Can coaching change get Oilers on right path to playoffs, trade deadline?

Can coaching change get Oilers on right path to playoffs, trade deadline?
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Just about every signal indicated that Ken Holland didn’t want to do this. But increasingly desperate times call for even more desperate measures. So, Dave Tippett’s run as Oilers head coach is over, leaving Jay Woodcroft to step up from the team’s AHL affiliate.

Whether you glance long or short-term, things look awfully grim for the Edmonton Oilers right now.

That said, it’s wise not to panic. Just look at the Oilers’ rivals in Calgary, and you can see how drastically fortunes can rise and fall. It never hurts to remember “Hey, at least we still have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.”

You can also consider the extremes of the Oilers’ season, and … actually, let Ken Holland take that one:

 

Uh, right. Great time to get people thinking about toilets.

So, can Jay Woodcroft, Ken Holland, and the Oilers clean up their messes? Or did Edmonton already flush its future away?

Let’s try to sniff out a situation that really stinks.

Possible impact of Oilers coaching change from Tippett to Woodcroft

Ken Holland is a Hockey Hall of Famer. He might also end up in the Faint Praise Hall of Fame by comparing Jay Woodcroft to, um, Jeff Blashill?

Truly, this is one of the funniest comparisons I’ve seen in a while. It really hammers home the feeling that Ken Holland is out to lunch.

If you’re comparing Jay Woodcroft to promoted AHL coaches, wouldn’t you want to bring up Jon Cooper? Along with being the longest-tenured coach in the NHL and one of its brightest minds, Cooper also succeeded in the AHL.

If that’s too lofty, Dallas Eakins inspires more hope than Jeff Blashill.

But maybe Ken Holland’s just trying to keep already-low expectations down? You can only take so much from the Bakersfield Condors’ four seasons under Woodcroft, particularly because they never advanced beyond the second round.

Youth movement, system tweaks?

Yet, beyond Ken Holland’s comical comparison, there are some reasons to hope that Woodcroft can unlock some minor quick fixes for the Oilers.

For one thing, Woodcroft doesn’t seem to have some strange blood oath going with Mike Smith, which may differentiate him from Tippett. While you don’t want to ask for too much from 23-year-old Stuart Skinner, Tippett’s default setting was asking for too much from a banged-up Mike Smith who is almost 40.

Generally, promoting an AHL head coach translates to better opportunities for young players. That could be a boon for Skinner, rising defenseman Evan Bouchard, and others.

Twitter user @bcurlock shared fascinating insight on how Woodcroft’s systems may differ from Tippett, and how those tweaks may affect Draisaitl and McDavid:

That thread also notes Woodcroft being amenable to analytics, which sounds promising after the “Corski and Fenski” era under Tippett.

As of Thursday, playoff projection models spit out a wide array of odds for the Oilers. Some hover around 40-percent, others closer to 60.

Overall, though, the point is clear. While the Oilers probably should’ve changed from Tippett sooner, there’s still time for Woodcroft to help turn things around.

At least in terms of salvaging a playoff spot this season.

Holland has Oilers mired in a salary cap mess, complicating trade deadline picture

But what about the long-term future of the Oilers? That’s when things get dire, at least if “at least we still have Draisaitl and McDavid” only calms so many nerves.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s one of the darker elements to sticking with a Ken Holland or Marc Bergevin for too long. As the years progress, they make more and more long-term bets, and sometimes the moves are short-sided.

So, even if a new GM comes in, they’re saddled with the mistakes of the past. It’s a sobering reality for an Oilers team that keeps plunging deeper and deeper into salary cap hell.

[Some might say it prompted them to sell a piece of their souls]

Cap Friendly estimates the Oilers’ 2022-23 spending at about $74.36 million with just 14 roster spots covered. If the salary cap remains the same — and it’s unlikely to climb that much — they’d only have about $7M in cap space. Even if you assume Oscar Klefbom ($4.167M) and others go to LTIR, that’s a dire situation.

With Darnell Nurse‘s contract extension kicking in at $9.5M per year, the Oilers are committing $23.4M to Nurse, Bouchard, Duncan Keith, Tyson Barrie, and Cody Ceci next season. There’s waste among the forward group, too, particularly with Zack Kassian carrying a $3.25M cap hit through 2023-24.

All of this bloat leaves the Oilers with less room to operate at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, and possibly also in free agency. On Thursday, Ken Holland reiterated the idea that the Oilers might not do much at the trade deadline.

On one hand, gambling on rentals would show that the Oilers realize that you only get so many swings at the fence with Draisaitl and McDavid in their primes.

Yet, things are so clogged up, it’s fair to wonder if the Oilers might focus on a different trading method: bribing rebuilders to take on problem contracts.

How much would it cost to bribe the Coyotes to absorb contracts like those of Barrie, Ceci, and Kassian? Most likely, Holland wouldn’t want to admit defeat with such deals, but a new GM may explore such avenues.

Holland appears short on answers

Long-term, it’s difficult to believe that Ken Holland has the vision to lead the Oilers out of this mess. Unspool this thread once again, and you’ll see a GM who whiffs time and time again at gauging the value of supporting cast members.

Recent NHL hires hint at once-dusty teams at least gesturing at progress. The Canadiens are trying to learn something from the Panthers, and the Canucks are moving away from the “200 Hockey Men” model.

Even the brightest and freshest hockey minds would struggle to clean up the mess the Oilers have on their hands. But it sure doesn’t look like Ken Holland is the hockey person with the right answers.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.