About Firing The Coach

Jonathan Willis
February 22 2013 12:43PM

Whatever Steve Tambellini ultimately decides to do to try and turn this struggling Oilers team around, firing the coach should not be an option at his disposal.

A Brief History of Tambellini’s Coaches

Photo: Steve Potter/Wikimedia

Ralph Krueger is the fourth coach of the Edmonton Oilers during Tambellini’s less than five-year old tenure as general manager, and the third one that Tambellini has hired himself.

When Tambellini took over the Oilers in the summer of 2008, he inherited Craig MacTavish. MacTavish, like most long-time coaches, was a favourite target of fans who perceived him to be the main problem with the team. The phrase “lost the room” started to hover around MacTavish’s name with the same frequency that “enigmatic” and “Russian” occur together in North American hockey writing. Whether such claims were fair or not, a disappointing 2008-09 campaign that saw the Oilers fall from 88 to 85 points was MacTavish’s last as coach.

To replace MacTavish, Tambellini hired Pat Quinn – a man he knew well from their time together in Vancouver during the early 1990’s. Quinn’s tenure was disastrous; the team fell to dead last in the NHL. After one season, Quinn was bumped upstairs to a “senior advisor” position and did not stay with the team when his contract ran out.

Quinn in turn was replaced by Tom Renney; like Quinn, Renney was another guy who coached in Vancouver during Tambellini’s time with that club. Additionally, Renney had served as associate coach under Quinn, so Tambellini had recent knowledge of his views of the team and coaching methods. Renney lasted two full seasons, but was dismissed after the 2011-12 team failed to meet expectations.

Ralph Krueger, Renney’s associate coach of two years, took over the team this summer. Owing to his time as an associate coach, Krueger represented yet another known quantity for Tambellini. The early results, despite Krueger’s impressive off-ice demeanor, have not been impressive; in a lot of ways it’s difficult to discern much difference between Renney’s team and Krueger’s team in terms of results.

Is Coaching The Problem?

In my personal opinion, with the exception of Quinn’s brief and disastrous term as head coach, coaching has not been the problem with the Oilers. There is, naturally, no such thing as a perfect coach but Craig MacTavish was a very good one. I didn’t like Tom Renney quite as much, but he was tactically astute. The jury is still out on Krueger, but I think it would be a mistake to lay this team’s problems solely on him.

When the word “disappointing” can be used to describe the results of a team under four different coaches in less than five full seasons, it gets awfully difficult to posit that a coaching change is going to make much difference. That’s because that kind of track record lends itself to only two possible conclusions: either the coaches aren’t the problem or all of the coaches have been a problem. In the first case, changing the coach does nothing; in the second, it’s pretty clear that the guy picking coaches doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Like I said, I don’t think the coaches have all been bad. In some ways, it’s like a vehicle – operator error can be responsible for a lot of problems, but sometimes a car or truck just needs to be recalled because the manufacturer did something wrong. In those cases, it’s not the fault of the guy driving the car, it’s the fault of the guy who made a mistake during the original construction.

That’s where the Oilers are at now. Three times in the last four seasons, the team has disappointed, and in all three cases the head coach lost his job as a result. There’s still time to salvage the 2013 season, but if it once again leads to disappointment it should be the general manager who pays the price.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 DSF
February 22 2013, 08:07PM
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Oiler Al wrote:

I think there is another Constant here.. Lowe. The buck stops at his desk. I also suspect that Katz, living in the 80 is using Lowe as his bum boy to build the dream team Katz thinks it should be. Might be a good business man, but he knows s....t about hockey.

Hard to build a winning team, when every other person is sharing a wiener.

This.

All day long.

The problem is Lowe...always has been.

That he now has a sock puppet doesn't mean he shouldn't wear the shambles the team is in.

As you say, that's where the buck stops.

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#52 pan0ramic
February 22 2013, 08:33PM
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Since Quinn, we've been the worst in the league (or near worst) in faceoffs and 5-5 goals. You can't win games like that.

I don't know if it's a coaching issue, a player issue, or a GM issues (i.e. not getting the right players).

I do know that Katz said he would spend the cap every year, but I haven't seen him do that.

