Can the Edmonton Oilers turn it around by squeezing even more out of their Big Three: 9 Things

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Big change for the Edmonton Oilers this past week.

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I thought (and wrote) heading into the All-Star break that perhaps these guys had turned the corner. But I was wrong. And here we are.

The “fix” that is ahead is simple in some ways, complex in others. But between a General Manager that sounds accountable, a new Head Coach with fresh eyes & ideas and a leadership group that demonstrates they are committed…better days should be ahead.

But we’ve also heard that in this town before.

That and more in this week’s edition of…

9Things

9. One organizational need for the Edmonton Oilers is a good, young, right-handed Centers. Two non-Oilers property names to watch: Noah Phillipa 23-year-old 6’3 195 Center with the Alberta Golden Bears and Ben King, an undrafted 6’3 19-year-old RHS Center with the Red Deer Rebels. Both peaked as point and-a-half per game producers in junior.

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8.When David Staples, Bruce McCurdy & Me collaborated last week on a Cult of Hockey podcast a few of you DM’d me to ask why I never pop up on local radio. I have been invited. But I’m in the business with a competing company, so you can imagine how that might not work. But let me strongly encourage you to catch my colleagues during their appearances:

7. David guests weekly on Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer. David will quote Scoring Chances For/Against, a project he and Bruce painstakingly conduct & compile. They go to great lengths to be balanced & fair, and the results over the long term are very predictive. Bruce is on the air Wednesdays with Allan Mitchell (we The Lowdown with Lowetide). Bruce is a very interesting guy and extremely detailed. And Al worked for me years ago and is every bit the gentleman and nice guy as his on-air persona suggests. Edmonton is spoiled with 2 radio stations that present hours and hours of local Sports programming each weekday.

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6. The very best leaders share the credit and shoulder the blame. It is for that reason that I came away from GM Ken Holland’s availability earlier this week feeling confident (the club’s obvious difficulties aside) in his determination to steer the team out of this. We can agree to disagree with some of Holland’s decisions since arriving in Edmonton. But when he was hired Ken said he’d make some mistakes. And taking the accountability way that he did suggests to me that he’s driven to fix what is broken. Spotted at the Alberta Golden Bears game Saturday, those little things show that at 66 Ken Holland is still willing to grind.

5. You will not hear me say much negative about the now-departed Dave Tippett. My own firsthand knowledge of Dave goes back to when he was a teenager playing for Terry Simpson and the Prince Albert Raiders. His qualities on display on the ice all those years ago remained while behind the bench. And Tippett’s reputation among hockey people is as good man and a good coach. The job Dave did in Edmonton was far from perfect, or he would still be here. I certainly didn’t agree with all of line and lineup decisions he decisions in his final weeks. But in the end, I don’t believe Tippett had all the tools he needed to do the job.

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4. The is the 2n/a time in 5 years that the franchise has fired a coach primarily because the roster wasn’t good enough. The other time was Todd McLellan. Two different GM’s, of course. I won’t put Todd’s fate on Holland’s desk. To start with, at least, NHL rookie Head Coach Jay Woodcroft will be working with more or less the same roster. Edmonton has been in this spot with a young organizational coach before when Todd Nelson (another former PA Raider) was interim coach in 2014-15. The difference this time is that Ken Holland has watched every move that Woodcroft has made in Bakersfield. And the two of them have a professional relationship dating back to Detroit.

3. Conversely, I would be surprised if Jay Woodcroft hadn’t watched every single, last Oilers game this season. And, of course, he will have a working relationship with practically every man on the roster. As a result, I expect he will be able to hit the ground running. I don’t know Jay at all, personally. But I do know people who have been around him as his career has blossomed and their praise is effusive. And look: The hiring of established coaches McLellan, Tippett and Ken Hitchcock hasn’t worked. And then rookie coach Dallas Eakins (not home grown like Woodcroft) just wasn’t ready yet. Maybe it’s time to try a different option? Try something new.

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2. I am fascinated to watch Dave Manson work. Given how many young D-man have graduated the Condors and into the NHL (and how different each player has been from one another), I wouldn’t be surprised if Manson was on the radar of other NHL squads who are looking to upgrade. If Manson doesn’t get this opportunity I think it’s likely he is scooped up by another organization. Given what Dave Manson (yet another PA alum) has accomplished with the Condors, losing him would be a significant organizational loss. We talk a lot about good asset management in winning organizations. I believe that extends to the coaching staff.

1.I have seen, heard and read a whole lot about Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse the last while. There have been suggestions subtle and not so much about whether the leadership group has sufficiently delivered over this rough patch. I believe debate and fair comment are important. So, here’s my take:

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-Leon Draisaitl has a point on 45% of all the Edmonton Oilers goals this year. He has created 0.58 goals/game. Both are #1 in the NHL. And he is one of the few super star forwards in the league today that also take a regular shift on the penalty kill.

-Connor McDavid (credit @Woodguy55) has the lowest Goals Against 5v5 on the Oilers since December 1st (1.67/60). 3rd in the NHL in points (63), McDavid also plays more minutes/night (22:31) than any other of the Top 15 scorers in the league not named Draisaitl (22:45). And he sees every team’s best.

-You can teach quality defense. But defense is also not nearly as hard to find nor as expensive to acquire and keep as elite offense. As much respect as I surely had for Guy Carbonneau, Doug Jarvis and Steve Kasper, they checked because that was their primary skill. Yes, Secretariat worked and evolved as a thoroughbred. But they didn’t ask Big Red to pull a plow.

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Darnell Nurse has logged the 2n/a most ice time this season of anyone in the NHL (26:35). The Oilers don’t have a consistent 3LD that can soak up the extra minutes. Kris Russell’s been hurt a lot. Slater Koekkoek has not played well. The rest are rookies or close to it. And Duncan Keith is already stretched at 20:22 per night. Darnell can be better. But the roster has also impacted him significantly.

So, can we ask even more of these guys? Yes, we can pick out a detail here, a backcheck there. And nothing’s wrong with challenging your best players on any team and asking them to take on additional responsibility. And the really good players will do that. But just because you keep squeezing the orange it doesn’t mean you’ll keep getting more juice. These 3 have been run right into the ice. Shifts could be shorter, sure. But did they stay out there because they weren’t good leaders? Or because the Coach didn’t feel he had a better choice. And the elite of the elite in any sport, when they get tired, make more mistakes.

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At the end of the day I shudder to think what this club would look like without the Big 3. If McDavid and Draisaitl weren’t Oilers, I firmly believe that neither Zach Hyman or Evander Kane would be, either. And after being bridged twice I’m not so sure Darnell Nurse would have signed long-term if Connor and Leon weren’t here. And then who’s your #1?

If your best players haven’t been your best, that’s a problem. Approved. But if they have been your best and you are still losing, then surely the root of the problem lies somewhere else.

Find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins

Recently, at The Cult…

McCURDY: Jay Woodcroft wins his NHL Head Coaching debut

STAPLES: Twitter reacts to Dave Tippett firing

McCURDY: Ken Holland’s Gut Feel

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