After the smoke cleared from one of the most tumultuous weeks in Edmonton Oilers’ history, it’s evident that Oilers CEO of Hockey Operations Jeff Jackson is fully in charge of the hockey club. The Oilers disposed of head coach Jay Woodcroft and assistant coach Dave Manson on Sunday, Nov 12 the night after they turned in a solid performance in a 4-1 victory over the Seattle Kraken. Woodcroft was replaced by Kris Knoblauch and Manson’s replacement is former Oilers great Paul Coffey.
Social media accounts, especially X, were full of mixed reviews on the move with some fans saying the whole situation left a sour taste in their mouth. The move and the hastily called news conference to announce Knoblauch’s hiring clearly revealed that Jackson is now the main decision maker in the organization when it comes to the on-ice product and not Oilers general manager Ken Holland.
Hockey Is A Business
I liked Woodcroft and Manson and wish both of them well, and I know based on their performance in Edmonton they will get another NHL opportunity somewhere else. The way the situation went down this past week in Edmonton left me thinking that sometimes it’s not a game, it’s also a business. A cold-hearted one at times. I’m reminded of a quote from NHL Hall of Fame goaltender Ken Dryden, “…Nothing is as good as it used to be, and it never was. The “golden age of sports,” the golden age of anything, is the age of everyone’s childhood…”
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This quote helped put things into perspective for me this week. I had a good friend, who is closely connected to the McCrimmon family in Plenty, Saskatchewan, remind me that new Oilers coach Knoblauch is a good guy from Saskatchewan. That’s true. Knoblauch is a former University of Alberta Golden Bear with close connections to Edmonton. He’s also deserving of this opportunity to be a head coach in the NHL. However, in a perfect world, you wish it was under different circumstances.
Jackson and Holland Had Conflicting Stories
At the Nov. 12 press conference, Jackson and Holland each had a different take on how things went down with the Woodcroft dismissal. Holland mentioned, “I have talked this past week with some of the veterans on our team.” While Jackson said, “We didn’t consult with the players on this decision.” Holland has a reputation for being patient with coaches, and based on his history, might’ve wanted to stick with Woodcroft for a bit longer.
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Jackson meanwhile is accountable to Oilers owner Darryl Katz, and with the team in a win-now situation, a 5-10-1 record for a supposed Stanley Cup contender is unacceptable. And when you lose 3-2 on Nov. 10 to the San Jose Sharks, the worst team in the NHL, something had to be done besides sending goalie Jack Campbell down to the Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League (AHL). The coaching move clearly showed that Jackson is in charge of personnel decisions regarding the Oilers. There’s no clearer sign that this is Holland’s last season as Oilers GM and he won’t be re-signing in the same position when his contract is done at the end of the 2023-24 season.
Some People Pointing Fingers at Connor McDavid
With the moves the Oilers have made over the past six months, many have wondered how much of an influence Connor McDavid has on the fortunes of the franchise. His former junior teammate from the Erie Otters, Connor Brown, was signed in the offseason, then his former agent Jackson was brought in as the new CEO of hockey operations, and now McDavid’s former junior coach, Knoblauch, is his NHL coach. Is McDavid the Lebron James of the NHL who heavily influences the moves the team makes? I don’t think so. I believe the piece that Mark Spector wrote about McDavid this week for Sportsnet. He mentions that his sources say that McDavid didn’t ask for Knoblauch to be the next coach of the Oilers.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
This is a clear indication that it was Jackson’s decision to change coaches based on his history and knowledge of Knoblauch. Based on the team’s performance in the games following the hiring of Knoblauch, it could be just what the doctor ordered to turn this season around for the Oilers. Unfortunately, it had to come at the cost of letting a couple of good guys like Woodcroft and Manson go.
The Pressure is Now Clearly On Jackson
Sports is an emotional escape for many people, and like other things in life, you need time to process and digest events like this. A couple of good men were fired. However, another good man was hired. If the Oilers can somehow climb back into the playoff race, and eventually go far in the playoffs, the coaching change will be considered successful and Jackson should be commended. He’s the captain of the ship now, and where the Oilers go will be determined by his hand. If they do go on to win the Stanley Cup, Jackson will be deserving of all the accolades that come his way. If they falter under his guidance, well…that’s another story for another day.