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What tells us extra about Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft: 120 good video games or 12 unhealthy ones?

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The day after the Edmonton Oilers’ newest and most demoralizing loss so far, all is quiet on the western entrance. For a lot of the day the highest of the squad’s Twitter feed merely stated: “The #Oilers eight-game win streak towards the Sharks was snapped with a 3-2 defeat at @SAPCenter” — about as mild an interpretation as potential of the NHL’s prime offensive staff of a season in the past mustering simply 2 targets towards a hapless squad that allowed 10 in back-to-back video games simply final week.  Or permitting 3 towards a membership that had reached that not-so-lofty complete simply as soon as all season. With the loss, their fourth consecutive in regulation, the Oilers crashed right into a tie for final general with the Sharks with 5 factors, although technically nonetheless in thirty first resulting from a recreation in hand. 

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Not surprisingly, Oil Nation is in an uproar. Many options are being supplied, the widespread theme being “DO SOMETHING!!!”  The default suggestion at occasions corresponding to this being a change within the teaching employees, with the present scenario summarized right here by my Cult of Hockey colleague David Staples.

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However there’s been silence on the different finish of the road. Silence from GM Ken Holland. Silence from President of Hockey Ops Jeff Jackson. Silence from proprietor Daryl Katz. The one whisper of administration inaction in motion comes from a dependable supply close to the staff:

Rishaug tweet

Jay Woodcroft on the brink?

For the needs of the present dialogue, let’s observe their lead, take a deep breath, and consider what it’s the Oilers have in Jay Woodcroft.

Woodcroft coaching record

Exhibiting right here simply his time within the Oilers orgnanization, a relationship now in its ninth yr. By the point he arrived right here, he’d had 3 years as a video coach with Ken Holland’s Detroit Crimson Wings, then one other 7 as an assistant beneath Todd McLellan in San Jose. Each golf equipment had been extremely profitable.

Woodcroft arrived in Edmonton as a part of the package deal when McLellan was employed by Peter Chiarelli within the weeks following the seminal occasion within the Oilers latest historical past: the draft lottery win that landed Connor McDavid. They’d one excellent season collectively in 2016-17 — bookended by the arrival of Adam Larsson to open the season and a career-wrecking harm to Andrej Sekera close to its shut. In between occasions the Oilers had their finest defensive group in latest reminiscence, backstopped by an impressive marketing campaign by Cam Talbot between the pipes. Up entrance, McDavid had a superb season copping each the Artwork Ross and Hart Memorial Trophies, and the supporting solid led by Leon Draisaitl was deep, robust, and wholesome.

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After a giant step backwards the next yr, McLellan’s teaching employees was disbanded, although Woodcroft landed on his toes when he accepted Chiarelli’s supply to take the top teaching job with the Oilers prime affiliate in Bakersfield. He had instant success, made the playoffs twice, profitable 3 playoff sequence and 1 “championship” within the truncated Pacific Division playoffs within the first post-COVID season. In his one one “unsuccessful” marketing campaign, he developed 3 AHL rookies who now signify the core of the Oilers’ youth group: goalie Stuart Skinner, offensive rearguard Evan Bouchard, defensive ahead Ryan McLeod.

With the Condors cruising and the Oilers struggling within the 2021-22 marketing campaign, Woodcroft lastly received his huge likelihood. In mid-February he alongside along with his personal right-hand man Dave Manson, received “referred to as up” to interchange Dave Tippett and Jim Playfair behind the Edmonton bench. The Oilers, nonetheless reeling from a 2-11-2 (!) slide within the weeks round Christmas, had been on the skin wanting in for a playoff spot so Holland fired his coach in-season for the primary time in his quarter century as an NHL GM.

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The squad took off, profitable their first 5 video games beneath the brand new bench boss and surging up the standings to second place within the Pacific. They adopted that up with an exhilarating 7-game sequence win over the L.A. Kings and an immensely satisfying 5-game ouster of the Calgary Flames earlier than assembly their match within the final Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche within the convention finals. Whereas the persevering with brilliance of McDavid and Draisaitl performed an enormous function, the progressive techniques of the brand new teaching employees obtained a share of the credit score.

