It may not just be two points that are on the line for the Edmonton Oilers when they host the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place on Saturday (Jan. 22). The fate of their bench boss could hang in the balance, too.
TSN’s Ryan Rishaug reported Friday (Jan. 21) that a poor performance by the Oilers against their provincial rivals in Hockey Night in Canada matchup could lead to the dismissal of head coach Dave Tippett by general manager Ken Holland.
“If they don’t get a result tomorrow night against Calgary and an effort, then I think it’s over on Sunday,” Rishaug said while appearing on TSN 1260 radio in Edmonton. “I think the coaching change is coming Sunday if the Oilers don’t get a significantly better result on Saturday night.”
According to Rishaug, Tippett’s likely replacement is Oilers assistant coach Glen Gulutzan, who would serve as Edmonton’s head coach for the remainder of the 2021-22 season. Such a move, Rishaug tweeted, would provide the Oilers with a shake-up and then allow for Edmonton to conduct a proper head coach search in the offseason.
The Heat is on Holland
With the Oilers on a seven-game winless streak and just 2-11-2 over their last 15 games, pressure is mounting on Holland to take action before Edmonton’s once-promising season is lost.
The Oilers had the most points in the Western Conference after defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 on Dec. 1. After getting steamrolled 6-0 by the Florida Panthers at Rogers Place on Thursday (Jan. 18), Edmonton now trails the San Jose Sharks by six points for the conference’s second wild-card berth.
Goaltending a Big Problem for Oilers
One of the biggest reasons for Edmonton’s freefall down the standings is the play between the pipes. Mikko Koskinen (12-8-1, 3.33 goals-against average, .895 save percentage), Stuart Skinner (4-6-0, 2.93 GAA, .907 SV%), and Mike Smith (2-2-1, .3.76 GAA, .899 SV%), have taken turns on the Oilers goaltending carousel this season, and all have left wanting, for one reason or another: Smith who turns 40 in March is constantly hurt; Skinner 23, has just a dozen games NHL experience; and the 33-year-old Koskinen is simply not good enough.
With Smith on Injured Reserve and Skinner in COVID protocol, Koskinen got the start against the Panthers and gave up six goals on 28 shots in what was Edmonton’s most lopsided defeat of the season.
Holland Hesitant to Dismiss Tippett
In the wake of Thursday’s drubbing, as calls for Tippett to be fired hit a fever pitch, Rishaug described the potential for Holland to make as a coaching change as “day-to-day”.
“I don’t think he wants to fire Dave Tippett,” Rishaug said during his TSN 1260 appearance on the Jason Gregor Show. “I think Ken Holland knows that a lot of what’s wrong with this team is on him. This goaltending thing is a couple summers where he wasn’t able to get it done (acquire a goalie by trade or free agency) and that’s on him.”
Hiring Tippett was Holland’s first major move after becoming Oilers GM and president of hockey operations in May 2019. Tippett has a 90-60-13 record over two-plus seasons behind the bench for the Oilers. The veteran coach guided Edmonton to consecutive postseason berths in 20 years, but the Oilers were upset by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, then swept out of the first round by the underdog Winnipeg Jets last year.
“I think there’s a healthy respect between Dave Tippett and Ken Holland,” Rishaug continued. “Ken Holland respects Dave Tippett a lot and I think he’s probably struggling with the idea of firing a guy that he respects when he knows that he’s responsible for a lot of it. And I think that’s why we’re seeing it take the time that it’s taken. I think in other markets in other cities in other situations, this is already done.”
Gulutzan Has Experience as NHL Head Coach
Gulutzan’s time in Edmonton pre-dates Tippett and Holland, having been hired as an assistant to then-head coach Todd McLellan prior to the 2018-19 season.
The 50-year-old Gulutzan has a 146-125-23 record as a head coach in the NHL. He spent two seasons behind the bench with both the Dallas Stars (2011-12 and 2012-13) and Flames (2016-17 and 2017-18). Gulutzan’s only trip to the NHL playoffs as a head coach came with the Flames in 2018.
There are many who want to see Jay Woodcroft, head coach of the Bakersfield Condors, Edmonton’s American Hockey League affiliate, take over from Tippett. But Rishaug tweeted on Friday that bringing Woodcroft in on an interim basis might not make sense from either Woodcroft or the Oilers’ perspective, given that Woodcroft is close to becoming an NHL head coach and getting a three-year deal.
“I don’t think they’re going to go give somebody a three-year contract,” Rishaug told host Jason Gregor on TSN 1260 Friday. “I think it will be Glen Gulutzan from now to the end of the year and maybe that’s part of the reason why Holland’s taking his time with it. He doesn’t have other contract negotiations that he’s waiting on, and this and that, and all this other stuff. I think he probably knows what the answer is for the rest of the year and is letting it play out a little bit longer than some might like.”
Oilers Have History of Cycling Through Coaches
Since the beginning of the 2009-10 season, the Oilers have had eight different head coaches, and Holland has repeatedly expressed his belief in the importance of having stability behind the bench, reiterating that stance during a media availability on Jan. 11.
But that was 11 days, two losses, and a whole lot of off-ice drama ago, and one more bad night might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Whether Tippett is fired on Sunday, he’s clearly on borrowed time and all signs indicate that a change is inevitable.
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.