Starting Friday night the Oilers will play seven games in a stretch of 20 nights in the "friendly" atmosphere that is Rexall Place. Through four games so far this season the team has posted a dismal 0-3-1 record while being outscored at a 2:1 clip. To say that this home stand represents the Oilers last chance to salvage the season might seem like an overstatement when the season isn't yet a week old but it's also true. Unless things take a turn for the better in a hurry the Oilers will, once again, be looking at a season that is effectively over in early November.
Some of the team's current situation can be chalked up to luck, or more appropriately, bad luck, but the simple fact is that the fans in this town dealt with the exact same thing last year and they're tired of the excuses. They want to see some wins. They deserve to see some wins. Just scroll through the #Oilers hashtag on Twitter (also fun is the hashtag #herecometheOilers) if you want a quick overview of the anger that surrounds this team today. Now imagine it if the Oilers win just two or three games on this home stand. Surely that will force management to look at the man behind the bench and consider a change.
And even as a person who supported Dallas Eakins during the summer I could hardly blame them; sports are a results driven business and the Oilers under Eakins (and many before him) have not meet expectations. But I did not advocate for a coaching during the summer because I thought that Eakins was a reasonable bet to figure things out. In August, in the wake of the team's hiring of Tyler Dellow, I had this to say about him:
I look at things like [his decision to attend the Dallas Cowboys and Missouri Tigers training camps] and I see a coach who not only understands what he's good at but also what he's not good at, and a man who's willing to find help where ever he can in order to improve. To me that points to a person who is pretty damn smart. And while none of that guarantees that he'll be able to help turn the Oilers into a winner, as Dellow pointed out more than a couple of times on Twitter and again on his site, there are probably worse things we could do than bet on a smart guy to figure things out.
Since then though I've seen enough to make me think that I might have been wrong about the whole "he's a smart guy" thing. Following training camp Brad Hunt was kept ahead of Martin Marincin. Then Jeff Petry was a healthy scratch for a night. And despite the mountain of evidence indicating that they can't handle the minutes, Justin Schultz, Hunt, and Andrew Ference are first, third, fourth in average ice time among Oiler defenders. Taken individually all of these are puzzling choices, as a group they are simply bizarre. They also seem out of place when you look back at how he used both Petry and Marincin last season.
Perhaps the reason for this is that Eakins is relying more heavily on a different advisor this season, or is trying to send a message to his team with these decisions. What message you would be trying to send by giving big minutes to those who don't deserve them is beyond me, but it is a possibility and being on the outside of the dressing room like we are we'll never know for sure.
The only thing that we do know is that the results so far haven't been close to good enough and unless something changes with how Eakins is using the players at his disposal things aren't likely to get much better anytime soon. You can't blame him for the glaring lack of depth at centre, that's on Craig MacTavish, but what is being done with the defence has to be laid at his feet.
Seven games from now the Oilers will board a plane destined for Philadelphia, if Dallas Eakins is going to be on that plane with them he will have to spend the next 20 days being more like the coach I thought he could be than the coach he has been so far this season.