After 8 years of non-playoff hockey the Edmonton Oilers are at a cross-roads with their future and changes must happen to the leadership for the betterment of the franchise.
Dallas Eakins has concluded his first season as head coach of the Oilers only to fall well short of the long list of expectations and hype he came into the season with. Under Eakins the Oilers posted a 29-44-6 record for 67 points and a 27th place finish. Fans and media had heavy hopes that Eakins would bring the Oilers their first playoff berth since their cinderella run to the finals in 2006 losing out to Carolina. But unlike fellow rookie coach Patrick Roy in Colorado, Eakins struggled at times to communicate with his players, build an all-around better strength and conditioning program and utilize a strong hard-working system. These were things described to be Eakins strong suits in his time coaching the Toronto Marlies in the AHL prior to his hire in Edmonton.
It became apparent over the course of this season the same things Eakins was able to implement in the minors weren’t exactly going to smoothly transition to the NHL level.
Eakins has been embattled in his position as head coach and just like the Oilers this season, he has had his fair shares of ups and downs.
As much as fans have called for Eakins head at certain points of the season, the Oilers finished the year 14-12-3 over it’s last 29 games which would translate to 88 points over the full 82-game season. They were also 15-32-6 in the first 53 games of the season. So which team will show up next year?
To find out the only way to know is if Eakins is brought back.
All in all the struggles of the Oilers this season can not rest alone on the shoulders of a rookie head coach.
It’s time to shake up the old boys club.
Goodbye Kevin Lowe
In any other organization be it hockey or business, if you oversee a lack of results over a five-year period, let alone eight, you are almost always relieved of your duties. It’s time for the Oilers to have a new man at the helm of the ship based off of results. Lowe was hand-picked to become the President of Hockey Operations after Darryl Katz took over as owner. The former general manager oversaw eight years of mediocre success prior to that from 2000-2008 when the Oilers made the playoffs only three times.
So in Lowe’s 16-year run with the Oilers organization, the Oilers have made the playoffs only three times. Three post-season runs in 16-year’s, let that sink in.
From a business stand-point considering how much revenue is generated from a post-season berth, Katz and the rest of the minority owners should be up in arms over all the missed opportunity for financial gain alone. To counter the act of missing the playoffs year after year under Lowe’s oversights, the Oilers have continued to raise ticket prices and in turn made the fans pay more for a lesser product to the Oiler teams in the early-2000s that contended for the 8th and final playoff spot on a yearly basis.Take in the fact that average tickets in Edmonton are going for between $70-$182 with premium seats being at the higher end of the spectrum, the Oilers are missing out on roughly $2.1M per playoff-game in a 16,839 seat building, based off the median.
Off the ice Lowe has at times acted quite pompous and proclaimed himself to be one of the better hockey minds in the business. Aside from being involved in minor roles with Hockey Canada over the past decade and a half, Lowe has yet to accomplish anything outside of the 2006 Stanley Cup final run icing only fringe playoff teams at best.
“You know, fair question. We have two types of fans. We have paying customers and we have people that watch the game that we still care about. But certainly the people who go to the games and support, we spend a lot of time talking to them, delivering our message. I would, uh, think it’s safe to say that half the general managers in the National Hockey League would trade their roster for our roster right now. And in terms of the group that messed things up, you’re talking about the group that had the team one period away from winning the Stanley Cup.
Not to take anything away from the 2006 run where if you ask Oiler fans anywhere, were Dwayne Roloson not to have been injured in game 1 they would have won the Stanley Cup that year.
Players have been bashed in the media under Lowe’s leadership (see Sheldon Souray). Management of player personnel has been terrible. There have been five different head coaches and now two general managers providing separate visions for the franchise’s future. And most of all, there is no appreciation for the fan base.
“And lastly I’ll say, there’s one other guy, I believe, in hockey today that’s still working in the game that has won more Stanley Cups than me (6).
For fans sake, it’s time for a change.
