DID U HEAR???
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 20, 2018
How ironic is it that Todd McLellan, who was fired by San Jose back in 2015, was canned again today ….. while in San Jose? I’m sure Joe Thornton had a good laugh about it.
Everyone by now knows the weaknesses of McLellan that helped lead to his dismissal – stubbornness, poor in-game adjustments, systematic flaws, inability to motivate/galvanize the younger players, and preferential treatment. Most importantly, whether McLellan apologists admit it or not – The Edmonton Oilers had quit on their coach. Maybe it wasn’t intentional but it certainly was at least apparent in their play. The lack of focus & defensive commitment in Todd’s last 2 games shouldn’t happen under a well-coached team at this stage. Not to mention, McLellan’s in-game adjustments which were in serious question once again after not pulling Cam Talbot after 4 goals in 11 shots against Vegas or at least mercy-pulling him after 6 GA. There have been several examples of other in-game decisions that have cost this team this season already (Khaira & Strome on PP1 over McDavid & Drai to send a message which led to a SHG that ended up being the game winner comes to mind) that can cause a team to lose faith in it’s coach and confidence in themselves. That’s what we saw in Edmonton.
So enter Ken Hitchcock who comes in with a tremendous resume including the 3rd most wins in the history of the league. He is a hard-ass coach there is no two ways about. He demands structure & 100% buy-in from all players. He is also a different voice in the room, he wears a Stanley Cup ring on his finger, and he has coached some of the best players in the league both in the NHL and internationally. He is also a great tactician as a coach. How will all these millennials respond to his old-school style of coaching? That remains to be seen. Some will likely flourish while others may end up in his doghouse and never get out. Regardless, change was absolutely necessary and the Oilers are banking on this old dog being able to come up with a few tricks to get this team back on the winning path.
WHO BENEFITS THE MOST?
If you consider how Hitch loves to play defensive hockey, you have to think Cam Talbot is going to be benefit the most from the switch. Make no mistake, Talbs is struggling mightily right now and it might not be all mentally. He does appear to be fundamentally flawed right now, going down way too early and making himself look real small in net. Perhaps, that is a causal affect of a lack of confidence, or perhaps he has attempted to re-invent himself as a goalie and it has backfired. Regardless, we will find out if he can rebound under a more defensive-first style that Hitch demands. Ever since Talbot got pulled early last season by TMac (Game 3 of the season I think) and was visible upset about it – he’s never been the same. Bringing in a new coach who is going to focus on playing strong defense in front of the goaltender might just help bring back the confidence he has been desperately seeking for over a year now.
WHAT ABOUT THE YOUNG PLAYERS?
It is important to note that Ken Hitchcock is NOT coaching to keep his job. The assumption is, he is coming in to a situation because he has a lot of friends in the organization and to get the most out of this roster this season only. That means he will pretty much do what GM Peter Chiarelli asks him to do personnel wise. With McLellan, there were always so many questions and rumours about a disconnect between he and Chiarelli philosophically. You can just point to Chiarelli’s preference to litter his roster with younger cheaper players to compliment his stars & Todd’s preference for older veterans as an example of that.
So that means guys younger guys like Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto will likely be called back up shortly, and given another opportunity at proving they are Top 6 players. Chiarelli, banked on them last year to an extent and was certainly banking on them this year to have a greater impact then they did but it never happened under McLellan who has a penchant for destroying young player’s confidence. Many people argue Edmonton doesn’t have a lot of skill on the roster currently and they’re right. The now former coach ran two of the most skilled players OFF his roster (3 if you include Bouchard who never really got any PP#1 time). So they both get a clean slate and another opportunity to justify their draft positions.
WHAT ABOUT THE GM THEN? WHY DIDN’T HE GET FIRED?
Peter Chiarelli should absolutely be fired if this team does not AT A MINIMUM make the playoffs this season and even then it should certainly be up for debate depending on the circumstances. He has done a wonderful job of fixing the leftorium, re-building Bakersfield, and has plenty of young talent in the CHL & overseas coming soon. The future of this organization is extremely bright but that’s not enough anymore. The big club is still struggling & many will argue still lacks the skill up front which is something they used to have before he arrived (though the defense was awful). He lost a few trades that really hurt now in hindsight because other draft picks have not arrived soon enough to help offset those losses. So yes, he should be fired at end of season if the porous results continue.
However, I don’t care what anyone says: if Nail Yakupov, Jesse Puljujarvi and/or Kailer Yamamoto were playing up to their draft pedigree, no one would be complaining about missing Taylor Hall (or at least not as much). Yes, the trade wasn’t close to enough value in hindsight but if any of those three were killing it right now there wouldn’t be all these cries of no-skill up front beyond 97 & 29. Is that the coach’s fault they haven’t developed properly? It very well could be although in Yak’s case he didn’t do much under Hitchcock either. McLellan certainly doesn’t have much of a history of success in Edmonton with young players flourishing under his tutelage. Jesse and Kailer were both in the AHL before this firing – something I can guarantee the GM did not anticipate coming into this season.
The reality is, the Oilers NEED these guys to be playing in the NHL and playing well. Chiarelli’s job is banking on it. That is why it makes sense to axe the coach first. To see if a different coach can prove the GM knows what he’s doing. Edmonton is going to be a cap-team for years, and need those young players on ELC’s to come in & have a positive impact in the Top 6 like Pittsburgh has successfully done in the past with guys like Sheary, Guentzel & Rust. McLellan’s refusal to stick with it, with a preference for playing grizzly veterans instead certainly contradicted what the GM was trying to accomplish, which once again speaks to the disconnect mentioned before.
SO WHAT NOW?
The clock is ticking on Peter Chiarelli’s job. He now has a coach who should be willing to do whatever he wants since he’s there basically as a favour to the GM. It would not be a surprise whatsoever based on his history, if Chiarelli pushes for his “big three” to center 3 lines again. That is something he has been adamant about in the past, and something Hitchcock shouldn’t have a problem with considering Hopkins defensive acumen. Probably won’t happen right away but could eventually. This team needs skill up front and two of their most skilled are in the AHL. I would expect that to change shortly too. This team MUST turn it around and turn it around quick or it will be clean house time in the offseason and no one wants that. It is my estimation, regardless of the outcome that Peter Chiarelli will be “bumped upstairs” in the offseason; retaining his POHO position and paving the way for Keith Gretzky to come in as GM & hire his own coach. The question is whether it will be coming off a successful 2018-19 season or yet another disappointing one.
Todd McLellan is out, Ken Hitchcock is in and there is not much time for introductions as the Oilers play a tough road game in San Jose tonight versus the Sharks. A win there, would do wonders for the team’s confidence. Another loss would mean it’s just going to take more time and more patience to get this back on track – something that Oilers fans and GM Peter Chiarelli are both running out of quickly.