Jay Woodcroft is the Big Man.
And on Tuesday afternoon, the Oilers locked him up to a three-year contract extension officially naming him the 17th head coach in franchise history. Woodcroft’s deal will keep him with the club through 2024-25 and according to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, the deal will see him earn a $2-million per year.
On Wednesday, Woodcroft and Oilers general manager Ken Holland spoke to the media. Here is what they had to say.
Opening remarks from Ken Holland: “Good morning everybody. Thank you all for coming. Yesterday, we announced that we have signed Jay Woodcroft to a new three-year contract to be the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers. It’s a great day for the Oilers. Jay did an incredible job once he took over in leading our team into the playoffs. I think we were six or seven points out of a playoff spot. We played at a high level the last half of the season and obviously got us to the final four. Thrilled we were able to find a solution to bring Jay in. I look forward to working with Jay over the next three years to continue to build on what we accomplished this last year. Jay’s got a lot of energy, a ton of passion, and the team really responded to him — certainly in my exit meetings when I talked to all the players. Unanimously, everybody, all the players loved working with Jay and what he did for our franchise. It’s an exciting day and a great day for me to be able to announce that Jay is coming back, so I’m looking forward to the next season and this off-season with Jay as we build towards bigger things.”
Opening remarks from Woodcroft: “Thanks, Ken. I just want to say hi to everyone there in the media and let everyone know how excited I am. In February, I mentioned at the time how humbled and privileged I feel to be the head coach of such a proud organization, and that’s certainly how I feel today. 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 it and looking forward to getting started in our preparations for next year.”
Woodcroft on the status of assistant coaches Dave Manson, Glen Gulutzan and Brian Wiseman: “First of all, for us, this contract just got settled yesterday. Since the end of the season I’ve done some thinking, and yesterday the news happened quickly. I’m looking forward to sitting down and getting the thoughts of all the people that you mentioned there. We obviously had a good run to end our year, but I’m looking forward to sitting down and hearing everyone’s thoughts on where they’re at as well.”
Woodcroft on Dave Manson, if his relationship with him is similar to his prior one with Todd McLellan: “When I was presented with the opportunity to go down to Bakersfield, one of the things that I put a lot of time and effort in was making sure I surrounded myself with people that I thought were going to push me and make me better. I didn’t know Dave at that time, but obviously over the last four years, we’ve done a lot of coaching together and done some winning together over that period of time. I think he compliments my personality because he’s different; he’s someone who obviously has played over 1,000 games in the National Hockey League, was an NHL All-Star, played different roles on teams, and I think we work well together. So obviously for Dave and I, we have a relationship that goes back to that original hire in Bakersfield. I feel very comfortable with him, but I’m looking forward to sitting down as I am with all the coaches in getting their thoughts and seeing where they’re at and moving on from there.”
Holland on the process of signing Woodcroft: “We lost on a Monday night and it must’ve been about two weeks ago. Basically the rest of that week, Tuesday through Friday, we did exit meetings — Jay and I with the players. Obviously, they were anxious to get out of town, and then I think that was a weekend to take a breather. Then, last Tuesday, Tuesday I think, Jay and I sat down here and it was our first opportunity to really sit down and talk about his situation. When I hired Jay in February, I said his mandate was to come in, get us in the playoffs and see what we could do once we got in. He obviously lived up to his end of the bargain, and I said when the season was over he and I would sit down and talk about going forward. So last Tuesday was the first time we had an opportunity to sit down. I told Jay that I wanted him to be back as the head coach. Jay has an agent Francois Giguere, a former NHL assistant general manager, and basically Wednesday through yesterday, we kinda went back and forth with Francois to find a solution. Any time you’re signing people — whether it’s players, coaches, or staff — obviously you try to find comparables. Everybody wants to be treated fairly. The team wants to be treated fairly, the employee wants to be treated fairly. So Francois and I went through a process, took a breather over the weekend, and then spoke yesterday morning bringing it to a conclusion. Obviously, the news came out in the afternoon that we had found a solution on a three-year contract.”
Woodcroft on the process of going from a video coach to head coach, signing his contract as head coach: “First off, when I got the opportunity in February, Ken gave me that direction of ‘get us in the playoffs, win games, and see what happens once we got there.’ For me at the time, and I’ve told this story over the last couple of weeks to a few different people, I felt like that was really freeing because it allowed me to just 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 the way the team ended the season and made its way into the playoffs and did a little bit of damage by winning two rounds. For me, it wasn’t vouching for myself or anything like that. I think the body of work spoke for itself. Last week, as Ken said, when we sat down and met, he let me know that he wanted me to be the head coach of the team going forward on a full-time basis and I let him know that I was interested in being the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers. As I said at the start, it’s a big responsibility and one that I take very seriously. I feel humbled and privileged to have been put in that position and I’m excited about our players and our people. As I said earlier, for us, the work for next year has already begun.”
