Photo credit:Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
Gazdic: What will moving on from Jay Woodcroft do for the Oilers?
3 months ago
The Edmonton Oilers relieved Jay Woodcroft of his head coaching duties Sunday morning after a 3-9-1 start to the 2023-24 season. Woodcroft was in his second full season as the head coach and was behind the bench for 133 regular season games.
The decision surprised many after the Oilers beat the Seattle Kraken Saturday night 4-1 on the road. However, following a 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, there was no doubt that Woodcroft’s future was on the line.
Despite Saturday night’s win, Edmonton sits in 31st in the NHL. The offence has faded with only 35 goals through 13 games, with their two stars, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, struggling to produce. Defensively, they’ve had their woes, too, allowing 51 goals, and both goaltenders have a sub .874 save percentage.
Shortly after the firing, the Oilers announced Kris Knoblauch would replace Woodcroft. Knoblauch recently coached in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack, guiding them to 7-3-0 this season. However, the headline on this hire is that Knoblauch coached McDavid back in junior with the Erie Otters. The new hiring will be McDavid’s sixth head coach since joining the Oilers in 2016, not including interims.
“We were on a very similar run to how they’re doing right now,” said Luke Gazdic last week on Oilersnation Everyday on Dallas Eakins getting fired during his time in Edmonton. “Every day you went to the rink, you were thinking, is today the day? Is today the day?”
“There is a certain time during a coach’s tenure that the message starts to fall on deaf ears,” continued Gazdic. “Sometimes you’re sitting in the locker room, and the coach is trying to motivate you or whatever it may be, but the message is being received. It seems like that is happening to this team right now.”
Woodcroft had a ton of success during his brief time in charge in Edmonton. When he was hired, the team was sitting outside of a playoff spot, but he managed to drag them back into the playoff picture and onto the Western Conference Finals.
The following season, Woodcroft and his staff kept the momentum through the regular season, finishing with 109 points, which is tied for 4th best in team history. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find the same playoff success, losing 4-2 to the Vegas Golden Knights in round two.
Woodcroft made many questionable decisions in that series against Vegas, especially between the pipes. The team struggled in many aspects, including depth scoring and goaltending. The same problems have now trickled into this season, along with a new defensive system that has not worked.
With that said, when do these problems also fall on the players? The core has now cycled through coach after coach, and eventually, the same issues arise.
“I hate to rip on players, but how many coaches is this core going to go through?” said Gazdic on another coaching change. “At what point does some of the onus fall on some players? You can talk about putting in new systems or whatever you want, but if I’m Woodcroft, you can show multiple clips from (the Sharks game) and not say a word.
“You can just run them through and ask the players what they think because there were so many breakdowns, players not being in the right places, and guys doing huge loops around not getting to the right places. I really just don’t know what Woodcroft does for them.”
Whether you like it or not, Jay Woodcroft is gone. Now, it’s time for this group of players to prove that he was the issue at the root. Saturday felt like a change, but we have seen that a couple of times now, and the group has proven they can’t carry momentum from game to game. The tide needs to change immediately in Edmonton, and here’s to hoping Kris Knoblauch has enough to get things moving.
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