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Where Do NHL Head Coaches Come From?


Yesterday afternoon Jason Gregor tweeted the rather interesting fact that nine of the 11 men who have coached the Oilers got their first chance to be a NHL head coach with the Oilers; only Quinn and Renney and been coaches elsewhere before coming to Edmonton. That's not something I'd ever thought of but given the frequency with which the Oilers have promoted assistant coaches to the position of head coach it made complete sense. Then I got to wondering where the other 29 NHL teams found their head coaches. You'll find the answer after the jump.

For those who might not immediately know these are the 11 men who have coached the Oilers in the NHL: Glen Sather, Bryan Watson, John Muckler, Ted Green, George Burnett, Ron Low, Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, and now Ralph Krueger. Eight of those 11 were an Oilers assistant coach immediately prior to taking the reins as the head coach. The exceptions are Sather who had coached the Oilers in the WHA the season before and came with the team when they joined the NHL, Burnett was the coach of the Oilers AHL affiliate in Cape Breton, and Pat Quinn was actually out of hockey before getting the Oilers heading coaching gig.

For those counting, only once in 34 seasons have the Oilers gone outside of the organization to find a new head coach. That isn't necessarily a good or bad thing, after all a lot of businesses prefer to to promote from within because you're hiring someone who is already familiar with your organization, but it certainly doesn't seem consistent with what the rest of the NHL has been doing recently. The following table provides a summary of the what the 29 other NHL head coaches were doing before getting their current coaching job:

Assistant with
the team
Head Coach of
AHL affiliate
1 5 23

Compared to the Oilers who seem to have a policy of promoting their assistant coaches only one other team in the league, the Columbus Blue Jackets, hired their current coach the same way; in fact more than 75% of current coaches came from outside the organization. Of course there is no magic formula for hiring the right coach and I can't say for sure that going outside the organization will result in a better hire for a team than promoting an assistant coach.

None of this makes the decision to hire Krueger good or bad. But it does leave me questioning the process that the Oilers to reach that decision. The Oilers took their time but don't seem to have interviewed many other candidates. Was Krueger really the right guy or was an organizational preference to promote from within in play here? I really hope the biggest plus under Krueger's name wasn't the best option out of him, Steve Smith, and Kelly Buchberger.