Woodcroft’s Oilers continued to development up in 2022-23, profitable 50 video games for the primary time since 1986-87 and eliminating the Kings in Spherical 1 earlier than once more getting knocked out by the longer term Stanley Cup champion, this time the Vegas Golden Knights. For the primary time, there have been whispers of criticism of the employees. Nonetheless, it was one other extremely profitable season, setting the stage for the “Stanley Cup or bust” theme underlying the present season.

Which is the place issues have fully fallen off the rails for Jay Woodcroft, his gamers and certainly the whole Oilers group. The membership has struggled mightily out of the gate to the purpose that right this moment, precisely a month because the season began, they stand an unthinkable 14 factors out of THIRD place within the Pacific and eight behind the three golf equipment tied for the final wild card spot within the West. Already, a deficit that can take months, not weeks, of strong hockey to surmount. If certainly it proves to be surmountable in any respect.

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So, did Woodcroft immediately overlook tips on how to coach? Has he “misplaced” his staff? Or has he merely confirmed unable (to this point) of turning round a slumping group which has been dealt a sequence of setbacks, some past anybody’s management, others past the coach’s. It wasn’t he, for instance, who selected to go together with a streamlined 21-man roster due to wage cap restrictions. He was the one who made that work when all fingers had been wholesome, morphing from a 12/6 deployment of forwards and defencemen to 11/7 relying on the circumstances of the day.

However early in 2023-24, good well being has not been the staff’s good friend. Twice (each video games at Vancouver) they’ve needed to play a person quick; on different nights gamers have needed to play at lower than 100%, amongst them:

  • Connor McDavid has appeared lower than absolutely match because the outset, missed a few video games with an undisclosed harm, then rushed again into motion to play within the Heritage Basic. Since then, 5 video games with no single purpose and with no single main help both. A few secondary assists are all he has to indicate for the final 3 weeks. Not coincidentally, the Oilers have gone 1-6-0 within the 7 video games since he left the line-up, and in addition misplaced in time beyond regulation thje Winnipeg recreation he departed late within the third. Oil followers noticed some promising indicators from their captain on Thursday in San Jose, however for a 3rd straight recreation he failed to search out the scoresheet in any respect. On Friday morning the 5-time scoring champ was listed at #109 among the many league scoring leaders that he topped the final 3 years operating, averaging “simply” 1.0 factors per recreation and on tempo for 16 targets after final season’s 64. Not saying it’s McDavid’s “fault” by some means, nevertheless it’s not truthful to pin it on Woodcroft both. McD’s scoring exploits have been the Oilers’ function attribute through the entirety of his time right here.
  • Final yr’s key addition Mattias Ekholm missed all of coaching camp and the season opener. The large all-round rearguard who ermerged because the Oilers plus/minus chief (+28) in simply 21 video games on the finish of final season, at present lingers at -4. Some indicators his personal recreation is coming round, nevertheless it’s been a course of.
  • Ahead Ryan McLeod missed all of camp, then discovered his means into the line-up for Sport 1 however appeared nicely beneath his prime kind. He stilll seems to be so, mustering simply 1 lonely help in 12 video games so far.
  • This summer season’s key addition, winger Connor Brown, suffered an harm in Sport #9 and has been sidelined since. He often is the squad’s poster boy for good course of, unhealthy manufacturing, as the following level he scores as an Oiler would be the first. However the Oil have missed his veteran defensive presence in latest video games. Similar will be stated about Mattias Janmark.

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These are all info on file, or not less than observations primarily based on such info which have been revealed. The membership is notoriously secretive about accidents, and never with out motive.

Different gamers will not be recognized to be harm, however are in a funk. 3-time 50-goal man Leon Draisaitl has scored simply as soon as within the final 9 video games, throughout which period the Oilers have received simply as soon as. Over the identical span, 100-point scorer Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has tallied simply 3 factors. And in that very same 1-7-1 run, the squad’s record-setting powerplay has obtained simply 3 targets from their devastating first unit that related 89 occasions in 82 video games a yr in the past. On nights like Thursday, when the PP went 0-for-4 together with a full 2 minutes at 6v4 down the stretch, it may be a distinction maker. The early offensive collapse has seen final yr’s top-scoring staff lag in a 3-way tie for twenty seventh in Targets For, down by 1.4 targets per recreation.

