Paradise Lost, Oilers Organization At Crossroads

It’s a familiar story to Edmonton Oiler fans, a slow start out of the gate in October and a season that is already on the brink just a few games into the year. Just when you thought fan morale in Oil Country couldn’t get any lower, it reaches an all-time low. The fans are still turning out as the Oilers continue to sell-out Rexall Place at 16,839 but all hope amongst the fanbase seems to be essentially lost.

Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse don’t seem to be NHL ready in the early going, injuries are once again a concern, goaltending has been abysmal and the lack of center depth has been exposed.

Craig MacTavish has promised bold moves and tough decisions to be made but still the Oilers are without a top-pairing defenseman, a second-line center behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a capable starter and even now what seems to be an NHL calibre coach.

Still the assets the Oilers can trade are low in value with poor performances across the board. Taylor Hall has stood out as the best player on the team with his defensive issues notwithstanding. The supporting cast has been anything resembling supportive and most importantly the Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl, Mark Arcobello and Boyd Gordon depth that makes up the Oilers center ice position comprises one of the worst groupings in the league. The easy answer is to send the 18-year-old german in Draisaitl back to junior and search the market for a second-line center but the Oilers are unlikely to find much value on the market this early into the season.

By the numbers the Oilers are struggling but the Corsi and Fenwick stats (depending on how much stock you put into them) has the team playing head and shoulders above their 2013-14 counterpart. If we are to put stock into some numbers early into the season here are some to consider;

Dallas Eakins: Record 29-47-10, 0.395W%

It’s time the management team in Edmonton faces the facts that the Eakins experiment has fizzled out and he’s being dragged through the coals at this point. The 47-year-old sophomore coach has proven to be overwhelmed at the NHL level after impressing in four seasons as a head coach of the AHL Toronto Marlies where the went 157-114-4. So far Eakins has accumulated a 29-47-10 record including a 3-9-2 start to the 2013-14 season and a 0-3-1 start to the 2014-15 season. The first error was MacTavish and Lowe’s gallivanting of Eakins after his hiring as the saving grace of the franchise and next big thing in coaching. Going into the 87th game of his NHL coaching career Eakins has been anything but and in many eyes has been one of the reasons the Oilers regressed after firing Ralph Krueger at the end of the 2012-13 season. It’s been arrogance and ignorance on the part of Eakins to think he could apply the same standards he did in the AHL coaching and systems wise to the NHL level without making the necessary changes to the style of play at hockey’s highest level. Not only that but the Oilers special teams were actually respectable under Krueger when they had the 8th best PP and 9th best PK in the league. Under Eakins, the PP was 21st and PK 15th last season. The PP is back to 10th but the PK is still in the basement. There are already rumours that Eakins job hinges on the upcoming homestand which may or not come to fruition due to MacTavish’s loyalty to his staff. If the Oilers are to replace Eakins, Todd Nelson (AHL OKC Barons) and Dan Bylsma come to mind as replacements. Nelson has a proven track record with the Oilers youth down on the farm. Defensively the Oilers are absolutely lost in their own zone blowing assignments and coverage. Systems wise it seems there is no system. Eakins is way over his head at this point and the management team needs to throw in the towel for the guy so he can atleast try to get a job in the NHL as an assistant when all is said and done in Edmonton. Unfortunately firing a fifth coach in seven years is the also the worst possible move the team can do and continue sending mixed messages to their young players. 

Goals Against In 1st Period: 8


If the Oilers want to have a fighting chance game in and game out they need to improve the way they start out of the gate. On too many occasions the Oilers have shot themselves in the foot in the first four games of the season before the game has really even started. Along with the Arizona Coyotes, the Oilers are tied for a league worst eight first period goals against.

As much as the Corsi and Fenwick stats have the Oilers listed at playing better hockey this year than last, the results are still the same. Missed assignments when the Oilers don’t have the puck is a common trend the team needs to buck. Far too often the Oilers have been caught well out of position leading to glaring holes in all three zones defensively speaking.

Even when the Oilers do have the puck the team is stuck playing perimeter hockey and are hard pressed for high acuity scoring chances if they played more east west hockey.

Justin Schultz: Career -47, 22:39 TOI

Make no mistake about it the Oilers do have a stud defenseman in the making with the 24-year-old Schultz, but he follows the common trend of being overvalued by the organization and being cast into a top-pairing role he just isn’t ready for. The problem is the management team hasn’t been able to address the glaring need for acquiring a top-pairing defenseman which has forced their hand to expose Schultz’s defensive weaknesses. The Oilers overvalue Schultz out of necessity and are giving him the most minutes on defense against some of the best players in the league when he should be playing softer minutes on a second-pairing on any other NHL team.

At this point in his career Schultz is at a similar situation as Mike Green was with the Washington Capitals. Both struggling defensively at that point in their careers but obtained elite-level offensive potential. Schultz will never be the Paul Coffey that management made him out to be when they signed him (and ironically enough had Coffey make a phone call to him when they signed him), but he can be a top-pairing offensive defenseman IF the franchise can insulate him with a proper stay-at-home defenseman.

If the Oilers don’t act quickly enough to find a proper partner for Schultz or address the elephant in the room in the lack of top pairing defenseman, they risk ruining the asset. In the meantime Eakins and his coaching staff need to stop rotating in the essentially rookie and sophomores in Brad Hunt, Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom and now Martin Marincin as his partners, contributing to his exposure.

Ben Scrivens & Viktor Fasth: Combined 114 NHL Games, This season 5.21GAA, 0.835SV%

Last season the Oilers were dead in the water with goaltending being the achilles heel with Devan Dubnyk and Jason Labarbara unable to provide NHL calibre goaltending. As soon as the Oilers traded both goaltenders, both were waived and spent the majority of the remaining portion of the season in the AHL. Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth showed short flashes of brilliance, even to the point where Scrivens was partly considered in the running for Team MVP for the second half. The Oilers made a bold decision last year at the trade deadline with the intention to enter 2014-15 with a platoon of goaltenders with a combined 109 games of NHL experience. They stood by their decision in the off-season and come training camp Scrivens was slow out of the gate and Fasth showed promise. As the story goes nothing is ever for certain in Edmonton and both goaltenders have struggled in what has become another continuing trend for the Oilers over the rebuild.

The easy and reactionary move would be for the Oilers to make another free agent signing that could prove to follow the same script as the Ilya Bryzgalov signing last November in desperation. The market is eerily similar, goaltenders with huge question marks in Martin Brodeur, Tomas Vokoun and Tim Thomas. Are either of the three true improvements over the tandem of Scrivens and Fasth? Unlikely.

The Oilers have made their bed with Scrivens and Fasth and both will need to improve their play if the Oilers have any shot at bouncing back over the already now crucial seven-game homestand starting Friday night.

With Fasth on the shelf the ball will fall to Scrivens who must regain that magic from last season.