Once again, Edmonton Oilers waiting for someone to bail them out

We’ve seen this movie many, many times before, but never from a team with this much promise, never from a team that so much was expected from, that expected so much of itself

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There was a scene in the dark and disturbing thriller titled Seven where rookie detective Brad Pitt turns to veteran Morgan Freeman at a particularly gruesome crime scene and asks, “Honestly, have you ever seen anything like this?”

The answer was no.

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Just like the answer is no for the dark and disturbing Edmonton Oilers, speaking of crime scenes.

We’ve all seen losing before — this organization has been finding new and creative ways to suck for the better part of 20 years — but the shock value of what we’re watching right now is truly chilling.

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A team with two of the best players in the world, with 100 wins and five playoff rounds over the last two seasons, bettered only by the eventual Stanley Cup champions each time, was supposed to be armed, dangerous and ready for its long-awaited title shot.

Instead, in an unravelling that truly boggles the mind, they have spent the first 11 games of this season kicking their enormous expectations perilously close to the edge of an all-too-familiar cliff. 

We’ve seen this movie many, many times before, but never from a team with this much promise, never from a team that so much was expected from, that expected so much of itself.

Every single aspect of this team — from management and coaches in the front office to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at the top of the roster to the large collection of passengers at the bottom — is underachieving.

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Nowhere are the problems worse than in net, where Edmonton is dead last in save percentage with Jack Campbell at .873 and Stuart Skinner even worse at .856. On a team that doesn’t like to concern itself with playing smart, two-way hockey, those are fatal numbers.

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That’s why the first desperate measure of these desperate times took place Tuesday afternoon with Campbell being jettisoned in the middle of Edmonton’s three-game road trip.

While both of Edmonton’s goalies deserve to spend a few weeks in the minors, Campbell (who only played two of the last seven games but let in 11 goals) has the higher salary at $5 million a year and there is zero risk he’ll get claimed on waivers. It might also be very good for him to see a lot of action in the AHL to get his game and his confidence back.

The Campbell investment has been a disaster for Edmonton. He is two years into a five-year, $25-million contract to be their No. 1 guy and in Year One he lost the starting job in less than half a season and in Year Two he’s packing for the minors after 11 games.

Meanwhile, the hope is that one of Edmonton’s American Hockey League goalies — Calvin Pickard or Olivier Rodrigue — will be able to rise up and turn a floundering team in the right direction. While there is no guarantee a minor league stopper can step in and make things better, this is a pretty low-risk move given that there is no way things can get any worse.

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And this team needs a jolt. As usual.

Calvin Pickard
Winnipeg Jets’ Jeffrey Viel (28) takes a shot on Edmonton Oilers’ goaltender Calvin Pickard (30) during second period NHL preseason action in Winnipeg on Monday September 25, 2023. Photo by FRED GREENSLADE /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Sleepwalking when it should be digging in is a trademark of the Edmonton Oilers, a long-standing character flaw that seems to show up every season. They can’t, or won’t, turn things around on their own. They need someone coming in from the outside to do it for them.

In 2019-20 they were a middling .500 club in December and then Kailer Yamamoto came in, injected life into a second line and the team, and the Oilers went on a 16-6-4 rampage.

In 2021-22 they were melting again (23-18-3) and sitting outside of a playoff spot when the Oilers put the blame on head coach Dave Tippett. Jay Woodcroft came in, injected life into the team and they went on a 26-9-3 rampage.

Last year they were coasting along in relative mediocrity when Mattias Ekholm came in at the trade deadline and injected life into the defence, pulling Evan Bouchard from the flames of his defensive stumblings, and they went 18-2-1 down the stretch.

So can a minor league goalie be this year’s wake-up call?

Is this the only major move we’re going to see?

We’re about to find out.

But this looks like a team in the process of having its will broken, so something at the core needs to change in a big hurry.

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Should we be surprised things are this bad?


But it’s no shocker that the team is taking a big step backward this year.

While fans and analysts were justified in expecting big things from this team, those expectations were based on what amounted to a perfect storm last year. The power play was the best in NHL history, four of their top six forwards shattered their career-high point totals (by 18, 29, 30 and 35 points), they got 10 or more goals from 13 different players and they got a rookie goalie coming out of nowhere to save their season.

The odds of all those things happening again were slim. True, nobody expected all of it to fall through the ice, but this is what happens when it does.

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