Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Ken Hitchcock discusses what comes next

At yesterday’s Ken Holland announcement presser, the new GM mentioned that Ken Hitchcock would not be back behind the bench with the Oilers for the 2019-2020 season, leaving the search to begin for the Oilers’ eighth head coach (if you count MacT) in the last nine years. Later in the day, Ken Hitchcock appeared on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown and opened up about what comes next.

When newly-appointed GM Ken Holland confirmed that Hitchcock would not be back behind the bench for the Oilers next season, many wondered what would come next for the third-winningest coach of all time and in the radio appearance with McCown, the man himself shed some light on what’s to come. But before getting to the future, Hitchcock started with a look back at how everything came together and what it was light to get the news that he wasn’t coming back.

“It wasn’t tough on me, to be honest with you. I went in last year with Peter [Chiarelli] to help Peter and help the Oilers in particular and I knew it was year-by-year. I told them, ‘if you decide to move on from me, I still want to help. Obviously, Edmonton is my hometown, the team means the world to me, the success of the team means everything to me, and I knew I couldn’t coach forever and I wanted to help in some way.”

When Hitchcock replaced Todd McLellan, I have to admit that I loved the angle of a hometown guy coming back to fix the Oilers. The way I looked at it, if the team couldn’t respond to one of the winningest coaches of all time, pulling themselves out of the funk that trapped them in a hole of despair, then maybe it would never happen. Maybe the team just wasn’t good enough. As we now know, Hitchcock couldn’t muster enough magic to pull this flawed roster out of the darkness. He couldn’t turn a bunch of 6s into 9s, the Oilers missed the playoffs, and Hitchcock’s fate was up in the air.

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“When they made the decision that they were going to change both the general manager and the coach, I fully understood that. But I want to work. I want to help, I want to work, I want to do whatever I can to continue to help the team. I think I’ve got a lot to offer, especially on player evaluation and pro player evaluation and free agents and things like that. I know the league, as well as anybody or any coach and I, want to be able to help put this thing back on the track and help Kenny [Holland].”

The thing I really appreciated about what Hitchcock was saying is how eager he is to help regardless of being the coach or not. I think we all know how bad the Oilers have been with player evaluation over the years and having another seasoned set of eyes can only help, in my opinion. At this point, we don’t know what exactly Hitchcock will be doing, but I’m still hopeful that his expertise and outspokenness will be able to help turn things around, even if he is only in an advisor type of role.

A massive rainstorm appears to have caused flooding in Edmonton's Rogers Place

Speaking of turning things around, Hitchcock seems to think those days aren’t as far out as some others do:

“I’m a pretty hopeful guy, but I see this as a lot quicker turnaround than people think. I think this is more doable than anything, because if you don’t have the top-end guys, you’re searching and hunting and you could be years looking for that type of player and you get into bidding wars on guys who are free agents to just try to find them. Well, they’re already in place. We already have them.”

Personally, whenever I’m feeling down on the Oilers I look at the roster and remember that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are here for the long term, and that simple fact always tends to make me feel better. So when Hitchcock says that the Oilers already have the cornerstone pieces that the team can build around, he’s absolutely right, but even with those two guys, there is still plenty of work to do to surround them with more talent.

“Now we’ve got to look for people who make them better, and I think there’s a lot of those players in the National Hockey League that can really help teams and they’re littered right throughout the whole league, every team’s got them.”

I’m not breaking any news here when I say that the Oilers’ depth scoring wasn’t anywhere near good enough, and finding players that can change that is going to be at the top of Holland’s list if he truly expects to get back in the playoffs in 2020. They can’t depend on only three or four guys to put up all of the offence and I’ll be waiting to see how the management team fixes the problem.

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“What we need to help ourselves with is we need the role players and the depth players to be zero maintenance. We need those players to come in and not spend 30 seconds worrying about whether they’re going to come and play. That’s my opinion, is that the players that come in to help this team, they have to bring it every day so that it opens up space so that we get more room for our top guys.”

It’s clear from the interview that Hitchcock sees real issues with the team’s depth chart and, considering he spent time behind the bench directing the troops, I’ll take his word more than most.

Oilers mean business with their playoff hair
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Regardless of not being behind the bench for the upcoming season, Ken Hitchcock has forgotten more about hockey than most of us will ever know and that’s a resource the Oilers should be pumped to still have on their side. Who knows what he’ll be doing with the team, the interview with McCown made it seem like something in the scouting department seems likely, but I do not that the best thing the Oilers can do is make sure they’re surrounding themselves with smart people.

If the Oilers truly want to turn this thing around, building a stable full of qualified people that are in a spot to pitch in ideas is the kind of collaborative effort that could pay dividends. No, I’m not talking about scheduling in more Red Wine Summits but rather a real team of problem solvers that are working together in unison. Honestly, I believe that Ken Hitchcock could be part of a group like that.

