Leon Draisaitl was sitting at a stall inside the SAP Center’s visiting locker room, running his hands up and down over his face.
It was a few minutes after the Oilers dropped a 3-2 decision to the NHL-worst Sharks, and Edmonton’s gifted goal scoring center was being asked to explain the unanswerable.
“I don’t really know what to say,” Draisaitl said while shaking his head and appearing to search fruitlessly for answers.
A voice noted that the Oilers were in the midst of a collective collapse.
“Yeah,” Draisaitl replied dryly. “Great. Great observation.”
A season which began with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations has imploded in spectacular fashion. Entering Monday night’s home game at Rogers Arena against the struggling New York Islanders, the Oilers’ 3-9-1 record and seven points ranks 31st in the NHL in both categories.
And it has already cost people jobs as head coach Jay Woodcroft and assistant coach Dave Manson were fired Sunday. Woodcroft and Manson were replaced by (AHL) Hartford Wolfpack head coach Kris Knoblauch and Hall-of-Fame defenseman Paul Coffey.
Coffey, who is also a special advisor to owner and chairman Daryl Katz, will be Knoblauch’s assistant.
The two were introduced in a press conference by Chief Executive Officer Jeff Jackson and general manager Ken Holland a little later in the day, and it left more questions than answers.
Specifically as it pertained to whether Edmonton’s players were consulted before Woodcroft and Manson were fired.
“I talked over this past week with some of the veterans on the team,” Holland said. “Not going to tell you what they said (but) I take the information and ultimately I have to make decisions. Obviously, Jeff’s got a long relationship with Connor (McDavid). You can probably talk about that.”
Jackson, who was McDavid’s agent before Katz hired him to oversee the organization on Aug. 3, immediately muddied the waters.
“We didn’t consult with the players on this decision,” Jackson said. “Never spoke with Connor, Leon, (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) or (Darnell Nurse) or any of the other (members of the) leadership group. These guys are here to play hockey. They know that’s what they want to do. They don’t like being involved in these types of decisions. That’s my experience. So the fact that Kris was Connor’s coach in (OHL) Erie in 2014 and 2015, it only has something to do with this because I think Kris Knoblauch is a very good coach. Connor didn’t have anything to do with this decision and neither did the other leadership group (members).”
To summarize: Edmonton’s foundational players may or may not have been consulted before Woodcroft and Manson were fired. And as McDavid said in the Rogers Arena home dressing room following the Oilers’ morning skate Monday, it has created a conspiracy theory.
“I woke up to a text (Sunday morningabout the changes),” McDavid told reporters. “Probably the way a lot of (reporters) did. I know the narrative is out there but it couldn’t be further from the truth.”
As Holland and Jackson noted, McDavid played for Knoblauch at OHL Erie from 2012-13 through 2014-15.
“It’s been a really long time,” McDavid said, when asked for a scouting report on Knoblauch. “Obviously (I) thought he was great in junior. I don't know what he’s been up to other than he’s been coaching obviously in the NHL as an assistant (with the Philadelphia Flyers) and in the American League (with Hartford, the New York Rangers affiliate).
“He’s a young voice which I think is great. I think it resonates with a lot of guys in this room. You know he’s someone that I look forward to working with.”
During their question-and-answer sessions Monday, both McDavid and Draisaitl defended Woodcroft.
With good reason.
Woodcroft compiled a .643 winning percentage in 133 regular season games (79-41-13) and led Edmonton to the Western Conference Final in 2021-22 and the second round in 2022-23.
“He never lost the room,” McDavid said. “Our play hasn’t been good enough. I’m first on the list there. Our play needs to be better (because) it’s the reason two good guys lost their (jobs).”
Although Edmonton possesses terrific puck possession numbers–the Oilers have a 57.91 Corsi For percentage and a 56.34 Fenwick For percentage–the Oilers’ 35 goals scored rank 28th in the NHL and their 51 goals allowed is tied for sixth-worst in the league.
“There is no way (Woodcroft) lost anyone in here,” Draisaitl said. “Obviously us players, we’re the ones on the ice and we were as prepared as any team in the league for any given night. It’s on us to obviously be better.”