Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

There’s an old saying in rural Alberta that you should make hay while the sun is shining. The Edmonton Oilers didn’t seem to get the memo on that one, at least the players didn’t. They have stumbled to a 1-3 start to the 2023-24 season and frustration is starting to show especially with head coach Jay Woodcroft. The normally mild-mannered Woodcroft let his guard slip when talking to the media after the Oilers’ 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 19.

Jay Woodcroft, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When asked for his thoughts about the loss he mentioned, “We have a standard that we play towards, and we didn’t meet it tonight.” When a reporter asked Woodcroft about Oilers forward Warren Foegele’s comment about their work ethic being unacceptable, the Oilers head coach really let his emotions show when he said, “Not to our standard…certainly (expletive). Not good enough. Excuse my language.” A slow start is one thing. How the Oilers are losing and their lack of compete has been a bit alarming considering how positive the talk was before the season started.

Oilers’ Slow Start on the Players, Not the Coaches

Old familiar habits are popping up in Oil Country again and it’s not the fault of the coaching staff. The Oilers have gone through a carousel of coaches since the 2018-19 season. Todd McLellan was a good coach and he was fired. Hall of Famer Ken Hitchcock couldn’t do anything with the team in 2018-19. Dave Tippett was fired midway through the 2021-22 season, and now Woodcroft with one of the best winning percentages in the NHL over the past two and a half seasons is clearly starting to get frustrated. Maybe it’s time for the players to show up. They showed up in early September before training camp for Connor McDavid’s Captain’s skate.

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They’ve all been saying the right things. But the cause for alarm in Oil Country has been how bad they’ve looked in their losses to the Vancouver Canucks on opening night and now in Philadelphia. What makes matters worse is the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights are off to a sizzling 5-0 start.

It’s Too Early in the Season to Panic. Or is it?

It’s not just the 1-3 record that’s been disappointing for the coaching staff and the fans, but how the Oilers have looked in their losses. They actually look lost. No time like the present to start slowly turning things around, because wins in October are just as important as wins down the stretch in early April. The Oilers have four games remaining in October against the Winnipeg Jets, the Minnesota Wild, the New York Rangers, and in the Heritage Classic on Oct. 29 against the Calgary Flames at Commonwealth Stadium.

Related: Oilers’ Poor Start to 2023-24 Season is No Reason to Panic

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If the Oilers can’t win at least two of those games, there should be a real reason to start looking at potential changes to the lineup. The players are the ones who have to figure this out, dig deep, and start playing sound hockey. All the analytics, x’s and o’s from the coaches, and motivational speeches from management aren’t going to bring the wins. This one is on the players to figure out a way to get the season kick-started.

Questioning the Coaches is Part of Being a Hockey Fan

Fans and pundits can question the head coach of their hockey team as often as they’d like. That goes with the territory. But when whispers turn to screams on Twitter that coach Woodcroft and his staff are the problem, that’s when it gets a bit much. The Oilers have let go some good hockey people over the last five years, and replacing Woodcroft would not be wise. Any talk of it at this point in the season is preposterous. He’s clearly frustrated. You could see it in his face during the media scrum in Philadelphia on Oct. 19. He cares. Woodcroft knows what his team is capable of, and when they’re not playing up to their own high standards, it makes for some tough days.

Edmonton Oilers Bench (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

TSN recently ran a story about the Oilers players mentioning how the team has a target on its back, and other teams are getting up to play them. The response to that should be, “We’re a good team and we’re bringing our best efforts to get up for every team that we face.” Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. And only the Oilers players have to figure that one out before they dig too deep a hole for themselves early in the 2023-24 season. Coach Woodcroft meanwhile has to keep tinkering, and trying to get through to the players until he and the coaches can help get the Oilers out of an ill-timed early-season slump.

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