Dave Tippett

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Same old questions remain for Oilers

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Edmonton Oilers.

Pondering three important questions for the 2019-20 Edmonton Oilers.

1. Who will help Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl?

Our Joey Alfieri already touched on this when he looked at the Oilers’ depth scorers being under pressure to produce more, but this really is the single biggest question facing the Oilers this season. Just as it was last year. And the year before. And the year before that.

Unless James Neal finds a time machine and goes back to his age 26 or 27 seasons, or the team figures out a way to salvage the development of Jesse Puljujarvi before it sends him away for some magic beans it’s hard to see where this improvement comes from.

How top-heavy has the Oilers’ lineup been over the past two years? Some numbers for you.

  • With McDavid and Draisaitl on the ice together during 5-on-5 play the Oilers have outscored teams by an 88-67 (plus-21) margin and controlled more than 52 percent of the shot attemepts.
  • With only ONE of them on the ice the Oilers have been outscored 136-115 (minus-21) and controlled only 49 percent of the shot attempts.
  • With NEITHER of them on the ice the Oilers have been outscored 151-106 (minus-45) and controlled just 48 percent of the shot attempts.

When their top two players are not on the ice the Oilers are playing at the level of an early 1990s expansion team.

It is appalling to have what might be the best offensive duo in the league and still be so far away from the playoffs.

Does acquiring James Neal in a swap of bad salaries (in what should be an upgrade) and signing some cheap, reclamation project free agents do enough to help move the needle closer to the playoffs?

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure | X-Factor]

2. How will they stop teams?

Here is a set of numbers for you to ponder: 25, 25, 8, 28, 30, 30, 19, 23, 28, 30, 22, 26, 16

What are those numbers representing? They are where the Oilers have ranked in goals against (starting with this past season on the left and moving backwards) dating back to the start of the 2006-07 season. Average finish: 24th. The one outlier (the eighth place year) was when Cam Talbot pretty much stood on his head in net and was eventually run into the ground due to a ridiculous workload.

The Oilers are bringing back mostly the same cast of characters on defense that haven’t been good enough, and barring an unexpected miracle they don’t really have a goalie that should be a serious threat to steal games. Mikko Koskinen‘s contract looks to be a mess, while Mike Smith is coming off the worst season of his career and is entering his age 37 season.

This all seems like a tough recipe to make work.

Dave Tippett has a reputation for being a defensive coach (a reputation he doesn’t really seem to like) and is very respected around the league, but how much of an impact can a coach make with a thin defense and two massive question marks in goal? Even if McDavid and Draisaitl repeat their magic and they find some respectable second-line scoring can they actually stop enough teams for any of it to matter?

3. What changes will Ken Holland make?

Holland has two cornerstone players that are already among the best in the league and haven’t even hit their peak years in the NHL yet. It is a great starting point. That is the good news. The bad news is that even though he has McDavid and Draisaitl to start building around he still has what might be the most daunting rebuilding job of any general manager in the NHL. Not only because he has a ton of holes to plug, but because he has to deal with the pressure that is not wasting anymore of McDavid’s best years in the league.

In the past, the Oilers have tried to shake things up by dealing players that were once considered part of the core (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz). They not only failed to capitalize on those trades, but they have quickly run out of such players to deal.

Will Ryan Nugent-Hopkins be next? Oscar Klefbom? It seems to only be a matter of time until Puljujarvi gets moved.

No matter who it is, he is going to have to make significant changes to get this team out of its current situation.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Neal’s history with Tippett; Chiarelli in Wild GM mix?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• This can only end in disaster. (Edmonton Journal)

• Where are the 30 players taken in the Vegas expansion draft now? (Sportsnet)

James Neal‘s history with Dave Tippett is fueling optimism after his move to Edmonton. (NHL.com)

• The NHL salary cap is here to stay. (Featurd)

• Senators won’t be competitive until they prioritize talent over finances. (Sportsnet)

• Why the Toronto Maple Leafs should be Stanley Cup favorites. (Editor in Leaf)

• Lafreniere laughing all the way to the NHL. (Featurd)

• Are the latest Jake Gardiner rumors about the Montreal Canadiens? (A Winning Habit)

