Oilers hire Craig Ramsay as an assistant coach; Kelly Buchberger re-assigned

Dallas Eakins 11

After seemingly endless speculation, the Edmonton Oilers have made moves that change the face of their coaching staff.

The Oilers official Twitter account announced that Kelly Buchberger has been re-assigned internally and will not work as an assistant coach under Dallas Eakins next season. Replacing him is veteran NHL coach Craig Ramsay:

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Additionally, TSN’s Darren Dreger hints that Steve Smith may also be looking at a new role next season:


Craig Ramsay

Craig Ramsay’s name has been frequently mentioned in the rumour mill – for example, in a mailbag feature on this site late last month, three different writers mentioned him – and for good reason. 

First, he brings an incredible wealth of experience to the organization. He’s been an NHL head coach for three different teams, though he hasn’t exactly been in an ideal situation in any of those places:

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  • He was an interim head coach in Buffalo in 1986-87 (replacing Scotty Bowman, who he had worked under as an assistant) but wasn’t retained in the role the following season.
  • His was an interim head coach in Philadelphia late in 1999-00 and took the team to the Conference Final, but was fired early the next year after a slow start. 
  • He was the head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010-11 but ended up getting replaced when the team was sold and moved to Winnipeg. 

To recap: he couldn’t replace Scotty Bowman in his second year as a coach at any level, he got just 20-odd games after going three rounds the previous year, and his team got sold from under him. Oof.

Most of Ramsay’s experience has come as either an assistant or associate coach, and he’s been taught by some of the greats. He spent parts of four seasons playing for Bowman before joining his coaching staff. He’s worked under Roger Neilson in Florida and Philadelphia (and played under him in the OHL), Jacques Martin in Ottawa, was an associate coach under John Tortorella on the 2004 Stanley Cup champion Lightning and worked for Claude Julien in Boston. Lots of very, very good coaches have had time for Ramsay in a key role on their staff. 

From this vantage point, he also looks like a very nice fit for Dallas Eakins. Both had close ties to Neilson, one of the true innovators in the game, and they actually spent two seasons together in the Panthers organization – Ramsay as an assistant and associate coach, Eakins as a player.

Very few candidates could have been considered a better fit for Eakins. Ramsay brings (a limited) personal history, a shared primary influencer, and an unimpeachable record of experience at the NHL level. 

Smith and Buchberger

Steve Smith

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It isn’t a surprise to see Buchberger land at another position in the Oilers organization. His frankly incredible track record of survival with the team shows that he’s a person the decision-makers value. It was unseemly for him to survive so many head coaching changes, and moving him to less of a front-line role is probably a good thing. 

As for Smith, Eakins revealed on Oilers Now that Ramsay would be taking over some of his duties:

Craig will be on the bench, he’ll be running the defence just as he did in Boston. We’ll be handing the powerplay to him. Let’s remember that the powerplay is the repsonisbility of all the staff, and the players. Steve Smith is an excellent coach, we’re in discussion for a new role, which is something he’s going to have to consider.

The comments by Eakins are open-ended. They would not be inconsistent with Smith staying on staff and taking on a lesser role internally, but neither would they be inconsistent with Smith leaving the organization or taking on a different position with the team.

The bottom line here is that the Oilers’ coaching staff improved on Tuesday, and given general manager Craig MacTavish’s comments earlier this summer in support of the status quo it seems clear that Eakins asserted his authority in making this hire. Both of those are positives for the team. 


  • utarded

    Baby steps usually land you on your ass. Changing the associate coaches seems like a small step, but considering we’ve been sitting on our asses here for the better part of a decade, why not.

  • OilersDynasty

    About time. Good choice. Why does Smith have time to look at options. If you are let go why can he hold things up while he looks for a soft landing. He had a job,he did not perform. Fall where you may but get the heck out.

  • vetinari

    Much needed and not too soon… would like to see them add another veteran behind the bench and maybe a few new faces on the professional and amateur scouting side of things and we could be okay heading into the fall.

