One month into an NHL season isn’t probably the time to panic — unless you’re the Edmonton Oilers and the pressure cooker started a couple years ago. A 3-9-1 start has already left the Oil with something close to a Sisyphian climb. Sure, there’s 69 games left, but we’re just a week from Thanksgiving, when teams are usually locked into their playoffs spots with only a small amount of variance in the season’s ensuing four months.
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So the Oilers acted, which meant firing their coach, Jay Woodcroft, and hiring Connor McDavid’s former juniors coach, Kris Knoblauch. Will it help? Maybe. The Oilers’ defensive coverage and effort has been next to abhorrent for the entire season. Either Woodcroft wasn’t holding their feet to the fire about it, or the players had stopped listening to him. Either way, that’s generally what gets a coach fired. And Woodcroft is hardly some Toe Black variant that any team is just going to grab in the next five minutes.
But the Oilers’ problems are rooted in the office above the coach. GM Ken Holland has been huffing the fumes of being given the Red Wings utterly loaded roster, buffeted with Mike Illitch’s millions, and then hitting the jackpot with a few later-round draft picks that just happened to turn into Hall of Famers. The longer he stayed in Detroit and the longer he was restricted by the salary cap that the Wings roster he inherited never had to worry about, the more it looked like he was a run-of-the-mill hockey moron. His tenure in Edmonton has only exacerbated that feeling.
The Oilers downfall for this season can be traced to before last season, when Holland thought bringing in Jack Campbell would finally solve the abyss that has been the Oilers crease for, well, time immemorial. Jack Campbell waves at more pucks as passers-by than the child in the back of his parents’ minivan. He has never been good and he’s currently with the Oilers AHL team doing things like this:
Holland has had five whacks at the draft that have provided the Oilers with Dylan Holloway and Philip Broberg, the latter taken over Trevor Zegras and Cole Caufield. Holland has had four years to try to construct a bottom six that could mirror the top six in the least and has failed pretty thoroughly. He handed Darnell Nurse over $9 million a year from here until the sun goes out, and Nurse has never made the leap from solid second-pairing player to the top dog he’s paid like. Holland was yet another to be wooed by the promise of Evander Kane while ignoring the headache that he always becomes, and this year he’s basically just the headache again.
The good news for the Oilers, and especially Knoblauch, is that if the Oilers could get any saves at all, and a little turn of luck, there’s probably a real hot streak not too far down the line. They have the second-lowest save percentage and the third-lowest shooting percentage in the league. Both Draisaitl and McDavid have shooting percentages that are half of their career norms. That will turn.
But this is the way for the Oilers, who look like they’ll max out and furiously chase down a playoff spot only to get squashed by the Knights again. And with Leon Draisaitl approaching free agency in 2025, the end of this cycle has come into view. It’s a long season, there’s plenty of time, but the air is already starting to run out for the Oilers.
Staying in the NHL, here’s Connor Bedard keeping the Hawks in a game by himself with some sleight of hand that belongs more at The Palms than on an NHL ice surface:
Not only does Bedard pick Kevin Stunlund totally clean, but he then finds the roof of the net from a stupid angle with the puck basically between his feet, while simultaneously looking off Sergei Bobrovsky. It was the first of two for Bedard against the Panthers yesterday, giving him nine in 13 games, which is a 56-goal pace. He’s doing that with absolutely nothing on his wings. It’s coming for us all.
And finally, from Serie A, yet another half-field bomb of a goal from Federico DiMarco:
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