According to research for FiveThirtyEight by data scientist Peter Tanner, the average tenure of an NHL head coach lasted 2.4 seasons.
After coaching the 33rd game of his third season with the Edmonton Oilers, Dave Tippett has spent exactly 2.4 seasons behind the bench.
And the result, losing 4-1 to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Monday (Jan. 3), maybe the strongest sign yet that Tippett’s tenure in Edmonton is past its expiration date.
In just the latest of a string of disheartening performances, the Oilers fell behind on Alexis Lafreniere’s goal at 5:25 of the first period and trailed for the rest of the game. Ryan McLeod scored to pull Edmonton within 2-1 late in the second period, but a pair of third-period goals by New York dropped the Oilers to 0-2-2 on their current five-game road trip.
Oilers Have Hit the Skids
The struggling Oilers are now 2-8-2 since Dec. 3, and Edmonton’s lone two wins over that span have come while Tippett was in COVID protocol with assistant coaches Glen Gulutzan and Jim Playfair assuming responsibilities behind the bench.
In the last 10 games that Tippett has been physically present, the Oilers have been outscored 41-19 and held the lead for a total of 16:20 (less than 3% of total gameplay). Edmonton has also given up the first goal in all 10 of those games and has now trailed 1-0 in 20 of the last 24 games.
Searching for Answers
Something is off with the Oilers, who have lots of skill but seem lacking in energy and effort and appear neither focused nor prepared. Evidence is mounting Tippett has lost the room from a propensity to come out flat to the players’ body language and post-game comments.
Is there something that would reach the players that Tippett isn’t doing? Or is he doing something that has caused them to tune out? Or has the relationship between players and coach simply reached that place where it’s time for a new voice?
Tippett is not without his shortcomings, but he’s a good coach, as his Jack Adams award and 643 career NHL coaching wins (17th all-time) can attest. The Oilers have their deficiencies, but they’ve also got the two best forwards on the planet in Leon Draisiatl and Connor McDavid, and as recently as the beginning of December sat atop the Western Conference standings and had the highest point percentage in the NHL.
Good coach, good players — Edmonton’s record should be better, but it’s not. And it doesn’t matter which side is more to blame because, as the old saying goes, you can’t fire 23 players. You can, however, switch things up behind the bench.
New Coaches Getting Results
There have been five coaching changes already in the NHL this season, four of which were made based on team performance (Joel Quenneville resigned from the Florida Panthers for his role in the Kyle Beach case). In each instance, the team has seen an uptick that is largely substantial: the Chicago Blackhawks are 10-8-2 under Derek King after starting 1-9-2 under Jeremy Colliton; the Philadelphia Flyers are 5-3-2 under Mike Yeo after starting 8-10-4 under Alain Vigneault; the Vancouver Canucks are 8-0-1 under Bruce Boudreau after starting 8-15-2 under Travis Green, and the Winnipeg Jets are 2-1-0 under Dave Lowry after starting 13-10-5 under Paul Maurice.
Related Link: Paul Maurice Did the Jets a Favour By Stepping Down
The sixth-winningest coach in NHL history (775 wins), Maurice fell on his sword when he stepped down last month after spending exactly 600 games behind the bench in Winnipeg.
“This is a good team. I’m a good coach, but sometimes when you take over a team, it’s kind of like you’re starting at the bottom of a mountain, and you’re pushing a rock up,” Maurice said while announcing his resignation on Dec. 17. “You can only get it to a certain place. That’s where I feel I’m at.
“And if you would allow me some arrogance, I would say I’m better positioned than anyone to know that they need a new voice.”
Time is of the Essence
There’s that key phrase, “a new voice.” Every coach reaches the point where they can take a team no further. For Maurice, it was after more than eight seasons. Most often, it’s a whole lot sooner. In Tippett’s case, it might be after just 160 games with a 90-57-13 record.
Hired by Oilers general manager Ken Holland in May 2019, Tippett took a team coming off back-to-back playoff misses and guided the Oilers to second place in their division in 2019-20 and 2020-21. This season, he had Edmonton off to the best 10-game start in franchise history, 9-1-0.
But the Oilers crashed and burned in both postseason appearances under Tippett, and Edmonton won’t even see the playoffs in 2022 without making a complete turnaround and fast.
As Draisaitl and McDavid get another year older – not to mention another season closer to their contracts expiring – time is running out for Holland to act before 2021-22 becomes yet another wasted opportunity to make a run at the Stanley Cup during the pair’s prime. Tippet has been in Edmonton for 2.4 seasons, and if he gets to two and a half, it might already be too late.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.