• It’s a made-for-Hollywood story, and NHL nails it with video showcasing Cup champion Blues. (St. Louis Today)

• Can you make a competitive lineup solely out of the Leafs’ draft picks? (Pension Plan Puppets)

Chris Kunitz reflects after announcing retirement. (Penguins)

• ‘I paved the way’: The story of Fred Sasakamoose’s historic rise to the NHL. (The Daily Press)

• Arizona Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson attacked by family dog, hospitalized. (AZ Central)

• The Andrei Vasilevskiy contract is risky business. (Raw Charge)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Oilers hire former Flames coach Jim Playfair as assistant

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — The Edmonton Oilers have hired former Calgary Flames head coach Jim Playfair as an assistant.

The move Friday reunites Playfair with Dave Tippett, who was hired as Edmonton’s coach in late May. Playfair also served as an assistant to Tippett at Arizona from 2011-17.

Playfair coached Calgary in 2006-07 and also worked as an assistant with the Flames from 2003-06 and 2007-09.

The Oilers drafted Playfair in the first round of the 1982 NHL draft. The defenseman played just two games with the Oilers as part of a 21-game NHL career. He has been coaching for 21 years.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Can Tippett overcome challenge ahead of him with Oilers?

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It was nearly four years to the day that the Edmonton Oilers organization was in a nearly identical position as the one it found itself in on Tuesday, where a recently hired general manager — a highly regarded, Stanley Cup winning general manager — was holding a press conference to announce the hiring of a veteran head coach with a strong track record of success in the NHL.

In 2015, the cast of characters included Peter Chiarelli introducing Todd McLellan, a duo that was supposed to lead a perennial dumpster fire of an organization out of the ashes by providing some much-needed stability and building something around the NHL’s next great superstar (Connor McDavid) that fell into their laps.

Obviously, things did not go anywhere as planned and the organization was forced to smash the reset button once again over the past year. That reset process continued on Tuesday when Ken Holland introduced Dave Tippett as the 16th coach in franchise history, and the eighth in just the past 10 years.

The job for these two is a significant one as they attempt to build something out of an organization that has missed the playoffs in 12 of the past 13 seasons, including a 2018-19 team that wasn’t even a close to a playoff spot in a watered down Western Conference despite having two of the league’s top-five scorers (McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) on its roster. It takes a special kind of failure to miss the playoffs under those circumstances, but this team managed it.

At the introductory press conference on Tuesday Tippett and Holland hit all of the usual buzzwords new coaches and managers love to use in these situations, including stability, communication, and structure. Holland praised Tippett’s experience and talked about him being one of his leading candidates throughout the entire process.

[Related: Oilers turn to Dave Tippett as new head coach]

Tippett also expressed optimism that the situation isn’t as bleak as it seems from the outside, saying “everyone talks about McDavid and Draisaitl, but there are more pieces here than McDavid and Draisaitl. There is a lot here to build on.”

From a hockey standpoint, Tippett at least sounded like someone that has his finger on the pulse of the current NHL and what it takes to win.

He spoke of needing scoring depth including a fourth-line that can provide offense.

He talked about the necessity of a five-man attack on the forecheck and having defenders that can not only move the puck out of the defensive zone and through the middle of the ice, but also get involved in the offensive zone.

He also fought back at the suggestion that he is a “defensive-minded coach” and talked about finding out what his players do best, putting them in a position to succeed, and maximizing their potential. In other words: He’s not planning on going to Edmonton and trying to force his roster into a set system, but rather build a system around the roster he has.

“I laugh at that all the time,” said Tippett in response to a question about his reputation as a defensive coach. “My first  [head coaching] job in the NHL, I got from Doug Armstrong in Dallas because I was an offensive coach and they hired me because they thought I could bring some new ideas. We had some pretty good offensive teams in Dallas, but when I got to Arizona we had to figure out how to win without those guys. I don’t look at myself as a defensive coach or an offensive coach, I look at myself as a coach that tries to win with what I have.”

So what does he have to work with in Edmonton?

For starters he has a McDavid-Draisaitl duo that dominated their ice-time together last season. When asked whether he would prefer to see them as a duo on the same line or separated where they each center their own line, he spoke glowingly of their ability to feed off of each other and seemed to indicate that he sees them on a line together. And that is probably the right move because there was almost no other duo in the league that did more last season than those two.

