The Edmonton Oilers became the first team in the NHL to make a coaching change over the weekend.
Given their 3-9-1 record to start a season in which they were one of the betting favorites to win the Stanley Cup, you’d think that Edmonton’s decision to fire head coach Jay Woodcroft would not have been all that polarizing.
This is a team with massive expectations and it’s off to a rotten start.
That’s a familiar recipe for a coach to lose his job.
Despite the conventionality of the situation, the reaction to Woodcroft’s dismissal has been divisive.
That’s because, despite their terrible record, the Oilers haven’t been playing all that poorly.
There have been plenty of mistakes and defensive breakdowns, but Edmonton’s biggest issue is one that the head coach doesn’t have much control over, but often gets the blame for — poor goaltending.
There’s an old adage among hockey people, “Show me a recently fired coach and I’ll show you a struggling goaltender.”
|2023/24 Edmonton Oilers odds|
|To win the Stanley Cup +2000 (BetRivers)|
|To win the Western Conference +1000 (Caesars)|
|To win the Pacficic Division +2800 (Bet365)|
|To win the President’s Trophy 100/1 (BetMGM)|
|To reach playoffs Yes: +130 (FanDuel)|
At the time of writing (before Edmonton’s game against the Islanders on Monday night), the Oilers ranked last in the NHL with an .864 save percentage and their two goaltenders, Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell, had posted a combined -10.8 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx).
It would be hard for any team to succeed with that kind of netminding.
And it is a shame that Skinner and the now-demoted Campbell couldn’t provide even average goaltending because the rest of the process looks fine for the Oilers.
They rank first in expected goals rate and high-danger scoring chance percentage at five-on-five, but they’re 28th in goal differential.
It’s a classic case of a team due for some major positive regression, which brings us to the phenomenon of the “new-coach bounce.”
Given their statistical profile and talent, it seems much more likely than not that the Oilers begin a surge up the standings sooner rather than later.
Edmonton will need to cut down the defensive breakdowns, see an improvement in the goaltending department and have their star players find their form, but that really isn’t asking much considering how Edmonton is playing.
And if the Oilers do start to positively regress, one man will get a lot of the credit — new head coach Kris Knoblauch.
There is such a thing as the new-coach bounce in sports and handicapping.
But oftentimes it’s just because a team with high expectations — like the Oilers in this case — is playing better than their results suggest and starts to positively regress after the change is made.
In a lot of ways, Knoblauch has a pretty easy job on his hands.
The Oilers are doing a lot of things right at five-on-five, so he just needs to keep the team on track and hope that a few things turn around.
For one, the Oilers would definitely benefit from Connor McDavid finding his form.
Betting on the NHL?
The reigning MVP is clearly not playing at 100 percent and his relatively poor numbers bear that out, but it seems like a pretty safe bet to count on McDavid clicking into gear at some point soon.
Outside of that, Knoblauch just has to pin his hopes on Skinner and the recently called-up Calvin Pickard providing better goaltending.
If McDavid gets going and the goalies stabilize even just a little bit, the Oilers will start to win a lot of games and could find themselves in a decent position in the not-too-distant future.
And if a surge does come, Knoblauch will be given plenty of flowers from the hockey media and could find himself in the running for the Jack Adams Trophy.
In a weird way, this slow start has opened up a lot of betting opportunities on the Oilers.
You could buy low on the Oilers to win the Stanley Cup at 22/1 (they were +900 at the start of the season) or wait for Knoblauch’s name to start popping up in the Jack Adams market.
If he’s offered at 40/1 or longer, he’s absolutely worth a shot because there’s a decent chance that this team gets hot and he gets the credit for turning this ship around.