    Its clear that Ramsay is exactly what the doctor ordered– veteran coaching help to sort out the defence and the power play.

  • OiLz

    Well, I think he looks like Professor Charles Xavier from X-Men! Maybe he can unlock the defensive responsibility this team needs through telepathy. Good hire though.

  • OiLz

    Nice move, could have done worse. Think Ramsay will be a tremendous asset to this club. He comes from a working mans mentality. Hope it rubs off on the players.

    PS; Bucky’s new gig, testing air pressure on the Zamboni tires, and keeping Katz drive way clean in the winter time.

  • Mason Storm

    So a guy with a Selke coaching the power play coming from a team who’s leading scorer had 38 points last year. I love the experience he brings, but I’m a little underwhelmed at his role as the PP coach. At least he can help the Oil not give up 10 shorthanded goals this year.

  • OilersDynasty

    Nothing to do with the article, but we can say goodbye to Ekblad:

    “Ekblad is this year’s player most likely ready to step in and play in the NHL,” Scott Luce, the Panthers director of scouting, told the Sun Sentinel last week. “He’s physically mature and has got lots of mileage underneath him at the OHL level.”


        • And don’t forget 2016 is a Defence – Heavy Draft .

          Jacob Chychrun—D—Toronto Jr Can 0’00/000 29 16 27 43
          Chad Krys—D—New Jersey Rockets U19 5’11/165 27 09 22 31
          Ryan Lindgren—D—Shattuck 5’11/000 43 02 12 14
          11. Sean Day—D—Mississauga OHL 6’02/217 50 03 10 13
          Dante Fabbro—D—Vancouver NW Giants 0’00/000 34 20 34 54 .

          * Defenceman take a lot of time to mature . All these guys here can be just as good or better than Noah Hanifin *
          – Also Hanifin isn’t the only stud D in the 2015 nhl draft . Here are some others :

          Noah Hanifin, D, USNTDP Under-17 (USHL), 45-8-24-32-34, 1/25/97, 6-2 201
          Hanifin and Kylington will fight it out all year to see who will be the first blueliner taken in the 2015 draft. Hanifin has looked even more impressive when he has suited up for the Under 18s this year. He has all the tools needed to be a #1 defenseman in the NHL.

          Oliver Kylington, D, Farjestad (SEL), 32-2-4-6-6. 5/19/97, 6-0 181
          Kylington is poised to be the next great Swedish blueliner. He has elite skating and puckhandling skills and won events in the AHL all star game skills competition when his team played the AHL all stars. The fact that he hasn’t even turned 17 yet and he played almost the whole season for Farjestad is a testament to his maturity beyond his years.

          Jeremy Roy, D, Sherbrooke (QMJHL), 64-14-30-44-23, 5/14/97, 6-0 182
          The best Canadian defenseman in a weak crop, Roy has all the skills to be an elite puck rushing blueliner at the next level. Will be coveted by NHL teams that need a blueliner with a high hockey IQ and elite skating and puck skills. Sherbrooke should be one of the better teams in the Q next year and Roy could be the top D-man scorer in the QMJHL next season.

          Rasmus Andersson, D, Malmo (Allsvenskan), 43-3-10-13-26, 10/27/96, 6-0 214
          Has been playing with men for the past 3 years, and has a very mature, simple game that will translate fairly quickly to the NHL. His development is somewhat stalling in the Allsvenskan, and he could use a transfer to the CHL next season to play more games and engage in even more physical play. Has an NHL ready body and is very hard to move off the puck in the corners.

    • A-Mc

      Ya i heard the same thing from a few sources on the radio today. Also, they had a guy covering Buffalo say that he’s almost certain they’re taking Reinhart #2 overall.

