Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Kris Knoblauch sets the tone
1 month ago
With the carousel of head coaches who’ve taken a turn behind the bench with the Edmonton Oilers in the 15 years since the end of Craig MacTavish’s eight-season tenure in 2008-09 – it stands at 10 counting Kris Knoblauch’s arrival 23 games ago – we have seen every manner of style and personality you’d care to mention.
As a refresher, that group includes Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins, Todd Nelson, Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock in interim posts, Dave Tippet, Jay Woodcroft and Knoblauch. All of them approached the coaching business in their own way. They had different tactics, different styles and different levels of success.
Eakins strutted around like he was the smartest guy in the room, but he wasn’t. Krueger, soft-spoken and fastidious, probably was, but MacTavish ran him off for Eakins as GM. Quinn, rest his soul, had a distinguished coaching career spanning 1,400 games, but he was at the end of the line when he took the bench in 2009-10. The fiery McLellan and Tippett enjoyed some success. Just not enough to keep their jobs. Woodcroft was a breath of fresh air until he was undone by a 3-9-1 start this season.
In steps Knoblauch, 45, who paid his coaching dues in the minors and took over the mess that chewed up and spit out Woodcroft. He has the Oilers in the playoff mix and collecting points at a .739 clip (17-6-0) as they begin a three-game road swing through Chicago, Detroit and Montreal on Tuesday. No dissertations about coaching philosophy. No re-inventing the coaching wheel. Just results, with a focus on the players, as it should be.
I didn’t know much about Knoblauch beyond what anybody can find on the internet when he arrived. I knew he played for Rob Daum with the Alberta Golden Bears after several seasons in the WHL, including two with the Edmonton Ice. I knew he coached Connor McDavid in Erie. That was about it.
Oilers’ radio analyst Bob Stauffer, who knew Knoblauch from his days at the U of A, often talked about him in glowing terms when he was a young coach with Kootenay and Erie long before his pro gigs as an assistant in Philadelphia and as a head coach in the AHL with Hartford. It looks like he was on to something.
The Oilers put together an eight-game winning streak right after Knoblauch’s arrival. They’re on a seven-game streak as they face the Blackhawks. Statistically, they’ve made improvements across the board, especially in the last 18 games. As always, that’s mostly on the players. Connor McDavid, Zach Hyman and Stuart Skinner, to name three, account for a lot of that, but it’s no coincidence that Knoblauch has been at the wheel during the turnaround.
Every now and then, we get some insights into how Knoblauch approaches his craft — beyond the X’s and O’s for all to see when the game is being played. His comments after Sunday’s skate in an availability with reporters provided more of that.
WHAT HE SAID
Nov 13, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers Head Coach Kris Knoblauch looks on against the New York Islanders at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
“Confidence,” Knoblauch said when asked about successfully navigating the ups and downs every team faces. “Confidence in your game and confidence that it doesn’t matter what happens, you’re going to persevere and get through it. Another key is having your leaders leading. Everyone follows by example.
“If your leaders are getting excited or getting frustrated and angry, it spreads throughout the whole team. They’ve handled it really well, whatever has been thrown our direction. We’ve been able to just handle those rocky times during a game. That definitely what you want from a mature, focused group.”
Easier said than done. That starts at the top, no?
“As a coach, I always want to get excited, start yelling and screaming, but I also know, especially when I was coaching junior, I didn’t want my players to lose their focus and didn’t want them to get distracted,” Knoblauch said. “If I don’t want them to do it, I shouldn’t be behaving that way.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
“The game is for the players,” he said. “Coaches prepare their players in the pre-game. We have our practice time. Ultimately, the game is for the players to play.
“As a coach, you try and (not) get involved too much . . . hockey, life, business, whatever it is, I think it’s a good lesson just to take a breath and analyze what’s going on.”
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