Since Ken Hitchcock took over as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers back on November 20th, the team is 7-2-1 and back in the Western Conference playoff picture. The Oilers’ players seem to have embraced Hitchchock’s system and the veteran coach may be the author of a turnaround for a franchise that had been heading in the wrong direction for more than a year. Will that earn him an extension beyond his current interim role? TSN’s Darren Dreger thinks so, as he stated on the latest segment of “Insider Trading” that Hitchcock appears to be a long-term option for the Oilers. The 66-year-old was set to retire from coaching at the end of the 2016-17 season, back when he was with the St. Louis Blues, but was fired by the team before the end of the season. That made his hiring by the Dallas Stars in the following off-season even more surprising. After last season, Hitchcock again announced his “retirement”, only to join the Oilers when they called this season. Hitchcock doesn’t really seem to be committed to moving on from the game and Dreger believes that a winning season would leave Edmonton with little choice but to extend their new coach’s contract. Dreger adds that Hitchcock could wind up with a deal that would allow him to transition from the bench into a front office role if he so chooses, but doesn’t doubt that Hitchcock could continue to coach the team “well beyond this season”.
- One of the more evident changes under Hitchcock has been his trust in backup goaltender Mikko Koskinen, if backup is even the correct title anymore for the import keeper. After Cam Talbot started each of the Oilers’ first eight games of the season, Koskinen has received 13 starts to Talbot’s nine the rest of the way. Under Hitchcock, it has been seven games for Koskinen out of ten total. After shutting out the Calgary Flames last night, Hitchcock announced that he would stick with Koskinen again tonight when the Oilers take on the Colorado Avalanche. Admittedly, Koskinen has outplayed Talbot with a .929 save percentage, 2.06 GAA, and three shutouts – all among the league’s best marks – so the real test of Hitchcock’s trust in the “rhythm” will come when Koskinen begins to struggle. For now, the new coach and his new starting goalie are helping each other make a case for extended stays in Edmonton.
- Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug has been a name connected to the Oilers, through unconfirmed rumors and media speculation, for some time. It was believed that Boston and Edmonton were close to a deal that would have sent Krug to the Oilers at the NHL Draft this past June, while rumors of ongoing discussions continued through the summer. Edmonton could certainly use Krug, one of the most productive defensemen in the NHL over the past few years, and there is some level of familiarity with the player on the Oilers’ side in former Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. While they have leaned on Krug as the team fought through injuries early this season, the defenseman is also not as crucial a piece for the Bruins as he would be for other teams, with Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk representing future offensive threats on the blue line and Krug’s contract expiring after next season. As such, a hypothetical deal has some intrigue and Boston Globe beat writer Matt Porter re-ignited the discussion recently when he posited that the Bruins could potentially pry Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of Edmonton with a package of Krug and a young forward. As the idea picked up steam among fans, The Sports Hub’s Ty Anderson put an end to the possibility – possibly for good – with his report that the Oilers are in fact one of the team’s on Krug’s limited no-trade list, a clause that kicked in for the first time this season. So, while the Bruins and Oilers may make fine trade partners hypothetically, a Krug-to-Edmonton deal is unlikely to happen.