark (and the reporter’s attitude sarcastic), so I’m giving both players a pass.

In any case, it is a team that struggles to keep its cool and only needs a victory to ease the pressure.

The good news for Oilers fans is that the season hasn’t quite reached the middle. Every team goes through crises and tough times and the Oilers have accumulated enough capital with their strong start that they are far from out of the running. That said, the wind has to turn before it gets worse.

The Oilers’ challenges begin with the goal that, from the start of the season, seemed to be the team’s Achilles’ heel. During the offseason, the Oilers reportedly flirted with a massive addition of goaltenders, but decided to focus on bolstering their forward roster, signing coveted free agent Zach Hyman and trading promising defenseman Ethan. Bear versus RFA trading rights to Warren Foegele.

Hyman was a solid addition to the team and Foegele probably delivered what was expected of him.

However, these additions meant that the flexibility of Edmonton’s cap was limited. That forced the Oilers to continue to trust 39-year-old Mike Smith, who signed a two-year extension. Smith was coming off a stellar year in the shortened 2020-21 season, but expecting his level of play to continue and, more importantly, his body holding back Father Time, may have been a mistake. Calculation. Smith has only played six games for the Oilers this season after a few different injuries sidelined him.

Meanwhile, Mikko Koskinen has been average at best, posting a .900 save percentage in 20 games played. The Oilers continue to feel pressure from the organization’s questionable signing of Koskinen to a three-year, $13.5 million deal after just half a season of average play in 2018-19.

The Oilers also gave Stuart Skinner an opportunity. He has performed well in the AHL this year and had a decent .916 save percentage in his 10 NHL games before allowing five goals against Ottawa in his last start. He’s now in COVID-19 protocol, so the Oilers will return to Koskinen. They really need to get Smith back to health for there to be any real chance of stopping the bleeding.

But goaltenders haven’t been the Oilers’ only problem.

To be fair, COVID-related injuries and absences were definitely a factor. Underrated Josh Archibald has been out all season with myocarditis, and the Oilers have definitely missed his pesky style of play. They had to deal with extended absences from veteran defensemen Kris Russell and Duncan Keith, leaving a sparse blue line on some nights. And like most teams, they’ve seen some of their best players — including McDavid — run out of time during COVID protocol.

There were bright spots. Evan Bouchard, the 10th overall pick in 2018, has developed well, becoming an everyday defender with a scoring touch. Jesse Puljujarvi continues to show he can be part of the solution after his 2020-21 season. Hyman seems like a good fit. And of course, McDavid and Draisaitl continue to be the dynamic duo, sitting atop the league scoring race and making regular appearances on every network’s games of the week.

Unfortunately, the bright spots have recently been overshadowed by dark clouds.

As the trade deadline nears, the Oilers must be thinking about a major upset. You just can’t have two of the most dominant players in the world and not make the playoffs.

To date, Holland has signaled a vote of confidence in Tippett, so it doesn’t appear the Oilers believe a Bruce Boudreau-like change in coaching style or voice is the missing ingredient. Maybe they see Kane as a solution, or maybe there’s a trade that can change the team’s energy and spark wins.

Change can certainly help, but ultimately the Oilers need to come together and start finding answers in their own bedroom. It may seem like a distant memory, but the team that kicked off this season is still around somewhere.

Chris Gear joined Daily Faceoff in January 2022 after a 12-year run with the Vancouver Canucks, most recently as the club’s assistant general manager and legal director. Prior to migrating to the hockey operations department, where his responsibilities included contract negotiations, CBA compliance, assisting with roster and salary cap management, and AHL franchise governance, Gear was vice-president and general counsel for the Canucks.

Laisser un commentaire