Time For Oilers’ Holland to Admit Offseason Mistakes, Threaten Shakeup

As per Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic, Edmonton Oilers’ GM Ken Holland, the architect of a roster that has currently lost six-straight games, is expected to speak Wednesday. Nugent-Bowman adds:

“Many of the offseason decisions he made haven’t panned out so far. Even though cap space is tight — with just over $1 million in current room, per PuckPedia — some sort of shakeup is required.”

source – ‘After another loss, it’s become painfully clear Oilers just aren’t good enough right now’ – Daniel Nugent-Bowman – The Athletic – 12/15/2021

He doesn’t get into detail about what Holland is expected to say or what particular moves the team might make, but it’s clear Holland should start by admitting he made a few mistakes this offseason and this team isn’t where he wanted them to be, nor where their early 9-1 record suggested they were. Nugent-Bowman adds, “Another season of McDavid and Draisaitl as arguably the NHL’s top two players simply cannot be wasted.”

The Oilers False Start

On the back of a tremendously successful power play and a ton of points by both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers got off to an outstanding start. Some believe this six-game losing streak is just a blip on the radar and that the Oilers will snap out of it, possibly as early as this Thursday versus the Columbus Blue Jackets. That might be true, but there’s still room to admit this team isn’t as good as fans (or Holland) were hoping.

Edmonton Oilers Celebrate
Jesse Puljujarvi #13 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates a goal against the Vancouver Canucks with teammates Darnell Nurse #25, Connor McDavid #97, Leon Draisaitl #29 and Tyson Barrie #22 (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

A ton of goal scoring hid a number of poor performances where the team was being dramatically out-shot. Whether it was a good game by a goaltender or four-point performances by Leon and/or Connor, the Oilers found ways to win games that probably shouldn’t have won. They aren’t winning those games now and to make matters worse, the big guns aren’t producing. Draisaitl has no points in the last four games, whereas McDavid has been kept off the scoresheet three times in the past six.

Related: 4 Takeaways as Oilers’ Spiral Continues in 5-1 Loss to Maple Leafs

The good news is, that a strong 2021-22 start allowed the Oilers to bank much-needed points early. It gives the team room to have this losing skid and not panic. At the same time, this should be a wake-up call for Holland that roster he constructed has some serious holes in it.

What Can Holland Actually Do?

There are a few choices.

First, fire the coach. That’s not likely considering Dave Tippett is now out for precautionary reasons due to COVID concerns. It wasn’t likely the Oilers were going to fire him anyway, but doing so at a time when he’s out with an illness simply isn’t happening. So too, the Oilers bench is going to be run by Jim  Playfair (defense) and assistant coach Glen Gulutzan. If nothing else, this small run (possibly until December 27th) as co-coaches will be like a showcase for what this team might look like under the guidance of a different bench boss.

Second, the Oilers could make a trade. There’s already talk the Oilers have their eyes on three types of pieces: a goaltender, a left-shot defenseman and a third-line center. Perhaps the urgency to make a move has increased and it wouldn’t be surprising if Holland admits he’s looking around.

Zack Kassian Edmonton Oilers
Zack Kassian, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If a deal is to be made, some salary would need to go out the door. That means a player like Zack Kassian is a natural target for trade rumors.

Third, shuffle the roster. This isn’t the type of shuffling coaches do. It’s the type of shuffling a GM would do by moving pieces in and out of Bakersfield. Holland has already been forced to do a bit of that thanks to a rash of injuries to the left side of his blue line, but perhaps it’s time to send the roster a message that few people’s spots are secure.

Those Offseason Mistakes

Right now, fans are focused on moves that haven’t panned out. Among them, failing to upgrade the goaltending, making a trade at full value for Duncan Keith, the one-for-one Ethan Bear trade that brought in Warren Foegele, committing to Tyson Barrie, and the lack of production by depth players like Derek Ryan. Holland has egg on his face when it comes to some of those moves.

This isn’t to say none of them will wind up being moves that pan out for Edmonton, but Holland will need to revisit those decisions and determine if they were actually the right ones to make.

Holland Needs to Give Impression of Change But Preach Patience

It’s a balancing act for any GM to suggest the possibility of big changes and then not panic and make a deal just for the sake of making a deal. As Playfair said, “It’s a long season. We weren’t jumping up and down and cheering when we had a good run at the start.” He added, “Now that things aren’t going our way, it’s probably not the time to start bringing out a hammer and pounding on them.” Holland should heed that advice.

At the same time, the GM should be actively looking around the league and taking stock of what his actual options are. By now, it should be clear that even if this team turns it around and goes on a six-game winning streak, there are issues that need to be addressed.

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