The Power of Mac-T
Rookie GM Craig MacTavish holds a lot of power right now in the Oilers rebuild as he was brought in last year as a fresh set of eyes replacing Tambellini. MacTavish has done a great job so far in his small sample size.
He drafted a future top-pairing defenseman in Darnell Nurse, signed one of the better checking-line centers in the NHL in Boyd Gordon, traded for Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth. In one of the better moves, MacTavish acquired David Perron from the St. Louis Blues for Magnus Paajarvi and a 2nd round pick, which has proved to be highway robbery.
Fans are hoping he has solved the Oilers goaltending woes with bringing in Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth to replace the Nikolai Khabibulin, Devan Dubnyk, Jeff Deslauriers, Jason Labarbara, Martin Gerber and Dan Sabourin fiasco the Oilers have iced over the past few seasons in the rebuild.
Now MacTavish in the process of fleshing out the roster to surround the core group of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle upfront. Perron was brought in as a secondary scorer and had a 28-goal 57-point season, cementing his place in the long-term core. Boyd Gordon and now the acquisition of Matt Hendricks make up a part of the third-line.
Nick Schultz, Ilya Bryzgalov and long-time Oiler Ales Hemsky were shipped out.
The defense is taking a re-shaping and the inevitable youth movement is in full-force. Justin Schultz, Martin Marincin, Oscar Klefbom have joined Andrew Ference and Jeff Petry. Darnell Nurse is destined to join the team in the next two seasons and could be a regular as early as next season.
MacT’s biggest decisions come in the form of Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov. Gagner has never produced more than the 49-points he recorded in his rookie year back in 2007-08 and was a -29 this season. Yakupov was one of the worst NHLer’s in terms of +/- with a -33 rating and struggled mightily in his sophomore season in a fall from grace and even seemed to hint at a trade request back in November.
This is a critical summer for the Oilers moving forward and MacTavish has made many positive moves.
MacTavish has been one of the lone shining stars of the “Old Boys Club”.
Promote Todd Nelson?
Associate coaches Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith are familiar faces within the Oilers illustrious history but will their former friend and teammate break up part of the Old Boys Club?
Buchberger (hired 2008-09) and Smith (2009-2010) have been apart of the Oilers coaching staff for several years of mediocrity and status quo. Will Acton joined Eakins as his right hand man and it’s debatable what his worth is to the franchise aside from giving Eakins comfort in having his own guy to back his moves to the rest of the coaching staff.
The Oilers need to shake up the coaching staff and getting rid of another head coach and hiring a fifth to follow in the footsteps of Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger and Eakins throughout the rebuild sends the wrong message. At the end of the day it’s about the performance on the ice and results.
The Oilers need to make the playoffs and are currently overseeing a secondary wave of development prospects from all those picks head scout Stu MacGregor has had his input in. Who better to help those secondary players like Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin, Martin Gernat, Darnell Nurse and Tyler Pitlick transition in their first full seasons in the NHL than Todd Nelson?
For those of you that don’t know, Nelson is currently the farm coach for the Oilers AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City.
“Last summer, new Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish made the decision to replace incumbent head coach Ralph Krueger with an up-and-coming AHL coach. Todd Nelson, doing sterling work in Oklahoma City, was an obvious internal choice but MacTavish opted instead to import Toronto Marlies bench boss Dallas Eakins.
The results cannot have been what he had hoped for. Edmonton’s team has struggled badly under Eakins, and while it isn’t fair to lay the entirety of that at the feet of the rookie head coach it is readily apparent that the transition has had some problems.
