May 24 2009 11:28AM
Jim Matheson takes a surprising amount of flack around the blogosphere, but the fact of the matter is that he’s connected, intelligent, and been around the Edmonton Oilers for a long time. His latest article is a must-read and gives us our clearest look yet into the search for a new head coach.
The first paragraph that jumped out at me was this one:
Should he go with a fresh new face such as Kevin Dineen or Scott Arniel -- both on the Oilers' short list -- but have an older right-hand man to help him learn the NHL coaching ropes?
Scott Arniel is an obvious choice, and it’s good to hear that he’s on the short list (if for no other reason than because I keep mentioning his name), but as far as I can tell this is the first time Kevin Dineen’s name has come up in connection with the job. I mentioned him in my list of possibilities back in April, and he’s been rumoured as a possible NHL coach for a few years.
On the surface, Dineen seems a solid candidate; he’s had a very good track record in the AHL (and survived when his team changed it’s NHL allegiance from Anaheim to Buffalo). His solid upward trajectory deviated a bit in the summer of 2006, when as a rookie head coach he was arrested, and eventually convicted of, “driving to endanger”. What made this error in judgement particularly troubling was that teammate Steve Chiasson was killed while driving drunk; Dineen identified the body, told Chiasson’s wife, and gave the eulogy at his funeral.
"You would think," Dineen said, "after what I’ve been through, that I’d be a guy who should know better."
Still, Dineen is a first-rate coach, and while it’s obviously not right to condone his actions, I don’t think he should be written off because of them. An anonymous NHL executive told Matheson that Dineen would be an “ideal” fit for the Oilers, and I think he’s definitely a strong contender. His previous experience with Dustin Penner and Ladislav Smid (which Matheson points out) is also an asset.
There’s more to Matheson’s piece, though:
Here's somebody else who is on the Oilers' radar screen as a head coach: former defenceman Don Jackson, who was an assistant coach with Quebec Nordiques, Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins. Jackson, 52, just won the German League title with the Berlin Polar Bears. He's paid his coaching dues.
Don Jackson is a bit off the beaten track; so far off that I didn’t even mention him in my otherwise extensive list of possibilities (linked above). He has had some success in the ECHL and IHL and went over to Germany during the lockout, where he’s been very successful. He won two Stanley Cups with the Oilers and has a long track record as an NHL assistant coach. If he were to get the job it will have been via a route less travelled, and it would certainly be an outside of the box selection.
Matheson also shines some light on the likely future for MacTavish’s assistants:
Take this to the bank: One of Craig MacTavish's assistant coaches will remain on staff when the new head man is hired. The Oilers are not about to pay Charlie Huddy, Kelly Buchberger and Billy Moores for another year without them having to work for their paycheques. At least one of them will also likely find a job as an Oilers pro scout next year if Rob Daum gets the AHL farm team job. And Pete Peeters, the only Oilers assistant coach whose contract is running out, would be best served staying on to coach young goalies Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk. There's no sense bringing in somebody new who hasn't built a relationship with either kid.
It’s been hinted before (by one or both of Brownlee/Gregor, I’m sorry that I don’t remember which) that Kelly Buchberger is likely to remain on staff as an assistant coach, so it seems sensible to say that he’s probably the guy who would remain on staff. Daum was assigned as a pro scout last season to make way for Buchberger, and it seems that one of Huddy/Moores will see something similar happen this year, and based on Matheson’s comments it seems both will be with the team in some capacity.
As for Pete Peeters, I’m not entirely sure I agree with Matheson; maybe it is the quality of the players he has been dealing with, but most of the Oilers’ goaltenders during his tenure – with Roloson being the sole exception – have proved disappointing; Ty Conklin only reached his potential elsewhere, while the progress of both Deslauriers and Dubnyk has not been as quick as anticipated. Again, I’m hesitant to hang this on Peeters, but I do think it’s fair to say that he hasn’t had an unqualified success during his time with the team, despite two very high draft picks being invested in goaltending prospects. At this point it’s possible that a change in approach might be beneficial. There’s also the question of Garon’s collapse; while the final responsibility lies with the player, his performance this season didn’t reflect well on the coaching staff.
Finally, a bit on Brent Sutter:
Brent Sutter's name has predictably come up as Calgary coach if he decides not to return to New Jersey for the third year of his contract because he wants to stay in Alberta, but sources say the Flames owners want GM Darryl Sutter to step back behind the bench.
It’s probably fair to say that Darryl Sutter’s greatest successes have been behind the bench, and with two coaches already dismissed during his tenure as GM it wouldn’t be surprising to see the owners pushing him into the role. It would be nice if that was the case, because if he’s available Brent Sutter would seem to be the best candidate for the Oilers’ job.