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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.