It is the move of a desperate GM and team firing a head coach. In Edmonton, it has been a long time coming. Dave Tippett, the head coach of the Oilers, has been fired after a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Fans and hockey pundits have been calling for Tippett’s head on a platter since they started the losing streak back in December. Now, it has finally happened; the Oilers have fired Tippett.
The Oilers have been bad since the month of December. In my article, “What’s Wrong With the Edmonton Oilers?” I explained the Oilers’ most prominent issues are based around team construction. The Oilers struggle with depth scoring, solid defense, and goaltending, but they have two of the best players in the world on their roster. Ken Holland, since becoming GM, has never been able to address these issues. The Oilers recently brought on Evander Kane, a controversial move considering the many allegations against Kane and his reputation as a locker room cancer. However, Kane is a skilled forward and promised to add scoring depth.
Since he’s been added, the Oilers seemed to have recovered a bit from their December and January woes. However, the teams they beat in that stretch included Montreal, the worst team in the league, Vancouver, who are below Edmonton in the standings, and Washington, who have been on a bit of a cold streak lately. Hockey pundits were already declaring that things were looking up for the Oilers when they lost to the 24th place Chicago Blackhawks. The Edmonton Oilers are still a poorly constructed team. Holland had tried to add another band-aid with Kane, and it didn’t hold for long. Now Holland has made the last move in a GM’s repertoire, he fired the coach, hoping to buy himself some more time. It is common knowledge that GMs typically get to fire and then hire one coach in their tenure before their seat gets hot. Holland is firing his first coach, but his seat should already be up in flames.
Tippett’s record since he joined the Oilers in 2019 has been 95-62-14 (or 95-76 if you discard the loser point). He had a winning record, but the Oilers have failed to win a playoff round since he became head coach. They were even swept by the Winnipeg Jets in the first round last year. That does not speak highly of Tippett’s skills as a coach in the postseason, at the very least. Tippet has made some mistakes this season as well. He often leans on less offensively gifted but more defensive style forwards, overplays Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, favors one goalie blatantly over the other, and overplays defensemen who have minimal defensive abilities like Duncan Keith. He was not getting the most out of his players, which is what a coach should do. When the best player in the league is on your team as a coach, there is a lot of pressure on you to win.
The Oilers have brought up Jay Woodcroft from their AHL affiliate, The Bakersfield Condors, to be the new head coach. Woodcroft has been very successful with the Condors posting a record of 105-71-21 with the team. There is also a good precedent in the league for AHL coaches finding success on the NHL level. Sheldon Keefe, the current head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs , was brought up similarly, and he has the most wins out of his first one hundred games in Maple Leafs’ history. Woodcroft could be precisely the breath of fresh air the Oilers need right now and, like Keefe, lead the Oilers to more success. There is, however, one crucial difference between the Oilers and Leafs, and that is construction.
The Oilers are still a poorly built team with problems on every level outside of top-end talent. Adding one forward does not address broad-scale depth scoring, goaltending, or the blue line. If Holland doesn’t build a better team quickly, he should be fired as well. He has had since 2019 to fix the same problems and never did. As a general manager, Holland has done a horrible job, but firing Tippet might buy him some time. Hopefully, he can acquire a competent blue line and goalie in that time if he wishes to keep his job.
Firing a coach is never an easy decision, but Tippet had to go. Woodcroft has his work cut out for him. The Oilers are a terribly constructed team struggling with their morale right now. Even though Woodcroft might provide a morale boost, the most skilled coach can not fix glaring construction issues. For Woodcroft to get a fair shake at the NHL level, more than Tippett has to go. Tippett being fired is a good first step, but it shouldn’t end with just him. For the Oilers to be successful, Holland must be fix this mess of a team or be fired.