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Three Thoughts: Coffey Time

Anytime the Edmonton Oilers make or even contemplate a hire that involves bringing back a former player, aka dipping into the Old Boys Club, there should be a healthy dose of skepticism. If you’ve been paying attention for more than 15 minutes or so and seen what we’ve seen around here, that’s a given.

It’s no surprise, then, there was plenty of that as word leaked out yesterday former Oiler and HHOF blueliner Paul Coffey is on his way back to Edmonton in an organizational coaching capacity — officially, he’ll be a skills development coach. We’ll hear more today from Coffey, who was at Rogers Place to watch a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks last night and was on the ice with the team this morning. We’ll hear more from GM Pete Chiarelli and coach Todd McLellan. No matter how it’s framed, doubters will doubt. As they should.

Most of this well-earned cynicism is a product of the Decade of Darkness — the oh-so-painful and forgettable 10 years of losing and ineptitude that followed the Oilers appearance in the 2006 Stanley Cup final. It pre-dates that, of course, to Glen Sather handing off his chair to Kevin Lowe, who was fast-tracked from retirement to coach to GM. The in-house dominos fell from there and, well, you know how that played out.

That said, I’m not convinced bringing Coffey in as a skills coach who will work with blueliners at all levels is akin to handing him the keys to the whole outfit, which was the case when Lowe took over from Sather. The hiring of familiar faces began in earnest after that. Lowe and Craig MacTavish assembled rosters and coached teams. They put together front office, coaching and scouting staffs. I’d argue this, like the return of Wayne Gretzky to the OEG, is not that.

All that matters for me is that Coffey performs within the job description he’s given. Might a player who is second in career scoring to Ray Bourque among NHL blueliners make a good skills coach for players within the organization even if he has barely a lick of coaching experience on his resume? He might. If Coffey does so, terrific. If he doesn’t, then thanks for coming. Results, please. That’s the only measuring stick for me. Just get the job done. That’ll be something that plays out over time.

JESSE FEELING IT

Jan 20, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi (98) celebrates his second period goal against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

There’s got to be a pizza chain out there smart enough to make a sponsorship deal with Oilers’ rubber-faced winger Jesse Puljujarvi. The way it looks from where I sit, the lanky Finnish forward isn’t just one of the most likeable players this team has had in recent years, he is going to be a very good NHL player for a long, long time.

Puljujarvi, 19, fresh from taking a twirl with some local kids at an outdoor rink during the bye-week for the Oilers, had easily the best game of his young career in that win over the Canucks. He finished with a goal and two assists — both terrific set-ups on goals by Jujhar Khaira and Leon Draisaitl. All that topped off by his smiling mug in post-game interviews.

Held without even a point in his last eight games going into the break, Puljujarvi had it going on Saturday. Playing on a line with Draisaitl at centre and Milan Lucic on the left side, Puljujarvi was in the middle of the action virtually every shift. He had six shots on goal and his first three-point night while playing 13:29, including 1:29 on the power play.

LIVING LARGE

Dec 21, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Milan Lucic (27) celebrates with center Leon Draisaitl (29) after scoring a power play goal as Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith (41) looks on during the first period at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

While it’s not very often a trio sticks together for very long these days, I sure liked the look of Draisaitl, Lucic and Puljujarvi. For Saturday, at least, they looked awfully good together. They were hard on pucks, pressed the action and were simply too big and too busy for the Canucks to deal with, combining for seven points (Draisaitl had 1-1-2 and Lucic was 0-2-2).

Draisaitl and Puljujarvi move very well for big men and Lucic shows up with bad intentions when he finally does arrive. With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out for up to six weeks with cracked ribs, we’ll no doubt get a look at this trio again, and why not? As an aside, this is as physically big a line as the Oilers have thrown over the boards in a long time.

