The Oilers have found their guy. Late last night, Ken Holland officially accepted the position of Oilers general manager as the organization offered him a lucrative five-year deal worth $25 million. On to the next item on the agenda — finding a head coach.
Ken Hitchcock is still under contract with the team for another couple of years and the veteran coach has stated that he still wants to be behind the bench. The Hitchcock era was far from rosy last year, as the team got off to a quick start but then faded into oblivion. There were rumblings that the team didn’t respond well to Hitchcock’s tough, old-school style.
Dustin Nielson did a post this morning outlining some of the potential coaches that Ken Holland could hire. Hitchcock is one of them, Dave Tippett’s name has been thrown out there in rumours, and internal options like Glez Gulutzan and Jay Woodcroft are in the mix too. Perhaps the most interesting name on the list, though, is Mike Babcock.
Bob McKenzie speculated on TSN Edmonton this morning that he could see Ken Holland trying to bring Mike Babcock in. Let's discuss that instead.
— Jon (@FatsSundin) May 6, 2019
Babcock was arguably the biggest free agent heading into the 2015 off-season. The Oilers were apparently interested in Babcock that summer but fell out of the sweepstakes early and brought his former assistant coach Todd McLellan on board. The Maple Leafs ended up with Babcock and he helped their rebuild turn around quicker than anybody could have expected.
After a tank year in 2015-16 that resulted in the team drafting Auston Matthews with the first-overall pick, the young Leafs surprised and made the playoffs in 2016-17. Since then, though, it’s been back-to-back letdowns in the first round as the Leafs can’t get over the hump that is the Boston Bruins.
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) May 4, 2019
Babcock is still currently the coach of the Leafs, but it isn’t certain that’ll be the case by the end of the summer.
The team blew a 3-2 series lead this spring and Babcock has come under a lot of criticism for it. Babcock has been slammed for not bothering to shorten his bench in Game 7, an inability to get the most out of his skilled players, and failing to adjust his special teams strategies.
There has also been plenty of talk about a rift between him and general manager Kyle Dubas. It’s been widely assumed that Dubas would prefer to promote Sheldon Keefe, who has done excellent work with the AHL Marlies and has been with Dubas since all the way back in his days with the Soo. Greyhounds of the OHL.
Ken Holland and Mike Babcock know each other well. Babcock coached the Red Wings for 10 seasons, appearing in the playoffs each year and winning the Stanley Cup in 2008. Though he hasn’t been able to get the Leafs over the hump, there’s no doubt that he’s played a key role in their rebuild. If Dubas decides to go in a different direction, could Babcock be the solution in Edmonton?