Back on Friday November 16th, general manager Peter Chiarelli made a desperate move when he traded away centreman Ryan Strome to the New York Rangers in exchange for veteran Ryan Spooner and it seems he was not done there as things continued to get interesting early on Tuesday morning.
That being said, after having served three-plus seasons behind the Edmonton Oilers bench, TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger reported on Tuesday morning that the 51-year-old bench coach had been relieved of his duties serving while also noting that sources were suggesting that Hitchcock, 66, would be taking over to fill his role for the season’s remainder.
As the story continued to develop, Dreger mentioned the fact of which details were in the midst of being worked on while then confirming a moment later that the transaction of leadership had been confirmed by the organization.
Sportsnet NHL Insider John Shannon was next to jump in on the early morning news while re-iterating the change in Alberta’s capital to guide Connor McDavid and the Oilers. Dreger then hopped back on the story mentioning that Hitchock’s status as head coach will be re-evaluated at the season’s end.
Shannon then brought it all to a close in noting that Hitchcock would remain the team’s head coach through to the conclusion of the 2018-2019 season while adding on that the two sides agreed to the end of season evaluation to decide if he was the right man for the job to stay put for the foreseeable future.
With this move now officially under wraps, McLellan becomes the fourth head coach to be let go in the NHL, following directly in the footsteps of Mike Yeo who had been let go by the St. Louis Blues just a matter of hours earlier.
That leadership change came as a result of the Blues getting shutout by the Los Angeles Kings by a final score of 2-0 while it was then announced that Craig Berube would take over as interim head coach. Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic St. Louis then reported that Larry Robinson would be added on for the foreseeable future while John Shannon jumped in to note that he would be an aid of support on the team’s bench.
Back to the losses of head coaches so far this season, both John Stevens and Joey Quenneville have also fallen victim to getting fired as both the Chicago Blackhawks as well as the Kings were also struggling to open the season.
Turning the attention back to the sudden transaction in Edmonton, Sportsnet notes that it came as a result of a poor run that has seen the Oilers lose six of their past seven games. This of course includes a pair of tough results this past weekend against the Calgary Flames and Vegas Golden Knights.
Taking a look now at McLellan’s Oilers tenure as a whole in it’s entirety, the Canadian NHL bench coach was hired in May of 2015 and has since racked up a record of 123-119-24 in 266 regular-season games. Prior to joining the Oilers organization, McLellan spent seven seasons with San Jose Sharks where he led the team to six playoff appearances and three division titles.
In looking deeper at the time in which he has served with the Edmonton Oilers, outside of a trip to the post-season in 2016-17, McLellan’s time with the team has been generally viewed upon as a disappointment given the talent the team consists of, most notably Leon Draisaitl as well as captain Connor McDavid.
A press conference was held at Rogers Place at 11:30amET on Sportsnet.ca to address the media with regards to the transaction and in a statement from Peter Chiarelli addressing the transaction, he said, “Obviously we’re in a rough patch here. We’re leading into American Thanksgiving. It’s a bit of a template for making the playoffs. I felt I was seeing some things that I had seen last year after not seeing them for quite a fair bit this year, and these recurring themes, I wanted to nip them in the bud.”
Furthermore, Chiarelli would go on to say, “I’m certainly not absolving myself of any responsibility on the player personnel (side). This isn’t just an indictment of Todd or the players. This is a collective thing and it’s our job to get to the playoffs, We owe it to our fans, and I felt this was the right move for it.”
Connor McDavid was next to speak out when he said to the media, “It’s tough to pinpoint what we need, but we’re all to blame here. This obviously isn’t on Todd at all. It’s on us as players. That’s just how the business works sometimes. We got to wake up here.”
Forward Kyle Brodziak, who has played under Hitchcock once before, was next to speak and in talking about the adjustment that will have to be made as well as the addition of Ken Hitchcock, the St. Paul, Minnesota native said, “It’s definitely going to be tough. It’s always an adjustment. Guys will have to get used to different styles. Hitch is a hard coach, He’s going to be tough on guys and demand a lot. We have to be ready to produce and face the music for sure.”
