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.
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.