Yet Another Oilers Coaching Change

Craig MacTavish, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins, Craig MacTavish (again), Todd Nelson, Todd McLellan, Ken Hitchcock, Dave Tippett, and now Jay Woodcroft.

That is a list of all the coaches the Edmonton Oilers have had since 2008-09. Jay Woodcroft becomes the 10th different coach (and 11th stint) in that time period. This is just a disturbing amount of turnover in that position.

And the crazy part is that none of these coaches have really been able to solve the same issues that keep popping up for every single coach that comes through Edmonton.

2021-22 started off great for Dave Tippett, the Oilers were playing well and were a top team in the league at the beginning of December. Then the wheels fell off. The team’s PDO tanked, they couldn’t buy a goal, nor could they buy a save.

Yet again, the Oilers were letting in goals early in games, if not on the first shot. An issue that’s been present for the past 5 or 6 seasons, back to when Cam Talbot was the starter. Hard to win games when you basically start down 1-0 from opening puck drop.

The players have no confidence, are frustrated, overthinking it to try and find anything that works. Even though the coach can only do so much, it had become clear that Dave Tippett was not able to get the team rallying around each other and succeeding.

Now, the entire problem goes much farther than just the coach, NHL coaches are often just scapegoats at the bottom of the flagpole for issues farther up. The roster construction and cap management from the GM level was atrocious over the past offseason and left the Oilers with a terrible set-up in net and one of the worst defenses on paper in the league. This is not an issue entirely on the coach.

The players also need to figure some of their own stuff out. We still see outward frustration and immaturity, a total decimation of players’ confidence, and a beaten down mentality that had its resilience worn away after nearly 2 and a half months of this slump.

The final straw appears to have been whatever happened in the Oilers’ recent back-to-back against Vegas and Chicago coming out of the All-Star break. Mike Smith, the team’s 39 year-old presumed 1A goalie, was coming off of his second extended injury absence of the season, having not played in a month. He starts against Vegas, gives up an early goal, and the team loses 4-0. Then the next day we learn that Mike Smith apparently really wanted to get ‘up and running’ (Dave’s words), so he started himself for the second game. Smith proceeded to let in the first 2 shots on net and Edmonton lost 4-1.

This particular move was baffling to all, fans and media alike, and was one in a long list of questionable roster management and lineup decisions over the past few seasons. Clear favouritism with certain players was a frequent criticism. Looking at how Dave treats Mikko Koskinen versus how he treats Mike Smith. Mikko has a bad game and Dave publicly calls him out. Mike has a bad game and Dave blames the whole team.

Next we see the constant inserting of Devin Shore and Kyle Turris into the lineup over younger players who are no worse or others who have had more success in their limited playing time like Tyler Benson and Brendan Perlini. At least Perlini has a strong, positive attitude that would be good to have around. Then we see Zack Kassian being constantly promoted into the top-6 with his invisible play and 14 points in 35 games.

A common theme we kept seeing with this coaching staff’s philosophy was a younger player makes a mistake and gets benched or demoted but veteran players can screw up as much as they want and never see any consequences. Players do need to earn their ice time, so to speak, but that has to be applied fairly across everyone.

There is value in patience while developing players. Edmonton has been guilty of rushing prospects and hampering their development in the process in the past. So maybe I’m ultimately just ranting at nothing with this particular point as the players just aren’t ready yet.

The “New” Guy

In comes Jay Woodcroft. Woodcroft’s name is familiar to Oilers fans as he was an assistant during Todd McLellan’s time with the team, then was named the AHL head coach back in 2018.

Woodcroft’s previous time in Edmonton was controversial, as he was in charge of the special teams and the Oilers had major struggles with them in those years. Despite having McDavid and Draisaitl. His time with the Bakersfield Condors, however, has been excellent.

In parts of 4 seasons, he had a 105-71-21 record. The team made the playoffs in 2 of 3 full seasons, winning the division in the regular season in both of those playoff years as well as the Pacific Divison ‘Championship’ in 2020-21.

Jay Woodcroft and his staff have been crucial in turning around the Oilers prospect development pipeline. For the first time in well over a decade, we are starting to see actual Oilers homegrown prospects (aside from first round picks) making their way through the organization and onto the roster.

So, a lot of the players on this current team have played for Woodcroft, either when he was the NHL’s assistant coach or the AHL head coach. There is a familiarity that may make the transition easier, especially with Woodcroft knowing the prospects currently on the Oilers roster, like Ryan McLeod, Tyler Benson, Evan Bouchard, William Lagesson, Kailer Yamamoto. So, he knows the players and their development.

To me, that seems promising that he has shown the ability to develop players’ games. He knows the prospects, he knows the organization. So in typical Oilers fan fashion, I’ll be cautiously optimistic that this coach can get some growth out of this team that has been stagnant for a few seasons now.

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