GM Ken Holland has been putting his stamp on the Edmonton Oilers for weeks and now he has his head coach. Dave Tippett, the veteran bench boss who won a Jack Adams Award with the Coyotes and won a pair of division crowns while helming Dallas, comes into town with a big job, but the experience and presence to make it work.
“The best chance for success is in a stable environment,” Holland said at the official press conference. “You gotta peck away. It’s a move at a time. I’m big on experience: There’s always choppy waters and you have to be steady on the rudder. It was important to have someone behind the bench who had been through the wars.”
Tippett, who had never coached in Canada (or played for a Canadian franchise during his NHL days), was excited about the idea of working in his homeland and he sees the potential in this Oilers squad.
“I come to a team that obviously has good pieces, lots of upside,” Tippett said. “Everybody talks about Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl; there are more pieces than McDavid and Draisaitl. There is lots to build on.”
There is also a lot of work to do. The best-case scenario is that Tippett can have a similar impact on the Oilers as Barry Trotz did with the New York Islanders this season, taking them from the worst defensive team in the NHL to the best. Edmonton finished tied for 25th in goals-against this season, so there’s obviously a lot of work to do in their own end (not to mention some fortifications in net). Even a marginal improvement in that category would do wonders for the Oilers’ playoff hopes and given that the organization is burning McDavid’s best years, the post-season is a must in 2019-20.
Tippett said he laughs at the notion that he’s a defensive coach, noting that he was originally hired by Dallas because of his power play work as an assistant coach with Los Angeles, but either way, he sees himself as a bench boss that works with what he has. In Arizona, there wasn’t much talent, but the Coyotes still had some success under Tippett by working together.
“No matter who you have on your team, you try to maximize the individual talents of those players,” he said. “That’s what I always try to bring to teams.”
Having said that, Tippett does have some structural philosophies on what Edmonton’s blueliners can do to help the team cause next season.
“You can’t play in this league without a five-man attack,” he said. “It’s not just with the puck – it’s hard to forecheck with just three guys these days. The defense have to be involved, you need support.”
Ask folks who have worked with Tippett before and they’ll tell you he is an inclusive coach who makes everyone on his team feel important. This is another crucial area for the Oilers, who are in the midst of trying to repair a broken culture. Remember CEO Bob Nicholson dumping on Tobias Rieder at a season ticket-holders meeting a few months ago? Not exactly the type of thing that makes a player feel welcome and important to a franchise.
While there will always be a question of whether a team should go with new blood versus the NHL recycling bin, Holland said that Tippett was always his leading candidate when he took over as GM nearly a month ago. The long list of candidates went 15-17 names, with only three or four lacking NHL coaching experience. Holland consulted with outgoing coach Ken Hitchcock during the process.
Tippett last coached in the NHL in 2016-17 with Arizona, but he has still been around the game. He recently had the opportunity to consult with Seattle’s expansion team, where he helped design facilities and the hockey operations department, though he made it clear he was never going to be the team’s GM. The fact Seattle’s start date got pushed back a season by the NHL also factored into his decision not to stick with that franchise.
Now, he has an opportunity to right the ship in Edmonton. It sure sounds like Tippett will have McDavid and Draisaitl on the same line next season and he definitely has the confidence of Holland. Tippett will also talk to all three current assistant coaches (Glen Gulutzan, Manny Viveiros and Trent Yawney) before reaching out to any other potential hires. In the past decade, the Oilers have had eight different head coaches (including Craig MacTavish on two separate occasions). Needless to say, success has not followed and the lack of stability is one obvious culprit. But the new guy is undaunted.
“I think it’s going to be a fun ride,” Tippett said. “There’s lots of upside to this team and I’m excited to get going.”