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.
PC said last wk they were talking to various people and exploring options, I do find it hard to reason through how he would land on Coffey as the best solution. I think it's fair to question if more coaching and mgmt experience should have been higher priorities in a candidate.
— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) January 21, 2018
My early take on Paul Coffey hire?
Not at all enamoured with firing up the Old Boys Club again.
Those hires set this organization back nearly a decade. Thought they were past that here.
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) January 21, 2018
The Oilers brought in another former player to the front office?! Amazing.
— Ryan Whitney (@ryanwhitney6) January 21, 2018
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
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.
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.”