  • Ken Holland

    Under Hitchcock, Draisaitl’s game was transformed. Gone was the bad body language, the long periods where he drifted out of the battle, and the indifference when a game started getting away. Draisaitl kept his team in games by being the only 50-goal, 100-point player in the NHL, and kept them in the fight by showing that he was in it too, right to the end.

    Ill have to find a coach who has the same effect on the core players as Hitch had.

  • McHitch

    So many players had career years under Hitch. I sure hope this doesnt result in the core regressing.

    Before Hitch Nurse had zero offence, Nuge was a 60 point player, Drai was not worth 8.5 and McDavid… well hes McDavid.

    This could be Kreuger 2.0 and that would be just terrible.

  • Heschultzhescores

    The off ice problems are still in place. I can’t wait to see who Holland Axes and hires. This is going to be the most interesting season in a very long time.

  • taz115

    Hopefully he is helping out with pro scouting, he wanted Brandon Manning and he cant crack our AHL lineup.

    And why did they sign Hitch to a three year deal if he has always been willing to sign one years deals in the past and he was only supposed to be a short term solution? Katz must really hate money, next year he willing paying Mcllelan, Hitchcock, our new coach, Chiarelli and Holland.

  • Rebuilds30

    Lazarus should be banned for calling Hitch all those names. Anyone remember how well the Oil were playing under Hitch for the first couple of weeks after his hiring, I sure do.

  • #97TRAIN

    It should never have even been a thought to bring Manning on. No way! Total disrespect from Chiarelli.
    It’s like inviting over a woman you banged to have dinner with you and your wife.

      • I definitely remember Chia having nothing but positive things to say about bringing Manning to Edmonton. I’m not sure where the blame Hitch for Manning train started but I feel it’s baseless.

        • CofC

          I would agree; and in fact, McDavid stated that Chia had been thinking of bringing Manning over a year prior, and that Chia had approached McDavid back then to ask him if he would be OK with Manning joining the team (given that Manning played a role in McDavid’d fractured clavicle in his rookie season).

    • Axe

      Everyone is quick to blame manning on hitch because some ppl reported that…however its interesting that Chia said he had cleared it with connor in the off season ie before hitch was with the Oilers so I am not putting the manning deal on Hitch..

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Hitch was a great coach but I think Hitch’s syetm is just getting beat by speed and the fact that coaches these days will change things not nly by period but by the shift when they see what an opposing team is doing. Hitch will do well in his consultant role with the team, he still has a love fr the game and is a great resourse, but I think Hitch’s time behind the bench is done

    • RJ

      Can fault coaches and systems, but I don’t take it as a coincidence that Holland said he’d be looking for speed and skill. That could mean a lot of players leaving.

  • JSR

    Just a hunch here, but the present coaching staff know these players already. I’m guessing Gulutzan is the new Head Coach, and the rest of the AC’s stay on that role.

    • cityofchampions

      No, I think he brings in someone new as HC, and that person will have a say in picking his assistants. I don’t really have any strong want for any of the current assistants to stay as there didn’t seem to be much improvement in PP, PK, goalie or defensive play last year, but if they decide one stays for continuity I would be ok with that. Want to see a new goalie coach for sure…I’d be happy if Burke came in as an Asst GM with special responsibility for Goalies, KG stays as Asst GM with responsibility for amateur drafting, the guy from Detroit in as Asst GM for pro drafting, and let the best man among them take over as GM in 3-5 years. No more MacT, Howson, Sutter, Messier etc. They have had multiple chances already and have never succeeded.

  • GRC

    Hitch really underscored just how much os a fishbowl Edmotnon is. That really stood out to me. Being reluctant to leave the house…that cant be easy.
    Makes you realize just how tough it is to be an Oilers player or coach in this town.
    Its not for everybody.

    • TKB2677

      I would say that when the team isn’t doing well, it would be tough. But when the team is doing good, those guys walk on water. The pro of being in a non hockey, American market or a huge City, these guys can go about their business normally because no one gives a damn. The con of being in a non hockey, American market is no one gives a damn. It doesn’t matter how well you are doing, no one cares. So there is good and bad to being in Edmonton.

  • toprightcorner

    While I think that Hitch could definitely help Holland figure out what is missing in regards to team chemistry and veteran leadership, I have reservations about pro scouting, only because he was all in favour of adding Manning and felt that calling up Puljujarvi was a good idea.

    I could see some sort of consultation role for Holland or overseeing player development. He definitely has valuable knowledge to share, but at the same time, I don’t think you want too many “old school” managers involved and so younger, up and coming minds need to be added.