Woodcroft on going to be a head coach in the AHL years ago instead of pursuing other NHL jobs: “For me, I had the belief that I had what it took to become a National Hockey League head coach. Ken talks a lot about the resume and having a resume that speaks for itself, and for me, obviously, I got my start in Detroit at an entry-level position. I worked my way up in San Jose and eventually became the lead assistant coach for Todd McLellan. I had some great international opportunities winning gold with Team Canada at the World Championships, getting involved with Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey. But for me, the one thing I didn’t have on my resume at that time was head-coaching experience. I thought wen I was presented with the opportunity to go to Bakersfield, it allowed me to grow in a different way. I think the American Hockey League is a heck of a league. It allows people to grow, not just players, but it allows coaches to grow as well. I learned a lot about myself and what my beliefs were as a coach during my time in Bakersfield, and I think it’s a good lesson for lots of coaches out there. Everyone wants to get to the highest level and achieve your dream, but I think there’s value in taking your time. There’s value in hitting the incremental steps along the way, and for me, my experience in Bakersfield was excellent and I’m happy that I made that choice. It’s a big part of why I’m here today.”
Woodcroft on their being no assurance of reaching the NHL from the AHL, his mindset in years two, three, four: “For me, I took it as an opportunity to work at my craft and to be around some special people. We had a lot of really good people in Bakersfield, so I tried not to get ahead of myself. It was putting the work in required to be successful should I ever get that opportunity. As I said, the American Hockey League is an excellent league. It’s a development league. I took my role very seriously, and in terms of my belief in self, I’m wholly sure of my message and my own ability while remaining humble in understanding that you’ve got to be patient in waiting for opportunities. I just wanted to make sure I was ready when that opportunity presented itself. And for me, to develop that way in Bakersfield, it was a privilege to be the head coach in Bakersfield as it is right now to be the head coach in Edmonton.”
Woodcroft on where exit interviews are leading him in terms of an offseason focus for next season: “For me, both Ken and I had some really good exit meetings and good feedback from our players. I think the people in our organization and this year’s version got a good taste for playing deep in a playoff and playing in the month of June, but I don’t think anybody’s satisfied with just that. I think we understand that there’s a whole lot of work that’s going to be required in order for us to have the season we want to have next year. We looked at this season and some people would call it a successful year, but for us, we’re driven to take the next step, ask ourselves hard questions, be open to seeking answers to try and push us forward. For me, that starts with being disciplined with our summertime making sure we’re putting in the necessary work to feel good heading into training camp being prepared to lay a foundation in training camp that will set us up for success over an 82-game schedule. For me, I’m excited about rolling up my sleeves and getting to work come September because I really believe that’s where a lot of gains can be had in implementing a system that’s suited towards your personnel. As I said, I think everybody here feels good about how far we played, but nobody’s self-satisfied. We’re digging in to try and get better each and every day and not by accident. Not accidentally, but intentionally.”
Woodcroft on being thrown into the fire when he arrived in February, what he is looking to implement over a full offseason plus training camp: “There’s a sequence of events that has to occur first. The first thing is there is a draft to be held, so that’s number one. Free agency will occur and once we have a better look at the players that will be available to us come September, we’ll devise as a coaching staff a system that is best suited to our personnel. I think when you have the time to not only think about the things that are occurring at the highest levels in the NHL, the trends in the game, the tactics that are being used and you have time to digest how best to implement or teach those things, I think that’s important to have a finger on the pulse on what’s having success in the NHL today and where the NHL is going. I also think you use the time in the summertime to carefully reflect and try and find some answers in the work that you put in, to seriously go over the things that went right and also think about the growing moments that occurred in the season. That’s how you get better from your experience, by reflecting and being truthful with what you were seeing. I think that’s what your focus is as a coaching staff is in the summertime. When you get into September, that’s the implementation stage of trying to implement some of those ideas. As a staff, we’re going to do our work this summer. It’s not like we’re taking the time off. We’re going to do the work this summer, we’re going to honestly evaluate all aspects of our game and we’re gonna find areas where we can be better, areas we want to accentuate. We’re going to build off some of the things that we laid down during those four and a half months.”
