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:
The Edmonton #Oilers have hired Craig Ramsay as an Assistant Coach; Kelly Buchberger transitions into new role in Player Personnel.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) June 10, 2014
Additionally, TSN’s Darren Dreger hints that Steve Smith may also be looking at a new role next season:
If it hasn’t been released yet, Oilers have hired Craig Ramsay as an assistant coach. Buchburger re-assigned. Smith consideriing options.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 10, 2014
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:
- 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
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.