Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland met with the media on Thursday after news he relieved both head coach Dave Tippett and defensemen and specialty-teams coach Jim Playfair from their roles with the team. Calling it a tough day, Holland said he’s comfortable with this decision, but said this is a sad time for Oilers’ fans and members of the team for multiple reasons.
Holland Takes Responsibility
Noting that his decision to move on from Tippett was a gut feeling because of how the team had performed in their first two home games since the All-Star break, Holland said this was also on him because “he put the team together.” When asked by a media member if the Oilers’ struggles were the responsibility of the players or the coaching staff, he said, “throw me in that group.”
It’s interesting that Holland was so quick to acknowledge his role in the team’s lack of success. Fans and media have been taking him to task for his inability to potentially recognize the bigger needs of the team and Holland has to know he’s on thin ice when it comes to his job security. The coaching moves made today are likely only the start of other moves if the team doesn’t turn things around. If the Oilers don’t make the playoffs, Holland has to know he’s probably done.
At the same time, he seemed to hold steadfast in the belief that this team has enough talent on it to play much better than they’ve played of late. Suggesting the team has “lost their swagger” his hope is that the change behind the bench sparks this group to put in better performances. He said he knew last night that he probably needed to make a change: “Probably as the third period wound down, and as I went home and I was by myself, talked to a couple of people last night. Got up this morning and called Mr. Katz…”
Still Isn’t Planning On Making a Goalie Change
While he knows he’s the one who put this team together, Holland’s comments and body language didn’t seem to suggest he was planning on making a goaltending change. In fact, it doesn’t sound like the Oilers intend to be big players at this year’s trade deadline. Saying he believes the “solution probably lies within the room” Holland continued to hold fast on the idea that had things gone differently this season, his plan to go with a mix of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith probably would have been enough.
Holland explained that COVID, injuries, and other factors have affected how much the team has had to rely on certain netminders, and in many cases that guys have been overworked. Because of that, there’s not really a way to get a fair read on the ability of the tandem this season. If each had split the games 50/50 as intended, the team could be in a different position. Holland didn’t outright say he wasn’t going to make a trade, but he dodged the question about adding a goaltender, focusing mostly on what hasn’t happened as planned out of the gate with the people he did choose to keep.
He didn’t talk much about Stuart Skinner, although it would be logical to expect that Woodcroft will give the netminder more looks having worked so closely with him in the AHL.
Holland Says Woodcroft Has Earned The Promotion
When asked if he sees Woodcroft as more of an interim coach or someone who can take this team to the next level, Holland said that Woodcroft has earned his shot. Starting in the video department and working his way through the ranks in multiple organizations, Holland is comfortable with the work Woodcroft has done elsewhere and in Bakersfield. “I’ve watched lots of his games, I like the way they play down there. They’re very detailed. That’s what I expect that he’s gonna bring up here,” Holland said.
The GM did admit that he wasn’t hoping to have to fire Tippett and a month ago would have preferred to be talking about a contract extension and either bringing Woodcroft in for a supporting role or letting the Bakersfield coach flourish elsewhere. Still, Woodcroft’s familiarity with the players and the system is a plus. He’s told him he’ll be the Oilers coach the rest of this season and they’ll talk after that.
Holland did acknowledge that both Woodcroft and Glen Gulutzan were the considerations to replace Tippett. Mike Babcock was never being considered by the organization.
Updates on the Oilers Roster and Injuries
The line of the day might have been Holland saying, “We’ve been up and down like a toilet seat.” It will be interesting to see if the Oilers have put together a more consistent effort. Holland confirmed that Zack Kassian suffered a fracture in his face and will be out 4-8 weeks. He also noted that Duncan Keith could be out 2-4 weeks because of the spill he took into the boards on Wednesday versus the Blackhawks. He is in concussion protocol and has some upper body bumps and bruises.
Marcus Niemelainen will get the call-up and there could be more changes coming to the roster in the near future. With 38 games left in the season, Holland said, “We still control our own fate, but we gotta get crackin’ here and start winning some games.” He’s hoping to have made this coaching decision with enough time to spare that Woodcroft and Dave Manson can make a big difference with the roster as constructed.
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.”