Edmonton Oilers’ general manager Ken Holland has some tough negotiating to do this off-season, but getting the ink done with coach Jay Woodcroft on a new deal isn’t in that category. It’s the most straightforward business on his calendar this summer. The story we know.
Woodcroft, 45, took over from Dave Tippett Feb. 11 after being promoted from AHL Bakersfield and led the Oilers to a 26-9-3 record (.724). After reaching the Western Conference final for the first time since 2006 with best-of-seven series wins over the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames, the Oilers were swept 4-0 by the Colorado Avalanche. So, here we are.
Numbers aside, Holland and Woodcroft have a history together. They go back to 2005-2006 in Detroit, the season the Oilers upset the Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs. Woodcroft was in his first of three seasons as video coach in Detroit with Holland as GM. From there, Woodcroft spent seven seasons with San Jose as an assistant, three seasons with the Oilers as an assistant then four seasons running the bench in Bakersfield.
When Holland and Woodcroft get together early this coming week to talk about a new deal, I don’t imagine it’ll take too much back and forth to agree on how long it’ll be and how much it will cost. From the outside looking in, a term of three years makes sense for both sides. As for how much, the range is from $1 million to $5 million. Tippett was getting $2.75 million.
Fans will spend more time arguing about the amount than Holland and Woodcroft will next week.
WHAT THEY SAY
“I think he did a fabulous job,” Holland said of Woodcroft. “When he took over, Dave Manson came up with him. I told the coaches yesterday that I also thought the coaches who were here, they had a loyalty to Dave Tippett. He had hired them, and they found really good chemistry amongst the coaching staff that stayed back when Woody came up.
“I think we were six or seven points out of a playoff spot. We played the last 40 games or so top-five in the league in points to play our way into a playoff spot, so I thought Woody did a fabulous job. The team responded to him. Would I like him back? Yes, I have interest in him coming back. I want to hear what he’s thinking, but I think he did a great job and was a big part of what we accomplished.” For context, all of Holland’s comments can be found here.
Given Holland’s history of not firing coaches during the season, the move to dismiss Tippett was a bit of a surprise to me, even though it was clearly a move that had to be made. Holland had a long history with Tippett as well, but that didn’t stop him from making the right call. In stepped Woodcroft, who hit the ground running because he’d already coached most of the players on the roster – in the AHL or as an assistant with the Oilers.
“I can tell you what I tried to do,” Woodcroft said when asked about his most important accomplishment since being promoted. “I think it’s the job of the head coach to define what is most important, to provide a sense of true north, and that’s what I tried to do. I tried to provide a sense of hope and a spirit of optimism to a team that was out of the playoff picture.
“I think you have to do your work. I don’t think there is any substitute. Hard work works. Now we’re in the process of really looking at every process of our operation. We’re happy with how far we got in the 2021-22 playoffs. When I say happy, I mean we’re pleased we took a step here, but we’re not satisfied. Our bellies aren’t full. We’re going back to examine every examine of how we do things and there is no substitute for that.” For context, Woodcroft’s full interview is here.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Like I said off the top, while Holland will have his hands full with seeing if he can afford to take a run at retaining UFA Evander Kane (he can’t), working out deals for the likes of Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi and handling the usual off-season duties that come with being GM, keeping his coach in the fold is a no-brainer. It’ll be quick and easy work.