Thoughts on the Oilers: Managing coaches and coaching managers

pimg003Soon after MacTavish became GM, there appeared to a philosophical shift when it came to coaching and roster management. Not only was MacTavish revamping the entire roster, trading away Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky and Devan Dubnyk in his first year, but he appeared to be committed to having a strong coaching staff that could support long-term player development.

Bringing in Eakins was an excellent move. Eakins performed well at the AHL level. He was an outside voice. And most importantly, it was who MacTavish wanted. The four year deal given to Eakins signified the importance of stable coaching as well as MacTavish’s level of accountability.

And even after the Oilers’ horrific start last season, MacTavish stressed the importance of coaching continuity and stood behind the hiring of Eakins.

And I would say, absolutely, yeah. I love the coach. To me, he’s done a lot. There’s been a lot of heavy lifting for him. We’re going to have continuity of coaching going forward, which is going to make a big difference going into next year. It’s the same coaching staff, the same messaging. You know how disruptive it is to change coaches. We’re going to have this continuity of coaching. For me, this guy has got the right balance of supporting the players and holding them accountable. There’s an accountability that like. Source: Cult of Hockey (January 2014)

At the end of 2013-2014 season, Taylor Hall talked about the benefits of coming back next season to the same coaching staff.

I think that it’s huge. I know for myself personally I’m really looking forward to going into a year where you don’t have that awkward first handshake at training camp. You know what the coach is going to be like, you understand each other and most of all you understand the system that he’s going to employ. We’re going to have the majority of our team back and to have the same coach is going to be great. And I think that you saw this year with the start that we had, it wasn’t Dallas’ fault by any means, but getting used to a new coach is always a little bit tough. Source: OilersNation (April 2014)

Over the summer, Craig Ramsay and Rocky Thompson were brought in as assistants to replace Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger, both of whom appeared to be there for transition purposes. The coaching staff now had a long-time coach in Ramsay, and a player-development type of coach in Thompson. A good sign for Eakins and coaching continuity.

But after another horrific start, MacTavish held a press conference where he emphasized that coaching was under scrutiny and that the team had made improvements by bringing in new assistant coaches. Eakins still appeard to be safe, especially with Taylor Hall voicing his support for the coach just a week prior.

Regardless of the talk, Dallas Eakins was let go this week. It’s been blatantly obvious that he didn’t have a complete NHL roster this season and now it’ll  be up to another coach to somehow fix the club. Unless the Oilers improve their player evaluation strategy and allow every player to develop at the right pace (see Red Wings, Detroit), we’ll likely see the coaching carousel continue.

Speaking of Detroit and coaching, there’s a great article on Mike Babcock that has to be read by someone with the Oilers. Quick excerpt:

To be an assistant on Babcock’s staff you have to do one specific thing.

“I want you to have a new idea every day, and I want you to fight for your idea,” Babcock said. “I try to hire people that are going to bring change. I’ve got that right in their job description.”

It’s all part of Babcock’s R&D philosophy, something he’s famous for among his assistants.

Not only is the Oilers on-ice product miles away from the elite teams in the NHL, but so to are the overall management strategies. While the Oilers search for yet another head coach, other teams have long-term coaches tied in to the player development process who are also finding ways of developing assistant coaches.

Here’s hoping MacTavish can develop and commit to a long term plan that involves aligning a strong coaching staff with a roster development strategy. He had the right idea when he hired Eakins. He just needs that same approach to  enhance the scouting and player development. Sometime soon would be a bonus.

Recommended Links

Sing me back home – Lowetide

Bloody Fingerprints – Hockeybuzz

10 Lessons Everyone Can Learn from the Oilers’ Misery – Grantland

Advertisements

Thoughts on the Oilers: Defencemen, Rookies and Training Camp

10279542Welp. This hasn’t gone as planned.

Five straight losses to start the season. Three of which were against division opponents.

From what I’ve seen, this is a better team than last year. The goals against are coming from quick plays and bad turnovers. I haven’t seen a whole lot of running around in the defensive zone, which was prominent last year. And it was always after that running around the Oilers would get scored on. This year, there’s just been some horrible turnovers and sub-par goaltending that’s been to blame. But both of these things are fixable.

I’m still confident in the twelve forwards. Again, it’s not a deep lineup, especially at centre, but I think all four lines (for once!) are pretty decent. My only issue is the utilization of Draisatl on the second line. The club has got to do something about that to not only find a complementary player for Yakupov, but also give Draisatl a chance to develop properly.

I had confidence in the defensemen at the start, only because I assumed that Petry would be playing important minutes and the rest of the group would be legitimate NHL players. Instead, Petry has had his minutes reduced, including a healthy scratch, and the club has relied on guys like Schultz, Nurse (back to junior now) and Hunt (back to the AHL).

