Perhaps no team has a crystal ball that tells a franchise when the best time to move on from a coach is, but there’s a lot of chatter about Edmonton Oilers’ head coach Dave Tippett this week. After two overtime losses, a couple of loser points have the Oilers barely hanging on in the Western Conference playoff picture and many fans are calling for Tippett to have coached his last game. Others are suggesting — and perhaps rightfully so — that moving on from coaches too quickly has been part of the issue in Edmonton.
Concerns about Tippet’s style, his decision-making, and the Oilers’ loyalty to the coach have come into question on the heels of a very rough December. To make matters worse, the Oilers have started out the new year poorly and are about to run into a number of postponed games in January not feeling very good about their game. Insanely bad game starts have been a staple of this team and now, they’re unable to put teams away when they have the chance.
Keeping or firing the coach won’t be an easy decision for GM Ken Holland. That said, the Oilers are creeping awfully close to a point in the season and a time in Tippett’s tenure where the decision may be forced upon the organization.
Is It Time to Make a Change?
The biggest argument for moving on from the coach is that the Oilers’ window to win is small. GM Ken Holland made a number of moves this offseason with the understanding this is the team he wanted to put together and that Tippett would take the roster and make it a contender. The team invested heavily in Zach Hyman, made a key trade for Duncan Keith and added some depth at the forward position. There may be additional moves before the March 21 trade deadline, but there’s little to no room for mistakes and the leash has to be short for Tippett who has now had three cracks at the playoffs.
Tippett was hired in May of 2019 and received a three-year contract. His deal alone means it’s time to talk about his future. Kurt Leavins of the Edmonton Journal writes:
“Part of the issue I see is the confluence of Dave Tippett and Jim Playfair being in their contract years and the consensus within the organization to “win now”.”source – ‘The Edmonton Oilers slide down the standings requires some context: 9 Things’ – Kurt Leavins’ Edmonton Journal – 02/02/2022
If there’s going to be a simple transition in Edmonton, it’s moving the coach just before having to make a decision on another contract. There would be no issue in having to pay him and another coach at the same time — thus money isn’t an issue. It also wouldn’t come as a shock if his contract wasn’t renewed and the Oilers made a decision a little bit ahead of schedule.
A Move Could Motivate The Team Or Do Nothing
Sometimes, moving a coach triggers a team into playing better. Just look at what’s happened with the Vancouver Canucks who are a completely different group under Bruce Boudreau. The roster is the same but the message is different and sometimes, that’s all it takes. If that’s what the Oilers need, it’s hard to argue against the notion this team is talented. Maybe it’s not about the players, but the coach is the issue. If so, moving Tippett is the right move.
Then again, a coaching change doesn’t always make a huge difference. The Philadelphia Flyers are proof of that fact. They’ve won a couple of games under interim coach Mike Yeo, but the team is still struggling since relieving Alain Vigneault of his coaching duties. The same can be said in Chicago where the removal of Jeremy Colliton only made a slight difference and the team is still miles away from being a playoff contender despite some key offseason additions.
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Even if the proof isn’t always in the pudding, Holland may be forced to think what is working in Vancouver can work in Edmonton. The Oilers need a spark. They need a run of games where winning becomes part of the changeover. Once in the playoffs, you never know what could happen. What’s going on in Philadephia and Chicago could realistically happen in Edmonton, but Holland may have little choice but to roll the dice.
Holland Needs to Decide What’s Important
This is not going to be an easy decision for the GM. There’s clearly trust between Tippett and Holland and there’s a sense of loyalty that Holland has, wanting to give his coach a chance with a team the GM has built. Until this season, Tippett hasn’t really had that. He’s been doing his best with scrap pieces of cheap contracts, many of which were players on this team that probably shouldn’t have been in the NHL.
That said, when does loyalty to the coach override focusing on the success of the team? Holland waiting and the result being the Oilers’ continued struggles put a lot at risk. There are few seasons left where players like Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid are going to accept that this team isn’t a Stanley Cup contender. Holland has to continue to show his stars that his top priority is to improve this team, regardless of the cost. His stars having a shot is more important than giving Tippett a full season with “the real team”.
A change wouldn’t necessarily mean Holland thinks Tippett has lost the room. It would be a message to his players saying, ‘Look, guys, I’m willing to try anything, but we gotta win.’
Tippett Has Made His Bed
It might not be time to move on from this coach. This could be a blip of bad play, couple with COVID absences, injuries, and the power play not being as deadly as it was near the start of the season. At the same time, if Tippett is removed, he’ll have earned his dismissal.
From odd decisions and reliance on veterans where younger talent probably should have gotten a longer look, to poor choices with rookies and young players (like Ethan Bear and Dmitri Samorukov), to changing matchups and line combinations at outrageous times. Any of these things are fodder for getting fired. Should Holland pull the trigger on a change, the city of Edmonton won’t be hounding Holland for an explanation, nor would they demand he be accountable for making a premature move. At best, they’ll be talk about whether or not moving another coach was the right call for a team that has a history of pulling the plug on coaches too quickly.
All Holland will have to say is, ‘I felt like I had no choice. We are inches away from being out of it and that’s not acceptable here this season.’