Woodcroft on moving his family to Edmonton: “The Woodcroft family is very excited because my wife is born and raised in Edmonton. Her parents still live in Edmonton, she has sisters, and our kids have cousins. Everybody is very excited about that. Where we’re at? We have to try and find a place to live, schooling, activities and all that good stuff. Just to take a deep breath at the end of the season and the end of the contract negotiations, our family and I are heading back to our cottage in Ontario. We’re going to spend some time on the water and my kids are going to go to camp. Rest assured, come August, the Woodcroft’s are very excited about putting down some roots here in Edmonton.”
Holland on why Jay Woodcroft is the right head coach for the Oilers: “First off, the way the team responded to him. Obviously, we’re in a results-oriented business. When Jay took over, we were six or seven points out of a playoff spot. We were 26-9-3 in the last 38 games. We played in the top five in terms of points and obviously, we went to the final four. So number one, Jay delivered. He came in and made the decisions that were needed to be make, and the team responded and played at a high level. As Jay talked about resume, Jay’s been in the National Hockey League since 2005-06. Three years as a video coach working under Mike Babcock and Todd McLellan. Then he went from being a video coach to the bench with Todd in San Jose, then he came to Edmonton with Todd, and then to the American League to be a head coach. He’s paid his dues. He’s a first-year NHL head coach coming into this season but he’s been in the National Hockey League for 15, 16, 17 years waiting for this opportunity. It’s a combination of a whole lot of things. It’s a combination of being in a results-orientated business, he delivered and the team delivered under his watch. In talking to the players in the exit meetings, they all believe in his direction, they all believe in his leadership, they believe in his communication. And then again, looking from my point of view, I look at the resume and he’s paid his dues and learned from a lot of the top people. He went back to the American League where you make decisions and some work and some don’t. You wait for your opportunity to be a head coach at the NHL level. It was the combination of a lot of things that ultimately factored into the decision I made to bring Jay back.”
Woodcroft on the sacrifices he made along the way to get to his dream of being a NHL head coach: “I’m going to say what I would say after a win — I’m going to enjoy this for about the next 10 minutes or so and move on to preparations for next season. But no, in all seriousness, it’s a big day for my family. As I said, I’ve used the word privileged. I feel privileged to get this opportunity and I’m committed to making good on it because I think it’s a huge responsibility. Certainly, everybody in my family is super excited and as I said, I’m proud that I’m the head coach for such a historic organization like the Edmonton Oilers.”
Holland on Dave Tippett having some say in offseason moves, on how much Jay Woodcroft’s say will play into this year’s offseason: “I’ve probably worked with five or six coaches — Scottie Bowman through Mike Babcock and Dave Lewis. The coach is behind the bench and has to coach the team, so heading into the offseason I’ve always asked the coach his thoughts on the team, his thoughts on each individual player, his thoughts on what he would like to see us accomplish over the off-season. I also ask the captain and the leadership group. Then, you have your pro scout meetings and you get their opinions, and you go through your analytics and you ultimately work your way towards decision-making time. Jay and I have talked some about the team, we’re gonna have pro scout meetings shortly, and Jay is going to be sitting in. Give Jay an opportunity to tell our group what he’s thinking. There’s a salary cap, and now you see what can happen. Jay will have influence in the sense that he and I are going to talk on a regular basis and we’ve worked together before. We both want the same things; we want to find a way to make the team a little bit different and a little bit better.”
Woodcroft on the first person he talked to after officially working out his extension as Oilers head coach: “The first call actually was Ken because he called to let me know that we had agreed to terms. That type of thing happens between the agent and Ken, but Ken called immediately and let me know how excited he was. Then my wife was right beside me, so we talked about it as a family because my kids were there as well. It was a special moment for us. The first phone call I made was to my brother and best friend Todd Woodcroft, who has been supportive along the way. I’m fortunate I have two great brothers in my brother Todd and brother Craig and we have a tight family that’s excited about it.”
Holland on the difficulties of the Evander Kane situation extending past free agency: “It’s a great question. I don’t really have an answer for you because it’s sort of uncharted waters. I’m trying to gather as much information as I can. Obviously, Bob Nicholson was at the board of governors’ meeting and I know Bill Daly addressed them. I’ve had multiple talks with Dan Milstein Dan was actually in Edmonton for a couple of days last week with Andrei Kuzmenko — the Russian who made the decision to sign with Vancouver. We had lots of time also to talk about Evander. It’s uncharted waters. I don’t have an answer for you because it’s not like this situation happens on a regular basis. We’re going to do the best that we can based on the information that we have. Certainly, the hope is to be able to bring Evander back, but there’s this situation, the cap, Evander and his agent’s wants and needs. Hopefully, everything lines up that we can bring him back.”