The Edmonton Oilers moved to fire head coach Dave Tippett Thursday morning, marking the end of his three-year tenure as head coach of the storied club.
The news was first reported by TSN’s Darren Dreger, who also reported Bakersfield Condors head coach Jay Woodcroft and assistant coach Dave Manson will take over the Oilers bench.
Jim Playfair was also fired, per the Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman.
Tippett’s firing comes amid a stretch that has seen the Oilers post one of the league’s worst record since Dec.1 going 8-13-3.
Hired by the Oilers on May 28th, 2019, Tippett finishes his tenure behind the bench with a 90-60-13. In each of his two full seasons, the Oilers made the playoffs, however, their trips were short and ended with just one game won to show for it.
In 2019-20, his first in Edmonton, the Oilers posted a strong 37-25-9 record that left them second in the Pacific Division. Leon Draisaitl had his MVP season and in the net, Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen were just good enough. The Oilers ranked 11th in goal scoring and 17th in goals against.
When the season resumed post-COVID-19 shutdown, the Oilers were forced to play the Chicago Blackhawks in a five-game qualifying round series.
Four games later, the Oilers were heading home with their tail tucked between their legs. It was a short, unexpected exit for an Oilers team playing out of their home rink in the bubble. What should’ve been a strong playoff push was squandered.
The Oilers, however, came back motivated under Tippett in 2020-21. While the season was shortened to 56 games all against North Division opponents, the Oilers were one of the best teams in the league. Their goals for per game improved to the seventh best clip and defensively, they jumped to the ninth best goals-against rate.
Smith played out of his mind in net, seemingly turning back the clock, while it was Connor McDavid this year taking the league by storm scoring a whopping 105 points.
A first-round matchup against the Winnipeg Jets was to be tough, but not unreasonable. Edmonton went 7-2 against them in the regular season and made perennial Vezina candidate Connor Hellebuyck seem human. But in the playoffs, it was a different story.
The Jets took off dispatching the Oilers in just four games — the shortest playoff stint of any team that year. The sweep stung. Edmonton was outscored 14-8 and all the strengths the Oilers built upon in the regular season just washed away. Simply put, the Oilers were not ready for playoff hockey.
But that was all to change this year. The Oilers made some significant changes in the off-season bringing in fresh faces in both the forward and defensive corps in what was GM Ken Holland’s first season with significant cap flexibility.
Early on, things were promising. Through 10 games, the Oilers posted an impressive 9-1 record outscoring opponents 45-28. They were playing strong hockey up front, and were sound in their own zone. Heading into December, things were still looking good.
The Oilers lost a few games, but as of Dec. 1, Edmonton had a 16-5 record. In front of them was a six-game homestand, somewhere the Oilers had been rock solid going 9-1 in their 10 home games.
That Dec. 1 game was at home against the Penguins resulting in a dominant 5-2 win in which the Oilers put away with a three-goal third-frame. It would be Dave Tippett’s last win behind the Edmonton Oilers bench.
Two nights later, Edmonton had a quick jaunt to Seattle, where despite a hard-fought game, the Oilers lost 4-3. Nothing major, losses happen and Seattle, after all, is a good defensive team. But on Dec. 5th, the Los Angeles Kings came to town, and suddenly, things felt… different.
The Kings scored two minutes into the game, and largely dominated play that hole period. Los Angeles scored 1:42 into the second, and the game was starting to slip away.
But the game wasn’t the only thing to slip away — the Oilers’ season as a whole slipped away.
Edmonton appeared to have been recovering, however. The team put in a 5-0-1 stretch heading into the All-Star break, but that was squandered quickly.
The Oilers put in two embarrassing performances on home ice against the Vegas Golden Knights and Chicago Blackhawks that saw Mike Smith return to the crease, only to fall flat on his face. Smith virtually demanded to play last night against Chicago, and allowed four goals on 30 shots.
Some of this falls on the Oilers’ poor goaltending situation. Mikko Koskinen hasn’t been able to carry the load needed with Smith injured most of the year yet ultimately, it’s the head coach’s job to get the most out of his team — something that Tippett simply wasn’t able to do.
As it stands in the NHL, general managers typically will get two head coaches before they meet their demise. In this case, Oilers GM Ken Holland had been hired only months before that of Tippett, meaning the clock is now ticking on Holland’s tenure running the team.
Tippett had been hired onto a three-year contract, meaning that this year was set to potentially be his final year.
In Tippett’s wake, the Oilers have moved their AHL affiliate’s head coach Jay Woodcroft to interim head coach of the big club.
This is a move that could have implications down the road, as some have suggested Woodcroft is an NHL head coach in the waiting.
He joined the Oilers organization as part of Todd McLellan’s staff in 2015 after seven years with him in San Jose as an assistant coach. His start in the NHL? Well, it came in 2005 when Holland and the Detroit Red Wings hired him as a video coach.
And after he spent three years behind the Oilers bench as an assistant, he got his first head coaching job with the Bakersfield Condors. They went 42-21-3 in Woodcroft’s first season in what was a massive improvement after three consecutive seasons missing them. They missed the playoffs in 2019-20, but last year had won the Pacific Division playoff tournament.
One of the biggest positives in Woodcroft? He’s familiar with so many of the Oilers’ players. At the NHL level, he coached Leon Draisaitl, Zack Kassian, Mikko Koskinen, Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Kris Russell.
But at the AHL level, his ties run deeper.
Current Oilers Tyler Benson, Evan Bouchard, Ilya Konovalov, Ryan McLeod, Stuart Skinner, and Kailer Yamamoto all have familiarity with him.
This year, Woodcroft is having another successful campaign with the Condors. Despite a myriad of COVID-19 and injury issues, the team holds a 18-9-4 record that currently sees them on a 8-1-1 stretch.
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 [email protected]