Assuming he keeps those two together he still has Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (barring an offseason trade, which would be a bad idea for the Oilers) as a more than suitable No. 2 center.

After that? There is a significant drop in talent and will probably take him back to his early days in Arizona where he had to figure out a way to win with a patchwork roster.

The defense is severely lacking in the type of players he talked about when it comes to joining the rush and moving the puck.

The scoring depth beyond the top-three forwards rapidly falls off a cliff, as shown by the fact McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins combined to score 52 percent of the team’s goals during the 2018-19 season. The depth was so bad that when none of those three were on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Oilers were outscored by a 45-26 margin. They were not just bad, they were not even competitive.

There is only so much a coach can do to remedy that, and while Tippett had some early initial success in Arizona, making the playoffs in three consecutive years including a stunning trip to the 2011-12 Western Conference Final, the lack of talent at his disposal eventually caught up to him in the latter years of his tenure when the Coyotes missed the playoffs in his final five seasons with the team.

And that brings us to the key point here with the Oilers — their success or failure probably isn’t going to be determined by what Tippett does or does not do as a coach. There is very good reason to believe that he is a good coach. HIs approach seems sound. He has had success in two different cities, won more than 550 regular season games as a head coach, and taken teams deep into the playoffs on more than one occasion.

But the Oilers have had successful coaches come through and fail before him.

Todd McLellan’s resume before his time in Edmonton was a strong one, but he couldn’t win with the Oilers.

Neither could Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, or Dallas Eakins. Not all of them were bad coaches or bad hires. Sometimes it’s more than the coach, and when this many coaches come through one organization in such a short period of time and all experience the same fate it is probably a good sign that the problems start much higher than behind the bench.

As much as Tippett — or any coach — likes to pride themselves on coaching up players and “just finding ways to win” it is still a talent driven business, and the Oilers as presently constructed just do not have anywhere near enough of it. That puts almost all of the pressure not necessarily on Tippett, but right back on Holland to build something out of this team and give his new coach enough to work with around the McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins trio.

If Holland can do that, Tippett might very well be the right coach for the Oilers and one that can succeed where so many before him have failed.

If Holland can not do that, we will probably find ourselves doing the exact same thing in another couple of years where another freshly hired, big-name general manager is introducing the next highly respected veteran coach.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Oilers turn to Dave Tippett as new head coach

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New Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland has found his head coach and has hired Dave Tippett to help turn the franchise around.

“Dave brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the organization,” said Holland in a statement. “He is a great communicator and has consistently led teams known for their level of compete. I look forward to seeing Dave guide the Oilers this fall and we are all excited to have him on board.”

Tippett, who gets a three-year deal with the Oilers, had been working with the NHL Seattle expansion group as a senior advisor since June 2018. Before that, he worked for 14 straight seasons as a head coach with the Arizona Coyotes and Dallas Stars. He won the 2010 Jack Adams Award in his first season with Coyotes, helping to snap the franchise’s six-year playoff drought and managed to get a lot of out a roster that didn’t exactly have the highest budget.

[MORE: Can Tippett overcome challenge ahead of him with Oilers?]

In speaking with The Athletic’s Craig Morgan earlier this month, Tippett, who reportedly interviewed for the head coaching job with the Buffalo Sabres, didn’t close the door on a return behind the bench. It’s a long wait until the 2021-22 season, which will be Seattle’s first in the NHL.

“I don’t think that coaching fire ever goes out, but we’ll have to see how things play out,” said Tippett, who will become the Oilers’ eighth head coach in the last 12 seasons. “If an opportunity comes along, it’s like anything in life. You look at that opportunity. It’s just like this opportunity in Seattle. I looked at it and it looked pretty good.”

Big on structure, Tippett’s Coyotes teams were known for being strong defensively early on in his tenure. The Oilers employing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are two good offensive pieces to start with up front. The work on the back end is something that needs improving in Edmonton, but much of that change will fall in Holland’s lap as he tries to get the team in better shape salary cap-wise.

MORE: Ken Holland handed keys to Oilers rebuild

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.