By putting the brakes on a seven-game winless streak with consecutive victories in their last two games, 5-3 over the Calgary Flames on Saturday (Jan. 22) and 3-2 against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday (Jan. 25), the Edmonton Oilers might just have saved head coach Dave Tippett‘s job.
After Edmonton was trampled 6-0 by the Florida Panthers last Thursday (Jan. 20) to drop to 2-11-2 in their last 15 games, reports surfaced that if the Oilers didn’t get a win or least show a great effort against the Flames, Oilers general manager Ken Holland would fire Tippett on Sunday (Jan. 23). Reportedly, assistant coach Glen Gulutzan would have taken over on an interim basis for the rest of the season.
Tippett might have been two periods away from unemployment after Calgary jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening frame. Just a few days later, his hot seat seems to have cooled off as he prepares his team for a pivotal stretch of four games in four cities over seven nights before the All-Star break.
How Secure is Tippett’s Job?
Suddenly, there’s a real sense that Tippett could stick around to complete his third season behind the Oilers’ bench, a dramatic turn of fortune for the veteran coach, who seemed to be operating on borrowed time. Rarely does a coach get this close to the edge and live to tell about it. Maybe they’ll get a stay of execution for a day or two, but the axe eventually falls, and the job survival rate long-term is minuscule.
It’s also reasonable to doubt Holland’s stewardship. If he was so convinced that Tippett was no longer the right man for the job that he was ready to announce the coach’s dismissal, what difference does a couple of wins make? But that isn’t as indicative of Holland’s like of direction as it is a statement that he really didn’t – and still doesn’t – want to fire Tippett.
Holland Responsible for Oilers Troubles
Speaking to media earlier this month, Holland shot-down calls for a coaching change by reiterating his long-held stance that his franchise needs stability behind the bench. “There have been seven coaches here in 10 years,” the GM said. “You can’t just keep whipping through coaches.”
Moreover, TSN Edmonton reporter Ryan Rishaug said during a radio appearance last week that he believes the GM feels a degree of responsibility for the Oilers’ struggles because he has been unable to acquire a higher calibre goalie for Tippett to utilize.
Tippett also hasn’t had an opportunity to try making things work with Holland’s jerry-rigged goaltending duo of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith because the latter has been sidelined nearly all season with one injury or another. Essentially, Holland hasn’t provided Tippett with the tools to succeed, and the GM doesn’t want to lay his failings at his coach’s feet.
Would a Different Coach Get More From the Oilers?
With that in mind, it’s fair to ask if a coach not named Tippett – be it Gulutzan or someone else – could produce better results with the same roster? History has shown that sometimes all it takes to spark a club is a different voice, and during Edmonton’s extended slump, there were signs – ranging from the players’ body language to their post-game comments – that suggested Tippett had lost the room. But judging by the Oilers’ effort these last two games, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Trailing the Flames 2-0 after 20 minutes last weekend, the Oilers could have easily packed it in, knowing that the outcome would seal Tippett’s fate. But whatever Tippett said or did during the first intermission must have resonated because the team came out like gangbusters with three unanswered second-period goals en route to victory.
It happened again on Tuesday. Down 2-0 entering the third period in Vancouver, the Oilers rallied to win for the first time this season when facing a multi-goal deficit after 40 minutes. The determination and enthusiasm were not that of a team that had quit on their coach.
Tippett might have been one bad night away from receiving his pink slip. Now the would-be winds of change appear to have died down, leaving the coach still at the helm of an Oilers club that is only four points back of the Western Conference’s final wild-card spot with 44 games remaining. Next up for the Oilers is a date with the Nashville Predators at Rogers Place on Thursday (Jan. 27), and while Tippett’s job may not hang in the balance, the Oilers would do well to keep playing as if it does.
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.