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Photo Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Encore?

When Ken Hitchcock came out of retirement to take over from Todd McLellan behind the bench of the Edmonton Oilers, it was supposed to be one-and-done for the third-winningest coach in NHL history. It was understood that Hitchcock, 67, would do what he could to salvage the season with the hometown team that he’s always wanted to coach, then ride off into the sunset.

Well, not so fast. For all the challenges on the ice and upheaval off it with an organization that’s facing a makeover from top to bottom in hockey ops this off-season, Hitchcock isn’t necessarily ready to follow that script just yet. He said as much in response to questions from Post Media columnist Terry Jones after a 4-3 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators Saturday.

Jones asked Hitchcock how badly he’d like to have another go with the Oilers if he had more of a team to work with: “That’s hard, Jonesy, because it’s somebody else’s ball game now from a manager’s standpoint. Obviously, there’s going to be a new general manager. I can just tell you what I did this year, I wouldn’t change this for the world.

“This has been fantastic and will continue to be fantastic. I’m so happy and lucky that I got to do this because I thought there’s coaching and then there’s coaching in Canada and this is a whole different animal and something I’m so lucky I get to experience.” Then, Jonesy brought the fastball. For the record, do you want to return as coach next year? “For the record, I feel if I’m good I can coach until I’m 99,” Hitchcock said. The full interview is here.

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WHAT’S NEXT?

Dec 13, 2018; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock talks to his players during a time against the Winnipeg Jets in the third period Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

That Hitchcock would want to coach until he slumps over at his desk is no surprise to me. He’s been a lifer since I first met him in Kamloops in the mid-1980’s. Now, as then, he lives and breathes to coach the game. He is the dictionary definition of a career coach with 1,591 regular season games and 847 wins on his NHL resume. He’s coached 168 more games in the playoffs. He’s won a Stanley Cup (1999) and a Jack Adams Award (2012).

Would Hitchcock like to be back behind the Oilers’ bench next season? Of course he would, even if he didn’t come right out and say it Saturday. That said, his return flies in the face of everything we’ve been led to believe up until now for a lot of reasons. First, there’s a new GM coming in and it stands to reason he’ll get to pick his coach. That’s how it works, or is supposed to work.

Second, at 24-24-7, Hitchcock hasn’t exactly turned the fortunes of the team around since taking over from McLellan, and there’s been rumblings that he’s had some pushback from players because of his hard-driving style. That’s nothing new. Hitchcock always has been a demanding coach, right from the days he was running the bench with the Sherwood Park Chain Gang in midget hockey. He is what he is. That’s not going to change. Is that a fit with this group of players in 2019? Fair question.

Third, having Hitchcock back would be a tough sell, to say the least, to a fan base demanding wholesale changes and a clean slate in hockey-ops. People will absolutely lose their minds if CEO Bob Nicholson, who already stepped in a bucket of dung with his stupid remarks about Tobias Rieder and then compounded it by sounding in way over his head about his plans going forward in an interview with Jason Gregor on Friday, doesn’t give the new GM freedom to call all the shots, including name his coach.

THE WAY I SEE IT

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Optics matter when it comes to a city and a fan base that’s been fed a steady diet of failure for all but one of the last 13 years. Surely, the Oilers have to go by the book now. That means due diligence in finding, interviewing and creating a short-list of candidates for GM and hiring the best person, then letting that person make changes in hockey ops as they see fit. It follows, given the history here, that people with their fingerprints all over that failure in one capacity or another are moved out and replaced.

I can’t see a scenario in which having Hitchcock return — beyond, perhaps, being a consultant in a coaching capacity — fits within the best practices Nicholson insists will finally be put in place this off-season. As much as I respect Hitchcock and his unwavering desire to continue to practice his craft, I don’t see how that works or sells here. What say you?

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • Heschultzhescores

    I agree. The game has changed dramatically in the past couple of years. We need a millenial’s capable coach. A coach in his 30’s would be ideal. But none of it matters if they keep the same overseers in place.

    • Alfonso

      Wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Bobby Nicks had a condition of employment for the new G.M. that he has to keep the likes of Hitch & Gretzky … it’s how these Oilers roll …

    • Fair point. My guess, though, is that if the new GM comes in and declares that Hitchcock is his guy, a lot of people are going to howl about the new guy being influenced by others, whether it’s true or not. The majority of fans, and with good reason, don’t trust the way decisions are made with this organization.

      • hagar

        I guess it depends if the main characters are still here Robin.
        If klowe and Mact are still here, then “bob” hires some random guy to be gm, and then that gm is fine with hitch, that means nothing has changed.
        If klowe and Mact are gone, Bob is gone, then the new gm wants hitch, sounds good to me!
        Let’s start by changing the things that have never been changed since this team was bought by Katz.

      • McHitch

        If Hitch gets the endorsement of McDavid and Draisaitl he stays. They come out publicly supporting the decision and the optics change.

        How many players are having career years. McDavid, Drai, Nuge, Nurse, Chiasson.

        The simple evolution in Drais game should be reason enough to give Hitch another shot.

        Hitch has history with players like Benn and Nash who thrived under him. Add a bunch of Oilers to the list.

        • RJ

          This is the smartest comment on here.

          Any one of the core players comes out in support of Hitch coming back, then I think most fans will back up Hitch.

          Drai’s career year we all see, but I’m most impressed by Nurse’s career year, points-wise.