What this tells me is that the Oilers training camp did not go too well. There were injuries, but the coaches didn’t do enough of an assessment to confidently assign the right minutes and situations to the right players. We’re five games in to the regular season, and the club is only now starting to iron out their defensive roster.

I guess this is what happens when you’re coming out of a losing season and start to re-jig your defensive tactics. Coaches have to test out which players fit where and basically reacquaint themselves with the roster. Perfect example is benching Petry for guy like Hunt. The latter has a decent shot and can join the powerplay, but his overall game isn’t near the level of the former. Marincin, who stood out near the end of last season is only now getting in to the NHL roster.

I’d also be curious to know how much say the forwards have on who plays defense in key situations. I don’t understand how or why Schultz is playing more than 24 minutes when he’s having such a hard time playing without the puck. The guy is fantastic getting out of the zone, but still has trouble keeping up with rushes from the opposition. He’s still developing, and really should be deployed more efficiently.

Regardless of the poor start, there’s ample time to turn this around and get some wins. There has yet to be a game where the forwards, defensemen and goaltending all played a decent game as a unit. Now that the defense is looking like somewhat of an NHL roster with the promotion of Marincin, the goaltending should improve.

Recommended Links

Gregor: Draisaitl’s development likely better in junior – Edmonton Journal

Mirtle: Blame bad luck, goaltending for Oilers early mess – Globe and Mail

Same time next year – Lowetide

Thoughts on the Oilers: MacTavish on goaltending and coaching

Source: Calgary Sun

Source: Calgary Sun

Oilers GM Craig MacTavish provided some insight into the state of the Oilers in a recent interview with David Staples of the Edmonton Journal. The interview is broken up into four parts, the first of which can be found over at the Cult of Hockey.

Regarding goaltending, MacTavish revealed his hopes that one of his netminders would provide a “spark”, similar to what Jonathan Quick provided the LA Kings.

Quick developed. And he gave them the spark. He was the guy that gave them the spark that ignited that team. The team still has trouble scoring goals but they really were challenged back that year and it was all based on defence and the play of Jonathan Quick.

I find this point interesting only because LA, even though they were on the verge of a breakout, had some decent defencemen in front of Quick. Not to say that Quick isn’t an elite goalie. But I’d like to see how he would do playing behind the current defence core of the Edmonton Oilers. This also explains why MacTavish was after Jonathan Bernier, who was the backup in Los Angeles and developed in the same system as Quick.

MacTavish also provided strong support for head coach Dallas Eakins.

And I would say, absolutely, yeah. I love the coach. To me, he’s done a lot. There’s been a lot of heavy lifting for him. We’re going to have continuity of coaching going forward, which is going to make a big difference going into next year. It’s the same coaching staff, the same messaging. You know how disruptive it is to change coaches. We’re going to have this continuity of coaching. For me, this guy has got the right balance of supporting the players and holding them accountable. There’s an accountability that like.

Even though Eakins is struggling this year, I think it’s critical that they maintain some consistency behind the bench. I think by the end of next year, if things don’t turn around, MacTavish may have to make a change.

I was pretty skeptical about the Oilers hiring MacTavish. The optics were just terrible as another former player was getting the job based on their alumni status rather than their professional credentials. But since his hiring, MacTavish has completely re-done the roster through some excellent, simple, trades and free agent signings. I really do think the team is heading in the right direction and feel a lot more confidence in him over Steve Tambellini.

Highly recommend the entire interview over at Cult of Hockey.

Recommended Links

Did Craig MacTavish Move Ladislav Smid to Calgary Just in Time? – OilersNation

Simple Concepts – The Copper and Blue

 

Thoughts on the Oilers: Coaching Stability; MacTavish; Quick Wins

Source: The Leafs Nation

Source: The Leafs Nation

Another home, shutout loss this week, which leaves the Oilers at 4-14-2. This team looks to be on pace to reach some all time lows. Brutal.

Coaching Stability

At this point, it would make little sense to fire Dallas Eakins. I agree that if this were any other team, a coaching change would be made. But the Oilers have gone through enough coaches over the past few years, that this would only add to the instability behind the bench.

The Detroit Red Wings, one of the most consistent franchises in professional sports, have always stressed the importance of stability both at the player and management level. Since 1993, the Red Wings have had four coaches. The current coach, Mike Babcock, has been there since 2005.  The Oilers on the other hand have had 10 different coaches since 1993. Eakins is the fifth Oilers head coach since 2008. Factor in the assistant and off-ice coaches, and you have way too much instability for young players to develop.

