As the Edmonton Oilers sit on the outside looking in of the NHL playoffs for the eighth straight season, you have to wonder if they are in a worse situation than they were a year ago.
The Oilers had three straight seasons of relative improvement, but that seems to have disappeared this season and they look to have taken a step back under Dallas Eakins.
If you look at many of the key team stats, the Oilers took a drastic downturn this season after showing marked improvement under Ralph Kruger.
The biggest difference between this season and last was the goals against. The goals for dropped a little as well, but the defensive system, and the goaltending, was not as good as it was in the shortened season. The power play is drastically less effective than it was, and the penalty kill has also dropped slightly.
There are other ways to explain the drop in the standings when it appeared going in that this should have been a breakthrough season.
- Divisional re-alignment put the Oilers in tough with the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks. Tougher teams than the old Northwest Division.
- Younger focus on the blue line meant more learning curves with the likes of Martin Marincin, the attempted stop-gap measures of Anton Belov and Denis Grebeshkov.
- Revolving door in the net
But, the single biggest change was the implementation of Dallas Eakins and his drastic changes to the philosophy of the organization.
Quite often, when a new coach comes in there is a honeymoon period where the team exceeds expectations and then settles down to where they should be. That never really happened this year with the Oilers, who struggled right from the start.
Also, quite often teams take a step back before taking a giant leap forward, so Oilers fans can hold out that hope that what happened in Edmonton this season fits that mold.
Or, perhaps Dallas Eakins’ approach to the game will not work at the NHL level, and before too long the Oilers will be searching for the answer behind the bench yet again, for the 5th time since the end of the 2008-09 season.