When the Oilers do eventually hire an associate coach for Ralph Krueger, it will be the third time in recent years that the team will go with a high-powered duo behind the bench rather than with a single leading man. Will this attempt work out better than previous ones?
The “Dream Team”
When the decision was made that Craig MacTavish would not return as head coach – a choice that was evidently made with MacTavish’s approval – the Oilers turned to a coaching dream team that met with wide support from fans and media alike. After all, Pat Quinn had an impeccable resume: in addition to being one of the NHL’s all-time coaching greats, he holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and a law degree that he picked up between NHL jobs. Tom Renney was an experienced NHL head coach and seemed a solid fit for the associate job. Assistant coach Wayne Fleming was no slouch, either, and brought a lot of experience to the table, while Kelly Buchberger offered continuity and familiarity with the Oilers’ players.
There’s no need to revisit the results at any length; the game had clearly passed Quinn by and his approach was fundamentally wrong for the roster. The dream team saw the Oilers descend into the abyss, and the coaching staff would get a significant overhaul after just one season.
In the post-MacTavish world, the Oilers’ best coaching probably came from this tandem. After tanking in 2010-11, Renney suddenly returned to rigorous line matching and a careful attention to detail in 2011-12. If not for an over-reliance on goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin – the veteran went 1-12-4 after Christmas and condemned an Oilers team that was improving in other areas to a 29th-place finish – it seems likely to me that Renney would have survived the 2012 offseason, but after a long wait on a decision the Oilers decided to cut him loose. After another long wait (and a misguided pursuit of Mark Messier) the Oilers opted to replace Renney with Ralph Krueger.
2012-13: Ralph Krueger
In some ways, the decision to go to Krueger showed clear benefits. He obviously has a knack for clear and effective communication, and the bond between the coach and his players was obvious even from a distance. Nail Yakupov put it this way:
If we can stay healthy, we’re a very good team. We can beat any team in the league. Besides, we have got an excellent coach. He’s great not only as a coach but on a personal level too. I have never met a coach like him. He’s always there for us. You want to go out there and win games just because of him.
However, the Oilers backslid in some ways from their last year under Renney to their first year under Krueger. Despite greatly improved goaltending (from both Devan Dubnyk and Khabibulin) and additions like Yakupov and Justin Schultz, the team posted an equivalent record, going from 32-40-10 to the equivalent of 32-38-12 (their 48-game results projected over an 82-game schedule). The even-strength results were particularly bad, with the Oilers falling from a 24th-ranked 48% Fenwick Close rating (a plus/minus based on shots and missed shots from games where the score was close) down to 44%; translating that, the Oilers went from being just below average at out-shooting their opposition to nearly the bottom of the league.
Faced with a coach evidently loved by his players but with a team heading the wrong direction in some critical areas, the Oilers brain-trust has decided that the best solution is to beef up the tactical ability of the coaching staff with a well-respected associate coach.
The New Associate Coach
So far, three names have been publicly mentioned in connection to the Oilers organization by highly credible reporters: former NHL head coaches Paul Maurice and Rick Bowness, and AHL head coach Dallas Eakins. Bowness was also interviewed by Tampa Bay and ultimately accepted a job there (the Lightning, with the relatively inexperienced Jon Cooper in the top job, wanted an associate coach to take the same role the Oilers are looking to fill). Maurice interviewed with the Oilers and would be a highly credible candidate for the job. Eakins too is a high-level candidate, and one in serious contention for an NHL head coaching job – it’s entirely possible that he’s the Oilers first choice but that Edmonton needs to wait until he has explored his head coaching options.
Whichever candidate the Oilers settle on, it’s clear that they will be adding a very impressive coach to the staff. If it works, the Oilers might just find that magic combination of tactical brilliance and player buy-in. If it doesn’t, than Krueger’s most probable replacement will already be on staff.
Recently around the Nation Network
At Jets Nation, Kevin McCartney profiles Free Agent Target: Michael Ryder, and suspects he won’t come with a hefty price-tag:
With a shrinking cap and a number of teams scared off by the idea of a spotty scorer, I suspect Ryder is available on two to three year contract in the neighbourhood of 3.5 million per year in spite of the weak UFA class and his excellent season.
Click the link above to read the whole piece, or feel free check out some of my other pieces here:
- Trading Shawn Horcoff
- Is realignment good or bad for the Oilers’ playoff hopes?
- Edmonton Oilers depth chart, June 2013
- Report: Ralph Krueger the Oilers’ second choice for head coach – behind Mark Messier
- Is there a veteran NHL free agent the Oilers should pursue in net?
- Follow Jonathan Willis on Twitter!