News and notes on the Oilers: Woodcroft out, Knoblauch in

ST PAUL, MINNESOTA - OCTOBER 24: Head coach Jay Woodcroft of the Edmonton Oilers looks on in the third period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center on October 24, 2023 in St Paul, Minnesota. The Wild defeated the Oilers 7-4. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
ST PAUL, MINNESOTA - OCTOBER 24: Head coach Jay Woodcroft of the Edmonton Oilers looks on in the third period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center on October 24, 2023 in St Paul, Minnesota. The Wild defeated the Oilers 7-4. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /
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Edmonton Oilers Jay Woodcroft
May 14, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft looks on from the players bench during the second period against the Vegas Golden Knights in game six of the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports /

The Edmonton Oilers have made a lot of changes as of late, but is the team going to be better or worse. Also what else is going on in the organisation?

The Oilers finally at long last snapped their losing streak against Seattle on Saturday, but it was too little too late for head coach Jay Woodcroft who was immediately axed the day after the win.

I find this rather peculiar timing. You’d think a win would buy the head coach some goodwill with management and he’d keep his job and see how far he could take the squad, especially considering Woodcroft has been there, done that and coached the team out of losing streaks before.

In my opinion this was blatantly unfair to Woodcroft, and judging by the vitriol against the club on X, I’m not the only one.

It appears this was not an overnight decision as the Oilers immediately had a replacement in place, with Kris Knoblauch.

Knoblauch has come to light as the guy who was head coach for Connor McDavid on the Erie Otters at one time. After McDavid departed for the Oilers post-draft in 2015, he coached the Otters to the OHL championship in 2017. He then departed for Philadelphia to be an assistant coach there for two seasons, followed by his most recent stint as the head coach of the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack, the farm team of the New York Rangers, where his teams were essentially so-so.

While there’s nothing we can do now about Woodcroft anymore, let’s see what Knoblauch will bring to the table. As per the Edmonton Journal, the key quote is right here:

"“He teaches a culture of winning and speed and puck movement, but he empowers all the kids.”"

New CEO Jeff Jackson had this in mind from the start and his fingerprints are all over this move. I’m listening to the press conference as I write this and according to Ken Holland this was a joint decision between him and Jackson, but let’s just cut the BS and be honest – this is about Jackson bringing in anyone associated with McDavid to make him sign his last contract here and keep him happy. That’s not altogether a bad idea, but it is a bit unorthodox. As long as the guys perform then it’ll be fine, but let’s be honest – we’ve seen an element of nepotism in previous hires and it didn’t work out well for the club.

I think there’s an implication in that quote that Woodcroft wasn’t giving the young guys enough opportunity, which in my opinion is blatantly false. Woodcroft of late was playing Ryan McLeod and Dylan Holloway higher in the lineup, and Philip Broberg before being sent down, had a game on the second pairing which didn’t work out at the time.

James Hamblin right now looks like a bubble player at best so he’s not worth playing higher up in the lineup, and Raphael Lavoie is on his first call-up so naturally you don’t want to throw too much at him too fast – make sure he can handle the competition on the fourth line and then move him up as his play dictates.

The really strange part of this though is that the Oilers also fired Dave Manson and have replaced him with Paul Coffey, a guy who was a great player but only has coaching experience in the OJHL and that’s it – and it was as an assistant coach at that.

I get that Manson was in charge of the defence corps so you point the finger at him when they’re struggling, but the forward corps has been struggling as well, not just the defence. Yet neither Mark Stuart nor Glen Gulutzan got the axe. Gulutzan especially, as the power play set an NHL record just last season but has struggled this season as has the rest of the team. I’m curious as to why the defence corps coach was targeted, it’s very strange to me.

Coffey is an odd choice for a replacement to me. Not just because he has next to no coaching experience and not just because he’s a dynasty-era player, but because he was nothing more than an advisor to the owner and chairman, giving opinions to management on the direction of the franchise.

What qualifies him to be an NHL assistant coach at this point other than “he was a good player” which is no guarantee of anything? This is one of the strangest replacements I’ve ever seen in the history of the franchise. I really hope this is only on an interim, basis but there’s no confirmation from the team on that.

Didn’t Jackson learn what happened to Wayne Gretzky when he coached the Phoenix Coyotes? Just because you were a superstar player in the NHL, doesn’t mean you’ll be a superstar coach in the NHL. This just reeks of the same failure to me, but of course, I could be off base on this – my feeling is otherwise, though.

Woodcroft leaves the franchise with the best points percentage of any coach in franchise history, at .643 – yes, even more than Glen Sather, who was .616.