Sunday, June 09, 2013

Oilers send Krueger packing but is coaching the problem?

Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish was once again in the news on Saturday afternoon, announcing the club had decided to part ways with head coach Ralph Krueger. The rookie GM was all business during the mid-afternoon press conference but did sound a little uncomfortable in delivering the news...and who could really blame him.

Having been the Oilers bench boss for eight straight seasons, MacT was fully aware of Krueger not being given a legitimate shot to prove his worth as an NHL head coach. "I don't think this was in anyway fair to Ralph...this wasn't about being fair to Ralph. I mean it was a consideration in this, you always want to be as fair with your personnel and staff as possible, but this was about me making a decision where I thought it was the best decision for the betterment of the club".

To anyone that watched or listened to MacTavish deliver the news of  Krueger's dismissal, it was clear he was a a little rattled. There is no question he was and remains confident in making the call he did but having to relieve a guy that both he and the organization hold in high regard, wasn't easy. Mere moments after stepping up to the microphone to announce his decision to take the Oilers in a different direction, the rookie GM had nothing but kind words for his former coach.

"I want to acknowledge the tremendous commitment Ralph had to our players, staff and organization...through the three years he was here with us. As a former coach in this market, I fully understand the commitment necessary and Ralph unquestionably was 100% committed to the Edmonton Oilers. His passion and energy is amazing and we wish him nothing but the best as he moves forward in his very impressive career".

There was no ill will and the move had nothing to do with Krueger as a man or even as a coach and everything to do with the GM and head coach being on different wavelengths. It was pretty cut and dry. Their philosophies did not lineup...something MacTavish realized during his search to find a fourth member to add to the Oilers current coaching staff.

"During the process of me conducting those interviews, I recognized I was trying to add a coach that was more closely aligned with the way I wanted to run the team and less about supporting Ralph as the head coach of our team. It was at that point that I contemplated making the change, if in my opinion, I found the ideal fit for our hockey club".

The odd part in all of this, is no one yet knows who that "ideal fit" is. All signs are pointing towards Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins but there was no official announcement made during yesterday's press conference. Apparently, the only hold up is getting Eakins signature on the dotted line and probably working out some particulars. Such as who will be his assistant coaches, a question which MacTavish addressed during the presser.

"When we do name the head coach, that will be up to him to have those conversations with the current staff we have and I'm hopeful the current staff will be retained but that will be up to him". Meaning both Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger are sitting ducks. Could they be kept on board? Possibly but you would have to think, whomever is brought on board will want to be surrounded by "his guys".

At the end of the day, no one should be shocked by the move. More often than not, when a new general manager is brought into an organization, they bring in a new head coach. The difference with the situation in Edmonton, is MacTavish was promoted from within and already had a working relationship, to an extent, with Krueger. Unfortunately for the man behind the rise of the Swiss Hockey Program, he and his new GM could not find that comfortable working balance.

Regardless of who the Edmonton Oilers ultimately bring in to be their next head coach, the revolving door behind the bench has to stop. Since MacTavish left town following the 2008-09 season, Edmonton have had three different men behind the bench.

Thankfully, the Pat Quinn show lasted just one season, as Tom Renney took over the reigns in 2010-2011. The organization decided to remove Renney after a tough finish to the 2011-12 campaign and hand Krueger his first head coaching gig in North America in 2013. Apparently, that wasn't the answer either.

Out in this neck of the woods, many link Sam Gagner to what has become the Oilers seemingly never ending coaching carousel. During his six seasons in the National Hockey League, Gagner has had the "privilege" of being under the guidance of four different head coaches. Should #89 still be in Oilers silks come next season, it will be five coaches in seven years for the former sixth overall pick.

At what point does it stop becoming the fault of the head coach? Should the responsibility of what happens on the ice, not fall at the feet of management and the players?

Steve Tambellini already paid the ultimately price, losing his job prior to the end of the season and leaving MacTavish the job of picking up the pieces to the puzzle. Having that, this will be the first time the club has gone outside the inner workings of their current coaching ranks, to find a replacement, since MacTavish decided to walk away from his post behind the Oilers bench.

To this point, the players have had to answer for little and in certain situations, for good reason. That being said, Craig MacTavish seems poised to make some major noise from a player personnel standpoint this summer, which should help address the current roster's shortcomings. Meaning the time for players to start taking responsibility for the team's on ice results, has finally arrived.

The time for excuses are over.   

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