Think it’s important to remember how each coach brings different tactics, practice plans, etc., and that players always need time to adjust. I’m not defending the horrid start, it really is unacceptable. But a coach does need time to prove what they’re capable of. Too often, the needs of the team are trumped by what the fans want. It’s a difficult balance, but in this case it’s a better decision to let Eakins work things out.

MacTavish

The GM did an excellent job yesterday taking attention away from the struggling roster and coaching staff by holding a press conference. Really, there’s nothing new to report, but he sparked a  ton of useless content regardless. Everything that he said was already known: the Oilers were trying to land a defencemen at the 2013 Entry Draft; future picks will be used to get roster players, likely a defenceman; and this team is terrible defensively.

Oilers vs Flames on Hockey Night in Canada

If fans are agitated by the horrible start, I can’t imagine what a loss to the Flames this weekend will do. This is one of those games that the Oilers can win to calm the angry mob, mainly because it’s Calgary and it’s on Hockey Night in Canada. Doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things but it’s one of those “quick wins” that would appease the fans for a day or two. 

Recommended Links

The Detroit Red Wings and How to be Successful in the Long Run – Forbes

Wings GM Holland says stability, patience key to building winner – Windsor Star

Why firing your coach in a rebuild is nonsensical – Yahoo! Puck Daddy

The Coach – OilersNation

Thoughts on the Oilers: Coaching; Captains; Goaltending; and Bad Information

oilers-jets-oct1

Source: Edmonton Journal

When the Oilers season started, I expected the team to chase a final playoff spot. The acquisition of David Perron and the signing of Boyd Gordon and Andrew Ference was a clear indication that the club wanted to compete for a playoff spot, rather than continue developing players.

Fourteen games in, the team has only three wins. They’re playing much better than last year, but the standings aren’t really reflecting that. It’s tough to be optimistic about their chances of making the playoffs, since they’ll need to win more than 60% of their games the rest of the way. It’s definitely possible, but they’ll need a lot of things to go right. Here’s hoping Coach Eakins can turn this club around and get rewarded with wins for their effort.

A few thoughts on the Oilers season thus far.

Coaching

I think the hiring of Eakins as a coach was a great sign that the team was ready to evolve. He has the experience and tactics that could potentially make the team better. What I don’t quite understand is the value he places on fitness. NHL players are typically in great shape already and I know they´ve been getting help from the dhea clinic on trello for their supplements. So I’d think if any of them needed motivation to stay fit, they would be influenced by their own social network.

I’d also be interested to hear Eakins tackle some more challenging questions from the community, such as the ones posted by the crew over at Copper & Blue.

Captaincy

Captains are typically veteran guys that do well with the media, remain heavily involved in the community and serve as a conduit between the coaching staff and the players. Really,  I think 95% of NHL players could potentially be captain, or an assistant. So when a captain is announced, I don’t quite understand the opinions and analysis by fans. In the end, there really is no correlation between the type of captain a team has and the number of wins the team gets.

Goaltending

This is one position that I admire, but don’t value as highly as others. Goalies are just impossible to predict. One season, they’re great. The next, they’re duds. Some goalies are amazing prospects who falter. Others don’t quite mature until late in their careers or after extended seasons overseas.

It never is a good idea to select a goalie early in a draft, which is exactly what the Oilers did selecting Devan Dubnyk in 2004 with a first round pick. Luckily for the Oilers, Dubnyk has developed fairly well and is the clear cut starter for the team. His stats are pretty good, putting him in the middle of the pack of all NHL goalies.

Because of his horrendous start, he’s faced a lot of criticism, most of which is deserved. He has turned it around recently, looking to get back into being the player we expected. Unfortunately, there’s been an endless amount of speculation that the Oilers will replace him with another goaltender, most of whom have similar stats to him or are worse. I understand the desire to go out and get better goaltending. But I think critics are losing sight of the fact that all goalies go through funks, regardless of their draft pedigree.

Bad Information

There is an endless amount of junk information pertaining to hockey. And it gets even worse when the team is struggling on the ice. Case in point: the rumour that the Oilers were willing to part with Nail Yakupov, the number one pick in the 2012 draft, for Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller. At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss because of the salaries involved and the fact that Miller is set to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Yet this rumour grew and morphed into a beast that made its way on to every major news network. It was especially frustrating to read the negative, unwarranted criticism Yakupov was receiving. Forgotten was his rookie season last year, when he led all rookies in points. The focus has now became his attitude and if he becomes a bust.

Recommended Links

So What Happens Now? A Template for the Rest of the Season – The Copper and Blue

Blame Steve Tambellini – OilersNation

“My bad.” Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins admits a mistake with “swarm,” tries to correct it. – The Cult of Hockey