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#53 Closetgm
February 22 2013, 10:21PM
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Firing the coach is not the solution. People have to start stepping up and putting the puck in the net. Take it to the net and hack it in if that's what it takes. I don't see guys doing whatever it takes to score. I will not hate on the oilers ever but some key players need to step it up. I like hall stepping up for his team. Even if he gets the suspension

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#54 Newj
February 22 2013, 10:54PM
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We aren't going to can Kruger, and so if we make an attempt at meaningful changes then either Gagner or Hemsky must go. We get a bag of pucks for either Horcoff, Potter, Smyth or Whitney. I really dont know what we could get for Harti, Paarjavi or Pettrel.

What if forbid we trade one of the fab 5?

Who's to go of them?

Yak? Havent had much time to assess him. Ebs? Gifted offensively but can be weak on backside presure RNH? Uncanny vision & playmaking but appears he could have injury riddled career. Hall? A thoroughbred with a big heart and legs but sometimes tries to do too much on his own. J Schultz? Again not a lot of time to assess but certainly shows big upside.

Who would be the biggest bait right now? If any of the fab 5 were traded?

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#55 Poolanov
February 22 2013, 10:56PM
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Look at what John Davidson did with St Louis. Now he's with Columbus, and watch them start to turn around. Thats the kind of President we need. Not Lowe and his gang of yesteryear.

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#56 Surrogate
February 22 2013, 11:42PM
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Coach Stauffer says to put Nail Yakupov back on his natural wing position. Left wing

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#57 GVBlackhawk
February 22 2013, 11:45PM
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Coach wrote:

At least baseball season starts soon, go Jays!!

I just arrived in Florida for spring training. Big expectations this year!

Re: the Oilers, some personnel changes are required. I would sell high on Gagner and/or Hemsky right now. The defense needs a major upgrade -- I thought that was required going into the season. Management needs to be changed because the results continue to be poor and the deficiencies are not being addressed. Lastly, certain players need to start playing up to expectations (Eberle, RNH, Smid, and Petry have been the biggest disappointments to me thus far).

And please, PLEASE do not add another rookie to the roster next season...even if it is the 1st overall.

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#58 Serious Gord
February 22 2013, 11:55PM
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A few observations:

1.

If the oil finish out of the playoffs and the leafs make it in (I like their chances and what Carlyle is doing with what he's got to work with), the oil will officially be the team with the worst record since the lost season nearly a generation ago. Take the manna from heaven that was prongers one year visit out and we are looking up from a deep well below even the islanders and Columbus.

That's how craptastically this team has been run...

2. When Katz became owner it was hailed far and wide as a good thing to have a rich sole owner. At the time I expressed doubts on stauffs show pointing out that for every Steinbrenner or jerry buss there were three or four Philip wrigleys (owner of the Chicago cubs from '32 to '77).

Wrigley was an owner who constantly fell in love with the inventory (the players) hanging on to washed up players like Ernie banks (Ryan Smyth) for far too long and letting several of those retired players mess up the management of the team.

I think it is becoming pretty obvious which group of owners mr. Katz is falling into.

3. But he can prove me wrong. That Krueger may not be the coach of the present or future remains to be seen - he strikes me as being a crystal therapist among physiotherapists - but the guy who fires him cannot be the guy who hired him or the three guys who preceded him. And the guy who fires the GM CANNOT be the guy who hired him. That there are people on this blog who think that plugging in yet another retired oiler from the glory days (Mactavish) is the answer amazes me (they deserve a wrigley-type owner)

So the change that is needed has to come from the very top. Katz has to fire Lowe and hire someone from outside his group of hockey friends. (Wrigley tried to do this by hiring Leo Durocher but he wouldn't give him a free hand to do what was necessary). If he instead leaves Lowe in place and plugs Mactavish in... Then we may be facing an ownership tenure not a whole lot different than that of the New York Islanders.

I despair...

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#59 The Real Scuba Steve
February 23 2013, 12:40AM
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moosewacker wrote:

I've always thought you have to give a GM at least 5 years but that clock is ticking down by the second. MacGM coming soon !

That may not be a good thing.

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#60 RSD
February 23 2013, 01:47AM
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Oiler Al wrote:

I think there is another Constant here.. Lowe. The buck stops at his desk. I also suspect that Katz, living in the 80 is using Lowe as his bum boy to build the dream team Katz thinks it should be. Might be a good business man, but he knows s....t about hockey.

