Tonight, the Edmonton Oilers will embark on a three game road trip in California that will define their season. It starts in San Jose against the Sharks, then shifts to Southern California on Friday and Sunday for dates with the Ducks and Kings respectively.
For the Oilers, now 9-10-1, this stretch of games represents a major crossroads for not just this season, but for the organization’s future. Three regulation losses and we very likely will be talking about another lost season in Northern Alberta before the holiday season begins.
Three regulation victories? The pressure on this club will be calmed in a major way, and the jobs of Todd McLellan and Peter Chiarelli will be safe for another day.
After losing six out of seven, the Oil head to the coast beaten and battered. Luckily for them, all three California teams have failed to meet expectations to an extent so far this season.
Failure To Launch:
An 8-2-1 stretch had the Oilers siting pretty, and for a brief time they were first place in the Pacific Division in late October. Since then? The Oilers have won just once, defeating Montreal last Thursday night. They’ve lost six of their last seven and have been flat out beaten up in all six of those losses.
This past weekend was the tipping point for a lot of people, myself included. After a strong first 40 minutes in Calgary, the Oil folded like a cheap suit in the third and dropped a 4-2 decision to the Flames. Sunday night? After working to a 2-1 lead, the Oilers got shelled by a Golden Knights team that really wasn’t playing very well, falling 6-3.
There are a multitude of reasons why the Oilers are where they are. The roster reasons have been talked about quite a bit, Edmonton doesn’t have a single top-six natural winger on their roster. They don’t have a single defender capable of moving the puck consistently and they don’t have a number one goaltender on the roster either.
The coaching issues are well documented as well. Todd McLellan simply doesn’t adjust in-game, and when he does like in Calgary on Saturday night, he is 100% incapable of feeling the flow of the game and adjusting again when the situation changes. The system is broken, and four years into McLellan’s tenure the team still looks lost most nights.
The Oilers’ current failure does not fall just on the players, the coach or the GM. This roster simply is not good enough, and that falls on management. That said, this roster also isn’t a 75-80 point roster and is underachieving, which falls on the coach and the players. Edmonton’s putrid stretch has them falling out of the playoff race, and there is plenty of blame to go around.
The Road Ahead:
The Oilers absolutely have to go 2-1-0 or better on this trip. A winless or one win trip very likely loses McLellan his job. Stating 1-4-0 or 0-5-0 in the division, for a team that prides itself and makes sure everyone knows about its success in the division, is killer.
Not only would starting that poorly inside the division be a further embarrassment for an organization used to them, it would also put the Oilers far enough out of the playoff race where we could begin to talk about this season as another lost winter. That should, although it likely won’t, prompt full changes at the management and coaching levels.
The Sharks aren’t playing at the level most expected them to, but are still thriving in a weak Pacific Division. Don’t be mistaken, however, they aren’t clicking on all cylinders and can be beaten. The Kings and the Ducks? Both of those teams have had horrid starts to the season, and in my opinion are both worse teams that the Oilers right now. Those are two very winnable games.
What is happening in Edmonton right now simply is not good enough, and quite frankly it is not acceptable. Connor McDavid is the best player in the world and is playing in his fourth NHL season. The team around him is worse than it was his rookie year, and they are poised to miss the playoffs for the third time in four years. Nothing about that is acceptable.
This three game road trip could determine which direction this club takes. A good trip will likely buy both coach and GM enough leash to survive the season, with their fates being determined by if Edmonton makes the postseason or not. A disastrous trip? One or both likely is not here in eight days when the Oilers return home to host Dallas.
TSN’s Darren Dreger said it best on Monday’s Insider Trading segment, saying that the temperature in Edmonton is “White hot” and that it is “Not as simple as firing the coach.”
Dreger made sure to also ask “Is it on the coach or on management?” while also adding that this three game trip will be “significant”.
We are going to find out a lot more about the direction of this organization in the next week, with the coming three games being massive.