What’s Next For The Edmonton Oilers Coaching Staff?


It’s April 24th and Todd McLellan is still the Head Coach of the Edmonton Oilers. Bruce Boudreau’s job is safe in Minnesota, Barry Trotz appears safe in Washington after a first-round series victory, and Mike Babcock isn’t going anywhere in Toronto. That likely means the Oilers are keeping McLellan for a fourth season.

It’s going to frustrate some Oiler fans, because many place a fair bit of blame on McLellan for this past season’s failures, but reality is the Oilers value continuity with Chiarelli and McLellan more than anything.

If the club starts slowly again in the fall, McLellan is all but certain to be fired, but he’s going to get a chance to turn this thing back around. In reality, it’s not the sexy choice but probably the right one.

There isn’t a better veteran coach out there right now, and McLellan does have the Oilers improving in a number of key possession areas. Before indifference likely set in when the season truly became lost, Edmonton was actually a strong possession team. That reflects well on McLellan, who isn’t without his faults.

His ability to get the penalty kill fixed, which was very good in the last part of the season, also likely contributes to the outcome we are seeing, a chance to get the Oilers back to their 2016-17 form.

Jay Woodcroft, Jim Johnson and Ian Herbers joined McLellan on the coaching staff in Todd’s first three seasons at the helm. That’s going to change in the next few weeks, no doubt. In fact, we may see three new assistants in Edmonton.

The Current Group:

Tip of the hat to Jim Matheson, who pointed out on Friday that assistant coach Ian Herbers is likely leaving the club to rejoin the University of Alberta Golden Bears. Herbers coached at the UofA for three years prior to joining the Oilers’ staff, and is currently on sabbatical. The sabbatical, granted by the University, was a three-year leave that matched his initial contract with the Oilers.

With that contract now up, and a shakeup imminent on the coaching staff, it appears Herbers will return to Clare Drake Arena to retake the bench behind the defending CIS National Champions. That opens one spot on the Oilers’ coaching staff.

Another opening could be the spot currently occupied by Jim Johnson. Johnson is in charge of the penalty kill and defensive group, which were both weak spots this past season. One positive for Johnson that might save his job? Edmonton’s penalty kill improved in a big way at the end of the season. The damage was done, however, and Johnson’s fate has likely been sealed.

Dean Millard tweeted the following out on April 12th that casts doubt on Johnson’s future with the club.

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It makes sense. Edmonton’s defenders weren’t good enough this season, and Peter Chiarelli has already expressed a desire to move the puck quicker and play quicker from the backend. Perhaps a new voice is needed to sustain success on the PK and to get the defense to play a more up-tempo game.

The last assistant is Jay Woodcroft, who has been attached at the hip with McLellan since the 2005-06 season in Detroit. It is highly unlikely that Woodcroft, who runs the powerplay and forward group, will get fired. One possibility that has been speculated on? Woodcroft going down to the AHL and taking over the bench in Bakersfield.

Edmonton’s anemic powerplay and putrid wing production is grounds for dismissal for Woodcroft, who likely only made it through the season because of his strong bond with McLellan. He won’t be fired outright, but a shift to Bakersfield makes sense and has been discussed by those far more connected than I.

At the AHL-level, head coach Gerry Fleming is likely done. His contract is set to expire and his AHL teams have not made the postseason in any of the three full-seasons he’s been the bench boss. Development hasn’t exactly been a strong suit on the farm either, meaning he likely doesn’t get another contract.

The Replacements:

There are two really obvious replacements for Edmonton’s likely departing coaches in Johnson and Herbers. The first is Trent Yawney, who yesterday we found out will not be returning to Anaheim next season. Yawney spent three seasons on a McLellan led staff in San Jose, and does the exact same things Johnson does.

Yawney led the defenders and penalty kill unit, both very successfully, in Anaheim in recent years. In fact, as Oilers Insider Bob Stauffer tells us, Yawney led the Ducks to a top-five finish in each of the last three seasons when it came to the PK.

On top of that, Yawney has had a hand in developing a plethora of young defenders with the Ducks since his arrival in 2014, including Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson, Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour.

He’s got a connection to McLellan, can help develop defenders and runs an efficient penalty kill. If Johnson is in fact on the outs, Yawney makes a ton of sense to replace him.

Glen Gulutzan, fired by Calgary after two seasons a week ago today, seems like a good fit as well. He’s close with McLellan, ran his Flames’ teams in a similiar manner the last two seasons, and has experience reaching and  helping young players, of which the Oilers have many.

Gulutzan has a history of working with forwards as well, and would be a logical replacement for Woodcroft should he shift elsewhere. In fact, Gulutzan coached in that role as an assistant for three years in Vancouver prior to taking the Calgary job.

Final Thoughts:

Changes are coming to the coaching staff in Edmonton, I don’t think there is any debate about that. I suspect Ian Herbers and Jim Johnson will be shown the door from the organization, while Gerry Fleming and his staff join them from the AHL-level.

My prediction on Jay Woodcroft? He takes on the head coaching role in Bakersfield, teaching a similiar style to McLellan’s will playing the young players in prime spots at the request of Chiarelli.

At the NHL level, I’ll predict that Gulutzan replaces Woodcroft while Yawney replaces Johnson. In Herbers’ role as the ‘eye in the sky’? Paul Jerrard, also recently fired from Calgary. He’ll provide some support to Gulutzan, the likely coach in waiting if the team starts slowly, and can help with the powerplay.

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