You have to give him credit. On the day the Edmonton Oilers announced Dave Tippett as their new head coach, many in the mainstream media were asking if he’d be bringing his defence-first system to the Alberta capital. Instead of stating the obvious, the Moosomin native suggested he wasn’t that kind of coach at all and in fact, used whatever system worked best with the pieces he had at his disposal.
A clever angle to be sure and it led to many forgetting what this Oilers squad was and still is. Outside of a handful of players, this group lacks the skill to outscore their opponents and their defence/goaltenders are nowhere near good enough to shut teams down. In other words, fans should prepare themselves for a defence-first system that is typically a less than enthralling brand of hockey to watch.
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Tippett can point all he wants to a couple of seasons in which his Dallas Stars team scored with regularity but the vast majority of his coaching resume suggests that was the rarity and not the norm. Hence, why the theme we heard from both the coach and his players during the first official day of camp revolved around a “five up and five back” mentality and words like “intensity” and “work ethic”.
Defence, Defence, Defence
Don’t get me wrong, that is the kind of structure and commitment this Oilers squad will need to have in order to take a run at competing for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Which is why there is no need to beat around the bush. As the old saying goes, “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” Which is why I appreciated the shift in tone from Tippett’s initial presser.
Does that mean Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will be asked to turn themselves into defensive stalwarts? It does not but as long as they can toe the company line and still produce offence, there will be no issue. As far as the other three lines go, safe to say Tippett’s leash will be much shorter, especially if the tradeoff does not include scoring at the other end of the rink.
Just like it was in previous years, the Oilers will focus on reducing the number of high-quality scoring chances and goals they give up on a nightly basis. Now it’ll be up to the new bench boss to get the collective to buy-in. As every coach will tell you, its easier to get guys to play a hard/discipline style, as opposed to making them into something they are not…offensively gifted.
Could a lack of speed from a James Neal, Sam Gagner and others prove problematic in a “pressure system”? It sure could but luckily Tippett has garnered plenty of experience trying to figure things out over the course of his eight years with the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes. That experience can only help the Oilers in 2019-20, as will the fact the new head coach appears unwilling to pretend his group is something they are not.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.