      That means at #3 we’re looking at Bennett vs Draisaitl. Interesting =D

    • Oilers4ever

      Rather have a centreman anyways. I dont care what reports say. Ekblads played against boys, not men. He’ll need time in the minors. Everyone knows dmen take longer and we have good dmen coming. We need a Bennett or Drasaitl more.

    • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

      Could just be posturing to maximize return for trading the pick. Also, the same article lists the Oilers as one of 3 or 4 teams that have expressed an interest in trading up to get Ekblad. Also, the article quotes Talon as saying that he has received at least one “fair offer” for the pick.

      Another recent article on OilersNation presented a chart that ranked the historic cost trading up for the first overall pick. It presented a case that this years first overall could be bought for the equivelant of a high first rounder and a second rounder.

      Talon is on record as stating that his preference is to move the pick for assets that will improve his roster immediately….

      Clearly the Oilers have the assets to make such a deal if they view Ekblad as superior to all other potential draftees.

  • hallsyoilerforever5

    Wow, after months and months… to a couple of years… of posting for Oiler coach changes, it still feels like one of great shock nonetheless…. but a very good one though.

    From myself, I never wished any bad upon either Steve Smith or Bucky but I definitely was one of many, many, and even many more, fans out there seeking for (and then even begging for) these two to be moved over somewhere else in the organization or let go.

    Want to say I do sincerely wish Bucky, and/or Smith (if he’s let go/removed too)the best wioth moving on, as they were always hard workers and awesome former Oiler players.

    That being said, I NOW say a great big welcome to Craig Ramsay, and yet I am sorry that you now have a lot (ton) of work to do/start with already with this Oilers team.

    Running the defence and PP will be a big project and good upgrade now for the Oilers IMO with Mr. Ramsay in place.

    Next, is that if Smith is sent on to a new position within the Oilers I would love to see Nelson come up as the next asst coach with Laxdal promoted to the Barons/Hamilton runing the Oil Kings…the Memorial Champions (Lol…saying that of OK is not getting tiresome at all!!!!)

    • Couldn’t agree with you more Wattamike about the need for change–now we need a new attitude to come with it- I suspect we need one more change as well.

      I really do not want to have the Oil lose Todd Nelson. NO ONE ELSE -has had the core Oilers playing better as a coordinated group than when he had them; and no one else knows the up and coming players better.

      Also just like players we need to build a future for coaches in our system and Derek Laxdal would look terrific in OKC…

  • Benny Botts

    JW, I am not trying to disagree with you about Mac T previous press conferences or Dallas Eakins asserting his authority, but I do think at this point we need to take almost everything Mac T now says in a press conference with a grain of salt. That is both good or bad. I don’t think were getting as direct message from Mac T on his evaluation of the team as perhaps we did last summer when I feel Mac T learned his lesson about being direct with the media in the summer of bold moves.
    Mactavish’s decision to ‘praise’ his old buddy Kelly and the staff in general, and to appear to remain in favor of the status quo always hindered on him and Eakin’s reevaluating the staff at the end of the year. It looked like a classic spin move to me as the uproar over the remaining assistance in Edmonton became too much for the organization to ignore. This was a classic oilers move, to re-assign a member of failing staff into the organization. Which essentially means firing them, even after saying good things about them publicly. The team has also publicly came out and backed a player like Yakupov, all while Dreger and co on good authority have stated the Oil were shopping him even after the public backing by the coaches. Not that I agree with moving Yakupov, but it just seems that Oil management is now in the mode of ‘appearance over substance’ when it comes to speaking with the media and that everything should now be taken at face value. Again this doesn’t bother me as long as the team is run in the right way.
    To me, all this means is that accountability is finally coming to the Oilers coaching staff. Which is a good thing, even if it’s at the hands of Mactavish. I’d rather have him making these moves than Kevin Lowe or Steve tambelllini.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    While I’m at it… with saying great hire by the Oilers/Eakins…finally, is that with Craig Ramsay’s given background/experience, and… with by now hired to run the defence and PP,…it is that he may also have a huge say and/or impact in who the Oilers might now pick up as new incoming defencemen for this coming season (trades or UFA’s).

