Former Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft may end up with the Senators

Jun 2, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft on the bench in the second period against the Colorado Avalanche of game two of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 2, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft on the bench in the second period against the Colorado Avalanche of game two of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Following his firing by the Edmonton Oilers, one prominent hockey journalist suggests Jay Woodcroft could end up being the Senators’ next coach in Ottawa.

The Edmonton Oilers have been on a roll of late, with a season-high four-game winning streak. While still having a losing record at the time of posting, things seem to finally be headed in the right direction.

Kris Knoblauch has done a good job since taking over as Oilers coach, with a 6-3-0 record through his first nine games in charge. However, there is understandably still a strong sense among some fans and media, that the organisation fired Jay Woodcroft too prematurely.

Yes, there’s no denying the team had started the season terribly under Woodcroft, going just 3-9-1 before he was let go. The team was not performing well, highlighted by horrific defensive play.

The players just couldn’t adapt to Woodcroft’s attempts to implement a defensive zone scheme. This contributed significantly to the team’s overall poor results on the ice.

However, something just didn’t seem right about firing the 47-year-old, who easily had the best winning percentage for a coach in team history. Who was coming off a season where he led the Oilers to 50 regular season wins for the first time since 1986-87, with the highest-scoring team in the NHL.

Now this can of course be countered by the reality that the Oilers appeared broken and, despite the players saying otherwise, that Woodcroft had lost the team. Regardless, he hadn’t suddenly become a bad coach in the space of just 13 games.

As such, the majority of Oilers fans wished the Toronto native well, hoping that he would get another chance to coach somewhere else in the NHL. Now, that opportunity may be set to come sooner than later.

Ottawa calling?

In this respect, consider the comments of the Toronto Sun‘s Steve Simmons. In his latest Simmons Says column, he wrote:

"When he was with the Oilers, Steve Staios became a fan of coach Jay Woodcroft, since fired by Edmonton. Should Staios and owner Michael Andlauer determine a coaching change is necessary with the Senators, don’t be surprised if Woodcroft is the choice to replace D.J. Smith."

Staios has a special connection with the Oilers, who he spent the majority of his 16 seasons playing for in the NHL, between 2001-2010. He later returned to Edmonton as a special advisor to the club’s hockey operations staff, in Oct. 2022.

The 50-year-old only left his position as a special advisor, after the opportunity to become President of Hockey Operations with the Senators materialised prior to this season. Unfortunately for everyone concerned though, things are not going quite as planned so far.

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The Senators entered the 2023-24 campaign projected as a dark horse contender to make the playoffs, thanks in large part to a young and talented core. However, at the time of posting they are propping up the Eastern Conference with the fewest points, albeit having played at least two less games than everyone above them.

The situation hasn’t been helped, by having to relieve Pierre Dorion of his general manager duties at the beginning of November. The move was made as a result of an invalidated trade of Evgenii Dadonov, which led to the Senators forfeiting a first round draft pick in either 2024, 2025 or 2026.

What about the current coach?

As a result, Staios took over as interim general manager, while the organisation looks for Dorion’s permanent replacement. However, while this is all going on, you also have to wonder about the future of Smith as Senators coach.

Smith is in his fifth season as coach in Ottawa, and is coming off a season where the team went 39-35-8. However, he has an overall record of 129-149-32 at the time of posting, has yet to qualify for the playoffs, and is not Staios’ guy.

Now this does not mean the 46-year-old is at imminent risk of being fired. It’s still early, and the team did have their best campaign yet under him last season, coming within six points of a playoff spot.

However, expectations have been raised in Ottawa as a result of that playoff push, and have only subsequently intensified following a strong offseason. The pressure is on Smith to finally deliver.

With this in mind, you have to wonder how long the leash will be, before Staios decides enough is enough. Especially when he conceivably has a ready-made replacement in Woodcroft, ready to step in.

As much as there are no guarantees Woodcroft would even want the job, his familiarity with Staios certainly helps. He’s obviously no stranger to dealing with the pressure that comes with coaching in Canada in a hockey-mad market — although it admittedly isn’t as intense in Ottawa — and knows what it takes to lead a team to the playoffs.

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In addition, the temptation to help take a talented young team to the next level must also be enticing. Overall, there’s enough reasons to believe Woodcroft would be a good fit in Ottawa, and if he does eventually get the job, there will be plenty of people in Edmonton who’ll be happy for him.