It’s that time of year where many of us make lists of goals for the new year ahead. For fans of the Edmonton Oilers, you have to hope that the team’s number one goal in the new year is to play more consistently. As of the Christmas break, the Oilers sit outside of a playoff spot in the NHL’s Western Conference in what has been a frustrating first half to the 2022-23 NHL season for the team and their loyal fan base. Here are 5 New Year’s resolutions for the Oilers for the second half of the 2022-23 season.
1. Teach Darnell Nurse Not to Drop to His Knees So Much
Any good defenceman worth his salt will emphasize the importance of staying on his feet. So, how come Nurse hasn’t gotten the memo? It’s really not hard. You stay on your feet, and you’re able to react better to where the play is going. The goalie can also see the puck on the opponent’s stick and read where the shot is going.
You have to hope that Nurse sets some personal goals to improve his play in the New Year, the Oilers are going to need him to pick it up in the second half of the season. If I was Oilers assistant coach Dave Manson, I would continue to emphasize the importance of staying on your feet. Manson has most likely mentioned this to Nurse already. Hopefully, Nurse begins to change old habits and things improve for the Oilers’ No. 1 rearguard in 2023.
2. Help Jack Campbell Regain His Confidence
I’m not sure what to recommend as the best solution to have the Oilers’ $5 million backup goalie regain the form that he had with the Toronto Maple Leafs. A life coach or goals coach might work. Campbell has been a shell of himself since joining the Oilers, and is clearly the No. 2 goalie on the depth chart as Stuart Skinner continues to cement himself as the Oilers’ No. 1 goalie this year and for the foreseeable future.
3. Commit to Playing Better Overall Team Defence
The Oilers clearly understood this concept when they defeated the Los Angeles Kings and the Calgary Flames in the first two rounds of the NHL’s Western Conference Playoffs last season. What has happened since? There are many times when forwards should be deeper in the zone and helping out the defenceman and goaltender, but on many nights, opposing teams are licking their chops knowing they’re going to get a lot of Grade-A scoring chances simply because the forward group isn’t helping out enough in their own end. Tighten up, Oilers, or it’s going to be a short season.
4. Light a Fire Under Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi
Four goals. That’s how much these two former first-round draft picks have as the halfway point of the 2022-23 season approaches. It’s painfully obvious that both players have to get it going. Yamamoto can be excused a bit because of injury, but Puljujarvi seems to have just run out of time in Edmonton. You can love a player, cheer, buy their jersey and pick out many positives from their analytic numbers, but if you don’t see signs that they’re going to score more, it might be time to start thinking about a change of scenery for either one or both Yamamoto or Puljujarvi.
Their trade value is currently low but strange things happen on Trade Deadline Day as some general managers tend to lose perspective. Hopefully, for the players’ sake and the Oilers’ organization, something can be done to get these two guys going offensively. If not, see if you can package one or the other for a player or two who can contribute right away.
5. Cut Oilers Head Coach Jay Woodcroft Some Slack
This resolution is for those who are already demanding that Woodcroft be fired. Do people really believe that the carousel of NHL coaches that have come and gone through Edmonton in the past few seasons are really the issue? Sure, Todd McLellan, Dave Tippett and Jay Woodcroft aren’t perfect, but they’re not that bad either.
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There are other reasons why the Oilers aren’t achieving the lofty expectations many fans and pundits put on them this season. Maybe the vibe in the dressing room among the players is off, maybe Oilers general manager Ken Holland hasn’t done enough to improve the roster, but don’t completely blame the coach. Woodcroft earned his new contract after lifting the team into the playoffs last season and winning two rounds. If he did it once, he can do it again.
Oilers Hoping for a Better Second Half to the Season
To some, this season is looking similar to 2017-18 where the Oilers came off a promising playoff run the year before only to have the wheels fall off the next regular season. Is that what is happening here? To be honest, I don’t know what’s worse as a fan of the team — to know that your team is bad and to watch the draft prospect boards closely as Oilers fans did during the “Decade of Darkness,” or to have a team with talent continue to blow leads, and never seem to play up to their potential?
Pain is pain, I guess. But this season especially is turning into a painful exercise of trying to keep one’s hopes high as the Oilers continue to squander opportunities. There are a lot more questions than answers it seems at this point in the season, and if the Oilers don’t come out strong after the holiday break, the pressure will mount for some kind of change.
The Oilers Have the Talent to Go Far
With Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins both having career years, and Leon Draisaitl, and Zach Hyman both playing well, it’s clear to see the Oilers have the talent up front to do something. With Evander Kane due to return to the lineup in January or February, and Ryan McLeod and Warren Foegele rebounding from their injuries, the Oilers’ top nine is strong. It’s the defensive side of the game that is hurting the team, and possibly apathy. The Oilers’ brass led by Holland definitely needs to make some adjustments to the current roster in order for them to reach their potential. Here’s hoping his decisions are the right ones and 2023 turns out well for the Oilers and their fans.
On a personal note, I’d like to wish you all Merry Christmas and a safe, healthy, and happy New Year. I’m grateful to write for The Hockey Writers, and to have hockey fans read what I write. I wish you all much joy and happiness in the year ahead.