The Edmonton Oilers have finally made a coaching change, relieving head coach Dave Tippett and associate coach Jim Playfair of their duties after some questionable decisions and back to back losses by a total of 8-1 coming out of the All-Star break. In a corresponding move, the team has also promoted Bakersfield Condors’ head coach Jay Woodcroft and assistant coach Dave Manson to the Oilers.
Woodcroft and Manson were hired for their positions with the Condors in 2018 and have done a great job developing and getting the Oilers’ prospects ready for the NHL. That being said, they are well acquainted with the young talent of the Oilers who have come through and since been promoted. This should increase the playing time and opportunity of some of the younger players on the team, simultaneously decreasing the playing time of others. The most likely candidates to see less time are the older players that Woodcroft hasn’t been able to watch closely in action and who have struggled this season.
Some players will possibly see a little less ice time per game, but others should see less time in the lineup to make room for the players Woodcroft has gotten to know and shape in the minors. However this plays out, the future looks a bit brighter if the young talent on the Oilers can become confident players and start to reach their potential. If anyone knows how to help them in that regard, it’s the coach who gave them the tools after turning pro. Now, let’s take a look at some players who should see a decreased role with the team moving forward.
The first of the depth forwards that should see less time is Devin Shore. It wasn’t too long ago that Tippett was praising Tyler Benson, but at the same time keeping him out of the lineup and continuing to use him as an extra forward. He liked the physicality that Benson was showing, but the main reason was due to the lack of penalty killers they had while Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were out.
What was his excuse once both had returned to the lineup? He didn’t have one and Benson hasn’t seen a game of action since Jan. 22, a win over the Calgary Flames. Tippett was quoted as saying “He’s working hard. He competes hard. Sometimes there’s different things we look at. Without Hyman, we need penalty killers in there.”
Clearly, Shore playing on the penalty kill hasn’t done much as they have dropped to 76.7 percent after being in the top-five before their downward spiral. Shore has consistently been in the lineup for that downfall, so nothing much has changed. The Oilers actually did a bit better when they opted to play more of their skilled players on the penalty kill.
Playfair, who was in charge of the penalty kill, has been let go, so things should change with a new system and personnel. Shore should have even less of a role after it and the lines are re-evaluated. While he has solely played on the fourth line, those individuals will be the first to be taken out of the lineup to give younger players like Benson and Brendan Perlini some more playing time.
Zack Kassian is another player that Woodcroft has no connection to or loyalty towards. So despite making $3.2 million, we should start to see reduced minutes and even games where he is scratched since he has just been floating around on the ice going through the motions.
With the lack of emotion and energy in his game, the Oilers have many other players who are willing to battle every shift and give it their all to stay in the lineup. Kassian doesn’t play on the penalty kill and definitely shouldn’t play on the power play, so unless he can provide the type of game he was signed for, he won’t be of much use to a team that will be looking to come out and play hard every shift. Since he is a bottom-six option at best and the personnel in the lineup hasn’t changed recently, his game indicates he will be one of the first to take a seat.
There has been nothing much to be happy about regarding Mike Smith this season. First, the 39-year old was signed to a two-year contract extension. Second, he has been injured three times this season (from ‘Mike Smith is back but can Edmonton Oilers really count on him?’, Edmonton Journal, Feb. 7, 2022). Finally, he has played poorly for much of the time he has been in goal.
Smith has started eight games and finished seven, going 2-4-1 with a 3.83 goals against average (GAA) and .890 save percentage (SV%). It doesn’t help that he is in and out of game action because of his injuries, but that all goes along with his inability to be effective in games for the Oilers. Smith’s goals saved above average (GSAA) is minus-5.1, meaning he has allowed more goals against than he should have.
In comparison, Mikko Koskinen has been the better goaltender, while Stuart Skinner is primed for an increased role under Woodcroft since they have spent a lot of time together in Bakersfield. Regardless of Smith’s health, the Oilers have to do what’s best for the team and what gives them a shot to win every night. That starts in net, as goaltending has been a major issue and every other NHL team knows it.
Having a goaltender who can make the early save and skaters who can consistently play the game with tons of energy will go a long way in reducing the amount of time the Oilers have to play from behind. As a team that is a perfect 12-0-0 when scoring the first goal, reducing the playing time of some of these players who don’t seem to be helping a whole lot, and increasing the time of some more familiar faces to Woodcroft could be the start of a consistent turnaround.
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Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
You can find more of his work here.