Two ugly losses to start off an eight-game stretch in 13 days was finally the straw that broke the back for Edmonton Oilers’ general manager Ken Holland. On Thursday, following a bad 4-1 loss at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, Holland decided to let head coach Dave Tippett go.
Darren Dreger of TSN was the first to report the news. That report was followed up by a number of NHL insiders, one of which (Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic) is also reporting that Jim Playfair has been relieved of his coaching duties as well.
Tippett Had to Go
In the final year of his coaching contract with the Oilers, Tippett was already on the hot seat as he was the bench boss for Edmonton as they scraped together a league’s worst 8-13-3 record since Dec.1. The Oilers are deemed internally as a team that absolutely needs to make the playoffs and that was in jeopardy as the franchise wasn’t gaining ground in the Western Conference.
Questionable line combinations, followed by an odd decision to play veteran goaltender Mike Smith in a back-to-back situation after he’d just come off a long injury were among many of the reasons Tippett was likely removed. It isn’t being reported that the coach had lost the room, but there was a sense that frustration among the star players of the team was growing evident and Holland can’t afford another year where the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl aren’t playing meaningful postseason games.
Tippett’s final run in Edmonton was plagued with the mentality to try and fix what wasn’t broken but don’t fix what was, and that was likely his undoing.
Jay Woodcroft Takes Over Behind the Oilers Bench
Tippett was released and Bakersfield Condors head coach Jay Woodcroft has been brought in. While he lacks head coaching experience in the NHL, the reviews of his AHL work are glowing. Dave Manson is also being promoted and his work with the blue line in Bakersfield has been strong.
Woodcroft not only has a close relationship with the players but he knows the Oilers system, has been working hard with the young prospects, and has seen goaltender Stuart Skinner up close. It is expected a few new faces (including Skinner) will get some key opportunities.
Everything we’ve heard out of Bakersfield has been how hard the team works, how well Manson is handling the D core. This Oiler group never managed to find an indentity beyond their PP and top end skill. To be fair, Tippett never had a high end starter either.
Meanwhile, Bruce McCurdy of the Edmonton Journal calls the Woodcroft hiring the best option available and writes, “Jay Woodcroft has done an outstanding job at the AHL level and has head start of having already coached a significant majority of current Oilers in either NHL or AHL. That includes the leadership group which was in place throughout his time (2015-19) as TMc’s assistant coach.”
Can the Oilers Turn Things Around?
The expectation now will be that this move sparks a team that is extremely talented but lacks the ability to win when it counts and put together the entire package needed to win important hockey games. An issue on defense and in goal may continue to keep the Oilers from fully seeing their potential, but this coaching change signals the fact that the status quo was not getting it done.
It will be interesting to see if Holland makes any moves to try to help his new coaches out. He’s got just over a month until the NHL trade deadline to add pieces that will help this team and its new coaching staff get things back on track.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”