The Oilers' coaching picture became a lot clearer on Thursday. Two poorly-kept secrets were made official with the rehiring of Kelly Buchberger and the departure of Wayne Fleming. The surprise was in who was chosen to replace Fleming in the chain of command, namely Steve Smith. Several names of rearguards past have been raised with respect to the hole on the coaching staff where Fleming (actually, Renney) used to be.
I heard mention of Charlie Huddy, Don Jackson, and Jason Smith, but never a whisper of the elder Smith, who will always be remembered above all for the unfortunate own-goal that decided the 1986 Battle of Alberta. Smith rebounded from that catastrophic event to become one of the NHL's top defencemen in a terrific playing career that deserves its own post. (Next week, perhaps?) Smith's only NHL coaching experience came with the Flames way back in 1997-98 when he was an assistant under Brian Sutter. By the next year the native of Glasgow, Scotland had sufficiently recovered from a career-threatening neck injury to return to the ice. In recent years he has been a pro scout with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Buchberger, meanwhile, has survived the purge that claimed Pat Quinn and Fleming a year after he survived the purge that claimed Craig MacTavish and Charlie Huddy. While Bucky's coaching acumen has been widely knocked in the Oilogosphere, it's clear that Oiler management sees him as a developing young coach, who steps up a notch in the coaching staff's hierarchy. He certainly fits the mould of the scrappy fourth-liner who learned his hockey lessons at the school of hard knocks. Many NHL bench bosses have followed that path to coaching success, notably Bucky's first NHL coach, Glen Sather.
Besides being teammates and champions during the second half of the Oiler dynasty, Smith and Buchberger share an unusual distinction. Smith holds the franchise record for penalty minutes in a season (286 in 1987-88), while Bucky holds the career record for penalty minutes as an Oiler (1747). Would you like some jam on your crust?
It therefore seems appropriate that the Oilers re-upped Theo Peckham today, a young defender who puts the "crude" in "Oil". Peckham has played 31 games with the big club in various stints over the past three seasons, already putting 104 PiM on the board.One can only imagine Peckham will be one of Steve Smith's biggest assignments in 2010-11. Let's just hope Bucky isn't the one tasked with teaching Theo how to fight. (Not that he needs much help in that dept)
The Oklahoma City Barons, meanwhile, confirmed the hiring of Todd Nelson as head coach, as reported here and elsewhere yesterday. Gerry Fleming, previously Rob Daum's assistant in Springfield, will continue in that role under Nelson.