That forgotten internal candidate could help with that.” – Jonathan Willis, Edmonton Journal
Nelson is a coach even Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz know from their days in OKC during the lockout. Under Nelson OKC hasn’t been the best roster top to bottom but they have been competitive.
|2010-11||Oklahoma City Barons||AHL||West||80||40||29||0||2||9||91||0.569||245||234||1351||4155||Todd Nelson||Lost in round 1|
|2011-12||Oklahoma City Barons||AHL||West||76||45||22||0||4||5||99||0.651||213||176||1121||3684||Todd Nelson||Lost in round 3|
|2012-13||Oklahoma City Barons||AHL||South||76||40||25||0||2||9||91||0.599||240||228||1091||3527||Todd Nelson||Lost in round 3|
|2013-14||Oklahoma City Barons||AHL||West||73||34||28||0||2||9||79||0.485||231||249||1180||3285|
In the four seasons behind the bench Nelson has overseen the player development side of the baby Oilers and has done a remarkable job teaching tweeners like Mark Arcobello the finer details of their game. Arcobello was an offense first player when he arrived in OKC but has since turned into a two-way forward Nelson can roll out at any point of the game and yet still led the team in scoring as he did last season with a 22-goal 68-point year.
Coaches need to grow. Todd Nelson has evolved down in OKC. Pedestrian PP”s hist first 2 seasons (15th and 23rd). Lights out over the last…
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) April 12, 2014
Marincin was extremely raw but has gone from an AHL defenseman to an NHL defenseman to an Olympian for the Czech Republic all in one year thanks his work with Nelson. Even Colin McDonald went from a 23-point player into a 42-goal scorer under Nelson.
“The only real blemish of any significance on Nelson’s developmental record is Colten Teubert, a player who had unique personal circumstances and who ended up signing in Europe this year after failing to find a hockey home in North America.” – Jonathan Willis, Edmonton Journal
Nelson has seven years of head coaching experience in the minors and has taken the Barons to the Conference Finals in consecutive seasons. He’s a former defenseman drafted 75th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins with 3-games of experience with Pittsburgh and Washington in the early-90s and AHL journeyman. He’s a great communicator, strategist and would be the perfect fit as an assistant coach in the NHL with a winning 159-104-10 record in Oklahoma over the past four seasons.
A promotion is well overdue.
Breaking Up The Rest Of The Old Boys Club
Nelson can’t right the ship on his own but he definitely has a touch with the younger players in this organization and would serve a great role as an assistant coach replacing Keith Acton, not only Eakins close confidant but a teammate of Buchberger and Smith on the 1987-88 Stanley Cup Champion Edmonton Oilers.
If Buchberger and Smith are let go, which would be a breath of fresh air for the coaching staff. Gerry Fleming is an assistant coach for the Barons along with Nelson and could be deserving of a promotion after spending eight seasons prior in the ECHL. It’s also worth noting that Lane Lambert (Nashville) and Phil Housley (Nashville) have earned a great reputation in Nashville and it’s not known if either of them would take a similar position in another organization like Edmonton.
Barry Trotz has just been let go by the Predators and it’s said he’s getting a different position in the organization. How would he look as an assistant coach in Edmonton? Doubtful but the Oilers need a veteran with experience behind the bench if they are going to keep Eakins. They were keen on bringing Paul Maurice in at one point this season to assist Eakins so it wouldn’t be that far fetched to consider Trotz, Peter Laviolette or even Guy Boucher coming to Edmonton.
It’s more likely Gord Dineen could find his way to Edmonton as he was formerly one of Eakins assistants in Toronto.
After some of those nasty comments coming out of Trotz’s mouth about Devan Dubnyk picking up bad habits from Oilers goaltending coaches Frederic Chabot and Sylvain Rodrigue maybe they go after another goaltending coach.
Pressure and expectations for the Oilers to finally break through will be at an all-time high as fans can no longer stand pat and watch the self-destruction of this once hopeful rebuild. At some point one of the most loyal fanbases in all of sports is eventually going to stop showing up.
The Oilers will only have the Old Boys Club to blame for that if attendance eventually bottoms out, and then Lowe (if he’s still here) will only have one type of fan left, the ones that walked away.
Edmonton Oilers regular contributor providing insight on all things Oilers including club history, prospect profiles, trade breakdowns, and everything else in between. Check back regularly for new and exciting content. Follow on Twitter @SanderTHW.