The Oilers worked on their conditioning today at practice, skating sets of lines.
“It’s on the calendar,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins explained. “When we sit down at the start of the year, I sit down with our strength staff and our exercise physiologist and we break the season down into places where we’re going to do some hard work. Then there are parts of the season where we pull right off. We haven’t had a stretch so far where we’ve been able to get some extra work in. The conditioning day was on the calendar, and it ended up being a little tougher because of our numbers out there. Usually you have eight D or an extra forward or a couple of extra forwards out there. With the bare minimum of four lines and six D, it taxes them fairly quickly.”
In addition to their conditioning, the Oilers ran battle drills all practice.
“Our practice showed today that we’re upping our compete level, upping our intensity and upping our work ethic,” Jordan Eberle said. “Like we’ve spoken about before, it’s not on the coach, not on the GM, it’s on us in here and we know that. We’ve addressed that in the locker room, guy to guy and we’ll be better.”
As Dallas Eakins, in just his second NHL season as a head coach, continues to try and evolve, he has created personal goals and benchmarks for his development. However, with the Oilers recent 11-game losing streak and the heartbreaking string of close losses, Eakins has put more of a focus on keeping an eye on the mental aspect of the team.
“It’s always a moving target,” Eakins said of what he’d like to improve in his coaching style. “You have a plan going into the start of the season and benchmarks you want to move forward on. Those haven’t changed a whole lot. What has changed is our last month of hockey, being on the wrong end of a bunch of one-goal games and one ugly night at home especially. Then the target changes and those benchmarks you wanted at the start of the season are still there, they’re still on the list but you’re trying to get the players out of this so you can get back on track and keep putting in the necessary building blocks to become a playoff team. That stunts the process a little bit when you get into these things.”
He continued, “Right now, our main concern and my main concern is the mental part of the game for our players. You take that last game in Winnipeg and those rip your heart out. You’ve played a textbook game on the road and there’s a goal late with whatever was left on the clock. I know it wasn’t much because I could hear it ticking down. That puts your whole group back in the funk of, what’s it going to take? What’s it going to take? We played well enough to win. That’s the biggest adjustment now, trying to get them through it.”
Oilers players and Head Coach Dallas Eakins reacted to General Manager Craig MacTavish’s press conference on Friday.
Andrew Ference: “It’s exactly what we’ve been saying. It does start with us in the room. We all have to be accountable, not only to each other and to this team but, the accountability has to come from yourself. As players, we all know that everybody has a role in what’s been going on, we all have a role to be better and to improve our game. All of us have different facets to work on and improve on, which collectively will make us more successful.”
Taylor Hall: “I think it just puts a little more pressure internally. Whenever your GM has to speak to the public and speak to the media, that’s usually not a good thing. For us, we’re looking forward to defending him and playing well for him because for a lot of us, he brought us in here, he’s believed in us and we’ve got to play better.”
Dallas Eakins: “I spoke to the team this morning… It’s the worst day. There are days when the GM may come in and talk to the players himself and that’s a bad day. But the worst day is when my boss and the players’ boss has to come in here and get pelted with bullets and questions about the team. That responsibility falls on me, my staff and the players in that room. It’s something that I take personally and certainly all of our players should be taking it very personally.”
"I’m not naive enough to think there isn’t going to have to be personnel change here over time.”
In an address to the media, Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish admits that he sees personnel changes in the future, but one at head coach isn’t on his list.
“We could bring in a fifth coach to deliver the same message to this group,” MacTavish said. “The thing that gives me optimism is that I’m hearing the same messaging from the players that I haven’t heard in the last number of years. The players are holding themselves accountable. I think you have to credit the current coaching staff for that, in getting the message through.”
MacTavish says, despite the win-loss record, he sees the evolution of Head Coach Dallas Eakins and that the messaging is still on point.
“When we asked Dallas to commit to us 18 months ago, he had plenty of opportunity and for obvious reasons,” MacTavish said. “He’s a sharp guy and as a very sought after coach at the time. I’ve seen, I felt at that time, as I do now, that he is a good role model for our players. He’s a passionate guy about the game and he’s evolving as a coach. Your question is where he’s evolved and I think with the way he deals with this situation, I think with his resiliency as a coach, I think it’s no easy feat to have the record that we’ve had at this time and still, in my mind, have the support of the whole group in there.”
That being said, much like the rest of the organization, coaching will still be under observation as the Oilers continue to evaluate every aspect of the club’s operations in an attempt to turn the team’s fortunes around.
