The Edmonton Oilers have officially fired Dave Tippett. The decision came after a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night. The Oilers have struggled mightily over the past two and a half months, as they have gone 5-13-2 in the last 20 games with Dave Tippett behind the bench. During the course of Tippett’s tenure with the Oilers, he posted a respectable 95-62-14 record. However, the team’s performance in the playoffs was a much different story with just one win in eight games. Tippett has not had much success in the postseason throughout his career, as he currently holds a record of 34-48. His .415 playoff win percentage is in the bottom five of all active coaches in the National Hockey League, a major concern for a team that is desperate to make a deep playoff run. Some were skeptical of Tippett’s playoff history, however, most people didn’t expect that the struggles would begin in the regular season rather than the playoffs.
While the Oilers got off to an incredible 16-5-0 start, their defensive structure looked sloppy at times, and the underlying numbers suggested they were struggling five-on-five. The Oilers’ special teams were on an incredible heater, but it’s impossible to maintain the type of excellence they were achieving early on over an entire 82-game season. It was clear that if the Oilers didn’t clean up their act at even strength, they were due for a massive regression. That regression came in the form of a 2-11-2 record over a 15-game stretch, with both wins coming under Glen Gulutzan, who filled in for Tippett while he was in COVID protocol. Tippett was heavily criticized by the analytics community for regularly giving ice-time to players with weak numbers, such as Devin Shore and Zack Kassian. In contrast, guys who played more productive hockey seemed criminally underutilized, such as Jesse Puljujarvi and William Lagesson. For example, in a game against the Maple Leafs on January 5th, Tippett decided to put Kyle Turris on the top powerplay unit to replace the injured Nugent-Hopkins instead of Jesse Puljujarvi despite the fact that Puljujarvi had 23 points on the season, and Turris only had 4 points, with an abysmal 30.77 GF%. This is a microcosm of what went wrong for Tippett: he rewarded the wrong players at the wrong time. Tippett’s deployment held the Oilers back significantly this season, as he leaned heavily on McDavid and Draisaitl to the point where they looked utterly exhausted, and their production dipped. On the flip side, he routinely left the 4th line with less than 9 minutes of ice-time. How are players supposed to be motivated when they know the coach doesn’t trust them to play even 10 minutes? On top of that, how is a player supposed to get into a rhythm? The answer is they don’t. The Oilers have had one of the worst bottom-six forward groups in the NHL this season which will need to change.
Another issue that I noticed with the Dave Tippett system is how poorly it meshed with the strengths and weaknesses of Edmonton’s players. They were getting enough shots to the net, but they were usually coming from the point. It didn’t make much sense for a team with the two best offensive forwards in the league to be looking for the defense to create the scoring opportunities. On Tuesday against the Golden Knights, for example, the shots ended up tied 28-28, but Vegas had 16 slot shots compared to Edmonton’s 4. Tippett’s offensive and defensive systems didn’t fit, his deployment was stubborn, and it became increasingly apparent that a change was necessary.
The Replacement for Dave Tippett is Bakersfield Condors head coach Jay Woodcroft. This was absolutely the correct move for the Oilers for various reasons. Firstly, Woodcroft knows the players in the organization and has good familiarity with the young players that suited up with the Condors not too long ago. Guys like Tyler Benson and William Lagesson may finally get opportunities under a coach that has more confidence in them. Another reason why I like the hire is that Woodcroft understands the importance of considering analytics and he has a very forward-thinking mentality. The Oilers have struggled over the past 15 years in large part because the game has evolved and their management has not. Perhaps this is the first step towards moving this organization out of the stone age. These reasons alone aren’t enough for this to be the right hire because he needs to be good at what he does at the end of the day. I’m happy to say he is an excellent coach. This season, Woodcroft led the Condors to an 18-9-7 record, including an 8-1-1 stretch in their last ten games. He is well respected by his players, and he has rebuilt the AHL program of this organization into one of the best in the league. If anyone can turn things around for the Oilers, it’s him.