CHANGES: COACHES, RULES AND PLAYERS

It is great for fans and the media to get ready for another off-season full of change for the Edmonton Oilers, but is it beneficial for the Oilers? Since the spring of 2009, the Oilers have made significant changes every off-season, on and off the ice, but despite all of those changes the Oilers haven’t seen much improvement.

Will the changes they make this spring and summer produce the results they want?

Let’s discuss.

For the third time in the past four seasons the Oilers will name a new head coach. On May 26th, 2009 the Oilers announced that Pat Quinn would become the 9th head coach in Oiler history, (technically Glen Sather was coach on three different occasions, but Quinn was 9th guy to land the job) and many fans felt this would be the start of the next generation of "exciting Oilers hockey".

Many fans, bloggers and media had wrongly believed that Craig MacTavish stifled or ruined offensive stars in previous years. Guys like Rob Schremp, Robert Nilsson, Andrew Cogliano, Marc Pouliot and others were shackled by the defensive-minded MacT many media guys and fans cried out, only to be proven wrong after MacTavish’s departure.

Quinn, along with Tom Renney as his associate coach, was Steve Tambellini’s first major move as Oiler GM. Later that summer Tambellini courted Dany Heatley, only to be shunned, and signed Nikolai Khabibulin to a lifetime contract. The only successful move that summer was bringing back Mike Comrie. Comrie and Oiler fans kissed and made up. Comrie had a four-point night and a fight in his preseason return to Edmonton, while the fans chanted his name with glee.

It was the highlight of what would become an awful year. Outside of Dustin Penner’s surprising 32-goal season there wasn’t much to cheer for.  Quinn was a disaster behind the bench, and the Oilers spent more time on the injured list than Wanye will in the lineup for Justin Bieber tickets next week.

2010

The off-season started with a bang when Sheldon Souray demanded a trade and ripped Steve Tambellini and the Oilers organization.

"It’s not a players thing. It’s not a fans thing or a city thing. It’s a management thing. They’ve given up on me, and it’s a two-way street.

"I don’t talk to anyone (in management) and I don’t expect to when I check out of here. I don’t really need to talk to them. There isn’t anything to say.

"Management has soured on me, and I’ve soured on them." The fans are great, they’ve accepted me here, I see the jerseys in the stands. I couldn’t have pictured a more opposite vision of what my experience here would be like. What the organization here would be like, overall," said Souray in an interview with Mark Spector.

Instantly Souray was the villian in the eyes of many. He was an injury-prone prima donna exclaimed many, however many of his complaints seemingly had some truth when later that summer the Oilers changed up most of their trainers and medical staff.

On June 22nd, two months after the season was over, Tambellini announced that Quinn was out and Renney was in as the new head coach. Three days later they drafted Taylor Hall first overall and once again Oilersnation was beaming with excitement and hope.

Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi arrived in the fall to replace Ryan Potulny, Patrick O’Sullivan and Ethan Moreau.

The Oilers were on their way up.

Jim Vandermeer, Kurtis Foster and Colin Fraser were also added that summer.

 Eberle had one of the greatest debuts in Oiler history, scoring the goal of the year while Ryan Whitney got off to a great start with27 points in 35 games. However, when Whitney injured his ankle, it kickstarted another long four and half months for the Oilers and their fans.

Hall missed 17 games. Eberle missed 13. Hemsky, Horcoff and Khabibulin each missed 35 each.

It was another 30th place finish.

2011

For the first time in three years, there was no new coach, but there were many changes.

On June 24th the Oilers took Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the first pick. Visions of RNH to Eberle to Hall danced through heads of every fan, and why not, the Oilers had their first legitimate first line centre since Doug Weight.

Tambellini vowed to add some experience that would help the young kids and improve the organization.

Ben Eager, Cam Barker, Eric Belanger, Corey Potter, Lennart Petrell and Darcy Hordichuk were free agent signings. Tambellini sent Foster to Anaheim for Andy Sutton and supposedly the Oilers had some much needed size and grit, as well as a veteran centre who could win draws.

Wanye and many other Oiler fans cried with joy when the prodigal son, Ryan Smyth, returned to Edmonton after a drawn out, accusation-filled trade with the LA Kings.

It was a summer filled with excitement and joy.

Once again the season began with bang.

The Oilers went 7-2-2 in October and sat in first place in the NW division. Nikolai Khabibulin was healthy and playing great. In October, RNH had five goals and 11 points, Smyth had five goals and ten points, while Eberle had three goals and ten points.

The Oilers were getting great goaltending and finally had some bonafide offence, but the hot start didn’t last.

