Despite a convincing victory last night, the Edmonton Oilers are making a surprising coaching move. They are expected to relieve head coach Jay Woodcroft of his duties, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. According to Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli, Hartford Wolf Pack head coach Kris Knoblauch will be named the next Oilers head coach.
The Oilers have now officially announced the moves, alongside one more change: Dave Manson is out as an assistant coach for the team, and legendary former Oilers blueliner Paul Coffey has been hired as an assistant coach in Manson’s place. Coffey was previously a senior advisor to the club.
A Zach Hyman hat trick lifted the Edmonton Oilers to a 4-1 win over the Seattle Kraken last night, though the team still sits second to last in the NHL with a 3-9-1 record. In a Stanley Cup-or-bust season, The Oilers atrociously bad start to the season—highlighted by the team’s dispiriting loss to fellow basement-dwellers, the San Jose Sharks— has now cost Woodcroft his job.
Per the Edmonton Sun’s Terry Jones, this move will be the fifth head coaching change of the Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl partnership. Of all the coaches to man the bench for McDavid and Draisaitl, its Woodcroft who has arguably had the most success.
Woodcroft rose from Bakersfield Condors bench boss to the big job in Edmonton, and posted a .643 points percentage across 133 games. That’s the highest in Oilers history, above even the .616 mark posted by legendary coach Glen Sather.
Woodcroft took the Oilers to the Western Conference Final in 2022, where they would fall to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. He lost to the eventual champions once again in 2023, dropping a hard-fought battle with the Vegas Golden Knights.
But with their season on life support, the Oilers needed to make changes in order to resurrect their Stanley Cup hopes. With no cap space to make trades, the easiest path to major change in Edmonton was via a coaching change, and the Oilers have now taken that route.
This is an attractive job due to the presence of the best player in the world on their roster, but there are some issues here. After this season, Draisaitl will have just one year remaining on his contract. If the Oilers fall well short of the playoffs this season, Draisaitl could reasonably question whether he’ll be able to win a Stanley Cup in Edmonton should he commit what is likely to be the rest of his prime years to the franchise.
McDavid has an extra year on his contract, so there will naturally be questions regarding his future as well, though the hire of his former agent Jeff Jackson as the team’s CEO of hockey operations position makes it more likely he’ll eventually reach a deal on a contract extension.
Those questions are all for the offseason and beyond, though. The Oilers have a more immediate problem to wrestle with: how are they going to revive their playoff chances in a season where they were viewed by many as a true Stanley Cup contender? Now with Woodcroft out, it appears the Oilers believe the first step to answering that question is a coaching change.
The choice of the next Oilers coach appears to be at least somewhat McDavid-oriented. Knoblauch was McDavid’s coach in the OHL with the Erie Otters, and he won an OHL title with the team in 2016-17. A two-time championship-winning coach in the CHL, Knoblauch, 45, is in his fifth season as the bench boss of the Wolf Pack.
He led the team on a run to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs last season, upsetting the favored Providence Bruins along the way. He leaves Hartford this season with a 7-3-1 record.
The New York Post’s Mollie Walker reports that Wolf Pack assistant coach Steve Smith will take up head coaching duties in the immediate term, although the search for the team’s next head coach will “begin immediately.” Smith is actually a former Oilers coach himself, having served as an assistant on three separate coaching staffs from 2010 to 2014.
Knoblauch hasn’t been an NHL head coach before, save for a short stint during the pandemic when health-related absences put him behind the Rangers’ bench due to necessity. But despite his lack of NHL experience, he was viewed as a contender for the Rangers’ vacancy before they hired Peter Laviolette. Now, he gets his first shot behind an NHL bench with some former players on his roster and an immediate, pressing task ahead: save the Oilers season.
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