TSN Edmonton Oilers’ reporter, Ryan Rishaug, posed a question last Monday via Twitter. He used his podcast account to ask, “Has Jay Woodcroft done enough to earn a long-term deal?” and got Oilers fans to chime in.
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The next day, Connor McDavid’s agent, Jeff Jackson publicly replied, “Yes.” It was a simple, yet effective response, but it was the best insight as to how his most valuable client truly feels about his current head coach.
Jackson’s Approval of Woodcroft Shows Insight Into McDavid’s Thoughts
The Oilers have won 22 out of 33 games under Woodcroft. He’s taken the team from nearly out of a playoff spot to second place in the Pacific Division, and from an outsider’s perspective, it’s clear that the team should sign him to an extension. That said, no one truly knows what goes on beyond the locker room doors except the players and coaches themselves. Everyone that follows the team can only speculate how players truly feel.
The Hockey Writers’ Brian Swane previously wrote about McDavid showing a new level of leadership this season by being more candid in interviews, but also stated how the captain had been predominantly unopinionated in the public for the first six years of his career. Because of that, it’s hard to get a take on what truly goes on inside his mind.
When Woodcroft first joined the team, McDavid stated, “‘Woody’ is going to come in and put his touch on the group and put his touch on the team. And as players, that’s what we want. We’re all in this together.” In the hypothetical scenario that he actually didn’t like Woodcroft, he still would say positive things about his new coach. It’s programmed in his DNA to stay away from negative comments. No matter what, McDavid will say all the right things because he’s a role model for millions around the world, and also because he’s learned how to talk to the media from such a young age.
This is why Jackson’s simple tweet in response to whether Woodcroft deserves a long-term deal is so valuable. He’s been McDavid’s agent since the phenom was 15 years old, and in that 10-year relationship, they’ve without a doubt established a level of trust. By him saying “yes” on a public platform, it’s the best indication that McDavid himself would like his new coach to stay, and be the one to take the team to the next level. You’d have to imagine that the player and agent (especially one that facilitated a $100 million dollar deal) talk regularly and consult with one another.
On that note, this isn’t the first instance that Jackson has tweeted publicly about a matter that pertained to his highest-paid client. Last November when the Oilers’ captain endured a multitude of infractions that went uncalled, Jackson posted, “Do NHL referees need to be given instructions on what a trip is? This is a joke.”
There’s no indication as to whether his Tweet had any influence or not. But since then, McDavid has drawn the second-most penalties in the NHL with 49, in comparison to two years ago when he was 22nd in the league.
Oilers Are Playing Better Under Woodcroft
Woodcroft has a 22-8-3 record since he took over the Oilers’ bench. Prorated over 82 games, that’s a 112-point pace. According to Natural Stat Trick, they have a goal differential of plus-19 at 5-on-5, and a plus-34-goal differential overall.
Prior to the game against the Dallas Stars on April 20, Allan Mitchell of The Athletic highlighted the Oilers’ goal percentage at 5-on-5. McDavid’s this season under former head coach Dave Tippett was 34-27 (55.7 percent); however, it’s higher under Woodcroft. The captain is outscoring opponents 30-19 (61.2 percent) at 5-on-5. Not only that, but the rest of the team has performed better as well. Under Tippett, they were outscored 54-73 (42.6 percent), but under Woodcroft, they have a positive goal differential, improving to 46-41 (52.9 percent) (from “Lowetide: Connor McDavid’s Outscoring Reaches Peak With Jay Woodcroft as Oilers Coach,” The Athletic, 4/20/22).
By the seeing eye test, the team as a whole looks more in sync. The forwards are backchecking hard, there’s more of a trust level between them and the defensemen, and they’re standing up opposing teams more at their blue line. It’s as though they are finally “buying in” to team systems. They’re paying extra attention to detail to the little nuances to gut out wins, especially with their recent back-to-back shutouts against the Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights.
Also, Woodcroft isn’t just leaning on his big guns McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, either. The Edmonton Journal’s Kurt Levins explains, “the new coach demonstrates a bigger commitment to giving players bigger roles, including the bottom-six” (from “Edmonton Oilers Head Coach Jay Woodcroft’s “Special Sauce”: 9 Things,” The Edmonton Journal, 4/17/22). The bottom-six players are getting more ice time and players have been given more responsibility under Woodcroft, like Ryan McLeod, who’s been excelling in a penalty-killing role. Because they are playing more, it instills inclusion and unity in the whole team, letting them know that they aren’t just built around two players.
In regards to the Woodcroft extension, Rishaug also tweeted that he felt the team will take a “wait and see” approach when it comes to re-signing their current head coach. He feels a deal will more than likely get done after the playoffs to see the full body of work. That said, waiting longer to sign him to a deal might risk a contract offer from other NHL teams after the season.
I feel a contract extension should happen after the playoffs to avoid distraction, but hopefully, general manager Ken Holland has had discussions with Woodcroft to let him know his intention to bring him into the fold long-term. Signing him to a long-term extension would finally bring coaching stability to the Oilers, especially McDavid, who is currently playing for his fourth coach in just his seventh year in the league.
He’s the first ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – He’s been featured on CBC Radio providing hockey analysis for the Edmonton Oilers – He’s a freelance writer and Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.