So you're Craig MacTavish, the first-year general manager of the Edmonton Oilers, and a day after surveying the train wreck of an 8-1 loss to provincial rivals Calgary Flames, you're thinking, what next?
What more could possibly go wrong in a season when the Oilers bravely predicted that the future was now; that seven consecutive years out of the playoffs was enough; and that some of their young players were ready to move into the primes of their careers, guided by a bright new mind behind the bench, Dallas Eakins?
It didn't happen, not on any of those fronts, and in fact, it's gone in the opposite direction. Any signs of upward mobility seen in the last year of the Tom Renney era or the only year of the Ralph Krueger era have dissipated amidst another year in which they will finish last in the conference, after finally edging closer to playoff contention a year ago.
What the Oilers hoped would happen to their young team did actually happen - but to the Colorado Avalanche, a team with similar assets on paper that has been a far superior team where it counts, on the ice.
Like the Oilers, the Avalanche took a deliberate step backward a few years ago in order to replenish the prospect pipeline. Both teams have lineups sprinkled with blue-chip high-end draft choices - Edmonton with three No. 1 overall choices, Colorado with three in the top three over the past five seasons.
The difference is that the Avalanche, under coach Patrick Roy, has turned a lot of the potential belonging to Matt Duchene, Gabe Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon into genuine, bona fide NHL production.
Colorado doesn't have a star-studded defence corps either - it's Erik Johnson, Jan Hedja and a lot of players you haven't heard of - but it plays a decent system and goaltender Semyon Varlamov has been excellent.
But mostly, Colorado has been consistent from week-to-week, never too high, never too low, and as a result, will make the playoffs for the first time in four years.
At different times, the Oilers will tease you with their potential and just when you think they're figuring it out, they fall flat on their faces - as they did Saturday in a nationally televised game against a Flames team that makes up for its lack of talent with plenty of hard work.
The contrast was jarring - to see how hard Calgary tried and how little pushback there was on the Edmonton side when the wheels started to come off.
Even the Oilers' Taylor Hall acknowledged the problem after the game: The "compete" level was there at times but most of the time, it wasn't.
Edmonton had been on a decent 10-4-3 run leading into Thursday's loss to the NHL's worst team, the Buffalo Sabres, in part because they've stabilized their goaltending by adding Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth from the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks, respectively. Colorado, Calgary, the Columbus Blue Jackets - the value of a coach that's in sync with his team has been demonstrated repeatedly around the NHL this season.
Then there is Edmonton, with Eakins, who lost his cool in the second period Saturday after a frustrated Hall slammed a water bottle to the ground on the bench, only to have it explode and give Eakins an unexpected shower.
The two exchanged pleasantries on the bench and Hall sat for the rest of the period and into the third before Eakins put him back in the fray. Afterward, both Hall and Eakins downplayed the incident, lest it take on a life of its own, Hall saying that he had "a great relationship" with the coach and that they were "all good."
Eakins claimed it was no big deal either; and that he'd had far more momentous confrontations with other players this year, not unusual on losing teams. Everybody learning to get along is one thing. The larger alarm bells should be ringing because the Oilers' young players do not appear to be getting any better, and a couple of them - forward Nail Yakupov and defenceman Justin Schultz - may be going backward.
David Perron's addition from the St. Louis Blues gave them an additional scoring option, but they are, over all, still one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league. And defensively, despite recent improvements, they currently rank 28th. All of which makes MacTavish's off-season soul-searching all the more challenging.Report Typo/Error