Third time the charm?

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:

  • It’s worked out well for the last two associate coaches. Whoever gets hired has pretty much guaranteed a job as the Head Coach when he submarines his boss.

    I mean sure, the rest of the league has fared better than the Oilers without using a goofy Coaching structure but this time it will totally work out.

    • Lots of teams have an associate coach – off the top of my head, Bowness was in Vancouver and Renney is now in Detroit. I’m not sure I’d put the problems on that so much, though I do think there is some risk in bringing in an associate with a substantially higher profile than the head coach.

        • I have to completely agree with this , to many chiefs in the firehall is a bad thing.

          Did anybody think Quinn was going to last with Renney waiting in the wings?

          Did anybody really think Tambellini job was safe when they hired MacTavish?

          This is so stupid it’s comical.

          • Throttlehead

            And who remains in charge through all of this/that mess? Thats what is comical.

            I can imagine Tambellini wasn’t under stress when MacT and Howsen were hired.

            Apparently 6 stanley cup rings allows you to be poor at your job and keep it.

  • vetinari

    What is the NHL record for most new head coaches within a five year period? Are we close yet? Is coaching for the Oilers like being the drummer for Spinal Tap?

    I want Ralph to be successful but like his predecessors, he’s been hamstrung by a weak NHL lineup. I hope MacT can give him something to work with for the 2013-14 season, otherwise, I suspect that the new associate coach will eventually become our new head coach, yet, again.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    this team stopped listening to coachs Quinn, Renney and Kruger, especially late in the season when they were out of the playoffs, but a lot of the season none the less….i’m wondering if a lot of the players on this team will EVER listen to any coach? and long enough to adopt a system that will work for them and allow them to start winning…

  • Dont really see why its such a big deal… game is evolving and the coaching format needs to catch up.

    Almost everyone will soon follow the football format

    Head Coach – Offensive Coordinator and Powerplay – Defensive Coordinator and Penalty Kill – Goaltending Coach

    I don’t see where Kelly Buchberger fits in this new format

    Head Coach (Ralph Kreuger)
    Offensive Coordinator (vacant)
    Defensive Coordinator (Steve Smith)
    Goalternder Coach (Fred Chabot)

  • It’s interesting that MacT said you can’t blame the coach after so many years of so many different coaches with no playoffs, and that at some point its about the team that management has given the coach to work with. But then he goes out and looks for an experienced coach.

    Something tells me MacT did not like Krueger’s man coverage over zone coverage, and likely did not enjoy the turtle strategy. Plus, with the dip in 5 on 5 play, my guess is that MacT does not want a repeat of our 5 on 5 performance of last year.

  • Oh hell,they cant keep missing the target forever,at least they are trying to find some directional balance organizationally.ya gotta love the size of Fight in the Dog .

    The Oilers were only missing one ingredient for the last several decades,and it was INTUITION.It left with Wayne and Mark and was never properly replaced.There was no source strong enough to walk in their shoes and initiate the high octane system support they left behind them.Today only an Intuit can match either of them.There traditionally thinking men with small degrees of this natural ability,but we are talking 20% of optimal.You can stack them in your organisation and do the math yourself.It is a hard resource to find and manage fractionally,much better managed and optimised in huge doses.One Intuit one coach type of relationship is optimal,as opposed to 3 or 4 associates and one coach.The Intuit carries the communications platform cerebrally so is always going to be their optimal resource,the associates all need to find a way to catalyse themselves and manage that dynamic continually,it is super high maintenance,but doable.

    For the last 3 years they have been indoctrinated to the fact of exactly what this missing ingredient was and taught how to find it.What more can they do now but try to fill the hole they now recognise as existing.

    Of course it was going to be a managerial influence that posessed a high degree of Intuition being brought in ASAP.The Oilers are trying to balance their managerial influences to offset the statistical overload they were experiencing for years,it might be a less than the optimal way in that an Intuit is the purest source of what they need,but they are trying,and even if they miss the mark at LEAST they know what influence they require and how to find it.

    All they needed was a push in the right direction,the rest is up to them.

    Moma2/BadMedicine/NewAgeSys can ALL officially retire with a clear conscience and a feeling of satisfaction.Mr.Mactavish has clearly gotten the point and is on the right path so far,I do not expect him to embrace the NHS and will not be posting as such in the future,that pressure was exerted to simply highlight and then diagnose the lack of Intuitive inputs his team was suffering from,that is done so the NHS and I are done.The rest is up to the Pros.Keep the Faith.

    I shall Weiser-Slow Clap myself out the door…..

  • Quicksilver ballet

    One thing that holds true for all of these coaching tandems. None, had the opportunity to select their own assistants. They’ve for the most part, all been saddled with “in house help” when it came to assistant coaches.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    We do not need new coaches…….just new players. Coaching is generally comes down to line combinations and matching lines.

    Having another guying drawing lines on a magic board seems absurd to me when you have so many holes that need to be filled with talent.

    If we need anything we need a second GM to permenantly scout the KHL and European Leagues ……..there is some hidden talent over there that need more attention than just a scout watching them ocassionally.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    I wonder if MacT would give Todd Nelson a shot at the associate coach position? He’s done pretty good down in OKC, and seems to have the ear of the younger guys. I think him and Krueger would be a pretty good tandem.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    I think John Muckler might have been the first so-titled associate coach (to Sather) in the eighties. Then Ted Green was an associate coach to Muckler.

    This is nothing new.