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

Thoughts on the Oilers: Winning; Goaltending; Player Assessment; Player Development

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Since beating the Flames on November 16th on Hockey Night in Canada, where they scored four unanswered goals in the third period, the Oilers have won four of their last five games. The winning has significantly reduced the number bogus rumors and there haven’t been any player agents stealing headlines during this stretch either.

But even though the memory of the three straight shutout losses at home are fading, the conference standings are still a harsh reality.

Vs. Nashville

Ilya Bryzgalov also got his first start as an Oiler, shutting out the Predators last night, and is likely to get another start tonight against the Blue Jackets. I typically don’t agree with starting goalies on back-to-back nights, considering Dubnyk is playing pretty well, but it’s a common decision by the coach to go with the mythical “hot hand”.

The Oilers played a pretty solid game last night as well. The improved scoring chances for and against by each line combination looked pretty promising, so hopefully they can play well in front of Bryzgalov again.

Player Assessment

It’s still pretty obvious that the Oilers lack the strong defensive play to compete in the western conference. It’s been the same story every year since the 2006 squad which included sound defensive players including Chris Pronger. For a while, I thought it was the coaching or gameplans that were at fault. But as the losing seasons pile up, you have to consider some deep rooted problems in the organization.

I’m beggining to wonder if it’s the Oilers assessment of players drafted and acquired that is a weakness here. Assuming that the Oilers have some sort of model or criteria to assess players, there might be some qualities the team is overlooking. Perhaps scouts aren’t looking at deeper performance measures and perhaps letting their biases take over. It’s hard information to uncover, but the on-ice performance and the lack of depth at the centre and defensive positions are enough to question team management.

Player Development

Another issue is how poorly the team has handled the development of its prospects in the past. Far too often, players have been rushed into the league, without the proper training and preparation. The best example of this is Sam Gagner, who was drafted in 2008 and made the roster when he was only 18.

I’ve always wondered what another season in the OHL and a season in the AHL could’ve done for Gagner. He’s a complete player, but I really think the pressure of playing in the NHL and not getting the right training early in his career has hindered his true potential.  Only in recent years have the Oilers established a solid farm league system, something that was missing when Gagner was drafted.

The Detroit Red Wings have always produced exceptional talent, and I think it’s in large part to their patience with prospects. Every player that gets drafted by the Wings typically completes a few years in juniors and then plays a season or two in the AHL. This included Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, who both played a few seasons in minor leagues prior to becoming the teams franchise players.

A related article over at The Hockey Writers concisely lists off how to ruin an NHL prospect, using Buffalo Sabres prospect Mikhail Grigorenko as a case study. In summary: rushing a player before they’re ready for professional hockey and setting him up for failure is a sure way to derail a hockey career.

Recommended Links

Five ways to run an NHL prospect – The Hockey Writers

Why goalies should almost never start back-to-back games – Broadstreet Hockey

Sam Gagner needs to step up his game to show he belongs – Edmonton Journal

Bryzgalov’s “Hot Hand” – 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