At 4pm local time in Edmonton, GM Craig MacTavish continued down the path of obliterating everything Steve Tambellini did in his entire tenure as Oiler GM outside of the first round of the NHL draft by dismissing Head Coach Ralph Krueger after only one abbreviated season behind the bench. A recording of the presser can be heard here.
MacTavish stated that he started a search for an experienced coach to come in and support Krueger, but during the search process, he came to the decision that he was looking for someone that was substantially different enough from Krueger that it made him re-think the decision to keep his current coach around for another year. The Oilers' GM noted that dismissing his coach after just one abbreviated season and no real training camp with which to implement his systems was unfair to Krueger, but that he had to do what he believed was in the best interests of the franchise going forward.
Well, That Was Unexpected...
There's a lot to talk about here, so before I get into the coaching situation, I'll briefly touch on MacTavish. I've said it multiple times now, and I won't formulate a strong opinion before I see what the roster looks like in September, but MacT is trying really hard to make me love him, and I think it is working. Beyond saying all the right things about what he wants to do with this team, he's basically trying to rid the organization of every shred of Steve Tambellini's legacy outside of what the team gained through the draft as a result of Tambo's futility. There's pretty much no better way to earn my approval. I consider his actions an unspoken admission that Tambellini was an indecisive disaster as a GM and that MacT was as upset with the former GM as many of the fans were. I could be wrong, but every move or statement he has made so far appears to indicate a distinct change in course and philosophy, and I've loved every second of it so far. The major work has to be done over the next 8 weeks or so, so I'll see how I feel after that, but for now, I'm more optimistic than at any point in the last 5 years.
What Was Wrong With Krueger?
Getting to the issue at hand, if you happened to swing by any of the game threads this past season, even as early as 5-10 games into the year, you'll know that there were many Copper & Blue staff who have been less than enthused by Krueger's in-game decision making. Derek Zona and myself perhaps being chief among them. Krueger's refusal to line match effectively and his bizarre deployment of his 4th line in situations where they were in far over their heads are the easiest two examples to point out as they were recurring causes of frustration throughout the year.
At the end of the season, Derek systematically took apart the weaknesses in Krueger's defensive zone system in a really terrific piece. To play devil's advocate, fellow Oiler blogger and a mind I have a lot of respect for, Tyler Dellow, took up the cause of defending Krueger late in the season, and while I routinely find myself agreeing with Tyler's conclusions and inferences, in this case, possibly because my mind was already made up, I found myself undeterred from my personal opinion that Krueger was ineffective and his dismissal was something I had hoped for but not expected.
While I don't think anyone from the Oilers based their decisions substantially on what Derek wrote (though they would have been smart to read it), I can't say for certain whether another C&B contributor's work may or may not have factored, at least in some small way, into the decision to dismiss Coach Krueger.
As some of you may know, our own Michael Parkatti recently won the Oilers' "Hackathon 2.0" competition. Michael's work, as described here in the press release announcing his victory, used an analysis of line matching, zone starts and internal line composition to develop a method of correlating the effectiveness of coaching strategies related to those tasks to a team's placement in the standings. Obviously we are not privy to Michael's work and to think that the Oilers would dismiss a coach based on a winning submission to a fan contest is likely foolish, but MacTavish has admittedly accepted that there is much to be learned from analytics in hockey, and I don't think it is beyond reason that Michael's work made it's way across his desk and could have helped reinforce and doubts he had about his Coach. There's no way to know for certain as I doubt strongly Michael would know, nor would he be free to discuss it with us if he did, but Krueger was derided by many in the online community throughout the year for being ineffective in the exact areas Michael's work analyzes, so if nothing else, I think Mr. Parkatti's work would likely support the decision made by MacTavish today.
Who is Replacing Him?
Regardless of what may or may not have played a part in the decision, thankfully, it was made and Krueger is gone. The one downside to the situation that I will point out is that there is once again a lack of continuity for these young players. At some point, the revolving door behind the bench, which was another side show of the Tambellini disaster, has to end. I believe it will with the rumoured hiring of Dallas Eakins as the team's next bench boss.
My Sources strongly suggest Dallas Eakins will be Oilers new head coach, an announcement likely in the next few days. Krueger to be let go.— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) June 8, 2013
Dallas Eakins is among the pro hockey world's hottest coaching prospects who many were surprised did not receive a head coach position last off-season and that he was also looked over in favour of Randy Carlyle when Ron Wilson was fired in Toronto.
For a great profile of Eakins as a coach, check out this piece written by Jonathan Willis back in March of 2012. Eakins has done nothing but enhance his status in the coaching community since that time and was a rumoured candidate for the head coaching vacancies of the Vancouver Canucks, Dallas Stars and New York Rangers already this off-season.
Eakins has spent two years as an NHL Assistant Coach, a year as a Director of Player Development and the last four years as the Head Coach in the AHL, all with the Toronto Maple Leaf organization. He is heralded for his ability to work with and develop young players, he knows how to coach in a hockey market and deal with the media and his teams have had success in both the regular season and playoffs in recent years.
In each of his last two seasons, he's guided the Toronto Marlies to a division championship and top 2 seed in the conference. In 2011/12, the Marlies made it all the way to the Calder Cup Finals before losing to the powerhouse Norfolk Admirals. This past year, the team lost in the 2nd round to the Grand Rapids Griffins, who are currently playing for the Calder Cup themselves.
The hiring of Eakins is not final yet, as Darren Dreger stated on TSN this evening that there was a verbal agreement in place but that contract details were still being ironed out. Dreger suggested an announcement could be coming as soon as Tuesday to make it official.
Until then, the news is that Ralph Krueger is out as Coach of the Oilers and for some of us, that comes as an unexpectedly pleasant surprise.
Keep it up MacT.