Will the latest skid for the Edmonton Oilers end up costing someone his job?
The team is still within striking distance of its top opponents in the weak Pacific Division, but six losses in its past seven games has this club reeling.
Elliotte Friedman had a Monday afternoon radio hit on Calgary’s Sportsnet 960, and was asked about “coach watch” and if he thought Todd McLellan’s job could be in imminent danger.
“I don’t think it’s just coach watch, I think everybody in that organization is on pins and needles right now,” said Friedman. “And I’ve said this before. Right from the start of this year, it was on edge in Edmonton. I just think that it has gone away at certain times. They lost their first two games - it was crazy intense for two games into the season. They kind of righted the ship. They’ve been very streaky, and every time they go on one of the bad streaks, people tell me the intensity of the heat just ramps up again.
“It certainly felt that way last week. And then they went and they got that big win against Montreal, the 6-2 game that could have been 12-2 if Niemi hadn’t stood on his head.
“Well then you lose that game to (the Flames), and then you lose again to Vegas - and that was a really ugly loss last night, there’s absolutely no doubt about that.
“What I think you’re looking at here is every time the heat goes on the coach - there’s no question about that, yes. But the fact is that I think it goes deeper than that. I think that everybody in that organization is looking over their shoulders.
“A couple of years ago, they started looking internally at, ‘Do we run our organization efficiently,’ and they’ve made a lot of changes behind the scenes. The kind of stuff we don’t see on the outside. People in the business side, the people whose work doesn’t necessarily impact the hockey decisions. And it’s put the whole organization on edge. And I think that has continued now over to the hockey side. I know that a lot of us are talking about McLellan, but I think it goes a lot deeper than that. I don’t know too many people that feel that safe there right now.”
Friedman hadn’t specifically mentioned Peter Chiarelli by name, so the Insider was asked about the general manager.
“Like I said, I think it’s just about everybody in the hockey ops department,” noted Friedman. “I think the only guy who’s probably 100 percent safe, if that, would probably be Gretzky. But other than that, I think everybody there is looking at it like, ‘This organization has made a lot of off-ice change. It’s not working yet on the ice.’
“What’s fortunate for Edmonton is that the division is so bad, you can right yourself and still do okay and still have a chance to make the playoffs.
“But look - you guys just talked about Rittich. You guys are making the switch. Rittich is going to be your goalie now for awhile. He won the other night. He was very good. He stopped three breakaways, and he’s going to get the net tonight against Vegas. It’s his opportunity to run with it.
“I think we’re going to see that in Edmonton too. Koskinen, tough loss on Saturday but generally he’s outplayed Talbot. I think you’ve got to give him a chance to run with it. You’re going into a hornet’s nest tomorrow night. San Jose is starting to go, and I think he’s the guy who gives you a better chance to win. I think that’s what you have to do, and see if he can build you some momentum.
“But I think overall it’s an organization on edge, and it’s certainly that way today. I mean, if something had happened today, I don’t think anybody would have been surprised.”
The 9-10-1 Oilers have a California road trip this week, taking on the San Jose Sharks Tuesday, Anaheim Ducks Friday, and Los Angeles Kings Sunday.