How To Fix The Edmonton Oilers: Behind The Bench

How To Fix The Edmonton Oilers: Behind The Bench


How To Fix The Edmonton Oilers: Behind The Bench


Let’s be honest with each other for a second here, okay? Ken Hitchcock has been horrible. I know the roster isn’t very good, but this team is worse than the Todd McLellan edition of the Oilers. Yes, Oscar Klefbom was injured for a period of time but this Edmonton team looks lost on most nights.

Hitchcock will walk into the Hockey Hall of Fame one day and is one of the best coaches in NHL history. That is simply the truth. What also is true is that Hitchcock is a terrible match for this Oiler roster and that the modern game appears to have passed him by.

Thank him for coming out and trying to help, but wish him the best in retirement the second Edmonton’s season ends. He wasn’t the man to help this year and certainly won’t be the man to get this thing figured out in September.

Now What?:

The coaching decision will almost certainly be left up to who takes over as GM in the off-season. Earlier in this exercise, I made my pick for POHO (Mike Gillis) and GM (Laurence Gilman), while also saying that I expect for Keith Gretzky to get the job when all is said and done.

No matter who gets the job, odds are their first real decision in that role will be to hire the next head coach of the Edmonton Oilers. The last GM’s first hire? Todd McLellan. The one before that? Dallas Eakins.

I think it is more likely that Edmonton goes the Chiarelli route (McLellan) than the MacTavish route (Eakins) in the sense that they are more likely to chase a veteran name than a up-and-comer with one big exception (more later). There are worthy candidates in both pools, and I expect Edmonton to be targeting a specific kind of coach.

They are going to want someone with a track record of success wherever they’ve been, and someone who emphasizes offense and a faster pace. The biggest knock on Edmonton is their lack of skill and how slow they are. Expect the next coach’s style to emphasize those traits.

I don’t think the Oilers will be next in line to keep the NCAA coaching trend going, and I’d be stunned if they dipped their toes into the junior ranks for the second summer in a row. Instead, I suspect we are looking at AHL and NHL coaches only here.

The Candidates:

Bruce Boudreau: For my money, Boudreau is the most underrated coach in hockey. A veteran NHL coach who has had a ton of success, the only thing that evades him is a Stanley Cup. After a first round exit a season ago in Minnesota and now a collapse during the playoff race, it seems probable that his time with the Wild is coming to an end.

He’s a high-end coach, and I could see him having a Barry Trotz-like impact with a team like the Oilers. His system and philosophy would be a great fit with what Edmonton is looking for.

Randy Carlyle: Allow me to say this, I want no part of Carlyle in Edmonton. I think he is the most overrated coach of this generation and that his teams routinely get bailed out by good goaltending. His system is outdated and his teams usually struggle for long stretches. He’s a horrible fit, in my opinion, for what the Oil want.

That said, he is a veteran coach and has won a Stanley Cup before. Those things will attract teams like a mosquito to a Zapper, and Edmonton will be one of those mosquitoes. I don’t think they hire him, but I do think they’ll look.

Doug Weight: His first stint as a head coach was up-and-down. Weight nearly got the Islanders into the playoffs after taking over in January of 2017, but his only full season just wasn’t good enough. The Isles missed the playoffs and finished as the worst defensive team in hockey.

There are a lot of similarities between that Islander roster and this Oiler one. I’ve also heard rumblings that Weight wasn’t exactly ideal to work with or play for. I’d be cautious about the former Oiler.

Kris Knoblauch: When Knoblauch, Connor McDavid’s junior coach, made the jump to the NHL as an assistant there was interest from the Oilers. Knoblauch elected to stay in Pennsylvania and go to the Flyers, but he’s going to be a candidate for coaching jobs this summer.

The Oilers will be interested for a few reasons, with the McDavid connection chief among them. Knoblauch is also a more offensive coach, and could bring fresh ideas to an Edmonton organization desperately in need of them. I think he’ll get a long look from the organization.

Jay Woodcroft: A year ago, this kind of suggestion would have been laughed at. Give Woodcroft credit, he took his demotion to the AHL in stride and has done great work reshaping the Condors. They are now one of the top teams in the AHL, are playoff bound, developing young players and posting some serious offense.

I’m not sure if Woodcroft is ready to make the jump after just one season, but his work should have the attention of the big club. I’m very content with him being back in Bakersfield next season but would give him a look during this process. I’d wager that the Oilers will do just that.

Sheldon Keefe: Here is someone that isn’t getting a lot of love, but could be a candidate depending on who takes over as GM. Keefe comes from the Kyle Dubas tree and is one of the better young coaches in the AHL. Like Woodcroft, I’m not sure if he is ready for the big league just yet in a head role, but he’s close.

If Gilman comes to Edmonton as GM, I think he might take a long look at Keefe.

Todd Nelson: Imagine? Look, odds are it won’t happen but Nelson has earned a head coaching gig in the NHL. He’s done terrific work with powerplays over his career and has a penchant for developing young talent. If not for McLellan’s availability in 2015, he’d have earned Edmonton’s job on a full-time basis after taking over in December of 2014 for Eakins.

Nelson fits Edmonton’s needs like a glove and is more than ready to take over an NHL bench. It probably won’t be the Oilers, but I’d wager someone scoops him up this summer.

Darryl Sutter: I don’t think Edmonton would go this route after the Hitchcock disaster, but they were very interested in talking with him about some sort of role when Chiarelli was let go. I don’t think that interest has gone away.

Alain Vigneault: AV has dealt with pressure situations (Vancouver, New York), had tons of success at the NHL level and routinely had some highly skilled and fast teams. He’s a candidate that no one talks about, but I think is the perfect fit in Edmonton. He’s a veteran, has had a season to decompress, and would take over a roster that fits his style and could be further molded to what he wants.

AV has been careful about picking his spot, but I firmly believe there will be mutual interest between he and the Oilers this off-season. He’s the sexy name that everyone seems to be forgetting. His name jumps to the front of the list if Gillis comes aboard in any sort of role.

Final Thoughts:

There are so many different ways that the organization could go here. A veteran coach would likely go over better with fans, but a young coach looking to make his mark could pay major dividends. This won’t be an easy choice.

In the end, the smoke has already started with Knoblauch and I suspect he gets the job (there’s the major exception). He’s got the McDavid connection, his style fits what Edmonton is looking for and he has a reputation for working with young players.

My personal pick for the job? Vigneault. Who is your pick?

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