NHL Handicapping: Edmonton Oilers Coaching Situation
by Trevor Whenham - 12/15/2014
I live a short three-hour drive from Edmonton. Growing up, there was nothing I likeed more than hating the Oilers. They were bitter rivals and worthy enemies. When my hometown Calgary Flames beat them - and that didn't happen much in those days - the city partied. The Flames have gone through some rough years in the last few seasons. Compared to the Oilers, though, we have looked like, well, the mid-80's Oilers. They have been so bad for so long, though, that they have taken all the fun out of mocking them. Hating the Oilers right now is pointless and impossible. It would be like hating a sick puppy. The team has lost 15 of their last 16 games, are tied for last in the league standings, and haven't been in the playoffs in nine years.
The latest chapter in the ridiculousness that is the Oilers was written today when they fired head coach Dallas Eakins just a third of the way through his second season with the team. GM Craig MacTavish, who coached the team from 2000-09, will be taking over in the short term before Todd Nelson, the coach of the team's AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City, takes the reins on an interim basis. So, what does it all mean for bettors in the short term? Here are five factors to consider when looking at what could happen to this team in the coming weeks:
Not Eakins fault: Eakins was not a perfect coach, but it was not his fault that the team was as bad as they were. Eakins was just the latest face in a ridiculous revolving coaching carousel since MacTavish left the job in 2009. Pat Quinn coached a season, and then Tom Renney coached two. Ralph Krueger got one year - and, in an incredibly classy move, he was fired over Skype. Eakins got just over a year. Nelson will be the sixth different man to coach this team in six years. Players have learned that they don't need to listen to their coach because it is easy to get him fired. Eakins, who was coaching in the AHL before joining the Oilers, will get another shot in the NHL at some point, and he will shine. This culture is toxic for coaches right now.
McTavish is a mess: Initial reports were that MacTavish was going to be in charge for the longer term. That would have been really awful, but even this solution is a disaster for the team because it means that MacTavish is still in charge. Eakins is the fall guy, but it is MacTavish and president Kevin Lowe that need to go. More than any team in any sport on the continent, the Oilers live in the past. Both MacTavish and Lowe played on the team during their glory days, and despite showing a total absence of competence, both run the show now. Lowe coached the team in 1999 and became GM the next season. MacTavish was Lowe's assistant and took over as coach. It is the most incestuous mess you have ever seen, but they have absolute power, and owner Daryl Katz seems too clueless or scared to do anything about it. Until these two are gone it doesn't matter who they hire because this ship is going to keep sinking.
Nelson knows several players: I'm trying to be positive here. Nelson has been with Oklahoma City for four years, so he is familiar with many of the players on the roster because they have come through the farm system at some point. He'll have a relationship built, and he has had a decent amount of success at that level. The problem, of course, is that the team just chewed up and spat out their last AHL coach - and several before him - so there is no reason to believe that Nelson is going to be able to break through and get this team to play like anything even remotely resembling an NHL squad.
Very unlikely to thrive with this roster: Management is broken, but so is the roster. There is a tremendous amount of talent here - three first overall picks, many other high picks and hot free agents. Together, though, it just doesn't work. They are pillowy soft, they completely refuse to make a second effort, and they will let someone skate right by them if the alternative is making contact. There is no heart, chemistry or accountability, and the amount of skill that is wasted on a daily basis is criminal. On paper this should be a decent team. Heck, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Pittsburgh and others have built world-class teams through the exact same blueprint that the Oilers have botched - draft a foundation superstar or two and ride them to glory. Without some major changes, though, this roster is going to keep being the mess that it is. And MacTavish, in his wisdom, has stated repeatedly of late that he doesn't see major deals coming.
No incentive to thrive at this point: The biggest factor working against this team is that at this point winning games this year is not in their best interest. It's surely why they brought up Nelson instead of bringing in an established, successful coach like Dan Bylsma. Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are locks to be the top two picks in the upcoming draft, and both are projected as generational players - guys who can turn teams around by themselves. The only thing that winning would do at this point is reducing the number of chances the team has of getting one of the two in the upcoming draft lottery. You could argue that the last thing this team needs is yet another young salvation, but these guys could be different - or at least they can't afford to bet that they aren't.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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