VANCOUVER — Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft hopes his team understands the message being sent by dispatching struggling goaltender Jack Campbell to the American Hockey League.
“The message it sends is, we’re 2-8-1,” Woodcroft said Wednesday after the Oilers practised at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre at the University of British Columbia. “For us to just keep trotting the same thing out, we can’t do that. It’s not acceptable.
“Unfortunately for someone of Jack’s character, and someone who is such a great teammate, he’s one of those pieces that is being forced to move. That’s not fun. We’ve had good moments but there haven’t been enough. We’re looking for solutions. My experience in 20 years, usually real solutions hide in plain sight.”
The Oilers, who are second last in the Western Conference, said Tuesday they were placing Campbell on waivers. After clearing, he was assigned Wednesday to the AHL Bakersfield Condors. Goaltender Calvin Pickard was promoted from Bakersfield to Edmonton.
Campbell, 31, is in the second year of a five-year, US$25-million contract. He has a 1-4-0 record with a 4.50 goals-against average and .873 save percentage in five appearances with Edmonton this season.
The Oilers travel to San Jose where they play the Sharks Thursday. San Jose won their first game of the season 2-1 over Philadelphia Tuesday night.
Left-winger Zach Hyman, a close friend of Campbell, understands what Oilers management is telling the players.
"When you lose a guy like that, it sucks," said Hyman, who is second on the team with four goals and 10 points. "I think it’s a wake-up call to the group that our standards need to be better. Collectively as a group we need to be better.
"When you lose, things happen. Management is trying to spark something in the group."
The Oilers have lost seven of their last eight games, including a 6-2 defeat to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday. During that stretch they have been outscored 34-19 and allowed four or more goals five times.
The Oilers, who have two of the best players in the NHL in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, are 31st in the league in both goals scored (29) and goals allowed (47) heading into Wednesday night’s games. They came into the year with high expectations after winning over 100 games the last two seasons and losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the playoffs.
Left-winger Evander Kane said Campbell can’t be blamed for all of the Oilers problems.
“I think we let him down,” said Kane, who has nine points and three goals. “Soupy is a guy that, regardless of the numbers, has played incredibly well for us.
"Have there been some goals he would want back? Sure. There’s been a ton of plays as a group we can have back. I know he wants to get back here and we want him back here. We’ve got to start performing."
Campbell's demotion leaves Stuart Skinner as Edmonton’s No. 1 goalie, but he has also struggled. Skinner has a 1-4-1 record, 3.99 goals-against average and .856 save percentage. He gave up six goals on 36 shots against the Canucks.
Pickard, 31, is 2-2 with a 2.03 GAA and .939 save percentage in four appearances with Bakersfield this season. He was 23-12-2 with a 2.70 GAA and .912 save percentage with the Condors in 2022-23, his first season in the Oilers' organization.
Woodcroft saw some positives early in the Oilers game against Vancouver. They scored the opening goal and outshot Vancouver 21-8 in the first period but still trailed 3-1.
"I see some signs but it’s time to put something together here," he said. "The players know they own it. They accept it. The coaches know it and accept it."
Woodcroft said being sent to AHL is a chance for Campbell is regain his form.
"It's an opportunity for him to play a lot," said Woodcroft. "Refine some aspects of is game, get back to feeling confident. We’ll see where he ends up.
"We’re painting this as a positive for Jack."
Woodcroft shrugged when asked if the team could expect more messages to be sent.
"We'll see how the team responds to this message," he said. "We’re expecting to play our best game of the season tomorrow."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2023
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press