An identical crash has occurred on the defensive finish. The squad that was solidly mid-pack a yr in the past is permitting greater than a purpose per recreation extra this early season. Goaltending has been second-best on means too many nights, and defensive protection a multitude. That is the place fingers can and have been pointed on the teaching employees. Their revised techniques have landed on the group with a convincing thud primarily based on each commentary and outcomes. The staff has been completely uncovered on the counter-attack, permitting 23 even-strength targets on the push by 12 video games.

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The coaches additionally come beneath scrutiny for all the pieces from over-reliance on star gamers to under-reliance on the youthful set to deployment generally. Certainly, a case might be made that the coaches have been mired in their very own “droop” proper together with the staff.

Is it sufficient to warrant a house-cleaning a month into the season? Apparently 12 video games of poor outcomes isn’t fairly sufficient, however a thirteenth may be. That’s the knife edge that Jay Woodcroft and employees discover themselves beneath, a stunning improvement in such a brief span.

Enter / Output

Backside-line query for now’s this: no matter occurred to Oilers squad that was trending up, up, up in a season and a half beneath Woodcroft and firm? On the one aspect, he have 120 (common season) video games price of knowledge of that up-and-coming group, vs. simply 12 of the present down-and-outers. A ten:1 ratio of excellent pattern to unhealthy.

What’s actual, and what’s non permanent? Let’s do a side-by-side comparability of some key indicators:

Woodcroft splits 120 GP v 12 GP


NHL rankings over the durations in query spotlight top-10 positions in inexperienced, top-5 in darker inexperienced, and bottom-5 in purple. There may be completely nothing in between these extremes.

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Over Woodcroft’s first season and a half it was inexperienced all the way in which,: good underlying numbers, good targets share, good percentages at each ends of the rink. With a sufficiently big pattern dimension, course of presages manufacturing.

Whereas early within the present marketing campaign, the underlying numbers are pretty much as good and even higher than in Woodcroft’s first season and a half, however the percentages have fully crashed. Particularly, PDO has cratered from 2nd to thirty second. Hey lookit! Factors proportion has equally crashed from 2nd to thirty first.

Simply 12 video games into the season, the Oil have scored 14 fewer targets than anticipated at one finish of the sheet, and allowed 14 greater than anticipated on the different.

Honest to say the squad has failed the attention take a look at in key moments, although the numbers point out they’re persevering with to hold the play within the method of a high-end NHL squad. This regardless of the well being points to key gamers famous above.

Of all of the stats proven right here, probably the most risky are these percentages. I’m not a betting man, but when I had been I’d put severe coin on that ugly 7.4% taking pictures proportion and that dreadful .860 save proportion each regressing laborious. To place that .934 PDO in perspective, over final season’s 82-game slate, the worst within the NHL was the .976 recorded by Columbus Blue Jackets. The 12-game pattern proven right here is just unsustainable … and in a great way.

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Perhaps the GM wants to determine a strategy to discover a totally different goalie than the one in whom he invested closely in 2022, or possibly attempt another alteration among the many skaters. Numerous gamers want to lift their video games, from the mighty McDavid proper on down.

Ought to Woody keep or go?

Lower than 2 years in the past, a 2-11-2 slide greased the rails for the last word departure of Dave Tippett. Ought to a 2-9-1 begin do related for Jay Woodcroft? Perhaps so, however there’s loads of proof that guilty all this on the coach is an over-simplification.

My very own take for what it’s price is that the organizational mind belief can be higher served to err on the aspect of endurance. Even right this moment, with the entire early misfortune, the Oilers are thought-about to have a 51% chance of constructing the playoffs (supply) regardless of the large early factors deficit. All isn’t misplaced.

However a win in Seattle on Saturday night time certain can be a superb signal. The margin for error has turn into slender certainly.

Not too long ago on the Cult of Hockey

STAPLES: Out-of-touch Oilers could have value Woodcroft his job

LEAVINS: Sport grades vs Sharks

STAPLES: Are benchings the reply, and if that’s the case who ought to get the seat?

McCURDY: Oilers lose horror present in Vancouver 6-2

STAPLES: Drastic measures as Jack Campbell despatched to AHL

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