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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.

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

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.

    • McHitch

      Lol you dont think one of the mkst winningest coaches in nhl history has the ability to adapt?

      4 decades of coaching… the game changes every 10 years and Hitch adapts. You need to give him way more credit.

  • cityofchampions

    I don’t mind Hitch coming back for a year if we have new people in place as POHO and GM and they decide Hitch is the guy. Trouble is, according to the interview they aren’t looking for a Poho (suspect it will be Burger Bob and his trusted advisors KLowe, MacT and Howson who do this by committee), and are concentrating on a GM. Burger Bob made it clear that Keith Gretzky will be here too, if not as GM then new GM will have to “fit” into the Oiler culture by keeping Keith as Assistant GM. Sounds like they want to keep most of their scouts too, as in the interview Burger Bob gives them cover by saying they have come in recently. Doesn’t look like there will be many changes at all…just another puppet in the GM chair to take the blame for the continuing culture of Oiler failure.

  • camdog

    Oilers hiring process:

    1) Promote people failed before
    2) Hire coach
    3) Hire GM
    4) Hire Hockey Operations Team President

    It’s not fair to the new GM to have to fight an uphill battle against all these people that have already determined what “the problem is”. Sounds to me more like Gretzky is the GM, reverses order of 2 and 3.

    • hagar

      It’s all about extending their jobs another year. They should have been fired like 10 years ago, but every year they find a way to distract and gain another year.
      Right now the smart money bet is that they will have a hard time finding someone qualified to come here, probably use the draft timing as another angle of the excuse, then decide as a best for now move to run Keith as GM for this year, while they carry on the search.
      Job one isnt making the team better, if it was, they would all step down. Job one is self preservation, and if that means no competent gm wants to come work with the architects of this disaster for fear of carreer suicide, they will put whoever serves their interest in the spot as the solution to them being the problem.

  • RJ

    And for the fans whining about selecting JP in 2016, give your heads a shake. Chiarelli made a ton of mistakes we can rightly criticize him for, but taking the consensus #3OV with the fourth pick isn’t one of them. CBJ’s GM took a lot of grief for selecting Dubois in third. Turns out CBJ made a smart pick.

    If you really want to be critical, it’s selecting Benson over Debrincat. Benson could be a player next season, but Debrincat is already close to a point per game player.

    • NickL89

      I think the issue is bigger than just making the wrong pick. Would Debrincat have the same production had he been drafted and developed by the Oilers? My vote is for “not a chance”. Would Benson be where he is had he been drafted by Chicago? Who knows I guess. My point is that the Oilers have proven that their picks don’t develop as they would on another team. Maybe it’s who they pick, maybe it’s the development system. Either way, there’s something in the water!

  • Rick Stroppel

    Hitchcock would be a terrible choice for HC. He has failed three times in the last three years with three different teams:

    2016-17, St. Louis. Fired in mid-season. St. Louis was 24-21-5 when Hitchcock was fired, they went 22-8-2 under Mike Yeo.

    2017-18: Fired by Dallas after one season. Missed the playoffs, 79 points. This season Dallas is on pace for 90 points, they will make the playoffs easily.

    2018-19, Edmonton. Oilers 9-10-1 under McLellan, 24-24-7 under Hitchcock, virtually zero improvement.

    Facts are stubborn. You are what your record says you are. Hitchcock is a smart man, a funny man, a nice man. I believe the modern game has left him by.

  • ScottV

    The only way it works with Hitch is that the new GM is a believer in the style of play that Hitch prefers. O zone possession for the sake of both defence and offense. While not the only way to play, I think it has a lot of merit for the kind of players the Oilers have but it requires a total buy in from top to bottom in the organization.

    Therein – lies the problem.

    The owner and the boys from that bus so long ago, have deep seeded belief in free flow, rush oriented – lets win 6 to 5 hockey. What me worry about a counter attack? Fuhrsy will just have to keep standing on his head.

    Personally – I think Hitch hockey still has a place, as I dont buy into the notion that there is only one way to skin a cat to be successful in the NHL. You just have to be rock solid in the way you elect to have your team play. Hitch hockey just needs a total buy in – top to bottom, lots of practice and time to allow it to be executed to perfection.