Khabibulin’s fountain of youth dried up, Smyth came back to earth, RNH got hurt, The Belanger Triangle was real, the free agents weren’t leading and by January the Oilers were once again out of the playoff race.

2012

For the third time in four years Steve Tambellini is looking for a head coach. Brent Sutter’s name has been circulating since he was hired to coach Canada at the World Championships. Now Ralph Krueger’s name is out there. A host of other names have been thrown out: Marc Crawford, Paul Maurice, Jon Cooper, Todd Nelson, Dallas Eakins, etc.

Will any of these guys be able to make a difference?

Whoever gets hired before the draft, will have the team’s attention come September. The kids are sick of losing while the veterans haven’t proven anything recently to suggest their jobs or place in the lineup is secure. However, unless Tambellini gives the new coach some more weapons to work with, I doubt any coach can make this team a contender.

They will improve in 2012/2013, which isn’t a bold statement considering they finished 29th last year, but I still think they are two years away from making the playoffs regardless of who the new coach is.

THOUGHTS ON KRUEGER

I can’t honestly say if Krueger would be a good coach or not, but I did want to find out how, if at all, he would be different than Renney. I texted with three players who played under both of them, and they had positive things to say.

Strudwick said, "He is a bit more of a motivator than Tom, but similar teaching style. He is unique with his strong background in European type drills where he focused more on skill work than just team focus."

The other two players said the following:

"They are both good communicators. Very strong technically, the difference I see is that Ralph has more of a European influence in his coaching. I can’t say how he will be as a head coach, because I’ve never experienced that. The games he took over for Tom weren’t enough to really see how he’d be."

"I like both of them, and they have similar personalities, in that they treat us with respect, and they earned our respect. Not to down play them, but unless we play better as players it won’t matter who is coaching. We (players) need to be more committed and driven."

I’ve said since the end of the season, whether Renney came back or they hired a new coach, I honestly don’t think the coach is main area of concern for this organization right now. Of course you want Tambellini to hire the right guy, but until the players commit to being more consistent, and Tambellini finds a few solid D-men and some top-nine forwards with some size and skill, I don’t see this team making a big push.

Hiring a new coach is important, but the players themselves need to instill a new level of commitment, desire and work ethic if this team is going to be a playoff contender.

During their end of the season interviews, both Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall said the players need to "buy in" more next season. It will be up to the players to instill that line of thinking, not a new coach.

LOOK WAY UP

The Oilers will need to improve by 22 points if they want to make the playoffs next year. The good news is that it is possible, the Blues and Panthers improved by 22 last year, but it is rare.

Here are the teams that went from non-playoff team to a playoff team with at least a 22-point increase since 1996. I didn’t include jumps between 2004-2006, due to the lockout.

I also listed who their coach (s) was during the years they made big jump.

  1. The 2007 Penguins had 105 points after only 58 in 2006. +47 (Added a Russian forward, Malkin had 85 points.) Michel Therrien was on Pens bench from 2006-2009 and he help guide the Penguins to Cup Final in 2008.
     
  2. The 2002 NYI had 96 points after only 52 in 2001. +44 (Had missed playoffs seven previous years).
    Peter Laviolette took over the Islanders  in 2002 and helped them improve by 44 points. He was aided greatly by the additions of Alexei Yashin, Mike Peca, Adrian Aucoin and Chris Osgood.
  3. The 2008 Flyers had 95 points after only 56 in 2007. +39 (One bad year, then bounced back)
    John Stevens coached the Flyers from 2006-2009.
     
  4. The 1997 Stars had 104 points after only 66 in 1996. +38 (Lost to Oilers in first round)
    Ken Hitchcock took over midway through the 1996 season, and then guided them to their 38-point increase. He added Sydor late in 1996, and the only major additions in 1997 were Pat Verbeek and Jamie Langenbrunner.
     
  5. The 2000 Caps had 102 points after only 68 in 1999. +34 (Lost in first round)
    Ron Wilson coached the Caps from 1997 to 2002.
     
  6. The 2004 Sharks had 104 points after 73 in 2003. +31 (Only time in last 14 years they missed playoffs was 2003)
    Ron Wilson was the Sharks’ coach from December 2002 to  the end of 2008 season.
     
  7. The 1999 Leafs had 97 point after 69 in 1998. +28 (Lost in conference final)
    Pat Quinn was in his 2nd full season with Leafs when they made their 28-point jump.
  8. The 2003 Ducks had 95 points after picking up 69 in 2002. +26 (Lost Cup final)
    Mike Babock debuted with the Ducks in 2003 and led them to the 26-point improvement. He added Sandis Ozolinsh and Kurt Sauer on backend, Adam Oates and Petr Sykora who led them with 34 goals.
     
