Playoffs? Oilers season already has one foot in the grave

It is now more than likely that the Edmonton Oilers are going to miss the playoffs.

As unfathomable as that would have sounded on Oct. 11, with a revitalized Jack Campbell in net, with three 100-point players in their top six and with Evan Bouchard poised to be a breakthrough performer in Edmonton’s bid for a championship, it is all kinds of fathomable right now.

Things are slipping away in a frightening hurry, with the Oilers having already burned through six of the seven stages of lottery team grief — from Rough Opening Night to Just A Bad Start to This Isn’t Funny to This Is Serious to This Can’t Be Real to This Might Be Over — in just 17 games.

It’s not a certainty that the Oilers are doomed, there is still mathematical hope, but it’s a slim one — teams outside the top eight in the conference at US Thanksgiving miss the playoffs 76 per cent of the time. And the 14th place Oilers are WAY outside the top eight.

The breathing room is all gone. It’s going to take a long and consistent run of .647 hockey (42 wins in 65 games) to get the 95 points it will likely take to pull off a miracle and this doesn’t look like a team that’s ready to start that run any time soon.

“We all see it, we all feel what we need to do, it’s just a matter of going out and executing,” said defenceman Mattias Ekholm. “It’s a work in progress. We have a lot of games left, but the runway is getting shorter and shorter every day.”

Even playing .500 hockey means the Oilers are losing precious time. If they go 5-5 over for the next 10 games, the necessary winning percentage down the stretch jumps to .670. If it’s 7-7-1 over the next 15 games, the percentage jumps to .694.

The Oilers played .665 last year, and that included an 18-2-1 finish.

Factor in the six teams between Edmonton and the last wildcard spot and the hill gets even steeper. Somebody ahead of the Oilers is getting points every single night. On Monday it was Nashville, Los Angles, Calgary, Seattle and Vancouver all pulling farther away.

This is bleak, friends.

THE NO COACH BUMP

Time is running out on Kris Knoblauch.

This is not sarcasm or cynicism, it is a statistical fact. The average life expectancy of an Oilers coach since 2009 is exactly 120 games (nine different coaches over 1,080 games). That’s about 18 months, or a season and a half.

Given that this season already has one foot in the grave, it won’t be long before the clock starts ticking on the latest person who tried his hand at turning the Oilers into a true contender.

If there was any bump to be gained from firing the guy with the highest winning percentage of any Oilers coach in the last 30 years and replacing him with a rookie, it seems to be over after four games. The Oilers are 2-2 under Kris Knoblauch, with one of the wins being a last-second prayer against Seattle that they didn’t deserve.

You fire a coach to take the heat off the players and turn a season around. Well, I hate to break it to them but the season isn’t turning.

I said it before and I’ll say it again, this team needed a hard liner — a John Tortorella type, only more abrasive or a Darryl Sutter type, only surlier.

As we are finding out, nice guys finish last.

DEFENCE IS A CHOICE

The Oilers scored 11 goals in their last three games and went 1-2 because they gave up 14. After building back-to-back 2-0 leads in Tampa and Florida, they were out-scored 6-2 and 5-1 when the other guys pushed back.

It’s inexcusable for an NHL team to be be this shabby defensively.

“It’s not always about what you get, it’s about what you leave and right now we’re leaving a little too much for my liking and for our liking and for us as a team to get wins,” said Ekholm. “There are no excuses, it’s on us. We have to play better defence.”

It’s not that they don’t know how. Players watch video every day and are coached on it every day. They go over these fundamentals every time they practice.

But, unlike offence, which comes naturally, being smart with the puck, being aware of what’s happening around you and playing hard defence is a choice. Unfortunately it’s a choice the Oilers aren’t willing to make right now.

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REINVENTING BOUCHARD

Evan Bouchard is a valuable weapon, but Knoblauch needs to pull him out of the top four and reinvent his role on the team. When a player is that good offensively and that bad defensively, they need to be more cautious with his deployment.

Until he realizes the importance of buckling down in his own end and actually commits to it, the best place for Bouchard is a third-pairing guy who works the power play.

If the score is tied or the Oilers are ahead by a goal, you limit his minutes and feed him offensive zone starts. If the Oilers need a goal in the third period, you turn him loose.

It’s not ideal, but it will have to do until he figures things out.

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