The Edmonton Oilers entered Wednesday night against the wall and desperate for anything amid one of the worst starts in franchise history. We’re positive the Oilers have started a season with a worse record. But given the personnel and expectations for this team, to be 2-9-1 at this point in the regular season is very much the worst start for Edmonton ever. That all came to a boiling point Wednesday night against the San Jose Sharks, at the time, the only team worse than the Oilers in the standings.
When everyone expected this to be the game the Oilers break out, the team and head coach Jay Woodcroft apparently had different plans. Edmonton would go on to lose the game 3-2, now tied with San Jose at five points at the bottom of the NHL. The Oilers couldn’t even beat the Sharks, who at one point recently allowed 10 goals in back-to-back games to the Penguins and Canucks. San Jose held the best hockey player on the planet to no points and four shots in just under 25:00 of ice time.
Needless to say, this is rock bottom for the Oilers. So it must be time for a change.
That change should come in the form of Woodcroft being fired. That could come Friday or some time over the weekend. Chances are the Oilers won’t drag this out and the coaching staff will be gutted. The rest of the staff includes Glen Gulutzan, Dave Manson, Mark Stuart, and Dustin Schwartz, the goaltending coach. These struggles may not just affect the coaching staff but also the front office. Ken Holland joined the Oilers as general manager in 2019. While the team has made the playoffs in every season under Holland, that hasn’t translated to a championship.
We likely won’t see Holland gone just yet. But for Woodcroft, the writing is on the wall. Just check out this tweet from last night:
as jay woodcroft and dave manson walk off the ice after the oilers loss to san jose, woodcroft appears to say “that might be it” to manson, who appears to respond with “yup.” pic.twitter.com/Qd1b8fNfAX— zach (@zjlaing) November 10, 2023
They already know they’re going to be gone. So with the Oilers in need of change, who might come in to save this sinking ship?
You’ll see a lot of people point to some obvious names out there. Let’s start from within. Woodcroft could be fired to send a message with Gulutzan taking over. He coached four seasons with the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames and really wasn’t all that bad. Gulutzan has a 146-125-23 record in those seasons (two apiece with each team). He missed the playoffs in three of four seasons but came close in his first with Dallas. The issue is if the move off Woodcroft to Gulutzan doesn’t do anything, the season is lost and it’s another year closer to Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid becoming free agents. We’ll get into that later.
If it isn’t Gulutzan, the Oilers could clean house and bring in a veteran coach. The obvious name being Joel Quenneville. He resigned as head coach of the Florida Panthers after the Kyle Beach investigation in Chicago. Quenneville needs to be reinstated but perhaps that could happen before 2024-25. If so, Quenneville could be brought in to try and save this team before Draisaitl and McDavid ponder leaving.
Claude Julien is a name we haven’t heard in a bit in the NHL. The Montreal Canadiens fired Julien in 2020-21 and then went to the Stanley Cup. Julien did go to the postseason two of four seasons with Montreal, which isn’t bad considering where the team has been the past few seasons. Julien can instill some more defensive intensity into an Edmonton team that has been poor all season. This move seems a bit more far out there, though. A few other names who could be considered after the season are Jay Leach, Marco Sturm and Joe Sacco.
The thing is, the Oilers can’t afford to screw this up again. If Woodcroft is let go, the next coach has all the pressure in the world on their shoulders. If this season is lost, Draisaitl is a pending free agent going into 2024-25. If next season isn’t on course, Draisaitl could be dealt before free agency if the team is afraid he won’t re-sign. Edmonton could also let Draisaitl walk considering he’ll command likely the richest NHL contract we’ve seen to this point.
A few seasons later and the Oilers could be staring down McDavid leaving in free agency. He’ll command an even bigger contract than Draisaitl, granted the salary cap is expected to go up. But the way the Oilers are currently constructed, the team may have to part ways with Draisaitl to accommodate McDavid while trying to maintain contender status (which is in question at the moment).
It’s going to be an impossible situation for Holland to navigate unless the team can rebound, make the playoffs and go on a deep run. We’re talking at least the Western Conference Final, which feels like a tall order right now. That likely needs to happen this season or next, otherwise we could see Edmonton go down the road of a massive rebuild again.