  9. The 2010 Avs had 95 points after picking up 69 in 2009. +26 (They dropped back to 68 in 2011)
    In his rookie season Joe Sacco guided Avs to the 26-point increase. The Avs went with youth that year adding Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly as 18 year olds, and had Craig Anderson in goal instead of Peter Budaj. He also had Stastny for the entire year, after getting injured midway through 2009 season.
     
  10. The 2002 Hawks had 96 points after only 71 in 2001. +25 (They went back to 79 pts in 2003)
    Brian Sutter took over in 2002 after the Alpo Suhonen experiment bombed in 2001.
  11. The 2000 Kings had 94 points after totaling 69 in 1999. +25 (Lost in first round)
    Andy Murray coached the Kings from 1999 to 2006.
     
  12. The 2011 Lightning had 103 points after getting 80 in 2010. +23 (Missed playoff this year)
    Guy Boucher added some life to the Bolts in 2011. He was helped by having three new D-men in Brett Clark, Pavel Kubina and Randy Jones, with Eric Brewer added late in year. They replaced Andrej Meszaros, Matt Walker, Kurtis Foster and David Hale.
     
  13. The 2010 Kings had 101 points after 79 in 2009. +22 (First time in 7 years they made playoffs)
    Terry Murray was the bench boss from 2008 to 2011.
     
  14. The 2003 Wild had 95 points after 73 in 2002. +22 (Lost west final, missed playoffs next two years.)
    Jacques Lemaire, 2000-2009, was the mastermind behind the Wild’s one-year surprise.

Of these 14 cases that improved by +22 points or more we saw four teams with a new coach. In every case, the new coach was the benefactor of some key additions to the roster that weren’t there the previous year.

In case you are wondering the Oilers biggest jump was in 1982, when they tallied 111 points after picking 74 in 1981.

WRAP UP

Every case is different, and the new coach of the Oilers might not need many new faces to make a big improvement. He’ll add another top-pick, but he also could have RNH, Hall, Hemsky and Whitney healthy for a full season. Maybe Dubnyk is ready to be a legit starter?

If those six things happen the Oilers should automatically be better, regardless of who the new coach is, but if the organization and their fans are thinking playoffs, then Tambellini will need to supply his new coach with a few more reliable weapons.

JUST A THOUGHT

We are always hearing potential rule changes that could improve the game and increase scoring. How come the NHL never considers eliminating icing while on the penalty kill?

It is the only rule that is altered during the course of the game. At even strength you aren’t allowed to ice the puck without the faceoff being in your own zone, why not just keep it that way during penalties?

I don’t see how that changes the game in a negative way, and I’m sure fans won’t miss watching a player spin and fire the puck down the ice.

THANK YOU

Adriana Lima and I would like to thank you for selling out THE ULTIMATE SPORTS FAN PACKAGE. Okay, I didn’t actually speak with her, but she likes those who support charity so I’m sure she’s on board.

I am riding in the 190km MS Bike Tour on June 09th and 10th, and I’ve come up with a pretty good package for the diehard sports fan. 

We only took 100 entries, and sold out in two weeks.

The winner of THE ULTIMATE SPORTS FAN PACKAGE receives:

  1. A pair of tickets to the Oilers home opener in October.
  2. A pair of Edmonton Eskimos season tickets.
  3. A signed Jordan Eberle stick.
  4. Pizza for a year from Boston Pizza and a special "all meat wings" package.
  5. A beer fridge and beer for a year from Big Rock Brewery.
  6. Four Edmonton Rush season tickets.
  7. You and five of your buddies teeing it up at the Ranch Golf and Country Club with the legendary Gene Principe and his sidekick Mark Spector. You’ll have lots of laughs, and hear a few great stories.
  8. Race car driver Stefan Radzinski will take you for 7-10 laps in his 600HP race car. You’ll sit in the passenger seat and get a ride you won’t forget.
  9. We’ll add one more prize before the draw on June 06th.

Thanks again for helping to END MS.

  • Jason Strudwick

    Getting rid of Kevin Lowe is the only change that will matter. He is the common denominator in most our downfalls. I dont understand how he gets to keep his job year after year. O ya it isnt what ya know it’s who (Katz) ya know lol!

  • that is one MASSIVE prize pack for contributing to charity. Of course I hope I will win the the draw, but I am just happy to contribute what I can, when I can, and I am more proud of everyone who is giving of their time and sweat for the cause!

    Also, I know a few people with MS and it is a terrible debilitating disease but it can be cured so let’s all do what we can!

