EDMONTON — The “Fire Tippett” voices ring loudly these days in Oil Country, like fans urging a player to “Shoooot!” — as if a qualified NHL player is either listening or requires instruction from a guy holding a beer in one hand and a burger in the other.
But they bleat, do Northern Alberta’s Twitter GMs, the way they have for the past 15 years in Edmonton, where firing coaches every second season has led to so much success.
Yes, Edmonton lost a pair of games in overtime over New Year’s — the latest a 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders — after a 4-2 loss in St. Louis coming out of the Christmas break. Yes, they have some holes in their lineup, a 39-year-old goalie who is hurt — again — and a team that is muddling along, burning through their excellent start and devolving into a wildcard hopeful, the halfway point of the season still nine games away.
The locals are getting sour, as is their right, and of course, the kneejerk reaction is to fire the coach. In sports, it’s the equivalent of pounding on the hood of your broken down car, or fixing that ill-mixed Old Fashioned by pouring a few more ounces of whiskey in there.
It doesn’t help the problem, but somehow it feels good anyhow.
“The seasons are long. And they’re tough,” said defenceman Darnell Nurse. “You’re not going to go in a straight line from start to finish. You’re going to have your highs and lows. But if you play the right way for the majority of the year, you find yourself in the right situation when the year is over.
“We can’t get frustrated.”
Don’t worry, Darnell. The fans will do that for you.
“Double frustration, please! With a side of panic.”
“We’re working really hard, trying everything, trying to do the right things…” said Leon Draisaitl, who scored his 25th of the season Saturday. “The puck luck at times? The ability to put 60 minutes together? We’ve been struggling with that all year.”
When we see a team that plays the way Edmonton did for most of 40 minutes on Saturday, playing relatively straight up with the Isles in Period 1 and owning most of Period 2, we see a team that has been given workable structure by its coaching staff. When we see that same team give up an early, game-tying goal in the third, then fail to get a shot on net until the 14:39 mark of the period, we tend not to believe the coach changed the game plan to “sit back and get outplayed.”
“The second was good. That’s the way we want to play all game,” Nurse said. “In the third we had an opportunity to set a standard for the game…”
Is Tippett the perfect coach? Newsflash: There are no perfect coaches. And there are many who can do the job.
Is Tippett the reason why the Oilers aren’t still sailing along playing .750 hockey, as they were through their first 20 games? If you weren’t giving him credit then, we’re not sure why you’re firing him now?
To these eyes, this coaching staff gives its team a plan that — when properly executed — has them in any game against any team. The issues are with the Bottom 6 forwards, a defence whose depth has been sternly tested, and some nights in goal.
“It’s just the consistency, first (period) through to the third,” Nurse said. “When we are on our game, I’d put us up against anybody. When we’re letting teams off the hook … you won’t have success on a nightly basis. The teams are just too good.”
Are the players perhaps not good enough? Or, do they need some additions?
Of course, but that lands on GM Ken Holland’s desk.
Sure, nobody likes the goaltending a whole lot — again, Holland’s issue, not Tippett’s. But Tippett has worked virtually all season long with Mikko Koskinen as his No. 1.
If we’d have told you that in training camp, would you have settled for an 18-12-2 mark at this point? I would have.
Tippett, like every coach, has worked with a turnstile lineup with key players in and out all season. You fire a coach when he has his horses and can’t win with them — not when he’s had some of his horses some of the time, a decimated defence, a backup goalie, and he’s still six games over .500.
On Saturday, against a defensively stout Islanders team and playing a back-to-back, the Oilers spent the third period on their heels but survived. Then in overtime, it was Ryan McLeod passing up shots while Noah Dobson elected to let ‘er rip on his lone foray, and the Islander defenceman’s wrister found twine behind Koskinen.
It was anyone’s game for 65 minutes, and the Oilers lost in the coin flip that is OT.
“All in all, I thought it was a pretty solid effort,” said Draisaitl, the fastest Oiler to score 25 since Jimmy Carson back in 1988-89. “It’s frustrating for sure, but we’ll take the point and move on.”
And they’ll move on with their coaching staff intact, because stability is what this franchise requires more than another new name in one of the NHL’s longest lines of head coaches over the past 10 years.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — who left this road trip, returning home with an injury — has had eight head coaches and hasn’t played 700 games yet. We don’t have to tell you how little success he has had in his timer as an Oiler.
But we’ll tell you anyway: The answer is zero.
About the same as the likelihood Tippett gets fired.