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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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:
- A pair of tickets to the Oilers home opener in October.
- A pair of Edmonton Eskimos season tickets.
- A signed Jordan Eberle stick.
- Pizza for a year from Boston Pizza and a special "all meat wings" package.
- A beer fridge and beer for a year from Big Rock Brewery.
- Four Edmonton Rush season tickets.
- 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.
- 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.
- We’ll add one more prize before the draw on June 06th.
Thanks again for helping to END MS.