    Lastly, I like Krueger on the Oil Change shows and how he treated people. Then the few games he coached when Tom was gone I liked his decision making. I only said that I think he is a red herring as I think Tambellini/Lowe are moving in another direction and they circulated Krueger’s name to keep everyone guessing and to less telegraph the Sutter play. We’ll see what comes out in the wash..

    • db7db7db7

      Ok. I think I’ve pieced this thing together. I bet that it was always the plan to have Krueger eventually become head coach. The timeline was probably longer, but a job offer in Europe for Krueger probably just forced Tamby’s hand to hurry up the transition so he doesn’t lose Krueger.

  • Even though everything you wrote was technically correct, the reality was that in 2009 Mr. Lowe was still making the decisions. He hired Tambellini to fire McTavish and then hired Quinn and Renney. Lowe courted Heatley and gave Khabibulin the big contract because he didn’t want Roli. If you remember Souray was pissed at mgmt but it was in reality Klowe that he felt screwed him over. It wasn’t until the summer of 2010 with the firing of Quinn that Tambo started making the GM decisions. Mr. T has only been the real GM for two years, hardly enough time for a proper evaluation. He has cleaned up a lot of the previous mgmt”s crap in two years and I believe deserves more time to prove himself.

    • Jason Gregor

      Actually if you recall Tambellini was hired in 2008, July 31st to be exact. He was here for a year, before he had his presser announcing Mact wasn’t returning.

      MacT wasn’t fired…He wanted to leave…

      Again you are incorrect about Souray being mad at Kevin Lowe, he was mad at Tambellini. He even used his name…

      Also speaking of crap he cleaned up…hmmm..

      UFAs he signed or traded for include, Foster, Fraser, Eager, Belanger, Hordichuk, Barker and Vandermeer.

      Yes you are right those guys were much better than what was here before.

      If you want to debate, at least have your facts straight…Thanks

  • Toro

    I would like more consideration for Marc Crawford, He has won the Stanley Cup with a young Colorado team, and I think he would bring more character to the room then Renney did, and as far as hiring Sutter goes theres just something wrong with that considering he just coached the Flames, but maybe I’m just being biased.

      • db7db7db7

        Could we please get over this not putting Gretzky in the shootout thing. Yeah it was a bad call, but everybody makes those. I don’t think we should disregard a cup winner because of one ill fated hunch.

    • Love Monkey

      Colorado was not a young team in terms of its leadership – Roy, Sakic, Forsberg, Claude Lemieux… Although it was the first win for many in the core, they were a powerhouse team.

  • Bucknuck

    I get irritated when they talk about rule changes, simply because they don’t enforce the ones they already have in place. If they could focus on being consistent with the rules they have in place, then after that perhaps they could make some more changes. Until then it’s all just p!ssing in the wind.

  • Bucknuck

    Jason, I just saw your recent tweets about Erik Karlsson and it triggered a question in my mind. No one had Ottawa being a playoff team this year, yet they did very well.

    The only big differences I see in their lineup was that Karlsson was one year older and played amazing, and they played Craig anderson a lot more and he lived up to expectations.

    Was the difference more than a stud defenseman and a goalie?

    • Jason Gregor

      Spezza was much better, but Karlsson potting 78 points was a major improvement.

      But biggest was their 5 on 5 play…They scored 39 more goals EV in 2012 compared to 2011, and they gave up 17 fewer goals in 2012 EV.

      Karlsson was big factor, but Maclean made them a much better EV team…They were +56 from the year before when you combine their PP and PK improvements…

      • Bucknuck

        Would you think it is out of line to draw a comparison between the Senators last summer and the Oilers this summer?

        Points (Oil 74, Ott 74 (2011)))

        A new coach.

        Emerging stars (Karlsson for Ott)

        The veterans bouncing back. (Spezza & Michalek for OTT)

        Playing the better goaltender more (Anderson for OTT).

        One could argue that not much besides a coach and players maturing changed Ottawa’s fate and they ended up in the playoffs one year later after registering the same amount of points the Oilers did this year.

  • vetinari

    Looking at the timeline, I immediately got depressed as I remembered the rollercoaster of hope and promise followed by disappointment year after year.

    I still think Renney should have been given at least one more year because the problem wasn’t necessarily how he coached individual games but rather he couldn’t make players be anything that they weren’t already. Hordichuk is not a 20 goal scorer. Neither is Sutton. Or Barker. Or Belanger. Or Potter. Or Eager. Or Petrell. That is not their faults; that is simply not the type of players that they are. These signings are all Tambellini’s fault.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Props to you, Romanus.