Hard to build a winning team, when every other person is sharing a wiener.

If I didn't know any better you just described Charles Wang (owner NYI). A owner whom doesn't know sh1t about hockey and has sh1t-a$$ management running the team. If that's the case we, as fans are up sh1t creek without a paddle.

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#61 RSD
February 23 2013, 01:47AM
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Oiler Al wrote:

I think there is another Constant here.. Lowe. The buck stops at his desk. I also suspect that Katz, living in the 80 is using Lowe as his bum boy to build the dream team Katz thinks it should be. Might be a good business man, but he knows s....t about hockey.

Hard to build a winning team, when every other person is sharing a wiener.

If I didn't know any better you just described Charles Wang (owner NYI). A owner whom doesn't know sh1t about hockey and has sh1t-a$$ management running the team. If that's the case we, as fans are up sh1t creek without a paddle.

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#62 Woogie63
February 23 2013, 09:19AM
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IMO the coach has to;

1) define a style for the team to consistently play 2) define a role(s) for the players he is given to play

These two points need to work together to get the maximum out of the personal the GM has provided to the coach.

We are hearing;

Not enough size on the top 6

Ralph is choosing to be small in his top six, WHY NOT

Move MSP and Harti in to the top and coach them to banga little bit more. Right now we are even finishing a check. This move will push more talent onto the third line.

We are hearing;

Defense is weak .... Ralph is choosing for the defense to play a system that exposes the defensive weaknesses. Petry and Justin can move the puck effectively in the NHL the others can't. WHY NOT

Switch to a dump it out of the zone, or a dump and chase system vs. a control through the center ice system.

Not certain this coach is using the abundance of assets he has a his disposal.

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#63 Spydyr
February 23 2013, 10:02AM
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Perhaps Lowe and Burke should meet up in a barn somewhere.No holds bared ,choke holds, eye gouging, gonad kicks all allowed.Winner takes all.Control of the mighty Oil.

In all seriousness the plan is not for the team to be good this year.

That being said there better be a big house cleaning this off-season.Out with the old and slow in with the young and larger.

The plan is to be a contender when the new barn is ready.

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#64 nunyour
February 23 2013, 10:32AM
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Todd wrote:

This makes no sense. They aren't having cap issues, so bad contracts has less than zero to do with anything. I suppose its Horcoffs fault because he makes 5.5 million too.

If Tambo had the balls to do something (or the skills) he is not handcuffed by anything but his own incompetence.

these 5 mil a year players are suppose to be the teams core,and proved leadership,not the young guys.but going into next summer with 20 mil for ufa's might be fun to watch,minnesota did it last summer landing suter and parise.

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#65 Release the Hounds
February 23 2013, 10:54AM
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What I cannot understand is how a hockey legend like Kevin Lowe, who was so instrumental in winning 6 Stanleys in his first 14 NHL seasons, would "forget" what it took to win those championships. If anyone should know the recipe for ultimate success in the NHL, it is Kevin Lowe. This is a guy that was tough as nails who played playoff games with broken ribs and some with a broken wrist.

Too bad that formula was lost over the years and has not been shared with the teams Mr. Lowe has built since becoming top dog.

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#66 vetinari
February 23 2013, 11:36AM
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Release the Hounds wrote:

What I cannot understand is how a hockey legend like Kevin Lowe, who was so instrumental in winning 6 Stanleys in his first 14 NHL seasons, would "forget" what it took to win those championships. If anyone should know the recipe for ultimate success in the NHL, it is Kevin Lowe. This is a guy that was tough as nails who played playoff games with broken ribs and some with a broken wrist.

Too bad that formula was lost over the years and has not been shared with the teams Mr. Lowe has built since becoming top dog.

Being a "winning" hockey player is one thing; being a "winning" hockey manager is another. They take different skill sets. In Lowe's case, as a player, he was responsible for his job on the ice while someone else managed the team and acquired the talent. Now he is the one (partially) responsible for acquiring the talent and he lacks either the ability to identifiy the talent or the ability to acquire the talent.

