Well, after my last piece which was telling Edmonton Oilers’ fans not to panic after being 2–6–1, they dropped three more games, including a Vancouver Canucks game where they were outshooting Vancouver 19–4 in the first thirteen minutes and were losing 2–1. Since then, the Oilers have recalled Calvin Pickard and waived Jack Campbell.
Rumours are swirling all over the place from a Jordan Binnington acquisition to a Jay Woodcroft firing. Firing Woodcroft would be a fireable (no pun intended) offence in my opinion. I do not believe he’s at fault for this current situation. Using past seasons as evidence, here’s why all the blame should be off of Woody.
Woodcroft’s record with the Oilers
When Woodcroft was hired on February 10, 2022, the Oilers were in a rough spot. They just had a stretch where they went 2–11–2 under former Coach Dave Tippett and just lost back-to-back games on home ice. A few points back of a wildcard spot, the Oilers fired Tippett and brought up Woodcroft and Dave Manson.
The Oilers saw results immediately. From February to the end of the season, they accumulated a record of 26–9–3, the third best record during that stretch just behind the Florida Panthers, who won the Presidents’ Trophy, and the Calgary Flames. As we all know, the Oilers went on a run to the Western Conference Finals and ended up losing to the Colorado Avalanche, the eventual Stanley Cup winners.
In the following season, the Oilers were in a chase for a wild card spot on New Years Eve. After starting the campaign 10–10, they found themselves with a 20–16–2 record on the eve of the New Year. Once again, they went on a heater. From January 1 to the end of the season, the Oilers went 30–7–7. That was the best in the NHL in that span, even better than the record-setting Boston Bruins. The Oilers then lost to the eventual Stanley Cup winners again, the Vegas Golden Knights.
The point is that Woodcroft has shown in his time here that he can get the team rolling after shaky starts. When the Oilers do get rolling, they look unstoppable. Although this 2–9–1 start has dropped Woodcroft to eighth in points percentage since he’s been hired, we should not ignore the fact that he was coming into the season second in the NHL in points percentage.
Oilers 5v5 stats and depth
To say the pre-Woodcroft Oilers had terrible depth would be an understatement. Ever since the amazing run in 2016–17, the Oilers had a terrible 5v5 goal share. Quite frankly, being sub 30% is an embarrassment for an NHL team, let alone one with two of the best players in the world. Here’s a graphic from one of my good friends on Twitter, @NHL_Sid.
When Woodcroft came in, things changed immediately. The depth players got a lot more ice time, scored at a better rate, and allowed fewer goals against at a better rate. The following season things improved once more. In what I would call one of their strengths for the season, the Oilers had the best goal share they ever had without Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins since they made the 2017 playoffs.
Everyone in the line-up accumulated at least double-digit goals each and held their own defensively, something past teams had a hard time doing. While to start this season things have been terrible, it’s worth noting Ryan McLeod missed the entire camp with an injury which has impacted his play; they’re playing with 11 skaters due to the terrible cap situation, and they’re not getting as much ice time as Woodcroft played them in previous years.
Improvement defensively (using last season’s xGA and this year’s stats)
In Tippett’s tenure here, the Oilers from October 2019 to February 2022, were one of the worst teams defensively. They ranked in the bottom half of the league with a xGF% of 49.16. They were the 10th worst team at stopping high-danger chances against, and were a bottom-five team in preventing scoring chances against.
When Woodcroft took over in February 2022, the Oilers were 10th in xGF% with a 52, 14th in SCF%, and the big one, were the fourth best team in eliminating high-danger chances against. Things improved the next season when the Oilers were a top-five team in xGF% with a 53.59, which also included a run as the second best team in the league in both xGA and xGF% from January 1, 2023, to the end of the season—a top-five team in eliminating high-danger chances against and a top ten team in SCF%.
Woodcroft turned this team into something previous coaches couldn’t do. They became a good defensive unit. His track record says the same thing this season.
The Oilers are actually one of the best teams in the league when it comes to their in-zone defence. They do a great job limiting goals off the cycle and forecheck. The Box+1 has been great in this regard.
However, they are by far, the worst rush defending team in the NHL. This makes it appear they’re playing bad defensively. Out of their 29 goals allowed 5v5 this season, 18 have come off the rush. So when people critique the new defensive system for their poor play, I scratch my head. It’s their neutral zone and transition play that’s been killing them.
It also doesn’t help the fact that the Oilers have the worst goaltending in the league. One save can boost a team’s confidence and the Oilers aren’t getting any. It’s also worth noting this season that the Oilers rank second in the league in xGF%, fourth in xGA, and third in HDCA. They’ve been good this season but are being killed by goaltending and off the rush.
Don’t fire Woodcroft
Listen. Does Woodcroft have problems with playing youth and not giving enough accountability to his group? Yes. However, every coach has a few blind spots. Woodcroft has and is way more good than bad. He shouldn’t be at fault if the slump continues. This is solely on Oilers’ Ken Holland not improving the roster’s weaknesses.
Stats are from NaturalStatTrick.com
Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire