Where do you go from here if you’re the Edmonton Oilers?
Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong one month into the season for a team that was a popular Stanley Cup pick coming in.
Honestly, it’s stunning.
Terrible goaltending. Shaky defending. A struggling penalty kill. Even an offense that isn’t scoring like it should.
The whole thing is snowballing, and now it’s eroding players’ confidence. Every mistake ends up in their net. It’s a terrible feeling, especially for a team that had such high expectations — as high internally as they were externally.
But to answer my own question from the top, there are three options at the moment:
1. Make a coaching change. It’s wild this would even be mentioned, given Jay Woodcroft’s success since taking over two years ago, including winning three playoff series. Woodcroft also signed a three-year deal in July 2022 that pays $2 million per and runs through the 2024-25 season.
I don’t think at the moment that management sees a team that’s given up on its coach. But it’s a possibility the organization has to entertain if the losing continues.
If there’s a change, do you just slide assistant Glen Gulutzan into the top job? He’s got head coaching experience. Or if it’s a totally new voice you’re after, do you look at Gerard Gallant (a former AHL teammate of Ken Holland’s)? Or someone else?
2. Trade for a goalie upgrade. Good luck with that. The worst possible time to make a trade is out of desperation. The Oilers have zero leverage right now in any trade conversation — not to mention that any goalie trade would require Jack Campbell’s contract being included or traded elsewhere.
Either way, here’s the sobering reality of said trade if the Oilers decide to go down that path: You’re paying an asset price to upgrade your goaltending, and then you’re paying an asset price to offset Campbell’s contract (which has three more years on it after this season at a $5 million cap hit).
The Oilers no doubt hope Campbell can go find his game in the AHL assuming he clears waivers, as expected, Wednesday — but a 180 is hardly a probable outcome.
Also, who’s the obvious goalie upgrade on the NHL market right now? The cynic would point out that almost anybody would be since the Oilers are 32nd overall in save percentage, but you know what I mean. If you’re going to pay such a steep price to unload Campbell’s contract, it’d better be worth it as a true upgrade.
3. Stay patient. Stay the course and hope that a roster that’s knocked at the door the last two years will finally get it going. If you can win some games, you’re in a better leverage position in trade talks.
The bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture could feature a wild-card team with a lower point total than normal this season, which in itself could keep the Oilers afloat if they can just get going and perhaps get back to .500 by Jan. 1. It’s not out of the question.
But regardless how you slice it, the Oil need to get on a serious heater. And soon.
My sense is option No. 3 is currently leading the way within the Oilers’ front office, but for how long remains to be seen. You’ve got a mercurial owner who no doubt is losing his mind. He alone could dictate the kind of radical move that forces change. You’ve got Hockey Hall of Famer Paul Coffey with a lot of influence as well. And then there’s a new president of hockey operations, Jeff Jackson, who has to be shocked at how things have played out so far after deciding to leave the agent business and crossing over. He’s likely feeling pressure to act soon.
You’ve also got a veteran general manager in Ken Holland who is in the final year of his contract, which adds another layer to it all. Regardless of how the Oilers finish this season, they’ve got a GM to replace this summer in all likelihood.
So yeah, lots going on there.
And there’s this: Yes, the Oilers have their 2024 first-round pick and could decide to put it in play for a blockbuster if it means saving the season. TSN colleague Darren Dreger on our Insider Trading segment Tuesday evening speculated that the Oilers could eventually contemplate making a bigger trade, perhaps one looking at core pieces — something that addresses more than one need. One would assume that kind of deal normally includes a first-round pick.
On the flip side, and I’m sure this is a dilemma that Oilers management will debate internally, how do you trade away that 2024 first-round pick (draft lottery protected) if you can’t know for sure the season will be salvaged when there’s the Leon Draisaitl conversation coming this summer?
Draisaitl has one more year on his contract after this season, and obviously the Oilers would want to extend him one year out. But what if this season doesn’t get back on the rails? What if Draisaitl doesn’t see a path to the Cup anymore? And there’s the ultimate Catch-22: Do you empty the cupboards to ensure the season is saved and you still look the part of contender ahead of that Draisaitl summer conversation, or do you protect yourself in terms of future assets as insurance for life without Leon?
So many big decisions lie ahead for an Oilers organization that never, ever thought it would have two wins in its opening 11 games.
And I mean, who did?
Patrick Kane watch is on
Patrick Kane has started talking to NHL teams and looking at potential fits.
“We’re starting to speak with teams about the opportunities, talking to coaches and GMs,” his agent Pat Brisson told The Athletic on Tuesday. “It’s kind of like the interview period we used to have for July 1, that’s what we’re starting to do here.”
Brisson said they’re probably going to limit the field to five or six teams. There’s no firm timeline to get done, though, he added.
“No rush. We’re feeling things out,’’ Brisson said. “We’re managing it as we get through it.”
Kane had hip surfacing surgery June 1 and is close to being medically cleared.
“From a medical standpoint, he’s looking good,” Brisson said. “He’s feeling good. He’s getting closer and closer.”
First and foremost, the Canes are hoping for the best with Frederik Andersen after announcing Monday that he’ll be out indefinitely with a blood clot issue.
“The most important thing here is Freddie’s health,” Carolina GM Don Waddell told The Athletic on Tuesday. “Hockey is secondary at this point. We’re giving him full support in whatever he needs, of course. From there, we’ll see how things play out.”
The team just doesn’t know how long Andersen will be out. It might be six weeks. It might be three months.
“We got (Jaroslav) Halak in here on a tryout,” Waddell said. “We’ll see how that goes and go from there.”
Pyotr Kochetkov was recalled from the AHL on Monday evening to join veteran Antti Raanta in the crease.
Signing Halak to a PTO understandably seemed like a reactionary move to Andersen, but in reality the Canes had been talking to Halak’s camp for the past two weeks, which is to say they were going to bring him in on a tryout even before they knew about Andersen’s situation.
In fact, Halak was in his car driving from Boston to Raleigh on Sunday morning even before the Canes got results back from Andersen’s medical tests. Carolina felt it needed more insurance behind its top three goalies in the organization even before the Andersen situation. So Halak was coming in either way.
But now we’ll see if Halak ends up on an NHL contract. That remains to be decided. I suspect the Canes will also keep an eye on NHL teams with three goalies on their rosters, like Detroit and Montreal. I think there’s as much chance they trade for a goalie as there is signing Halak to an NHL contract.
Bigger picture, the Canes keep dealing with injuries since the drop of the puck this season, at different times missing the likes of Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Brett Pesce. And now the goalie situation.
“You never go through a season where you don’t face some adversity,” Waddell said. “It’s a challenge for the rest of our guys to step it up. We’ve played better, won four of our last five games. We haven’t played great, but we’re finding ways to win. We just have to keep the ship going in the right direction.”
(Top photo of Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft: Derek Cain / Getty Images)