Following what was yet another disastrous campaign in 2014-15, the hammer finally fell on the Edmonton Oilers so-called “Old Boys Club”. While the organization did not completely cut ties with the trio of Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, and Scott Howson, none of the three wield the sort of power they have in years past.
While the internal promotion of Bob Nicholson and addition of Peter Chiarelli to the management team was viewed upon as a major win for the organization, one can make the argument that bringing Todd McLellan on board could prove to be the move that ultimately pays the biggest dividends. As much as the Oilers front office needed a “house cleaning”, this club had little choice but to add an established NHL head coach.
After years of watching an inferior product on the ice and a revolving door behind the bench, they need for some sort stability was painfully obvious. While certain players have shown signs of improvements over the last couple of seasons, the vast majority have shown to be unable and/or unwilling to make the necessary adjustments to help this team win more games and move up the Western Conference standings.
The Dallas Eakins Effect
There is no question that having a better collection of players would have gone a long way in helping the group accomplish said goal but having a different voice leading the way would not have hurt. It is no secret the Dallas Eakins experiment did not go over well with many inside the dressing room and in some cases it actually led to certain players regressing.
Eakins apparent unwillingness to accept his shortcomings as a rookie coach and adjust his approach played a large part in Edmonton’s past two seasons being the debacle they were. On a roster with a bunch of inexperienced kids and a lack of any real impactful veteran players, having a guy behind the bench who gave off the vibe of always being right, was not a good mix.
In his defence, he was put behind the eight-ball from the outset with the lineup that was severely flawed and in desperate need of direction and some tough love. While Eakins had little trouble executing the latter with certain players on his roster, it was nowhere near consistent enough. Add to that his inability to get his message through to his players and the Oilers 36-63-14 mark during his tenure should have surprised no one.
— HockeyNightInCanada (@hockeynight) May 19, 2015
Time For An Experienced Voice
With McLellan and assistants Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft now in place, that will no longer be an issue. All three have been behind an NHL bench for years and have spent the past three as a collective unit in San Jose. While the Sharks may have missed the playoffs last season, we are talking about a franchise who had not missed a post-season since 2002-03 and made six straight appearances since the Melville, Saskatchewan native took over the reins in 2008-09.
Have they struggled to get over the hump in the playoffs? Most certainly but this Oilers team is a ways away from having to worry about success in May and June. Let’s not forget Edmonton has fished more pucks out of their own net than any other team in each of the last two seasons and that has to change in order for this group to improve. Yes, the blueline and goaltending hasn’t been anywhere near good enough and the same will likely hold true in 2015-16 but it is an issue with the entire roster.
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The forwards need to be much better and buy into what this coaching staff is selling. While Eakins tried to instill a system with some sort of structure during his brief stay in the Alberta capital, it was a system that did not fit his personnel and one few seem interested in playing. That won’t happen under McLellan. If players want to do their own thing and not what is best for the team, they will be stapled to his bench. End of discussion.
Sending An Early Message
We saw it during Edmonton’s exhibition schedule when he benched Taylor Hall after he took a selfish slashing penalty early in the third period against the Winnipeg Jets and the 2010 first overall pick did not see the ice again. To his credit, McLellan went out of his way to praise Hall in his post-game comments but made it clear that sort of thing won’t be tolerated. Message delivered and that was the end of it. No need for lecturing or throwing of players under the bus in the media. Turn the page and move on. Tomorrow is a new day.
Make no mistake, 48-year old knew exactly what he was in for when he decided to take the job. God knows the Sharks laid the boots to the Oilers on more than few occasions during his stint in San Jose. There is a ton of work to be done but there is also an absurd amount of talent in this organization and with Connor McDavid now in the mix, it has become almost laughable.
Having said that, it is a very young group which still needs cuddling but also shown how to play the so-called “right way”. The accountability piece has been missing around these parts for some time now…both on the ice and within the management team. Bob Nicholson and Peter Chiarelli appear ready to hold up their end of the bargain and you can bet Todd McLellan will ensure he does his part and gets his players to realize the commitment they need to make in order to start winning hockey games on a regular basis.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.