Oilers’ Have Some Big Decisions to Make if Struggles Continue

The Ottawa Senators were supposed to provide the Edmonton Oilers with a free space on the 2021-22 bingo card. Last season, the Senators dropped all nine games against the Oilers, and expectations were high that the Oilers would continue their winning ways against the Senators during their Jan. 15 game at Rogers Place. Instead, the Senators scored five third-period goals and sank the Oilers and their fan base even lower, as Ottawa skated away with a 6-4 victory. If this isn’t the lowest point in the history of the franchise, it’s close.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers Nico Hischier New Jersey Devils
Mike Smith of the Edmonton Oilers gets a snow shower from Nico Hischier of the New Jersey Devils.
(Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Expectations were high at the beginning of the season. What was supposed to be a campaign where the Oilers win in the playoffs more than they have in the last 16 years has quickly turned into a nightmare. The team is now in sixth place in the Pacific Division, seven points behind the Anaheim Ducks for third in the division, and nine points behind Minnesota for a wild-card spot. The fan base seems to be fed up. Oilers general manager Ken Holland says the answers have to come from inside the dressing room. But how is Oilers owner Daryl Katz feeling these days? The Oilers need a major effort from the team on the ice and in the front office to help turn this season around.

Has Oilers Management Lost the Plot?

Holland has been the architect of this rollercoaster season, and fans are questioning every move he’s made in his two-plus years at the helm of the franchise. Goaltending seems to be the biggest issue that needs addressing, and the opportunity was there for young Stuart Skinner to lead the team out of the doldrums against the Senators. Instead, Skinner came up short, further deflating Oilers fans hopes that he could lead the Oilers rebound. To make things worse, Skinner has now tested positive for COVID-19 and will be on the shelf until Jan 20.

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Will goaltender Alex Stalock, now down on a conditioning stint with Bakersfield, provide an answer in goal? One has to wonder because it’s not looking like Holland is going to address the glaring issue in goal as he waits for Mike Smith to get off the injured reserved list and waits for Mikko Koskinen to rebound from a tough stretch of losses. With a team led by generational superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, why is goaltending still an issue? Why is this team soft and easy to play against? And what about the defensive zone breakdowns? Is the Oilers brass stuck in the past and unable to make decisions for today’s NHL? No one seems to have any answers to these questions at the moment.

And frustration is growing everywhere, including with the players. You could hear it in Draisaitl’s voice in a recent exchange with veteran Oilers reporter Jim Matheson. But a win in one of their upcoming games could help change the narrative in Oil Country, at least for a day or two.

The Oilers Need Just One Win to Get Things Going

The Oilers’ next two games are against the powerhouse Florida Panthers on Jan. 20 and Oilers’ division rivals, the Calgary Flames, on Jan. 22. A win against either one of these two teams will help ease the tensions among Oilers faithful. Lose both, and the shouts for firing Holland or Oilers coach Dave Tippett will grow to what could be epic proportions.

It’s been a tough stretch for Oilers fans since the beginning of December. The weather has been some of the most severe Northern Albertans have seen in 50 years. When the team is going well, the weather outside doesn’t seem so harsh. However, go on a losing streak and start taking away hopes of playoff glory, and you’ve got a very frozen, frustrated fan base. So what’s the remedy? If the Oilers can’t win three of their remaining six games in the month of January, it might be time for Katz to get involved. To fall even further behind by Feb. 1 would almost be too big of a hole to dig out of.

March 21 is the NHL trade deadline, and if the losing streak continues, the Oilers are looking like they could be sellers. Would it be time to move Holland up to a senior advisory role and let Oilers assistant general manager Keith Gretzky take over the decision-making for the remainder of the season? With Tippett on an expiring contract, would they let him go and promote Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson from Bakersfield? And what would you do about Oilers Chairman Bob Nicholson? These are questions that Katz must be wrestling with.

If you owned the team or were in charge of on-ice decisions, what changes would you make? Your comments are always welcome.

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