When the Edmonton Oilers clinched a playoff berth last season, it marked the end of a decade of futility for the storied organization.
However, ending their ten-year postseason drought proved to be only the beginning for the Oilers, who re-invigorated their understandably impatient followers through a trip to the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Of course, Edmonton would be eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks in a deciding seventh game, yet, the team’s exciting play, young roster, and shining bright future had ushered in a new era of hope for the Oilers and their passionate fanbase.
Unfortunately, Edmonton has stumbled, tripped, and fallen out of their starting gate to begin the 2017-18 NHL campaign, as the team of legitimate playoff expectations has suddenly become one potentially in the mix for a top-five selection in the NHL Draft.
Mired by dismal results from both their power play and penalty kill, inconsistent offensive production, and a slew of substantial injuries, the Oilers now find themselves in a desperate search for answers. Further, with the regular season flying by and Edmonton failing to gain any sort of traction, the team’s quest for clarity has now transitioned into a hunt for a scapegoat.
So, exactly who should be blamed for Edmonton’s disastrous season to date?
Peter Chiarelli and Management?
While the outcome of any given NHL contest undoubtedly boils down to the productivity of the players gracing the ice, the individual who comprises a team’s roster and attempts to ensure its success over the long-term plays a crucial role in the success, or failure, of a given franchise.
And, in the case of Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli, such is no different.
Hired by Edmonton on the 24th of April, 2015, Chiarelli is now in his third season with the Oilers and has enjoyed mixed results with the team to date.
In his first year with the organization, Chiarelli landed Todd McLellan as the franchise’s Head Coach, yet once again witnessed a regular season which failed to yield a playoff berth. Then, in 2016-17, Chiarelli’s powerful and intimidating roster managed to claim a perch in the postseason, yet were ultimately eliminated despite – as previously mentioned – an incredibly promising campaign.
Struggles and Stagnation
So, when Edmonton took the ice to begin their 2017-18 season, nothing other than success was expected from a roster which remained largely intact from the previous season. However, it is, in fact, Chiarelli’s relative inactivity this past offseason which has resulted in a number of problems for the Oilers, the most significant of which being a lack of team depth.
Perhaps the biggest fallout from Chiarelli’s inactivity lays on the blue line, where a legitimate replacement for injured veteran defender Andrej Sekera was not secured by Chiarelli this offseason. Sure, Chiarelli inked Yohann Auvitu to a one-year contract, however, Edmonton’s penalty kill has suffered dramatically, as Sekera logged the most shorthanded ice time of any Oilers defender in 2016-17.
In addition to Chiarelli’s relative inactivity, Edmonton’s GM has been largely unsuccessful when active on the trade front, and especially so when it has come to devising deals of immense substance.
The most notable of which in this department has undoubtedly been the exchange which Chiarelli devised for Jordan Eberle – although his swap for Griffin Reinhart was disastrous too. While the Oilers nabbed Ryan Strome in return – a younger winger of arguably greater potential – his presence within Edmonton’s lineup has left a great deal to be desired, as the newcomer found himself on pace for one of the worst statistical seasons of his career over a third of the way into the campaign.
Ultimately, Chiarelli has been relatively inactive – a stance which has stripped the Oilers of the depth desperately needed to field a contending team over the course of a regular season. Further, when Chiarelli has been active, the recent deals which he has executed have produced laughable results, with the New York Islanders walking away as the decisive winners of two poor trades.
Todd McLellan and the Coaching Staff?
While Edmonton’s management team is responsible for producing a competitive roster, a great deal of pressure falls upon Head Coach Todd McLellan, who is tasked with ensuring his players are ready to compete on a consistent basis.
Unfortunately, to date, the Oilers have struggled mightily to battle at a high-level on a regular basis, with inconsistent efforts playing a massive role in the team’s lack of success. Compounding this issue has been Edmonton’s inability to begin relatively each and every contest with both energy and speed.
Slow and Sluggish
Through the Oilers’ first 30 games played in 2017-18, the team had surrendered 34 goals against in first periods alone – the second highest total in the NHL at that time.
How did Edmonton fair in that regard last year, you ask? Well, come to the conclusion of the 2016-17 campaign, the Oilers had allowed just 66 goals against in the first period – a total good for the 18th best in the league and a drastic difference compared to their 93 goals against pace in first periods this season.
Not convinced that poor starts have a direct impact on the outcome of any given game?
As of Edmonton’s 30th game played, the team had suffered nine of their 16 losses having trailed after the first period of play – the second greatest number of losses behind only the Buffalo Sabres at that time. Conversely, the Oilers had claimed six of their 12 wins after leading the first period of play – a substantially different winning percentage.
So, when McLellan ripped into his team during practice on Dec. 7th, 2017, it was not only well deserved but long overdue.
— Edmonton Sun (@Edmontonsun) December 8, 2017
For the sake of time and sanity let’s not discuss Edmonton’s specialty teams play, which has been downright disastrous this season.
Ultimately, McLellan must do a much better job when it comes to preparing and motivating his players. Yes, those on the ice are the only ones who can truly affect the outcome of any given game, however, if the Oilers’ roster is unclear of its objectives or remains confused as to the specifics of the team’s structure, nothing other than what Edmonton has displayed thus far can or should be expected.
The Oilers’ Players Themselves?
As I have said on multiple occasions in the past, the only individuals who can directly impact the outcome of a given game is a team’s players.
Quite simply, those who take to the ice on a nightly basis are responsible for their own fate, and, in addition, their organization’s success or lack thereof in the process. Now, when it comes to the Oilers’ players this season and their play as a whole, a lack of consistent effort has been evident within a great number of the team’s games.
Edmonton’s sluggish play is perhaps best encapsulated by the number of goals against which the Oilers have allowed in first periods this campaign. As we have already seen, Edmonton’s inability to take to the ice with both energy and passion has had a direct impact on the team’s success this season. Unable to seize early leads and seemingly incapable of defending them, the Oilers’ players have looked as though they are expecting success without having to battle hard in order to earn it.
At times slow, lethargic, and prone to mistakes, Edmonton’s sloppy play has cost them dearly on a number of occasions. As such, it should come as no surprise to learn that the Oilers had produced a whopping 364 giveaways as a team as of their 30th game of the season. The sixth-highest total in the NHL at that time, Edmonton’s frequent turnovers have provided their opposition with greater possession of the puck and, as a result, a greater number of highly lethal scoring opportunities.
With this being said, it truly will require a team effort if the Oilers wish to turn around their dismal season to date. In desperate need of consistent contributions from throughout their lineup, Edmonton will surely risk missing the postseason in 2017-18 unless their whole roster can come together and work as a team with consistency.
Now, although I have never played in the NHL and certainly never will, passion, enthusiasm, and inspiration should never come into question for a select group of players living out their respective dreams on a nightly basis.
The Final Call
So, who is to blame for the Oilers’ disastrous start to their 2017-18 regular season campaign?
Well, in my opinion – one which you are more than welcome to contest – the blame falls squarely upon all of those mentioned above.
Winning at the NHL-level is undoubtedly a team effort, and requires stable contributions from throughout all levels of the organization. However, if a team is poorly assembled, questionably coached, and played unenthusiastically on the ice, how can anything other than failure realistically come to be expected?
Sure, Edmonton has been hampered by a number of injuries this season, however, these losses should by no means form an excuse for the manner in which the team has played this season. As a true contender on paper yet a pretender on the ice, all facets of the Oilers’ organization must come together, regroup, and take to their roles with a reinvigorated sense of purpose if Edmonton wishes to right their dismal season and clinch a playoff berth.
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.