Coaches usually are graded on wins and losses. If you win, you’re considered a good coach, if you lose more than you win, eventually you get fired. Of course there are other intangibles, but winning at the NHL level is the most important factor. With a young team like the Oilers, Krueger doesn’t need to win right away, but he will need to make decisions and evaluations that will lead to more wins in the future.
His first good test will be how he handles Ryan Whitney.
Whitney hasn’t been great, and he seems to be the new whipping boy of many fans. Regardless of how you view Whitney, it will be up to Krueger to try and get the most out of him.
Last night in OT, Jaromir Jagr beat Whitney in the corner which led to Jagr’s OT winner. It was great shot and good play by a future Hall of Famer, but when you get beat one-on-one you are open for criticism.
You can see the goal again here. Just click on the blue arrow beside Jagr’s goal.
If you look at the play you will see that it wasn’t so much a lack of footspeed that hurt Whitney, but rather taking a bad angle to the puck. If Whitney attacks Jagr a half a foot to Whitney’s right, then Jagr could have gone underneath him to the corner, rather than to the middle of the circle. If Jagr beats him down low, he doesn’t have a shooting angle like he gained from going above Whitney.
It was a bad angle, and bad decision by Whitney. But getting beat by Jagr doesn’t mean he is awful though. Click here and then click the blue arrow by Jamie Benn’s goal. Watch Jagr fend off and beat Ladislav Smid one-on-one before giving the puck to Benn.
D-men will get beat one-on-one especially if they have to face a beast like Jagr.
The point with Whitney isn’t about whether he made a bad play or not, it is whether he can return to being a consistent defender.
I don’t know the answer, but Krueger can’t afford to have the same mentality that many fans have right now. He can’t just say Whitney sucks, put him in the pressbox and let him rot.
He could do that, but that would diminish any value Whitney has. There are teams interested in his services, but right now they all want to obtain him at a low return to the Oilers.
Maybe Whitney will never be the player he was prior to 2011.
Whitney has had seasons of 38, 59, 40 and 39 points and that incredible run of 27 points in 35 games for the Oilers in 2010/2011. But then he suffered another foot injury, and since then he hasn’t been able to find his game.
It is easy to just write him off, but keep in mind how many Oiler fans, and pundits around the league, were saying the same thing about Ales Hemsky last season. Hemsky tallied 66 points in only 69 games during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and last year he only picked up 36 points in 69 games.
Many screamed he was disinterested, lazy and useless and his two-year contract extension was an awful decision. Hemsky was healthy enough to dress for those 69 games, but he wasn’t as strong as he had been in the past and he wasn’t confident in his abilities.
Hemsky is finally healthy again, and he’s back to being an incredibly dangerous player.
I’m not saying it is a guarantee Whitney will return to the player he was pre-2011, in fact, because he had foot issues, it is probably a bigger risk, but I’m very curious to see how Krueger handles him.
The combination of footspeed issues and a lack of confidence is a deadly mixture for Whitney. A coach can’t magically give a player confidence, but he will play a factor in helping him try to re-gain it. Krueger is a master motivator, and this will be a great test to see how he handles Whitney.
A player can’t gain confidence sitting in the pressbox or just practicing. Outside of the top 1%, every player has lost their confidence at some point. The good ones find ways to avoid losing it for long periods, while some never find it again. I have no idea which path Whitney will skate down, but if the Oilers want to get any sort of return for him, they’d be better off supporting him, than just kicking him to the pressbox.
How will Krueger balance trying to help Whitney, while also trying to win games? Can he do both?
The reality is the Oilers don’t have many better options. Can we please stop suggesting that Taylor Fedun is a better option. His coach, Todd Nelson, said he isn’t ready for the NHL yet. His footspeed isn’t the same after shattering his leg last year, but he is getting better Nelson said. He also has zero NHL experience, and while he’d be a great feel-good story he is not a better option at this point.
Corey Potter is not a superior player either. The Oilers could play Potter ahead of Whitney, but will they be better long-term? I don’t see how. They will de-value Whitney and then just lose him for nothing in the off-season.
At this point Krueger has to see if Whitney can get close to being the player he was before the last two seasons of serious foot issues. There is no guarantee he’ll ever be that player again, but it might also be too early to just discard him.
Whitney will be Krueger’s first tough decision, and how he handles him will show us a lot of how he thinks and acts as a head coach.
- The Oilers re-assigned Mark Arcobello to OKC today, because Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will play on Saturday. Anton Lander will get an MRI this afternoon, and if he can’t go they might recall Chris Vande Velde.
- Ben Eager is close to returning, and could play as early as Saturday according to Krueger. Where do you play him though? And when you activate him to the roster, who will they send down? Will they finally part ways with Darcy Hordichuk.
- Magnus Paajarvi and Teemu Hartikainen have been getting better every game. Paajarvi is using his speed more often, he drew a penalty last night, and he is going to the net better. Hartikainen is a load down low, and once he learns to shake off the defender and go to the next more frequently he’ll be a solid contributor.
- Lennart Petrell is getting better at ES and on the PK and he’s a great shot blocker. No way he comes out with Horcoff and Belanger on the sidelines.
- Ryan Jones skated with a visor for the first time today. He said he has no set timeline, but he joked, "My feet are coming along great. Hands are what they were before, not great." I suspect he might be ready to play by the 16th. The Oilers play Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday before getting three days off. That gives Jones ten days to get his cardio up to speed.