“Coaching is under scrutiny, make no mistake about that,” MacTavish said. “Coaching is under scrutiny but, in my mind to make a coaching change, we’ve changed assistant coaches, we’ve brought in co-coaches, former head coaches… Those coaches were all delivering the same message and we need a higher level of execution. I feel our team is evolving to a point where the expectation internally with our players is that they do have to execute at a higher level and that gives me optimism that this thing is going to move forward.”
The team is running lines at the end of practice.
Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish addressed the media on Friday to give his thoughts on the team’s performance this season and the direction of the organization. MacTavish confirmed that the whole organization is under internal scrutiny and is being evaluated. This comes after a 6-15-5 start to the season.
“Everything in our organization currently, as you might imagine, is being evaluated and has been since we took over,” MacTavish said. “There has been, in the 18 or 19 months since I’ve been on the job, intense evaluation of a lot of aspects of our organization.”
Along with coaching, drafting and development are two areas the Oilers are reviewing.
“The long-term objective here, as I said last year, is to draft and develop players and all those aspects of our organization are under intense scrutiny,” MacTavish said. “We’ve worked hard in the last number of years to improve our processes , in terms of our drafting. There is still a lot of scrutiny with the way that we draft players and our development. We’ve piled a lot of resources into the development and we eventually think that they’re going to provide a better player through the door so we can improve.”
For some time, the consensus has been that the Oilers would like to add some quality NHL depth to their centre group. At the beginning of the season, Head Coach Dallas Eakins said the Oilers had just two NHL centres on their roster and were waiting for the younger players in their system to develop.
Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish spoke with the media on Friday morning and addressed that position. He says the market asking price has been to high to acquire what they’ve needed.
“I’m left with alternatives,” MacTavish said. “What are my alternatives? It would be foolish not to have tried to find another centreman to come in here. Based on the asking price, we’re not in a position to pay the asset ask for a positional bias right now. We’re not in that position. We just don’t have the number of assets that we can go out and deploy. There are four or five players that would bring us significant value.”
By giving up the players or assets of significant value, a move could leave the team with another hole.
MacTavish said, “We solve one problem and we create another. I just haven’t been in a position where I’ve had that opportunity to bring in another centreman. There is no quick or easy fix to some of these positional gaps. There have been a lot of open boxes when we go over our lineup, year in and year out, that we’re trying to fill. There still are some open boxes, but there are less open boxes. But there is no quick fix to filling that second line centre (position). If we could find the player at the right price, would it move us forward? Absolutely, but there is no quick fix to it that I’ve found.”
As expected, Oilers prospect Darnell Nurse received an invite to Canada’s world junior team selection camp. The seventh-overall pick in 2013 and captain of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds is excited about the opportunity.
“There’s a lot of excitement going on, especially around the rink and in this town,” Nurse said Tuesday, on Oilers Now. “For me, it’s a really exciting moment and I can’t wait to really get everything going and get to the camp. I’m fully aware that I’m capable of playing at that level and it’s going to be a task for me to go out and prove it each day.”
Last year, Nurse was left off Canada’s roster, which was a disappointing experience for the 19-year-old defenceman. Nurse is determined to not let that happen again.
“It was definitely an eye-opener, not having an opportunity to play on the team last year,” Nurse said. “I just went back and worked on my own game and things I can change in order to not be in the same situation when this time came around this year. It’s really just been a focus of mine to do things on the ice a lot more simple and not put myself in as risky of situations as I have in the past and it’s helped me to this point, not only in junior but especially at the beginning of the year when I had the opportunity to stay up and play a few games. It’s a continued process to really keep my game refined and play smart, simple plays as well as being able to contribute at both ends of the ice.”
The Oilers have lost 10-straight games, a tough pill for everyone in the organization to swallow. Darnell Nurse, the Oilers seventh-overall pick in 2013, has been watching the team from Sault Ste. Marie, where he captains the OHL’s Greyhounds.
“You never want to see that happen,” Nurse said on Oilers Now. “They have the right pieces in place and the right coaches and things like that to turn this thing around. You have to have all the faith in the organization that they’ll be able to do that. Obviously, there are still friends and guys I’ve grown relationships with on the team. You hope for nothing but the best but my main focus remains here in Sault Ste. Marie as we try to make a run for it this year.”
Nurse also expressed his support for Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins, having learned from him in training camp and played for him in two NHL games this season.
“He was a great help to me and in helping me refine my game and the things I need to work on to play at that level,” Nurse said. “He’s a great coach and someone who really helped me in order to help me find my way to play in the NHL games.”