If you subscribe to the theory that where there’s smoke there’s fire, it would be absolutely no surprise if new Edmonton Oilers’ POHO and GM Ken Holland names Dave Tippett as his new head coach any day now. In this case, I do, but that’s the old gut and common sense talking, not any kind of inside information.
Tippett, 57, now working as a senior advisor with the Seattle expansion franchise, has been mentioned since the day Holland got the job here as a front-runner for the head coaching position. Of course, he was also mentioned as a leading contender for the same job with the Buffalo Sabres, but former Oilers’ bench boss Ralph Krueger will be unveiled as the new man with the Sabres today.
I never thought Holland would end up with the Oilers in the first place, even after being bumped upstairs by the Detroit Red Wings to make room for Steve Yzerman, but he did. It’s difficult, then, to dismiss all the talk we hear that Tippett stands at the front of the line for the Oilers’ coaching job ahead of Todd Nelson as the guy to take over from Ken Hitchcock. That buzz is coming from many corners of the internet.
While Holland certainly has a connection with Nelson, who won a Calder Cup with Detroit’s AHL farm team in Grand Rapids, and Camaro Todd seemed to connect well with his players in his brief stint behind the Oilers’ bench after Dallas Eakins was sacked, Tippett brings an impressive coaching resume to the table. He’s got a .563 career points percentage, even with the dry spell he endured at the end of his tenure in Arizona. He’s a proven commodity. The question is, is he a good fit here?
Tippett was coaching the Dallas Stars during my final four years writing the Oilers beat at the dailies, and while there’s been some water pass under the bridge (my last year was 2006-07), players talk about Tippett as a good communicator and a straight shooter who ran the ship with a firm hand. Tippett leaned, and still does, to a defence-first approach. That approach took the Stars to seasons of 111, 97, 112 and 107 points during those final four years when I saw Tippett at work first-hand.
This is a different time and the Oilers are a different team, but I believe Tippett’s approach is a good fit with the Oilers. In many ways, Tippett is a lot like Hitchcock, although less grinding on his players. While he stresses defensive play, it’s a leap to suggest that Tippett stifles offensive talent. Besides, aside from captain Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, how much offensive firepower do the Oilers have to stifle?
Like I wrote earlier this week, Holland’s first coaching hire here, no matter who it is, isn’t going to turn things around on its own. That said, if the Oilers, as they’re constructed now, are going to finally return to playoff contention, they’re going to have to be much better defensively until they can add some scoring depth. That’s right in Tippett’s wheelhouse. That’s not a sexy way to play the game, but it’s necessary with this roster.
Has Tippett been offered the job? I don’t know – Rod Pedersen won’t tell me. If he has, will he be willing to leave his position as an advisor in Seattle? Again, I don’t know. My guess is Holland will be doing everything he can in the next few days to sell Tippett on coming here and taking over from Hitchcock. If he can’t, I see Nelson as a terrific fall-back option. My sense is that we’ll know sooner than later. The word “imminent” comes to mind.
WHILE I’M AT IT
I’m happy to see Krueger back in the NHL. He’s an innovative thinker and a talented guy. I thought he did a good job here and he certainly deserved better than getting fired via Skype by GM Craig MacTavish, who fell fast and hard for Eakins during talks that were supposed to be about an assistant coaching position. That’s still a head-scratcher. That was a bush league way to treat your coach and more wasted years in the infinite rebuild.
Krueger was never coming back here. He is a solid hire by Buffalo, and I wish him well. That said, let’s not turn him into something he’s not. The Oilers went 19-22-7 (.469) under Krueger and lost nine of the final 12 games he coached. It’s not like the Oilers lost out on Joel Quenneville.