    Only way it happens is a complete cleaning of the house, so lets not kid ourselves – it isn’t gonna happen.

    I think Nicholson is a complete waste of skin. Also – all of the boys from that bus ought to go. C’mon you guys – quit milking that magical time from long ago and get out of the way. You’re just blurring the leadership and making things worse.

    Then – maybe, with the right support from above – Hitch could have the right environment to do his thing.

  • Rick Stroppel

    NICHOLSON: THE OBC IS GOING NOWHERE

    I listened carefully to Gregor’s interview of Nicholson. Nicholson strikes me as a nice old man who knows very little about running a professional sports franchise. I would not say he was “doddering”, that would be mean, but I would not say he was “sharp” either. Much of what he said was just meaningless MBA clichés like “we need to bring the players and the team together” Ya think?

    Gregor asked some good questions, hard questions, and Nicholson sloughed most of them off. Some of the answers were interesting, however. BN said HE will be interviewing the GM candidates, they have not decided whether ANY other people will sit in. I find that amazing. Chiarelli was fired weeks ago. So far their “search” seems to amount to a pie-in-the-sky list 30 names, many (if not most) of which will probably not get permission to apply for the job, or who would not want the job (for fairly obvious reasons).

    Gregor asked if other people will be let go. BN essentially said “that will be up to the new GM”. Think about that. Many of our favourites (eg. McTavish, Lowe, Wayne Gretzky) are ABOVE the GM in the corporate hierarchy. Also, when you get a new job, you can’t just start firing people willy-nilly, even if they are patently incompetent. You need to give them 12-18 months to prove their incompetence. So the bottom line for BN is this: the OBC and just about everybody else is safe for now, business as usual!

  • Oiler Al

    The Oilers site onNHL, list various departments etc…. check out the Scout site which list 13 scouts on staff. 11 amature and only 2 Pro scouts on thelist? They are:Chris Cichocki and Paul Messier [Mark;s Bros, who also manmages a hotel in the Bahamas>?!]The hotel is owned by Mark. How do you scout pro hockey from the island?

    • Rick Stroppel

      Gregor and others have talked about the weird fact that you do not see Oilers scouts at NHL games which do not involve the Oilers. Seriously, I think their attitude is this: “We are so smart…multiple Stanley Cups…everyone envies our team…look at the success…what do we need pro scouts for?” The amazing thing about the Oilers is the COMBINATION of arrogance and incompetence. They call it “hubris”.

  • Kepler62c

    Bring him back, his record with a full D corps is pretty solid and I think he’s done a good job building a better culture for the players (not necessarily the whole organization). If you listen to player interviews I’d say there are more indications that they have a strong locker room than in any of the last 5 years.

  • Heschultzhescores

    Notice the big Pacific teams are all sucking now. A lot of this is due to the fact that everything physical turns into a PP these days. This explains the sudden decline in Looch as well. The sooner we realize that the game is never going back to the bruising style game, the faster we will become competative. We need a management and a coach that understands this and accepts that it is never going back to big intimidating hockey. That means Looch has to go, no matter the cost. Kassian us all we need in that regard. Speed, skill, heart, and hockey IQ is where it’s at. Unlike what BN said just saying we need speed. See Rieder for proof more than speed is required.

    • Heschultzhescores

      He’s a nice guy, says the right things. I think he helped a few guys mature on this team, but at 67 he’s past his mental prime. Oldest coach ever to win the Stanley..Scotty Bowman 68. Idon’t see us winning next year or setting a new record in oldest coach to win a cup. Therefore, may as well start with the next new Glen Sather. A players coach.

      • hagar

        That’s a tough blanket statement. My dad is still top of his industry, working 60 hours a week at 76. Lots of people look half dead by 68, some are good to go for way longer.
        I wouldn’t wager 67 means your mind isnt worthy anymore.

        • Heschultzhescores

          I never said it wasn’t worthy, but just like skills decline on the ice, they decline behind the bench as well. Sadly, retirement is real and required for everyone lucky enough to get there. Wish it wasn’t the case, but in the top hockey league in the world there is no forgiveness for losing a step.