    He’s been hired now with enough time still to give input on guys like Mezsarov, Nikitin, Orpik, etc, prior to the draft and free agency period.

    With what and/or all he knows of… these many years….Ramsay would surely know what the Oilers’ uypcoming defence should be like, play like, etc, for 2014-15 onward.

    This is looking better, and better, and better… Ohhhhh Yessss!!!! I am definitely stoked. And but yet,… he is only just one Oilers’ new hired asst coach…LOL.

    Bring us some more of this excellent news/stuff Eakins and MacT!!!!!

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Finally a step in the right direction for this coaching staff.

    It’ll be refreshing to see someone on that crew without ego or entitlement issues. Someone who’ll put the kids progress ahead of everything else. After yet another slow start, he should be able to survive the Eakins firing around Christmas.

    An experienced outsider is long overdue.

  • A-Mc

    I think Nelson was a coach in Atlanta as well. I could imagine Ramsay and Eakins talking about Nelson as an option for assistant. Bob Green is probably talking to management about Laxdal in OKC. It seems like a perfect scenario.

  • A-Mc

    “…was an associate coach under John Tortorella on the 2004 Stanley Cup champion Lightning and worked for Claude Julien in Boston. Lots of very, very good coaches have had time for Ramsay in a key role on their staff.”

    Noticed the typo above, might consider changing this… you listed Tortorella and then mentioned very good coaches.

    Go OIL !!!

    • Joy S. Lee

      How many head coaches have won Stanley Cups? About one a year, and some are multiples. Add ’em all up and you’ll end up with a pretty short list. Trash him and make fun of him all you want, but he won one, and has advanced in the playoff rounds at other times. That’s a fact you’ll neer be able to take away from this supposedly horrific coach.

      And I’m not trying to argue for his coaching acumen – for which he must have some – but rather his results.

  • A-Mc

    Ramsay brings more experience at NHL level so that should be a positive . Bucky and Smith survived 4 other coaches and they must have done a lot right to maintain their positions in that time . Alas , it was probably time/over due for a new messenger in assistant roles I suspect . Best of luck to all of them .

  • Bucknuck

    Is it Ok to start feeling more optimistic about the upcoming season yet? It always feels so good when Oilers management actually seems to know what they are doing. Those moments are a lot more frequent since MacT replaced Tambellini.

  • I’m not going to get too excited about this.

    Scotty Bowman himself along with assistance Roger Neilson and Viktor Tikhonov with 80’s Glen Sather as GM could get this team into the playoffs anytime soon.

    Try giving these guys something to work with and maybe I can get a little excited, until then shuffling the deck chairs on a sinking ship doesn’t blow wind up my skirt.

  • ubermiguel

    All the talk about having an big experience D man along with we need size down the middle is great! But. Teams that get into the post season normally have a super star goalie! I think the oilers should try and find a star goalie.
    That is just my thoughts

  • M22

    My take on MacTavish’s prior endorsement of Buchberger/Smith, in light of him stating that Eakins will have full say in choosing his assistants:

    If anyone knows the perils of an NHL coach in this town, it’s MacT. He also knows the huge pressure a young rookie coach like Eakins has to endure, and the ever-present question, by the fanbase and media, of who’s in charge of what. MacT knew tongues would be wagging about his Bucky/Smith comments. He’s too clever to be so sloppy with his words. I believe it was intentional, and tactical. I also believe he wants Eakins to make his own decision on his assistants.

    Yes, of course this is all hindsight on my part. I, too, was in a flap for a while after I heard him say it. But at the same time, it just didn’t sit right with me. Maybe this is why?

  • Benny Botts

    We have all been here before. Changes all summer, everyone gets excited only to be dissapointed once again. They could sign any high calibre player but until I see results this year I will not fall into the same old built up excitement as I have from years passed. I’ll tell you how “excited” I am come christmas.