In looking at Hitchcock’s career served as a bench boss in the NHL, the 66-year-old announced his retirement back on April 13th after a 22-year coaching career which included a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars back in 1999.
That, however, was only one of two stints with the Stars organization as he would end his storied career there after being let go by the St. Louis Blues in February of 2017. He has also seen time coaching the Philadelphia Flyers from 2002 through to 2006 as well as the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2006 to 2010 which was followed by his time with the Blues from 2011 to 2017.
Taking a look at some of the accomplishments for his career, Hitchcock currently has the third-most wins in NHL history with an overall record of 823-506-88-119 (.603 winning percentage), behind only Scotty Bowman (1,244 wins) and Quenneville (890). Hitchcock, a native of Edmonton, AB, has also guided teams to eight division titles and twice to the best record in the NHL. Hitchcock is also a recipient of the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach in 2011-12 when he oversaw operations on the ice in St. Louis.
In a statement from the head coach himself, Hitchcock said in a statement, “It’s not going to change overnight, but we can start taking some steps. I told the players today I can take them to a place personally that they can’t get to themselves, but they’ve got to buy into that, and it’s not going to be comfortable at times.”
In looking back at his days with the Blues, St. Louis made the playoffs in each of Hitchcock’s five full seasons with the club and reached the Western Conference finals back in 2016. A year later, Hitchcock was fired, cutting the final season of his contract short, making it possible for him to make the return to Texas with the hope of getting the Stars back to the playoffs, however, a late-season slump kept them out for the second straight year and the eighth time in ten seasons.
Upon his retirement in April of 2017, Hitchcock had said he was retiring for good but has since had a change of heart when the opportunity to coach his hometown Oilers came up with the open coaching slot.
Hitchcock does have prior experience with Chiarelli after serving under him as head coach on Team Canada in 2014 while he has also had the pleasure of coaching several players on the roster, essentially making for a variety of strong suiting factors for the position.
Hitchcock has also mentioned the excitement to coach the 21-year-old McDavid, who has won the past two scoring titles and currently looking to add on a third. Further to that regard, Hitchcock said about McDavid, “He’s an awesome player. But he has an awesome responsibility. It’s not just scoring goals and getting points and stuff like that. He sets the competitive tone of the hockey club. I can really help him. I’ve been through some really good players who learned to adapt and do those things. I can help him along there and get him to understand what his responsibility is because he’s carrying too much of the burden and he needs to lighten the load a little bit.”
Left-winger and alternate captain Milan Lucic was next to speak when he said about Ken Hitchcock, “He’s always had very good defensive teams. We need to come together as a group no matter who the coach is.”
In looking at the history of head coaches in Oilers history, Hitchcock becomes the seventh coach for Edmonton since the team fired Craig McTavish at the end of the 2008-09 season, following Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins, Todd Nelson and Todd McLellan.
Taking a look at where the Edmonton Oilers currently sit right now, the team is in sixth place in the Pacific Division while they are also ahead of only the Blues and the Kings in the Western Conference standings.
Prior to Tuesday night’s game against Erik Karlsson and the San Jose Sharks, the Oilers had lost six of their seven games played while getting outscored 27-11 in those losses, making for a rough start to McLellan’s fourth season behind the bench.
As Hitchcock heads into his second game with the team on Friday night in Anaheim, it becomes the fourth time in his long coaching career that he has been tasked with taking over a struggling team in the middle of the season while the Oilers were just 9-10-1 entering their game on Tuesday night in San Jose.
The Oilers have missed the playoffs in two of their previous three seasons despite a roster that they continue to build up for a future of success to come ahead.
The Oilers are back in action on Friday night against the Ducks when the puck drops at the Honda Center in Southern California. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00pmPT while it can be seen on Sportsnet Ontario and Sportsnet One and heard on KLAA AM 830.