New Coaches, Better Playoff Prospects?

It was speculated upon for the past few weeks, and the news is now official. The Edmonton Oilers have hired three new assistant coaches to support a returning Todd McLellan for the 2018-19 season. Glen Gulutzan, Trent Yawney, and Manny Viveiros will join McLellan behind the Oilers bench.

The trio replaces Jay Woodcroft, Jim Johnson, and Ian Herbers who were all helping hands for McLellan last season. Woodcroft is now the head coach of Edmonton’s AHL affiliate in Bakersfield, while Johnson was let go. Herbers has returned to his position at the University of Alberta.

Calgary Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan
Glen Gulutzan (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

It doesn’t happen very often in sports that a team will hire the head coach of their biggest rival, but the Oilers have done so hiring the Flames’ former bench boss. Gulutzan, 46, spent the past two seasons with Calgary, making the playoffs in 2016-17, but was let go after the team finished 11th in the Western Conference in 2017-18.

Related: Oilers Continue Bakersfield Condors Makeover

Yawney and Viveiros have an exciting pedigree themselves, but the question remains if this is the change that will propel the Oilers back into the playoffs for the 2018-19 season. Here are some thoughts on Edmonton’s three coaching hires.

Oilers Hire Flames Ex-Coach Glen Gulutzan

The 46-year-old has coached the past seven seasons in the NHL, four of them as a head coach with the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames. The other three years, Gulutzan has been an assistant. Both his head coaching gigs lasted just two seasons each.

He’s made the playoffs just once as a head coach and was subsequently swept in the first round. Through 294 games as a head coach in the NHL, Gulutzan holds a 146-125-23 record and a .536 winning percentage (W%).

Glen Gulutzan Canucks
Glen Gulutzan (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Gulutzan burst onto the NHL radar after leading Dallas’ AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, to a Calder Cup Final in 2009-10, and was the ECHL’s Coach of the Year in 2005-06. Despite all the outbursts we saw this year that came with frustration with the Flames lackadaisical attitude, Gulutzan is a player’s coach.

Although he lost the Flames room and the team’s poor performance ultimately cost him his job, Gulutzan can be the good cop to McLellan’s bad cop approach. There’s a relationship here with Gulutzan and McLellan, who are friends. If McLellan can trust someone to help him out, Gulutzan might be the voice of reason for some of McLellan’s faults.

Glen Gulutzan has a variety of experiences at the (NHL) level as well as the minor-league level. He understands what it’s like to be a head coach, especially in Canada, Western Canada and in particular, Alberta. That’s a strong asset for us to have. He brings an upbeat personality and a good hockey mind. I’m going to use him in all situations.

Todd McLellan, Oilers head coach

Trent Yawney Can Fix Oilers Penalty Kill Woes

This is a hire that Oiler fans should be very excited about. The 52-year-old spent the last five seasons as an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks and has 17 years of coaching experience at the pro level. Everywhere he’s gone, Yawney has made an impact, especially on the penalty kill (PK).

Add up the past five seasons, and Yawney was responsible for the second-best PK in the NHL that operated at 83.7% since 2013-14. Anaheim also had two head coaches during that time with Bruce Boudreau and Randy Carlyle, and Yawney was successful in his role under both coaches.

To shake up their coaching staff, the Ducks fired Yawney this off-season. The Ducks’ loss is the Oilers’ gain. Yawney also played 593 games during his playing career with stops in Calgary, Chicago, and St. Louis. Yawney has been a pro coach since the 1999-00 season.

The Oilers PK was operating at 79.5% over the past three seasons under McLellan and his previous regime. If Yawney can bring some of his magic to Edmonton, you can count on this team being remarkably better while shorthanded. Now all he needs are some horses to run with to execute his plan.

Related: Takeaways from Peter Chiarelli’s End of Season Press Conference

Yawney’s also done an excellent job developing the Ducks defense and took Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and others to new heights. They all had their warts, but Yawney helped polish those guys, so maybe he can do the same for Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, and Darnell Nurse, among others.

With Yawney in the fold, on paper, the Oilers should have a better-coached defense, and a better PK overall.

When I look at Trent Yawney, he’s a coach that I’ve worked with in the past (San Jose), so I understand him well and he understands my personality well. He’s done a tremendous job with the penalty units in San Jose, Anaheim and anywhere else he’s coached in the minor-league system.

Todd McLellan, Oilers head coach

Manny Viveiros: A Solution for Oilers Power Play

Viveiros is coming off an excellent campaign that saw him coach the Swift Current Broncos to a WHL Championship. The Broncos eventually fizzled out at the Mastercard Memorial Cup, but after a dominant 48-17-7 record in the WHL, Viveiros is making quite the name for himself.

While Yawney might fix the Oilers PK woes, Viveiros should help fix Edmonton’s power play (PP) troubles. He led Swift Current to the WHL’s best PP at 29.4% through 72 regular season games. In two seasons as the Broncos head coach, Viveiros had an incredible 87-40-17 record through 144 games. That’s a .663 W%.

Viveiros isn’t a flash in the pan either. In the past 11 years, he’s won a league championship in Austria in 2009, coached Austria at the 2014 Winter Olympics, and coached in the DEL. He spent three seasons in total as the coach of the Austrian national team and helped turn that program around.

Manny Viveiros
Manny Viveiros (Rudolf Beranek/EIS Hockey)

McLellan went on to describe how the Oilers will utilize their new coaches. For now, Viveiros will be McLellan’s bird’s eye view from above and join the bench for the third periods. It’s a role McLellan will likely expand upon as time goes on, will the goal to potentially add him to the bench full-time.

Yawney will be working with the defense and PK, while Gulutzan will oversee bench adjustments under McLellan. Make no mistake about it, Viveiros’ experience and a keen eye for offense should help the team’s strategic approach. He’s got a great mind and has plenty of room to grow.

Don’t be surprised if Viveiros ends up with a bigger role with the club in a few years. Overall the Oilers have a much more experienced group behind the bench on paper; now it’s about delivering results. Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli stood by McLellan, and now it’s time for McLellan to hold up his end of the bargain.

He has a talent level that hasn’t been tapped yet. What do I mean by that is he has a very strong European background. He was a very offensive defenceman when he played. Has very strong power play sets and results in his European teams as well as his junior teams. We’ll obviously lean in that direction with his skill sets.

Todd McLellan, Oilers head coach