  • Dark Knight Returns

    Hold on…. if the Hitch is crazy enough to want to coach this pile of poop of a team, just let him do it. I do not see lineups of coaches (or players) wanting to come to the most dysfunctional organization in professional sports ever. If he stays he will be the new one to run with the blame of anything and everything.

    And before I forget:

    #FreeMcDavid

    • Heschultzhescores

      I think e very aspiring young coach still dreams to one day coach in the NHL and prove himself. A job behind the Oilers bench is a very Elite position regardless of their last 13 years. I’d take it and I’d wager most here on ON would not turn down the position Katz, OBC and all.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    I like Hitch, I think he is a good coach and he had a lot of success over the years, with that said I do no0t think Hitch ought to be the HC next season. The problem is Hitch’s defense first has the players when they are headed over the opposing teams blueline turning back far too often to go inbto defese mode, the team does not chase after the puck hard enough nor often enough in the opposing team’e end, far far too many times there is no support for the player in deep with the puck because the other guys are far to high up near the blueline or there is no one there period and other teams are picking us apart because of it Then there is the players I think there is more than a few who hear Hitch speak but could care less about anything he has to say

    Right now none of the Schwartz, the assitants and Hicth all ought be released at the end of the season from coaching duties, I get Hitch has a contract with the Oilers but find him something else to do in the Org hell they do it for everyone else.

    We need new goalie coaches, Assitants and a new HC. sSChwartz is deterimental to the goalies, he needs to stick to the Oil Kings and we need a proven NHL goalie coach. The assitants have had the defensive system in a mess all year and have done nothing to fix it, yes the player are to blame as well, but to do nothing to fix it game after game after game, sorry not accepatable the PP and PK have been brutal for 2 years, and the promised land of better Hockey we would see on the ice never materialized, and I saw no changes in the PP and PK that make me think we will see any changes next year…clean them house out and start over…dont forget to clean out from Mgmt on down if this organisation ever wants to have a chance at success, because the current people think they are the team and know best and it is ruining the team and tiring out the fans

  • WheatiesHockey

    It is great that there actually is someone out there that actually wants to coach the Oilers. Hitch is future HOF member so he has nothing to prove. After the season is over he can go out and look at some CHL and NCAA prospects to fill roster holes. The new GM won’t likely be hired til after the draft so whatever impact the new hire makes will not be felt for another 3 years. Many fans want a wholesale house cleaning of all the numerous managers and assistants in the Oiler organization. The sentiments may be justified, but it is unlikely that will happen.There is a whole generation of Oilers fans who are completely unaware of playoff hockey excitement. Bob Nicholson really did not inspire much confidence in how the Oilers are actually managed. Hope Hitch is back.

  • Oiler Al

    If Toby this, Toby that etc….. if he was the onlY problem in the Organization, this ream would be a contender.THERE ARE MANY,MANY MORE PROBlEMS THAN TOBy REIDER!!!

  • Johnny Zylon

    Let Hitch Manage and bring up Woodcroft to coach from the Conder. Hire Sean Burke as goalie coach. Maybe Pavel Burre as PP Coordinator and Nick Lidstrom to run the defence and pk

  • GK1980

    Yeah because a new coach will make next year so much better….sorry for being sarcastic but does any fan really believe change makes a damn difference anymore?

    • Gazoinks!

      As a hockey fan,(BC resident, flames fan) looking at the garbage heap, from a distance the head of the snake needs decapitating, the collective management and owner has to be accountable, I respect Bobbby Clarke stepping aside as betterment to his Flyers when he was G.M. now that takes stones!!!

    • camdog

      Number 1 job of a GM is hiring a coach that identifies with his philosophy. If our number 1 criteria for GM is they have to identify with Hitchcock , then that’s Keith Gretzky. No use even doing interviews. Word was Mact was behind Todd’s hiring. PC said yes to everything the Old Boys asked of him until this season when he told them to F off. If he listens to the Old Boys he might still have his job..

      • Gazoinks!

        The owner has to stop sitting in the middle of the circle, playing ‘spin the bottle’ with his OBC or it’s grab-ass and towel snapping for yet another decade.
        poor fans!
        poor fans