Kelly Buchberger: The Perfect Fit?

Jonathan Willis
June 23 2009 01:49PM

bucky Photo by Håkan Dahlström. View his Flickr stream. When the Oilers announced major changes to their coaching staff this summer, the only survivor was former captain Kelly Buchberger. Head coach Craig MacTavish, assistants Charlie Huddy and Bill Moores, and video coach Brian Ross all saw their employment terminated. Goaltending coach Pete Peeters was let go a few weeks later, and Springfield Head Coach Jeff Truitt was let go earlier in the year. Assuming that at least of these guys knew their business (a reasonable assumption) why was Buchberger – with his comparatively short resume – preserved? Some would argue that his behind the scenes connections kept him in Edmonton, but I don’t think that’s it. After all, it’s probably a reasonable guess that guys like Huddy and Moores were fairly connected to, given their long tenure with the organization. I think the real reason is both more interesting and more encouraging: merit. This is a bit of an about-face for me; I was highly critical of the decision last summer to bump Rob Daum into limbo so that Buchberger could take his job (Daum took a job as a scout and is the new coach in Springfield). It felt like one more act of nepotism from a club that already placed too much importance on on-ice accomplishments from two decades ago. Two things have helped persuade me that Buchberger may be a valuable asset to the coaching staff.

Springfield: Going From Bad to Worse

Kelly Buchberger’s record in Springfield was not, in my opinion, an asset; at least, not prior to this season. They recorded only 80 points, missed the playoffs, and were outscored 257-214. Jeff Truitt took over this season with a relatively similar roster, and the Falcons recorded 20 fewer points, and scored 26 fewer goals while allowing one more.

Jeff Truitt is no dummy. He has a very good record as a junior coach, a record that includes championship victories, and he was hired quickly in the off-season to boot, despite his record in Springfield.

Individual players responded to Buchberger’s methods in Springfield (despite his reputation as a bit of a taskmaster). Rob Schremp had the finest season of his career, and Liam Reddox went from being an ECHL bit player to getting NHL icetime. From this vantage point, it’s probably fair to say that Kelly Buchberger’s limited time as a head coach was successful.

Experience

It seems a little funny to cite experience as an asset when Buchberger has spent relatively little time doing it (he was first hired as an AHL assistant in 2004-05). But the fact of the matter is that there probably isn’t a single person in the organization with the same feel for every prospect and young player in the system than Kelly Buchberger.

Buchberger not only has that experience by virtue of his work as an assistant and later head coach with Edmonton’s AHL affiliate, but also because of what he did in between. He was in a bit of limbo himself in 2005-06; the Oilers AHL franchise dissolved, and it seemed like he bounced around the organization as sort of a jack-of-all-trades. In 2006-07, he became the team’s development coach, working with every prospect in the system – including those playing for amateur teams. Lastly, this past season he saw every Oilers player from the vantage of the video room and during practices.

Given that Pat Quinn’s been away from the NHL (and freely acknowledges he doesn’t have a read on his players yet) and Tom Renney has been coaching in the East, doesn’t it make sense to leave a guy on staff who knows every player in the system; their strengths weaknesses, and history with the team? Furthermore, doesn’t it make sense to leave a guy who has shown throughout his playing career that he doesn’t mind filling any role that’s expected of him – particularly given that both Quinn and Renney are coming in as former head coaches and will certainly be the two guys making decisions?

At this point, Kelly Buchberger is probably the perfect fit to round out the coaching staff.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#101 Chaz
June 24 2009, 08:56AM
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Travis Dakin wrote:

I’ve already ordered a number 15 Heatley jersey!

Keep the receipt. According to Jim Mattheson, the Oilers are not in the running. As much as I like Heatley and think he would be a great addition, I am weary about a guy who demands a trade like this. Not sure how many believe in Karma out there, but how can we as a Nation villify the Human Rake for bugging out of town and then treat ol' Dany boy like the second coming for doing the same? Seems hypocritical to me and the hockey Gods may not like it...and they're the only Gods worth not making angry IMO.

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#102 David S
June 24 2009, 09:26AM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

8 years is too long for a coach that consistently misses the playoffs. Big changes almost every year but the same result all the time. If he was an effective coach for the first 3 years, he was inept the last 5.

06 was pretty good only because Lowe parachuted in the reinforcements. We've had crap lineups most of the time otherwise. Even Mike Babc0ck couldn't have done much with those squads.

This year was different. A few things go the other way (Gagner stays healthy, Visnovsky avoids the check, Horcoff doesn't whiff, Brownlee does a voodoo dance in the locker room) and we're in the show. And we still didn't have that great a lineup (no matter what MacT said at the beginning of the year).

