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The Paul Coffey effect has been noticable for Edmonton Oilers

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
6 months ago
Over the last five-odd years, there have been few bigger “behind the scenes” stories than Paul Coffey’s.
He first appeared in Edmonton in 2018, working as a skills coach with the club, but it was a short-lived role, lasting around a year before he left the team. But his time with the Oilers picked back up, when he was officially hired as a special advisor to owner Darryl Katz in 2022.
Coffey’s reportedly had the ear of Katz for some time, and there’s a general belief his voice has carried some weight with the team. So when the club fired head coach Jay Woodcroft and his assistant Dave Manson in November, more than a few questions were raised about why Coffey was parachuted from the owner’s suite to the bench.
Was he there to be a spy? Was it some intelligence mission trying to determine what was happening for this team that caused the season’s poor start? Why was he there when he admitted in an ugly introductory press conference that he didn’t even want to be on the bench at first?
All those questions have been more or less put to rest with the Oilers’ blueline looking as good as it has all season and with the club surging to a 10-5 record under Knoblauch and Coffey’s guidance.
“I’m a positive guy,” Coffey told The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman. “I’m a fan. I’m a fan of the game. I also know that the game’s not perfect.
“I told our D from Day 1, the only thing I expect is plays. If you can’t make them, we’ll get somebody else. It’s plain and simple. I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to make them better. If you can’t make the plays, just put your hand up and tell me. We’ll get somebody else who can. That’s nice, right?”
And for Coffey’s blueliners, making plays is what they’ve done. Virtually all of the rearguards seem to have found another level to their game. Offensively, the Oilers’ defenceman have seen their scoring increase from 6.07 points per hour in all situation, up to 7.58 points per hour in all situations. Conversely, the Oilers defensive numbers have improved from 3.78 goals against per hour under Woodcroft and Manson, to 3.04 goals against per hour under the new staff.
As he told Nugent-Bowman, Coffey is allowing his defencemen to play to their strengths, and respecting their talents.
“There’s a trick to that. I’m not saying I’ve nailed it down. I haven’t been here long enough,” Coffey said. “These guys got to this level from a reason. They’re great f—ing players.
“Your job as a coach is not to put them in a box. You start putting them in a box, and that’s all they can do, you’re missing out.”
And for Knoblauch, Coffey’s presence and previous relationships with players, has been beneficial in his transition to the NHL.
“I think Paul’s been outstanding with the players, especially with the defencemen,” Knoblauch said during an After Hours segment Saturday night. “He spends a lot of time with them, talking to them, developing relationships, and he’s been doing this since before he got behind the bench.
“All the defencemen, all the players knew him quite well, and I jsut think there was a calming influence back there telling them to do little things. Keep moving the puck, moving your feet, get up ice, a lot of skating. Just trying to simplify and calm them down. You’ve seen the effect his presence has back there. All six defencemen have been playing so well.
“We did play a lot better defensive hockey. I think our goal was for our forwards to be helping out, backchecking a little bit harder, defence not pinching at poor times, sorting things out on the rush. But also, our goaltending has played a lot better. I think it was a mix of all those things. We want to keep playing like that. You notice any team that has a coaching change; it’s usually defensive struggles, and any successful team that goes to the playoffs has success in the playoffs, you have to be able to play some good defensive hockey. You have to be bought in, and everybody has to do it.”
And for this Oilers team, the buy-in has been there. Now, the biggest question remains: can it?
Heading into Monday night’s slate of NHL action, the Oilers sit five points back of the second wild-card spot and 11 points back of place in the Pacific Division. The odds aren’t in their favour, but a hungry Oilers team could do anything.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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