Ken Holland’s Catch-22 of his own doing
What’s Happening: Five straight losses, 2-6-2 in their last 10, their coach publicly calling out their players, and Connor McDavid in COVID protocol. It’s safe to say all is not well in Oil Country.
After starting the season 9-1, the Edmonton Oilers have gone 9-13-2 afterwards and the panic button is sounding loud. On the ice, they’re hanging onto the final playoff spot and, off the ice, tension is building.
After a recent loss to the Rangers, coach Dave Tippett said, referring to goalie Mikko Koskinen, “our goaltender wasn’t very good. [The first goal] was a brutal mistake.” Koskinen fired back a day later in Finnish newspaper YLE, saying “it must be said that in the six games I lost, the team has scored seven goals. I can’t score goals. It’s not always up to the goaltender alone to win or lose. The whole team needs to play better in the future.”
Things are going sideways in a hurry.
Why It Matters: Simply put: It’s déjà vu all over again.
At a team level, the recent stretch is a gut punch. After a strong season a year ago (albeit with a disappointing playoff), Edmonton came into this season looking to build off of it. And with a weaker Vegas team in an otherwise lackluster division, the Pacific was ripe for the taking. With the recent downturn, that ship is on its way out of the harbor for Edmonton.
On an individual level, it’s another example of wasting Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl. Nobody would feel sympathy for a team having two of the best — perhaps the two best hockey players on the planet — but it does make roster construction decisions restrictive: It’s always a go-for-it moment. And with significant holes in their current roster, re-tooling isn’t an option.
That’s GM Ken Holland’s Catch 22. With big money tied up in average players and draft capital already forfeited, there isn’t an obvious path to improvement via trade. On the other hand, if he doesn’t move swiftly to rectify the on-ice product, Connor McDavid will become the Mike Trout of hockey.
That is, the definitive best player in the sport whose team never gets it together. In 11 MLB seasons, Trout has one playoff appearance and zero series wins. In seven NHL seasons, McDavid has two playoff appearances and one series win.
And while Trout has never asked for a trade, the Oilers shouldn’t be so confident McDavid won’t. To avoid such a situation, the Oilers need to figure this out … now.
Where do they go from here? To keep beating the dead horse, roster construction is the Oilers’ biggest issue. Beyond the “big two,” there isn’t a supporting cast capable of carrying the load. This would be reason No. 1 for McDavid wanting out.
In essence, if McDavid or Draisatl don’t produce, the Oilers don’t win. And even when they do, it doesn’t guarantee victory. It’s not as though they’re losing in lopsided fashion on the recent slide — four of the past five losses have been by two goals or less.
Clearly, superstars can’t do it alone. In the Penguins era, Crosby and Malkin have had the likes of Chris Kunitz, Jeff Carter, and Nick Bonino. Before them, Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar of the Kings had the likes of Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, and — again — Jeff Carter. Another thing those teams had that the Oilers lack is goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury and Jonathan Quick allowed those teams to flourish. The Oilers have never had goaltending like that, and management has never addressed it.
Of the Oilers’ goalies, Koskinen has a 3.19 GAA and .909 SV% this year; the other is 39-year-old Mike Smith, who’s sporting a 3.76 and .898 SV%. In short, not good.
Do they change the coach? Mike Babcock rumors are circling.
Do they trade for Marc-Andre Fleury? They could have had him for free in the summer. And are we sure he’d waive his no-trade clause to move to Edmonton? Do the Oilers need another goalie in his late thirties?
Would any player waive their no-move clause for a Canadian team right now? It’s hard in the best of times, but even more so during a pandemic.
Due to COVID scheduling quirks, the Oilers only play one game in the next 14 days. That’s a chance to regroup, but they’re also not going to pick up any points over that span and are almost assured to be outside the playoff picture when the next two weeks are over.
The time for standing pat is over. The next two weeks is go time for Ken Holland. The question is if any players are even available.