More important, I wish we knew what the deal in the locker room was all about. Some nights watching these guys was like having a root canal with no freezing. The inconsistency was the thing that killed us the most.

And the g*d d*mn PP. *shudder*

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#103 Archaeologuy
June 24 2009, 09:39AM
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David S wrote:

Some nights watching these guys was like having a root canal with no freezing

True story, that happened to me when i was 10. It was like a scene out of Marathon Man.

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#104 Chris.
June 24 2009, 09:43AM
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@ Archaeologuy:

Very hypothetical... don't want to start an argument... IMO Hemsky would not be a good fit on the right side with the Sisters during five on five play. Historically the duo has been most effective playing with a big physical power forward who can plant himself in front of the net or create havoc along the boards... Someone willing stand up for the Girls with his fists... Last season it was Burrows.

I'd be afraid that a long term Sedin signing would spell the end of Hemsky's career as an Oiler... And I'd hate to see that happen.

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#105 The Menace
June 24 2009, 09:46AM
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Chaz wrote:

Travis Dakin wrote: I’ve already ordered a number 15 Heatley jersey! Keep the receipt. According to Jim Mattheson, the Oilers are not in the running. As much as I like Heatley and think he would be a great addition, I am weary about a guy who demands a trade like this. Not sure how many believe in Karma out there, but how can we as a Nation villify the Human Rake for bugging out of town and then treat ol’ Dany boy like the second coming for doing the same? Seems hypocritical to me and the hockey Gods may not like it…and they’re the only Gods worth not making angry IMO.

The Ducks won a Cup with the Rake after he went there. If that happened here with Heatley, I could live with being a bit hypocritical. As far as Karma goes, if we get an elite player to come here that demanded a trade from their old team, doesn't that net us out to zero, Karma-wise?

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#106 Archaeologuy
June 24 2009, 09:50AM
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@ Chris.: I know i said i would never take him in a straight up trade for Hemsky, but what about Brown playing with the Sedins.

LA has the cap room and the Sedins would instantly take the pressure off of Kopitar and Frolov. Sun, Beach, Blondes and Money. I cant think of too many other teams that can accomodate the Sedins.

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#107 Chaz
June 24 2009, 10:08AM
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@ The Menace: True that, if we won a cup Karma could take a flying leap for all I care. That being said, I think it's a pipe dream to think adding Heatley to our team would do that. Anaheim had a lot more pieces of the puzzle in place when CP was added than we have now (IE: A goalie).

Also, one could argue that we already received good Karma when Pronger took us all the way to the finals and then suffered the bad when he dumped us for La-la land. I'm not an expert in Karma though...

I guess my point is, character matters and Heatley doesn't seem to have much of it. There is no quick fix to the Oilers concerns and putting too much stock into one player may back fire. I think the old adage "Carefull what you wish for" is very relevant in this case.

* Realizes he just sounded like a cheap immitation Mac T interview. Goes back to comparing the careers of Joe Sakic and Marty Reasoner...

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#108 RossCreek
June 24 2009, 10:50AM
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Chris. wrote:

@ Archaeologuy: Very hypothetical… don’t want to start an argument… IMO Hemsky would not be a good fit on the right side with the Sisters during five on five play. Historically the duo has been most effective playing with a big physical power forward who can plant himself in front of the net or create havoc along the boards… Someone willing stand up for the Girls with his fists… Last season it was Burrows. I’d be afraid that a long term Sedin signing would spell the end of Hemsky’s career as an Oiler… And I’d hate to see that happen.

Like Penner?

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#109 The Menace
June 24 2009, 10:55AM
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@ RossCreek: I was thinking the same thing!

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#110 Dominoiler
June 24 2009, 12:06PM
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This is why I follow this site... well thought out,.. thanks for putting this interesting perspective into my mind Willis... cheers...

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#111 MrOiler
June 24 2009, 12:12PM
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Nice article, Mr. Willis. I agree with all of your points but I also think that KLo wanted to keep a bit of the link to the past teams on the staff as well.

This is hardly surprising. Other teams do it as well: Montreal - Gainey; Colorado tried with Roy; Chicago - Tallon; Dallas - Hull/Neiundiek/Barnes; Boston - Neely, etc.

It's hard to find a team that doesn't have a link to a past player or a friend of someone.

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#112 Chris
June 24 2009, 01:04PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

I know i said i would never take him in a straight up trade for Hemsky, but what about Brown playing with the Sedins.

Absolutely. Brown would be a perfect compliment to the Sisters... on paper anyway.

RossCreek wrote:

Like Penner?

I suggested that on the other blogroll. Penner with the Sisters; Hemsky could then eat up on softer competition with Gagner; and Horcoff would center a solid shutdown line with Moreau, and Pisani... Not feasible under the cap though.

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