    Sutter suddenly seems like Scotty Bowman compared to Crawford. The decision to sit the greatest scorer in the game during a crucial shootout will – and should – haunt him the rest of his days. The guy could not coach water down a drain. Cup or no Cup please keep Crow away. I am not even comfortable with him in town for the three TSN broadcasts a year. “Say no to Crow”

    • db7db7db7

      I completely disagree. Crawford is an excellent coach. If anything, we should want him simply because he’s already learned the harsh lesson of making decisions based on gut feelings. The last time he did, it kind of blew up in his face, and I’m pretty sure he’d do everything possible to avoid it again. Coaches often make these mistakes only to end up learning from them.

      See Renney sending out Belanger in the shootout on October 21st against the Wild with Omark sitting on the bench. Belanger never took another shot in the shootout. (Lesson learned)

      • Bucknuck

        Crawford coached five seasons (with 3 teams) since the lockout and didn’t make it to the playoffs once. Whatever he once had, he has since lost it. I do not want Crawford anywhere near the Oilers. He did well 14 years ago with a stacked Avalanche team, but he is NOT an excellent coach anymore.

        • “Whatever he once had, he has since lost it.”

          That whatever would be Joe Sakic, Peter Forsburg and Patrick Roy (along with guys like Deadmarsh, Lemieux, Ozolinsh, Kamensky) or, like you said, a stacked Avalanche team.

          This is also the same coach that decided to keep Gretzky and Yzerman (among others) on the bench during the shootout at the 98 Olympics.

          PASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!

      • book¡e

        I outlined the details of this in an earlier post, but here are the average points percentage (% of points obtained vs available) of coaches with their first NHL team, second NHL team, third NHL team, and fourth NHL team. This only takes into account their record since being hired on their latest team. It only includes coaches with at least one full season on their latest team.

        While it is a small sample size, it does suggest that coaches who have been fired three times are not always the best coaches – in fact, they may be a desperate measure to gain credibility taken by teams that suck.

        Coaches with their first teams – 55.1%

        Coaches with their second team – 60.8%

        Coaches with their third team – 56.7%

        Coaches with their fourth team – 52.0%

        Now, there are only 3 coaches in that last bunch and I would like to see a multi year analysis, but the initial suggestion is that coaches that have been fired lots are not any better than coaches that have never been an NHL head coach.

      • The Soup Fascist

        The thing is the whole Gretzky / Olympics / shootout incident is just a symptom of a bigger problem.

        Unfortunately, Crow suffers from a severe form of Ronwilsonitis. It is a disease that renders the individual incapable of modesty or humbleness. Other symptoms are delusions of grandeur, arrogance and dementia (leading the victim to believe they actually invented the game of hockey).

        Certainly, a healthy dose of self-confidence is necessary to succeed in anything but when you think you are smarter than everyone else and set out to prove it – well, it rarely turns out positively. You don’t have to be a nice guy to coach, but being an arrogant a$$ is also not productive – at least for any prolonged period.

        Just my opinion.

  • Bucknuck

    Jason,

    I agree with your take on the icing rule change,
    it’s simple and would possibly lead to more scoring chances if the defending team had to carry the puck out of their own zone.
    I’ve been thinking about another small change that might help slow down the game just a little,it would be to make the blue lines 6 inches thinner than they are right now which is about a foot thick.
    Which side of the line to remove is up for debate, make the neutral zone bigger by a foot,
    or make the defensive zone bigger by 6 inches.

    saludos.

  • db7db7db7

    I totally agree with Bucknuck’s comment about consistently applying present rules before getting carried away talking about further changes.

    Re the “no free icing while shorthanded” – I have to differ with Gregor. I agree that it would make PPs much more meaningful and increase scoring. That’s part of the problem for me. Maybe it’s just me, but I found this year that the standards of what was a penalty and what wasn’t were really in flux. Clutch / grab / obstruction was called much more loosely as the year progressed – and playoff standards were different than regular season. It left players unsure of where the line was, and left everyone pissed off about perceived “missed calls” or “ticky tack” calls. Imagine if we added to this by doubling the potency of a PP by changing icing rules?

    Also – I don’t think the suggested rule change would really stop shorthanded teams from icing the puck while shorthanded. It would just result in a bunch of icing calls and play stoppages – which would make the PP less exciting, not more.

  • The Soup Fascist

    the fastest way to improve for me is to take the big question mark away in net.habby was great to start the year and we were winning but then he faded .when dubnyk went in to releive him there were to many soft goals over his shoulder,he did start playing better at the end of the season ,but it was to late.i would upgrade in net first.whom ever they hire as coach should be someone that can get the vets going,renny could’nt,maybe a hard ass coach will?