The first big job on Ken Holland’s to-do list as POHO and GM of the Edmonton Oilers is to find himself a new head coach in what’s been a boneyard for those who stand behind the bench for a living over the past decade. We’re led to believe Dave Tippett is the best bet to get the job, with Todd Nelson also at or near the top of Holland’s list.
That’s fine and good. I’d be happy with either Tippet or Nelson for different reasons, and I’ll be taking a look at both in coming days, but to borrow from Jason Gregor, it’s going to take a lot more than one more hire to change the fortunes of a team that’s been upside down and on fire in the ditch for what seems like forever.
Unless the hockey ops department of this organization is revamped the right way, and that’s something that won’t happen during one off-season, nothing is going to change. Hiring an experienced GM like Holland is a start. Bringing in the right coach, be it Tippett or Nelson for an encore or somebody else, is another step, but I think we can agree there’s more work to do.
Be it bad decisions by those previously in Holland’s position, namely Peter Chiarelli and Steve Tambellini, or pro and amateur scouting staffs that have taken turns getting it wrong at different times over the last decade, there’s been plenty of blame to go around. If every aspect of hockey ops isn’t in sync, Holland’s hire of the next guy on the coaching carousel won’t, on its own, turn things around. In the last 10 seasons, the Oilers have had seven head coaches, many of them with impressive resumes. Seven.
I’m not absolving any of the men who’ve stood behind the bench with the Oilers of blame in contributing to the ongoing failure of the team – save for making the second round of playoffs in 2016-17 – but the list of those who have failed since Craig MacTavish and the team parted ways after the 2008-09 season is so diverse in terms of age and experience, I can’t believe they all forgot how to run a bench when they took the job here.
KEN HITCHCOCK. Third in NHL career wins with 849, a Stanley Cup winner in 1999 with Dallas and a Jack Adams Award winner in 2011-12, Hitchcock took over from Todd McLellan and went 26-28-8 for a .484 points percentage. His career mark is .599. He’s under contract here for two more years, position TBD.
TODD MCLELLAN. Hired by Chiarelli without so much as an interview, McLellan had 311 wins in seven seasons with San Jose (he was 311-133-66 for .637) before going 123-119-24 (.508) after arriving here. Having signed a five-year deal with Los Angeles in April, his career mark is .594.
TODD NELSON. Nelson took over from Dallas Eakins midway through the 2014-15 season after a brief transition with MacTavish behind the bench, going 17-25-9 (.422) as the Oilers finished the season 24-44-14. Nelson went on to win a Calder Cup with Grand Rapids and is now an assistant coach with the Dallas Stars.
DALLAS EAKINS. Was touted as a whiz kid by many media types in the Toronto area after a stint as an assistant coach with the Maple Leafs and some success with the AHL Marlies, but failed miserably here, going 36-63-14 (.381) in parts of two seasons. Has done well with San Diego in the AHL and could land in Anaheim.
RALPH KRUEGER. Unceremoniously dumped by MacTavish via Skype in favor of Eakins, Krueger built his name with the national team in Switzerland before coming to Edmonton. Krueger led the Oilers to a record of 19-22-7 (.469) in 2012-13 before MacTavish sacked him. After time as president of the Southampton Football Club, Krueger is being looked at by the Buffalo Sabres.
TOM RENNEY. Promoted from associate coach under Pat Quinn to head coach for 2010-11, Renney led the Oilers to a record of 57-85-22 (.415) over two seasons. His career mark in 592 games with the New York Rangers, Vancouver and Edmonton is .504. He’s the CEO of Hockey Canada now.
PAT QUINN. Quinn’s final season in a career that spanned 20 years as an NHL coach was with the Oilers. Well past his best-before date when he took the job, Quinn went 27-47-8 (.378) here, a far cry from his career mark of .556. He was moved aside to the position of senior advisor. Quinn passed away in November 2014.
THE WAY I SEE IT
Suffice to say, Holland has to do a lot more than hire Tippett or Nelson or whoever to turn things around here. He has to rebuild a roster that’s been flawed at different positions for years. He can’t bleed talent in trades the way Chiarelli did – he won’t. He has to build on the recent success the amateur scouting staff has shown under Keith Gretzky. Holland cut his NHL teeth scouting, so that’s right in his wheelhouse. He needs to get his pro scouting straight.
Do all of the above over a reasonable timeline – your guess is as good as mine as to what, exactly, that is – and fans will at long last have something to actually cheer about. Get it wrong in any of the other areas of hockey ops and it won’t matter much who Holland unveils as the next coach. History has shown us that much in no uncertain terms.