The Ken Hitchcock era in Edmonton has been a strange one. The Oilers brought in the future Hall of Fame coach in November after Todd McLellan got fired to inject some new life in the blood of an underachieving club.
Things got off to a good start under new leadership. Hitchcock had the Oilers playing a tight, defensively responsible system and it looked like the team was playing well enough to squeak into the playoffs. But the wheels have come off over the past few weeks.
Hitchcock has been critical of the team’s effort, suggesting the Oilers only work as hard as they can after they’re embarrassed, creating a terrible cycle of frequently becoming complacent. Then, just recently, Hitchcock blasted the team for a lack of passion, saying “at this time of year, the coaches can’t want it more than the players.”
Elliotte Freidman suggested in his most recent 31 Thoughts post that Hitchcock may resign before the end of the season. Jason Gregor has wondered if the Oilers might fire Hitchcock as the players simply aren’t responding to his message. Now there’s this. For the second time in the last week, Hitchcock is watching practice from the stands.
This is the 2nd time in the last week he’s done it this way. Not a normal setup, and certainly notable. https://t.co/sGGwFAgpl5
— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) February 14, 2019
I think it’s fair to say that the Hitchcock era isn’t going to continue beyond this season. There was hope Hitchcock, the master motivator, could put enough of a fire in this squad that the Oilers managed to sneak into the playoffs. That hasn’t happened. The team simply hasn’t responded to Hitchcock’s tough, old-school approach.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday question. Who coaches the Oilers next season? Do they go with an internal option like Glen Gulutzan or Jay Woodcroft? Or do they go outside the organization? Is it best to get a new voice? Or bring in another McLellan or Hitchcock type with experience?
There are a few internal options the Oilers could look at for their coaching search. The obvious one is Glen Gulutzan, who has actual head coaching experience in the NHL. That said, neither Gulutzan’s Dallas Stars or Calgary Flames were overly successful. I think the Flames having a breakout year immediately after he was fired might be a little damning. Then there are rookies Jay Woodcroft and Manny Viveiros. Woodcroft has done wonders coaching the AHL Condors this season and Viveiros is known to be a new-age type coach with an excellent eye for systems and special teams. I don’t want to mess with success in Edmonton’s farm system, but I would put Woodcroft at the top of my list in terms of internal options.
The best options likely come from outside the organization. One of the most sought-after free agents on the open market this summer (even considering players) will be Joel Quenneville. Coach Q, a future Hall of Famer like Hitchcock, was fired by the Blackhawks early in the season and he’s enjoyed his paid vacation this year. Many teams will be lining up to get Coach Q behind their bench. He’ll have many opportunities to pick exactly what’s right for him and I’m not sure this mess in Edmonton is what he’ll want.
Another name that has been thrown in the hat is Kris Knoblauch. Knoblauch, who was Connor McDavid’s head coach when he played for the Erie Otters, was hired as an assistant coach of the Philadelphia Flyers two years ago. The connection to McDavid, of course, is key, but Knoblauch could be the new-age coach who communicates well with young players that the Oilers need.
What say you, Nation? Who do you want behind the bench next season?
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