For the first time in his career, Edmonton Oilers President of Hockey Operations and GM Peter Chiarelli has fired a head coach during the season. The Oilers dismissed Todd McLellan this morning, ending an era that went three full seasons and 20 games into a fourth. McLellan departs with one playoff berth, one series win and a 123-119-24 record.
His replacement? None other than Edmonton native Ken Hitchcock, who coached the Dallas Stars last season before retiring. Hitchcock will run the Edmonton bench for the rest of the season, before the sides will reevaluate things according to Sportsnet’s John Shannon.
Hitchcock led the Stars to a 42-32-8 record last season in Dallas, but the Stars failed to make the postseason. He was fired by the St. Louis Blues 50 games into the 2016-17 season, leaving with a record of 24-21-5. The last time Hitch led a team to the playoffs? The 2015-16 season, when he took St. Louis to the Western Conference Final.
It Was Time:
By all accounts, Todd McLellan is a good guy who was well liked by his players and by the media. Many people called him a “player’s coach” and I think most guys enjoyed playing for him. In addition to that, at one time, McLellan was a high end NHL coach.
That hadn’t been the case recently. McLellan’s system seemed to be outdated and didn’t seem to fit this club’s strengths. On many nights, the Oilers looked lost out on the ice and seemed confused as to where they needed to be. It was surprising to me that, in year four, the Oilers were not grasping the system.
Far too many nights they looked too lax and weren’t engaged from the get-go. Bottom line is, the Oilers were not playing well enough and the effort was not there on a nightly basis. This team needed a wake up call, and they got it this morning. The time had come for McLellan, I’m not sure there is a debate there.
It’s a little surprising that Hitchcock was the pick to replace McLellan. Let’s be honest, Hitch isn’t young by any means and likely isn’t going to be sticking around long-term. This is a move designed to get the Oilers going and to push them into the playoffs right now.
If McLellan is a player’s coach, then Hitchcock is the exact opposite. He’s going to push guys and he’s going to be a hard-ass, challenging guys to step up and outperform their established levels this season. It seems to me like a desperation move, one designed to save the season.
I don’t mind Hitchcock at all for the rest of the season. I think he will come in and make the Oilers are harder working team that plays the system far better. I expect this shocking decision will lead to more buy-in, and I think we will see guys respond
The target is now firmly on Peter Chiarelli. The coach has paid the price, and now the GM is the last remaining person in the firing line. Should the Oilers fail to make the playoffs, there is no doubt in my mind that Chiarelli will be handed his walking papers.
I also firmly believe that is why we see Hitchcock coming in. If Chiarelli is on such thin ice, he needs to save this season and his job. Hitchcock might be able to do that. On top of that, would you allow someone to make a major decision if you were going to fire them in five or six months? Likely not.
We’ll see how this Oiler team responds to today’s decision. There is no doubt the pressure has been revved up to another level. No one seems to be safe anymore.