PIZZA PIE IN THE SKY

Connor McDavid had his say on Puljujarvi after the game. If it wasn’t an eye-opening endorsement, I don’t know what is. “The sky is as tall as he wants it to be,” McDavid said. “He’s big, skates well, is confident, has a great shot and is good with the puck. But I think it all goes back to his size. He’s six-four, still young, trying to (grow) into his body. He’ll be that solid-on-his feet, puck battle guy. Good in front of the net. The sky’s the limit for him.”

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • NealH

    This kinda reminds me when Dan Kepley was brought back to coach… and sadly we know how that ended. But ok let’s be positive. The one thing I will say is what a class act McClellean is. If they fire him, I’m done, period…

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    Great. Now all they need to do is bring in Kurri and Messier as assistant coaches, Fuji as the goalie coach, and Anderson as assistant GM and the circle shall be complete

  • Fire Woodcroft!

    I don’t mind the Coffey hire because there’s no doubt that the man knows a thing or two about playing the D. There’s a few players like Benning and Russell who could definitely benefit from a few pointers. He might help Klefbom and Larsson recover last season’s form. My only worry would be that they would tinker with Nurse’s progression too much and end up setting him back.

    Most likely this wouldn’t be McLellans first choice – but you know what? If Todd isn’t willing to sack his two assistant coaches – who have literally hurt the team with whatever sad-sack systems they’re implementing – then in my mind he’s lost any moral standing he has to criticize the move.

    That all being said – I’m terrified of the possibility this might be the first move to letting McLellan go in the summer and making Coffey head coach. THAT IS NOT THE ANSWER!!! The LAST thing this organization needs is another head coach with no experience coaching at the NHL level….

  • Johnny Zylon

    In less than a year from now, after the Oilers miss the playoffs, Wayne Gretzky will be GM and Paul Coffey will be head coach. You heard it here first. Gretzky was probably behind the hiring of Coffey. His first hire as GM in-waiting.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Seeing Ryan Whitney’s name in the article made me forget about this hire for a moment. I really hate that bum, and hope he drops off the face of the hockey world forever. I’m still incredibly chapped about him sh*tting on Smitty.

  • TKB2677

    The way I look at it is this. Optically, it doesn’t look great that the Oilers hired another former Oiler. BUT if Coffey wasn’t a former Oiler and he was brought on to mentor the young dmen and be a resource for the dmen especially when it comes to offense, no one would bat an eye. He is a NHL hall of famer, the second highest scoring dman of all time. So the guy knows how to move the puck and knows how to score and generate offense from the defense. Something the Oilers defense needs. So if he wasn’t a former Oiler, I bet lots of people would be saying its a good move to try but because he played for the team for a bit, it’s a bad move?

  • Coach Rick

    I think bringing in skill coaches is a good thing. No offence to Ian Herbers, but he couln’t carry Coffey’s jock. Every other sport carries skill coaches why not hockey. Spending Katz’s profits is a good thing!

  • TKB2677

    The Oilers, especially the defense can use some skill development help especially when it comes to offense. Klefbom is having a terrible season but we have seen he has some offensive ability. Nurse is coming on. Some questioned if he had much of an offensive dimension at all. We have seen this season that he does have some offense. Benning, all the stats guys say he has some offense. So all of those guys could use a resource like a Coffey who was one of the best offensive dmen EVER. Coffey was known for his ability to skate like the wind and rush the puck smoothly. Nurse is one hell of a skater. He rushes the puck OK but at times isn’t the most smooth puck rusher. Could a guy like Nurse use a few tips to improve his puck skills and puck rushing from one of the best offensive and puck rushing dmen of all time? Hell yeah he could. No disrespect to current Oilers dmen Jim Johnson or Ian Herbers but those guys were fire it off the glass and out guys. What tips are they going to give Nurse when they could NEVER do what Coffey or Nurse could or can do?

    If this was the Oilers hiring whatever former Oiler dman who was a mediocre player but known as a Klowe buddy, then sure I can understand all of the criticism. Coffey is one of the all time greatest dmen EVER who happened to play part of his career with the Oilers. I would also say that for any person who complained about the hiring, if Coffey was hired by another team, they would be the first to rip the Oilers for not doing it.