By now it's clear to everyone that things need to change in Edmonton. Here are nine thoughts about what could be done.
1) FIRE LOWE, MACTAVISH, HOWSON
I've made my growing displeasure with management pretty clear on this blog over the last couple of years. Lowe may not be the man who makes all the decisions, but I have a hard time believing that he isn't consulted on the big ones. In fact, he has said that he is. But even if Lowe had nothing to do with the decisions that are being made, he has hired the men who do. This group has collectively allowed their team to go into another season with painfully obvious holes in the roster, and on more than one occasion they have found the wrong solutions (Nikitin, Clarkson, Belov, and on and on it goes). Replacing these three is a more difficult problem, but it starts with interviewing a pool of the most qualified candidates in the world - something that for too long this organization simply hasn't done.
2) FIRE DALLAS EAKINS
I was a little hesitant about this one at first, because there has been some intriguing improvement in the Oilers' underlying numbers. I'd think about riding it out with Eakins a little while longer, but I'd also like to be ready to pounce if some better, more experienced coaches become available. Whatever the underlying numbers say, it's Eakins' deployments of his team that should cost him his job.
Over at OilersNation, Matt Henderson made a strong argument that Ference and Jultz shouldn't have been on the ice in overtime against the Jets (link). Meanwhile, Jonathan Willis presented the opposing view at the Cult of Hockey (link). Willis states that overtime is suited to Jultz's skills, and Ference was the most experienced left-side defender available. Both are true, but the OilersNation article points out how bad that pairing had been that particular night. Eakins seems to have a tendency to use players in situations that he expects will be ideal for them, such as the overtime against the Jets, or constantly feeding Jultz and Hunt ice time while trailing because they're offensive players, and so on. He doesn't seem to have the ability to adjust to the situation as it actually is - at least not yet. If Eakins is not being controlled by management when it comes to how he uses his players, then he must go.
Craig Ramsey would be my choice to take over in the interim, and then we would have to wait for the firings and expiring contracts of coaches around the league to decide who takes over. Whoever it is, make it someone with experience, preferably someone with experience dealing with highly skilled, highly drafted players.
3) USE YOUR BEST PLAYERS MOST
This ties into the deployment of the team as it stands today, particularly the defense. I think that the Oilers' defense is actually good enough that it shouldn't get completely snowed under every night. The problem is in how it is used.
In my opinion, the defense has been deployed upside-down. Have a look:
Mark Fayne has played more minutes lately, but those ice time numbers are a clear indication of why there's been so much losing from the Oilers so far. Fayne was a top pairing defender in New Jersey last season, and has been one of Edmonton's best and most consistent so far this year, but he has been deployed like he's Ladislav Smid. Players like Jultz and Nikitin, who are clearly overmatched each night, have seen heaping helpings of ice despite their obviously poor results. If it were up to me, the ice time per game would be ranked something like this:
1) Jeff Petry
2) Mark Fayne
3) Andrew Ference
4) Martin Marincin
5) Oscar Klefbom
6) Justin Schultz
7) Nikita Nikitin
Nikitin shouldn't be on this team at all, so having him way down there at the bottom is the only place I can think of. I don't like to rely on Ference so much, but we are where we are. Mark Fayne should be gobbling up all that even strength ice time that Nikitin and Schultz are getting currently, and I would try to avoid putting Schultz and Nikitin together as much as possible, because that pairing has been common but it has hindered both of them.
These rankings aren't set in stone, either. Whoever is playing well gets to go. No more Jultz in the press box and then 20 minutes of ice the following night.
4) RECALL LANDER AND MARINCIN
In order to use Marincin in the above scenario, he would of course have to be in the NHL. For some reason, Eakins decided to give Marincin the toughest competition of the Oilers' defense and just 48.7% offensive zone starts and then the team was disappointed when he couldn't handle it. This goes back to player usage and firing Eakins, because it makes no sense at all.
As for Anton Lander, it's time to see once and for all what we've got there. He has the rest of the season to show whether or not he belongs in the NHL. The spot opens up because...
5) SEND LEON DRAISAITL BACK TO JUNIOR
It's is bordering on the ridiculous at this point. Draisaitl has performed admirably considering the circumstances, but what would be the point of keeping him in Edmonton? I can't think of a single good reason for him to stay, but if they send him down before the 40 game mark then this season won't count as one of the seven needed to become a UFA. Is he learning any good habits in this poisonous environment? Have any of the young players?
6) EVALUATE THE SCOUTS
Stu MacGregor's star has fallen considerably, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he's the wrong man for the job. Scouts can make recommendations, but they don't make the picks. How much of his failure comes down to the development system under Tambellini? How much falls on injuries to key players like Pitlick and Curtis Hamilton? How much of the problem has been dumping players like Rieder or Hartikainen?
I'm not terribly displeased with MacGregor's scouting record considering the crap shoot that is the NHL draft. That doesn't mean this corner shouldn't be evaluated, however.
7) DON'T MAKE TRADES NOW
This is a poor time to make a major trade. Almost all of the Oilers' assets are at all-time-lows in terms of value. What could the Oilers have gotten for Perron in the off season? We'll never know, but dealing from a position of strength like the wing could certainly have helped address center or defense. What could they have gotten for Sam Gagner before he was signed to his new deal? A hell of a lot more than Teddy Purcell.
You're not saving this season, so give the players a chance to get out of this before you even consider going to market.
8) STOP CALLING ANYONE "UNTOUCHABLE"
I wonder where the lack of accountability is coming from? Could it be that constantly calling the core players "untouchable" is not a good way to motivate them? Going into the season we knew that five or six players were citizens above suspicion, and any investigation into their play or availability was a non-starter.
This is wrong.
No player, no matter how skilled or highly touted, should feel this comfortable. You're playing for your spot every single night. Anything else is going to allow a culture of entitlement to creep in, as we've seen.
9) TRY TO WIN
Don't talk to me about Connor McDavid. The Oilers have accumulated enough assets that they should be able to lay waste to this league if they were properly supported. Besides, even finishing last in the league only gives you a 20% chance of picking first, and the odds drop off considerably after that.
The Oilers are probably going to finish in the bottom five, because they've left a lot of points on the table and they are a flawed team. But the thing to do now is to try to win, and more importantly to not accept losing. The Oilers simply aren't going to win many more games, but every time they lose it should feel like a punch in the gut, not another step on the road to McDavid. Anyone who isn't on board with that should be looking for another team.
I believe that with the current roster and some better decision making by the coaches this team could play a few games under .500 the rest of the way. Anything other than that should be viewed as a failure.