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#67 Release the Hounds
February 23 2013, 12:18PM
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vetinari wrote:

Being a "winning" hockey player is one thing; being a "winning" hockey manager is another. They take different skill sets. In Lowe's case, as a player, he was responsible for his job on the ice while someone else managed the team and acquired the talent. Now he is the one (partially) responsible for acquiring the talent and he lacks either the ability to identifiy the talent or the ability to acquire the talent.

And that is my point exactly. Someone with as winning a record as Lowe should know what team skills are needed to win and build a team accordingly. It's not like he fluked-out by being on one cup winner. He was part of a dynasty. But he seems totally clueless when it comes to identifying/acquiring the diverse pieces needed to win! WHY?

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#68 oilcan
February 23 2013, 02:02PM
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a third of the way into the season is a reasonable time to make accessments...the GM Coach and players are accountable...not good enough...there are 5 players that are core players...untouchable...start there ...make some moves..the coach seems a little one dimensional....a coach needs to make adjustments..be creative ...find some chemistry..he hasnt delivered.period.

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#69 NewAgeSys
February 23 2013, 10:00PM
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The system itself is flawed and always has been, if you follow the NHS it is called an adjusted hybrid. It is a long explanation, lets just say that the combonation of reliance on a set play defensive schematic and the blending in of a creative transitional o-zone entry presents some unique coaching challenges that are exaberated by the huge volume of data exchange required to run and adjust the system ,the large data volume is due to the unusual blend of styles which are where the name adjusted hybrid comes from, it isnt a strict set play system or a set transition system it is a blend of both.

As the OP so perfectly outlined in this great article, we have looked under every rock and in every nook and cranny for the problem that is ailing us,now its time to look back in history and do a full blown forensic cold case investigation on the murder of our Dynasty system. There never was a way to avoid this moment in time, this system we now use is DOOMED. And those who preserved it like King Tuts left stone are about to see it replaced, the Oil-luminatti are being replaced slowly but surely. This system is one that can provide competative results with all cylinders firing, but never greater than competative without losing defensive integrity, and with a huge investment of energy and synergy.

The adjusted hybrid system forces the coach to ask all players to provide a baseline defensive structure as the main system core value which is onerous, it severely limits the ability of players to be creative and still maintain system integrity. This baseline defensive expectation handcuffs the coach and forces him to gravitate to his more experienced savvy NHL players who can process a huge volume of data and make more adjustments onice than in a normal system, we always see an attrition of our young skill players because of this forced dynamic, it is caused by the system not the coach and it shuts down players who cannot keep up to the cerebral pace of adjusting, normally the rookies.

Tonight we shut down their offensive transition first and then we adjusted our forcheck and forced them to use an upspeed tactic as a system pressure relief valve instead of the stretch pass to execute their d-zone exits, these two critical adjustments forced the dynamic and allowed us to retake momentum and forced them to play a reactive game instead of a proactive game. Excellent coaching of the adjusted hybrid.

We can win with this system how it is but it will be exactly the same dynamicly as if we used the trap because an adjusted hybrid is just an offensively activated trapping system designed in large by Mac-T to make less talented rosters competative at the NHL level, we have outgrown this system. The Oilers organisation didnt even hear the crack of the gunshot that dropped their system of play in its tracks, now someone needs to tell them its time for the burial because things are starting to get ripe.

No need to hang the Coach or start a firesale of players or bench anyone else, this is strictly a system incompatability issue, we have been dominant with this system and shown we can make it work , we just need an adge to maintain its performance levels, the adjustments with this system are frenetic and numerous over 60mins moreso than any other system out there, we picked the Honor |Roll system. So if we all decide we need to make some choices and changes , cant we all step back for a second and consider the positives of a system change? It may be exactly what we have needed for many many years here.

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#70 dale clackett
March 01 2013, 09:02PM
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the oilers are a young team but are not playing the kind of hockey they are capable of achieving because of a head coach who just will not let them play their game. I think they should fire Ralph's ass and get a coach with some NHL experience.I'm sick of seeing almosts.

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#71 EvilTed
March 04 2013, 09:53AM
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If this play quality and especially the wins dont come and the team is sitting in 25th place (around there anyways) with 10 games to go, I fire Ralph and bring in Todd Nelson from OKC as an interim for the balance of the season. Understandably the guys who played in OKC during the stoppage lit that league up but much more importantly they seemed to be having a ton of FUN playing for Nelson. I would give it a shot, there is literally nothing to lose.

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