It’s another year where the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers gets fired. This time it’s Jay Woodcroft. Last week, I wrote an article on why firing him made no sense. When they announced his firing, I wondered to myself, are the Edmonton Oilers coach killers? They’ve had ten head coaches in the past thirteen seasons. I took a quick glance at each coach and determined why they got canned since 2010.
The Pre-McDavid era
Tom Renney was the first coach hired to oversee the rebuild. Renney did have some prior NHL head coaching experience with the Vancouver Canucks and the New York Rangers before coming into Edmonton. The Oilers roster during his two seasons here weren’t the best. With the entire bottom six made up of grinders, checkers, and enforcers it’s pretty easy to see why Renney and those Oilers didn’t do well in those years. Renney accumulated a record of 57–85–22 during his time here. It’s interesting to note though that the Oilers were in a playoff spot with Renney in December of 2011, but injuries to Ryan Whitney, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins brought them down and yet they still finished with 74 points that season. If they were healthy, it’s pretty realistic to see they coulda had up to 85 to 86. To me, the Oilers didn’t get Renney canned, it was just pure bad roster construction and horrible injury luck.
Up next is Ralph Krueger who coached for the 2012–13 season. Like Renney, the Oilers bottom six was horrendous, but the strong play of the top six and Devan Dubnyk kept them afloat until the deadline. The Oilers once again were in a playoff spot on April 3, 2013, and their biggest deadline move was… Jarred Smithson. The lack of additions at the deadline plummeted the Oilers as they only won three out of the final twelve games that season. The failure of this season once again was on Steve Tambellini. I don’t know how much fault Krueger was at, but considering his tenure in Buffalo a few years ago… maybe he just isn’t a good coach. He finished with a record of 19–22–7.
Now we have Dallas Eakins… one of the worst coaches in Oilers history with his swarm defence. The one good thing that came out of this era was the McDavid lottery win. This era was just a mess. The goaltending with Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth, the wonderful defence with Nikita Nikitin, Justin Schultz, and Andrew Ference, and the forward core who couldn’t play a lick of defence. In 113 games here, Eakins went 36–63–14. That’s truly awful. Was the team bad? Yes. Did Eakins somehow make them worse than that should of been? Yes. Here’s why. When Eakins was fired in the 2014–15 season, the Oilers had a record of 7–19–5.
After a short stint from Craig MacTavish behind the bench, the Oilers recalled Todd Nelson from the Oklahoma City Barons to be the next coach. How did the Oilers do with the same, if not worse team (thanks to the David Perron and Jeff Petry trades), than Eakins? Nelson led them to a record of 17–22–7. That is a drastic improvement. I truly believed Nelson would of stayed if they didn’t hire GM Peter Chiarelli or won the McDavid lottery. I’m shocked he hasn’t had another NHL head coaching job since. That should change. So we went through five coaches here, and so far, I don’t think there’s sufficient evidence that the Oilers have either quit or killed their own coach’s career. Now let’s see the McDavid era.
McDavid era coaching
Todd McLellan was Connor’s first ever coach. During McLellan’s time here, he had a record of 123–119–24. He also took the Oilers to the playoff for the first time in 2017. When he was fired in November of 2018, the Oilers were at 9–10–1. A nineth grade me was pretty happy when I heard the news. Looking back, I feel bad for McLellan. Peter Chiarelli, much like Ken Holland today, gave McLellan a very bad team with no depth and a terrible defence. The Oilers had Alex Chiasson, Ty Rattie, and Tobias Reider as their top six wingers and the team thought it was all McLellan’s fault? Sure, you can argue that if he took the team to the playoffs in 2017 he could do it here. But, Chiarelli traded away Jordan Eberle, couldn’t replace Andrej Sekera when he tore his ACL, couldn’t find a good tandem goalie so Cam Talbot can take a rest, and didn’t improve on the Oilers depth from the playoff run, etc. McLellan paid the price, just like Woodcroft, for a poorly constructed hockey team.
Ken Hitchcock was named his replacement and went 26–28–8. The Oilers actually started well with Hitchcock going 7–2–2. Then, Oscar Klefbom suffered a long term injury and the Oilers proceeded to lose six straight. Hitchcock kept the Oilers competitive from the trade deadline on but it wasn’t enough. The only time I think the Oilers “quit” on Hitchock was a game against the San Jose Sharks in February. They lost 5–2 and Hitch wasn’t happy with their effort.
At this time of year, the coaches can’t want it more than the players. At the end of the day, it’s going to be decided whether we want to play the right way because it’s successful, or whether we just want to do our thing. (This) was a game (in which) we just wanted to do our thing and paid dearly for it.https://www.thescore.com/nhl/news/1714483
Up to Dave Tippett here. This is the only time on here where I’m going to argue that Tippett caused the team to tank on his own watch. Tippett had a record of 95–62–14 as Oilers head coach. But a lot of that is due to the fact the Oilers powerplay and penalty-kill were the best in the league in that span. The Oilers 5v5 numbers under Tippett were awful. In Tippett’s tenure here, the Oilers from October 2019 to February 2022, they were one of the worst teams defensively. They ranked in the bottom half of the league with a xGF% of 49.16. They were the 10th worst team at stopping high-danger chances against, and were a bottom-five team in preventing scoring chances against. As well, the Oilers had only one playoff game where they won. They lost in four to Chicago in the qualifiers and then swept by Winnipeg, which was due to the fact that the shots Connor Hellebuyck were facing were all low danger.
As well, Tippett refused to split up Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, which would ruin our depth scoring. Tippett had found the perfect line in the “DRY” line in 2019–2020 and stopped using it when the season ended due to COVID-19. Other than the fact Tippett led the team to playoff failures, his 16–5 start in the 2021–22 season was thanks to the power play. The Oilers came crashing back down to earth and finally fired Dave. Now why do I think Dave harmed us? Because when Jay Woodcroft took over that year, with the exact same time, they went 26–9–3 and became one of the best teams when it came to xGF% and became way better defensively.
Now we get to Jay Woodcroft. I’ll be short here because I think everyone would agree and I went over this in my last piece. The start of the season wasn’t on him. This was caused by a poor roster construction along with some pure puck luck. If the Oilers won the Sharks game, he’d still be here today and I’m positive those wins against the New York Islanders and the Seattle Kraken on Wednesday still happen. Jay went 79–41–13 in his time here.
So are the Oilers coach killers?
I don’t think so. The only coach I saw the Oilers purposely play bad for was Hitchcock, and even then the roster wasn’t that good. Tippett absolutely made the team worse, Eakins was just a terrible coach with a terrible roster, Renney wasn’t that bad, Krueger was barely here, and McLellan and Woodcroft got the canned for their GM’s wrongdoings. Time will tell us what will happen to Kris Knoblauch. I have sneaky suspicion this was the plan all along. Jeff Jackson mentioned his long term plan and didn’t care about what happened in the past. This tells me that if the Oilers somehow made the playoffs and lost in the first or second round, Woodcroft was gonna get canned anyway. The Knoblauch hire was just earlier than anyone else expected. I truly hope we finally see a coach fulfill his entire contract here.