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The Pressure is on the Players to Perform

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Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
3 months ago
Add Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson to the list of coaches who paid the price when the team didn’t perform well. Woodcroft and Manson had flaws, we all do, but they also had a record of 79-41-13 since arriving to Edmonton on February 10th, 2022. They had the 5th most wins in the NHL and the 8th best points%, but ultimately, it wasn’t enough to save their jobs.
They were fired today and replaced by Kris Knoblauch and Paul Coffey. This is Jeff Jackson’s first major move as CEO of the Edmonton Oilers.
Woodcroft and Manson paid the price for a terrible 3-9-1 start. The change to zone defence early in the season didn’t work, and switching back to man-to-man before the Heritage Classic only produced a 2-4 record. That was a factor in their firing, and I have to think not holding any of the top-10 players accountable (by benching for a half period for example) might have also contributed. Ultimately, Jackson, in conjunction with Ken Holland, felt Woodcroft and Manson weren’t the men to lead the Oilers out of this funk. It is the harsh side of the coaching business. The coach didn’t pick his goalies, but they became his problem, and horrible goaltending, combined with too many defensive gaffes, and a shockingly anemic offence cost them their jobs.
Kris Knoblauch and Paul Coffey enter as the new head coach and assistant coaches. Glen Gulutzan remains as an assistant coach, while Dustin Schwartz remains as the goalie coach. Knoblauch and Coffey enter the organization when the path to success looks much better than their record suggests.
The Oilers have more talent than their 3-9-1 record shows. Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid will not remain 36th and 126th in league scoring. Yes, McDavid is 126th right now with 10 points in 11 games. He’s averaging 0.91 points/game. This team will start scoring more.
Knoblauch brings 18 years of coaching experience. He won a WHL championship with Kootenay in 2011. He won one with Erie in the OHL in 2017. He won two years after McDavid left to play in the NHL. He coached McDavid for three years in Erie. They lost in round three in their second season and in the final the following year. Knoblauch spent two years as an assistant coach with Philadelphia before taking the head coaching job with Hartford of the American Hockey League.
Knoblauch was in the running for the Rangers head coaching job, but they opted to go with Peter Laviolette. Hard to beat his resume.
Knoblauch is a rookie NHL head coach, and with obvious ties to Jackson and McDavid, he will have to prove himself. But for me, two simple questions need answering.
  • Will the Oiler players finally commit to playing consistent, sound defensively and reduce the “gift goals”?
  • Will Knoblauch hold top-10 skaters accountable if they don’t?
If the answer is yes to both, the Oilers can make noise. If not, then they won’t compete for the Cup. Ever.
This is the 4th full-time head coach, and 5th head coach during McDavid’s time in Edmonton. Ken Hitchcock had the interim title, while Todd McLellan, Dave Tippett and Jay Woodcroft were unable to convince this group to reduce their glaring giveaways. They had success at times doing that, but the weakness always re-appeared. It hurt them early last season, then they got focused over the final 40 games and drastically reduced their goals against, but in the playoffs, it re-surfaced.
We all watched them gift goals regularly this season. Outside of games v. Winnipeg, Calgary and Seattle, the Oilers team defence wasn’t close to good enough.
Will they finally buy in? Will they feel bad about contributing to another coach’s firing?
And will Knoblauch hold the repeat offenders accountable by sending them a message and sitting them on the bench for a period?
The Oilers have talent. Much of it has underachieved this season. Bad goaltending, subpar defending and too many forwards not scoring.
Woodcroft and Manson paid the price for those deficiencies, and now Knoblauch inherits a group that should feel guilty, but hopefully wise enough to understand they can’t keep playing loose hockey and expect to win.


COACHING EXPERIENCE…

I don’t buy the Oilers had to hire a coach with NHL experience. We’ve seen teams hire experienced coaches for decades and not have success. Knoblauch is a good young coach. Time will tell if he was the right hire.
Coffey only one year of coaching experience under his belt. He was an assistant coach for half a season in the OJHL (Ontario Junior A league) and became head coach midway through the season. He obviously has a wealth of knowledge and played for many head coaches in his time. I have to assume Coffey understand the importance of holding the best players accountable. He has spoken openly about how Glen Sather was great at that. Coffey admitted he didn’t love it at the time, but realized after how much it helped him and the other Oilers superstars realize their potential.
But he is the assistant coach. He can’t be the hammer. That has to be Knoblauch, but Coffey can support him.
Marty St. Louis had no prior coaching experience and has done well in Montreal, considering the talent they have. Coffey has seen every possible system you can play, but will he be able to communicate his knowledge of the game in a way the players understand? Coaching is about communication more than it is system play nowadays. There are only a few systems in the NHL, but convincing the players to play your system regularly is what separates the successful coaches. But it isn’t easy.
To date, the Oilers players haven’t committed to playing sound defensively consistently. They don’t need to lead the league in goals against, but they can’t be as loose defensively as they have for long stretches or key times in the playoffs. It would help if management provided the coach with another quality goaltender.
These firings are as much on the players and management, and arguably more, than they were on Woodcroft and Manson. However, in the NHL, it is often the head coach who pays for the inadequacies of others.
If Knoblauch can convince the skaters to be more responsible, then his path to success will be much smoother.
I wish him luck, because history suggests it won’t be easy.

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