Ken Holland’s decision to retain and re-sign Jay Woodcroft as the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers this week was the easiest call he’ll make this off-season.
Woodcroft, 45, who took over from Dave Tippett for the final 38 games and playoffs this season, gets a three-year contract and the Oilers ink a coach who helped produce the best points percentage (.724) since Glen Sather was calling the shots and winning Stanley Cups during the dynasty days of the franchise.
What I like about the decision to bring Woodcroft back with the interim tag stripped away for three more years is it recognizes and rewards how he stepped in and brought out the best in the roster he had to work with. Woodcroft pushed enough of the right buttons to help the Oilers reach the Western Conference final.
We get a longer look at young coach who broke into the NHL as a video coach under Holland in Detroit 2005-06 – the year the Oilers upset the Red Wings in the first round of the post-season – and paid his dues as an assistant coach in the NHL and a head coach on the Oilers AHL farm in Bakersfield. No shortcuts here.
WHAT THEY SAY
This represents a look ahead for a franchise that has too often looked to the past since reaching the 2006 Stanley Cup against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Oilers have employed 10 different coaches since then. Among them, Tippett, Craig MacTavish, Ken Hitchcock, Todd McLellan, Tom Renney and Pat Quinn. A lot of old-school experience but not enough results.
“Obviously we’re in the results-oriented business,” Holland said. Jay delivered, he came in and made the decisions we needed to make and the team responded at a high level. He’s paid his dues. He’s a first-year head coach but he’s been in the National Hockey League for 15, 16, 17 years. He’s paid his dues and learned from a lot of the top people.
“In my exit meetings when I talked to all the players, unanimously all the players loved working with Jay and what he did for our franchise. It’s a great day for me to be able to announce that Jay’s coming back. I’m looking forward to next season and this off-season with Jay as we build to bigger things.”
Having parachuted in from Bakersfield to replace Tippett halfway through the season, there never was much time for Woodcroft to get settled here. After taking time for a family vacation in Ontario, Woodcroft and his wife, who is from Edmonton, will be back to set up shop.
“In February, I mentioned at the time how humbled and privileged I felt to be the head coach of such a proud organization and that’s certainly how I feel today,” Woodcroft said. “I want to thank the organization for their belief in me and it’s a responsibility I take quite seriously, but I’m super excited about.
“When I got the opportunity in February, Ken gave me the direction of ‘get us into the playoffs.’ To win games and see what happens when we got there. For me, at the time, and I’ve told this story over the last few weeks to a few different people, I felt that was really freeing. It allowed me just to try and make decisions with that direction in mind.
“I thought the team performed well. I thought each day was an opportunity to show not only what I could do but what our staff could do. I thought there was a lot of positive signs in how the team ended the season, made its way into the playoffs and did a little bit of damage by winning two rounds . . . I think the body of work spoke for itself.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Yes, it did. The body of work is always, or should be, the bottom line. Now, it’s up to Woodcroft, who will meet with his assistants from last season, Dave Manson, Glen Gulutzan, Brian Wiseman and Dustin Schwartz to see where they stand and then set out to build on the 26-9-3 record and three playoff series they put together.
Likewise, with this no-brainer bit of business done, it’s time for Holland to get back to work and provide Woodcroft with the tools he needs to get the job done. I’m optimistic on both fronts.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
- We’ll see about Andrei
- Off The Top of my Head
- About Evan II
- Youth Must Be Served
- Off the Top of My Head
- Get the Ink Done