change of coach? | Hofbarker
It’s easy to say, “Fire the coach.” When things go bad, people want to fix them and often find someone to blame. The truth is that a team’s struggles very rarely fall on one person’s shoulders.
Would firing Dave Tippett solve the Oilers’ problems?
This question has many facets because it’s not just about firing the coach – it’s also about who to replace him with. What will his successor do differently?
So let’s look at the different levels I see when it comes to firing the head coach.
1. Just replacing the head coach is unlikely.
If the Oilers decide to replace Tippett–and there are no plans to do so before their game against the Panthers, as Ken Holland is in Palm Springs with her pro and amateur scouts for their annual January meeting– there is little point in simply replacing it. If you remove him, you’re probably moving Jim Playfair as well. Maybe Glen Gulutzan too. And it’s not because I think Playfair is a bad coach. It’s simply because changing the head coach doesn’t change much if you think the coaching is the problem.
The suggestions of replacing Tippett with Gulutzan make little sense to me. How many assistant coaches were promoted to your team and succeeded? The Philadelphia Flyers did it this year when they fired Alain Vigneault along with assistant coach Michel Therrien. They promoted assistant Mike Yeo to interim head coach. The Flyers were 8-11-4 (0.435 P%) under Vigneault and they are 5-6-3 (0.464 P%) under Yeo. Had they won another game with Vigneault, they would have been a .472 P% team. Little has improved under Yeo. It’s extremely difficult to go from being an assistant coach, where you’re not the overseer, to suddenly being a head coach and having to be the last voice. Most trainers don’t succeed in this scenario. If they replace Tippett, I wouldn’t replace him with Gulutzan. Nothing against Gulutzan, I just don’t think it’s a situation that leads to very different outcomes.
Regardless of who the coach is, the Oilers will need more consistent goalies. If you think goalies are just struggling because of the system, I would counter with Mike Smith’s stats from last season: same system, much better goalkeeping stats. That doesn’t excuse the skaters and coaches, far from it (more on that below), but successful teams need to be consistent goaltenders every night.
You can’t win regularly in the NHL without consistent goalkeeping. It’s not Tippett’s fault but it’s his problem and he needs to uncover a plan that will lead to better goalkeeping performance. Maybe they need to play a more defensive game until their goalies find their games.
Will the new head coach make the goalkeepers better? It’s possible I think, but I don’t see how. He could implement a different system to try and protect them better, but ultimately you need more consistent goalkeeping to win in the long run. Another system will help, but it will not solve the goalkeeper problem itself.
2. Promote Jay Woodcroft
is he ready I’m not sure if anyone really knows the answer to this question. Being a head coach in the AHL is different than being in the NHL. That’s not to say he’s unprepared, but dealing with NHL players is different than dealing with young talent in the AHL. They have bigger personalities and more established players in the NHL. There is more pressure, but also more reward.
Woodcroft did a very good job at Bakersfield. He was also an NHL assistant coach for many years, so he knows how different it is. If I promoted Woodcroft, I would take Dave Manson with me. Manson has done an excellent job with young defenders at Bako. He’s a big reason for their defensive success.
If I were Woodcroft and offered the job in Edmonton, I wouldn’t come unless I could bring Manson. It is clear that they work well together. You need a good coaching staff, not just a good head coach, to be successful.
Check out the Anaheim Ducks’ improvement this season. Of course, it helps to have Cam Fowler, Josh Manson and Hampus Lindholm in the lineup regularly, but the Ducks’ special teams were a disaster last season. Her PP was the worst in NHL history at 8.6%. Eakins hired Geoff Ward and Newell Brown and put them in charge of the power play. Eakins urged them to come up with a plan and not ask for his input as he didn’t want to influence anything based on what he saw last year. He broke her in and her PP is the fifth best in the NHL at 25.9%. Eakins has learned that less is more for him, and any successful head coach will tell you that their assistants are critical to success.
I don’t know if Woodcroft and Manson will be better overall than Tippett and Playfair. In their three seasons, the Oilers have the 12th most points in the NHL. Her PP is number 1 (29th) and her PK is 5th at 82.6%. What has struggled is their 5×5 goals vs/game. It’s a combined 2.17 since the start of the 2019-20 season, ranking 27th in the NHL. Even when Smith was outstanding last season from Feb. 8 through the end of the season, the Oilers finished 17th in the NHL in 5×5 GA/game with a 1.93. Under Tippett, the Oilers are 20th in the expected GA 5×5 (via Clear Sight Analytics). It’s the only area that needs improvement.
Manson did a great job at Bakersfield limiting shots and goals against. Again, it’s the AHL, but you can’t overlook that.
However, there is a risk of promoting Woodcroft only temporarily. If he and the team don’t improve the way you want them to, then what will? Would he accept returning to the AHL next season? I doubt it, and now you’re losing a solid coaching perspective. If you hire Woodcroft, you’ll have to give him the job for the foreseeable future. I don’t think 40-45 games would be enough to gauge him accurately and unless goalies are getting more consistent I don’t think a coach can implement a system that completely isolates goalies.
So if you hire Woodcroft, you must do so with a plan to keep him as head coach. It wouldn’t be wise to move up on an interim basis when the team is struggling like this and then choose not to keep him at the end of the year.
3. Hire from outside the organization.
There are some veteran NHL coaches like Mike Babcock, Claude Julien, Alain Vigneault and Travis Green to name a few. No team gives you permission to interview any of their coaches during the season. So if you’re hiring now, you’ll have limited choices as to who you can interview and hire. And it could mean Woodcroft could go elsewhere since he was passed over for the job.
In order to make the managerial change, Holland will have to examine all the options and figure out which path he wants to take.