When the Edmonton Oilers decided to hire Ralph Krueger to replace Tom Renney as head coach, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, they knew Krueger better than any of the external candidates, and Krueger’s résumé was excellent (if unconventional). On the other hand, my preferred choice was Jon Cooper for a variety of reasons.
I still like Cooper, but I’ve been very impressed by Krueger so far.
Oilers fans have been blessed with excellent quotes in the head coaching position the last few years, and Krueger continues the trend. Craig MacTavish and Tom Renney both came across clearly and intelligently, while Pat Quinn’s fondness for references to Barbara Ann Scott and odd-ball comments like “sucking the hind banana” made his pressers outstanding to watch.
Ralph Krueger has a great gift for communicating his thoughts in an understandable way, one that’s obvious when he talks to the press and undoubtedly serves him well when he addresses his players. With the media he’s eloquent, upbeat, funny and understanding – everything that can be asked of a coach in that department. He also brings a different vocabulary than the traditional cliché-filled coach’s repertoire.
More than that, Krueger says smart things. He quotes scoring chances with regularity, talks about the need to remove emotion from the decision-making process, and can offer a compelling argument for any decision he’s made. Even when he makes decisions that some might disagree with, he has no problem offering valid reasons for making that choice.
He Is Unconventional
Ralph Krueger’s willingness to pull the goalie quicker than the average NHL coach is a delightful thing to see, because a) most coaches are disappointingly conservative in pulling the goalie for the extra attacker and b) evidence suggests that a more aggressive approach leads to more wins.
Against L.A., Krueger pulled the goalie with 2:01 left and the Oilers on a power play. Against Calgary, he pulled Dubnyk with 1:52 left to give the Oilers a 6-on-5 advantage. Against Colorado, he did it with 2:25 left and the Oilers on the power play. Against Detroit, it was with 2:33 left and the Oilers on the power play. He’s going for the win, even at a greater risk of a (meaningless) empty net goal against, and that’s a positive.
Another thing I’ve noted is his penchant for odd combinations of forwards/defencemen. There was a shift against Calgary with the goalie pulled where he put out five forwards – Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Gagner and Yakupov with only Justin Schultz on defence. He’s used three forwards at times during four-on-four play, and used four forwards plus Schultz in five-on-five play in the third period with the team needing a goal.
The amount of difference pulling the goalie 30 seconds early or being willing to go with only one defenceman with the empty net makes is probably pretty small – we’re fiddling in the margins here – but a willingness to approach those situations with creativity marks Krueger as an outside the box thinker and a guy willing to do whatever he thinks is right whether or not it’s standard procedure for an NHL coach.
Trust In Ability, Not Experience
The Oilers’ most-used defenceman is Justin Schultz. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins rank 1-2-3 in total ice-time up front, with Gagner and Yakupov ranked fourth and sixth, respectively. He’s benched Ryan Whitney when the defenceman struggled, he pulled Ryan Smyth from the lineup after an awful weekend (I think Smyth should be in the lineup most nights, but after taking so many bad penalties in a pair of frustrating games, pulling him was the right move), and he wouldn’t use an enforcer he knew to be a liability on the ice.
The bottom line: Krueger comes across as a smart guy doing everything he can to win. He doesn’t let tradition, emotion or convention get in the way of doing the things he believes to be right. And when he makes a decision, he’s very willing to explain exactly why he did what he did. There’s no such thing as a perfect coach, but the early indications seem to be that the Oilers got a good one in Krueger.