          It’s like a weird mantra by Oilers media how offensively gifted Klefbom is, but if Nurse scores two more points in the next seven games, his career best surpasses Klefbom’s. Never see any write-up about that.

          Is it getting closer to 300 games that’s causing his improvements? Coaching? Regardless, him passing Klefbom’s best should be a story.

        • Himynameistaylor

          Yeah this makes the most sense. Hitch was hired November 20th and since then Draisaitl has put up around 50 points, an a good portion of them have been goals. He said he was going to work with Draisaitl specifically and it’s worked out so far.

          Hitchcock seems to have a good grasp on how to use this team for what it’s worth. I’d like to see what he could do with more speed and finish on his wings.

        • joilers

          I would bring him back for sure considering there is no gm in place. A veteran coach with pedigree as a short term solution is a good idea to help give the new GM a year to get his bearings and then bring in a coach of his choosing. Or if the team happens to be kicking butt with Hitch then the new gm might choose to keep him.

  • This sad sack organization has to make big changes in the off season. Some fans have to stop being delusional in the belief that if they can acquire 1 or 2 scoring wingers everything will be great again in Oiler land. This team has a lot of flaws that need to be corrected and it will take big moves, patients and time. Its time to change this team from top to bottom.

  • rnj

    Gregor: gives softball question about what kind of culture Bob wants to create in Edmonton
    Bob: Well, like, such as uh, *phone ringing in background*, whoops, heh, lost my train of thought, uh, oh.. ok so, well erm, huh, you know Jason its, uh

    WHAT IS HAPPPENING HERE

    This man is clueless. Easy question the should be answered smoothly and with confidence. Bob needs to be fired yesterday

    • cityofchampions

      The problem is that Sideshow Bob thinks that there is nothing wrong with the Oiler culture of entitlement, arrogance, and jobs for life. He was dumbfounded when Gregor prefaced his question with “Given the 13 years of failure, its clear that the culture is not working so what needs to change”. Bob hemmed and hawed and eventually avoided the question by saying they are looking for players with skill and character together. Sideshow Bob and his cohort of clowns (KLowe, MacT and Howson) still believe that there is nothing wrong with their management culture and that everything is the fault of the puppets they hire as GM/Coach and the players (Reider, etc.).

      • M22

        Unbelievable, really. THAT’S the culture he’s talking about. Nothing above that level. No accountability, no apparent self-reflection, not a word on how the organization has to change ITS ways, ITS culture. The arrogance and ego at the top is astonishing. I really cannot stand these people. It’s a damn shame that Connor McDavid is stuck with these trough-hogs.

  • Scratch

    I love Hitch and I hope any new GM hires him for next season to develop the program, beyond that Hitch has a shelf life but he’s the best I have seen since Sather/Muckler. These pansies in the locker room are playing for a HOF coach and should appreciate what he brings for them, if not their careers should be short because they are only in it for the paycheck not for love of the game like Hitch

  • billsbills

    I say if the new GM is okay with it, bring him back. A hard ass that will make losing uncomfortable is not a bad thing.
    Unless Quenneville or Babcock is available.

    Rumor has it if Toronto is bounced in the first round again, Babcock is done in TO.

      • McHitch

        Not at all.

        He is partly responsible for this mess. Im sure he was consulted with on decisions like Hall, Eberle, Reinhart, Manning, Spooner, Etc. He failed miserably.

        Keith has a solid draft record, but his NHL talent assessment is obviosuly terrible.

        • The Whispererer

          I don’t want Gretzky as GM either, but he wasn’t even here for the Hall and Reinhart decisions; also, while he was very likely consulted on the others there is no evidence that his advice wasn’t contrary to Chiarelli’s decisions. Peter smoked his own pipe.

          • billsbills

            Who said anything about Gretzky? Keith is not going to be the next GM. If he is, I would be stunned.

            The question was about Hitch and as I said, having a hard ass coach is sometimes what’s needed for short stints in order to instill work ethic and a commitment to defense. And if any of you think the work ethic or defense is okay in Oiler land, there is something in your water.

          • Odanada

            I don’t want Keith as the next GM, but at this point, I would not be surprised if he was. Oiler management is crazytown at this point and I have little faith in anything Bob/OBC/Katz do

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        Keith is not ready to be a GM and this is not the team for him to hone his chops, way too much of a mess to deal with. This is going to take someone who knows how to wheel and deal someone who knows when to make a trade and whn not to do one and someone who knows the league and has his pulse on whats going on with other teams and has a good connections around the league and has scouts he can trust and work with.

        The Oilers have a huge mess to deal with thanks to Chia and it is going to take someone smart and savvy to work deals and know how to negotiate because we have a lot of garbage to get rid of and we need to find some good players and value contracts cause the little cap space is going to be an issue. Whoever the GM is going to be, he is going to have his hands full

  • Derian Hatcher

    Every one of us has worked with someone who lacks the skills, is over their head, is incompetent, or is just plain clueless. It is, and has been, more than obvious that Chia, and now Nickelson, fall into that category. I once worked with a person who was so bad, no one had a clue why the boss hired this person. It then came out that the new truck that the boss was driving was part of a fleet purchase from the incompetents fathers car dealership Smokin deal on a truck and I ll hire your kid made the whole organization pi$$ed off and frustrated.

    I can’t imagine what the inside of the Oilers orginzation functions like. The more nickelson talks the more it underlines the fact that he is simply incompetent It’s obvious to everyone.