After a lengthy two month process the Oilers officially announced that Ralph Krueger would be the 11th head coach in Oiler history. Krueger has over 20 years of coaching experience, but he’s a rookie NHL head coach. Will that matter? Time will tell, but the young Oiler players are fans of Krueger.
I don’t mind the hire, in fact it is first time I’ve seen Steve Tambellini make a bold move. Tambellini needs this hire to work out if he wants to remain GM in Edmonton, so I applaud him for going against conventional wisdom, hire a former NHL coach, and giving Krueger his first stint as an NHL bench boss.
After Krueger’s press conference, I caught up with him for a one-on-one to get a better grasp of what style and philosophy he’ll bring behind the bench.
Can you describe your approach will be, not your personality, as a coach?
“My approach as a coach is that I will hold people accountable for the things we agree on. I’m somebody who at the beginning of the season and throughout a season, will continually make the expectations clear so everybody knows what is expected of them.
"What is critical as a leader is to react when it (expectations) is not met, and I’m very quick at that. I do not have any interests in my own popularity. I will trust the fact that there will be respect at the end of day, if you draw a line and you hold that line and you hold people accountable to that line. I can only say that wherever I have coached I’ve been very, very clear on that," he said.
A lot has been made about allocating icetime and responsibility between the veterans and the kids, however, Krueger made it clear that experience won’t guarantee you icetime.
"I’m not interested in the age; I’m interested in the passion and work ethic,” said Krueger when asked about playing kids over veterans.
I asked him about his motivational speaking background and how, or if, he’ll incorporate that into his coaching.
“It’s very open and honest multi-directional communication. I will be a lot less about technicalities and tactics than I will be about keeping the communications lines open. I’m into coaching quality and not quantity. I found that the pace of the NHL and the travel we have doesn’t allow for a lot of quantity as far as the work we have…as an example, video.
"I think it is about quality. I think it is about bringing the players what they need so they can play freely on the ice. I’m going to be really big on balance, really big on giving them proper rest and recovery times. Days off will be used as a tool, not as a form of reward or punishment. I think it has to be in the plan that rest and recovery and proper nutrition and all of these details are looked at.
“I’m really big on being organized. I love being over-organized so we have no stress in the day and in the moment. If you are disorganized as a coach then the players will feel that. If they know you are well structured and organized then you can be spontaneous in the game, in the practice and in the day. I like to live with good organization and live spontaneously through the day.”
Krueger definitely is a thinker. He seems to have a similar philosophy of former NBA coach Phil Jackson. He is big on communciation and understanding the human side of his players. He is very open to getting feedback from his players and discussed how he feels those open lines of communcation will help him.
“I think strong coaching allows the instincts of the players to flourish and flow naturally, and that’s going to be one of the biggest challenges. With all the skill we have we still need to bring them together on one page in the defensive side of the game, but allow them the freedom to flow and be dynamic and exciting offensively. We will find a way I’m sure.
"I want the fans to really embrace this team, not only with Ws going in the column at a higher level, but more about the way we play and the way we execute on the ice. I think they will accept the results if we play with passion.”
Many have said they feel Renney and Krueger are the same coach, in that neither of them can be a hard ass. I asked Krueger about the "hard ass" perception, and if he has it, or if he thinks it is necessary.
“I think hardness is relative. I use tough empathy. I approach coaching from the heart. I like to feel what is going in the players emotionally. More than anything if they feel you are consistent and you’re fair to everybody you can bring that toughness to the decision making process. Whether it is benching a player during the game, or whether it is changing a line, or taking someone out of special teams. If they see it is consistent and it is fair to everybody, then there is a certain toughness behind that too."
I think it is fair to say that is one area that Renney struggled with at times last season. No matter what Eric Belanger did he continually played him. Same with some other veterans, but it sounds like Krueger won’t follow that path.
The one element that hasn’t changed, despite a new coach in town, is the personnel. The Oilers still don’t have a lot of grit, and unless Steve Tambellini addresses that in the upcoming months, Krueger will have to be a master motivator to get this team to be harder to play against.
We discussed the lack of grit and how he’ll try to overcome that.
“We have a lot of speed in our lineup and aggressiveness doesn’t always mean going through and killing guys. It means taking away the space from the opposition; it means being on the puck quickly and winning it back. We have to build the aggressiveness for the team that we end up having.”
That sounds similar to Dave Tippett’s style in Phoenix. The Coyotes were never blessed with lots of huge, physical players, but he was able to convince and demand that every player was tenacious on the puck.
We’ll see if Krueger can convince this group they need to play that way.
My only beef with the Krueger hiring is that it looks like Tom Renney and Cam Barker are the reasons the Oilers finished 29th. I know it isn’t that simple, but so far those are the only two who have lost their job. The rest of the coaching staff remains in place, the management team is the same, the scouts are the same and so far the majority of the players are still here.
The Oilers should be better due to the addition of Nail Yakupov, and a healthier Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Whitney and Ales Hemsky, but by not re-signing Renney it sure seems like they felt he was the main problem.
Renney wasn’t free from blame, but he wasn’t the only problem.
- The Oilers still haven’t been granted a meeting from Justin Schultz camp. They are confident they will be granted one, likely Thursday or Friday, but nothing is guaranteed.
- It sounds like Hall and Schultz were supposed to meet last night, but that Schultz had to postpone the meeting. No word if, or when, they will get a chance to meet again. But it is clear the Oilers want Schultz to speak with players, coaches and management before making his decision.
- Ryan Smyth and the Oilers are scheduled to meet before July 1st. Smyth wants to be here, and the Oilers need a solid veteran who can play 3rd line minutes, and be capable of filling in on the top-six. I expect them to come to an agreement on a one-year deal with bonuses.
- Yakupov said if he makes the team then he will unveil what number he will wear, but until then it is a secret.
- Oscar Klefbom would like to come to main camp and see how he compares to NHL players, but he admitted he doesn’t want to rush things. He felt he took some huge strides after the WJC, and that he feels he is very close to being an NHLer.
- Kyle Bigos is huge at 6’5", 250 pounds. He needs to work on his skating, but he’s a giant. He’s a prospect at this point, but if he can gain a step and use his size properly he might have a chance to make this team down the road.