Let me just start off by saying I like Ralph Krueger. He may not have been my first choice last summer when the Oilers began their search for fourth head coach in 5 seasons, but over the course of the summer and into the fall lockout he had all but won me over. In early 2013, when the puck finally dropped on our season, I was certain that Ralph Krueger was the man that was going to lead the Edmonton Oilers to the promise land. The land of milk and honey we had been sold on since the Oilers found themselves in a position to drafted Taylor Hall at #1 overall in 2010. After 4 months, a week in 8th place, followed by the all too famous Oil Country nosedive (patent pending) in the final dozen or so games of the season that saw the Oilers dreams of a playoff spot burst faster than the bitumen bubble, this intrepid correspondent started to get cold feet.
Ralph Krueger is a very smart man. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him on a personal level, but I’ve watched enough of his pressers and heard the rave reviews from players and media alike to know there was something special about the guy. His ability to communicate the thoughts in his head articulately and effectively were almost unmatched by some of his predecessors, certainly 137 season veteran Pat Quinn. Say what you will about Renney, Quinn, and even MacTavish as coaches, for all there playoff experience, Olympic gold medals, and World Championships, come January 2013 none of them could hold a candle to the new school sensation that was Ralph Krueger. Things change.
There were signs there, for any of us that cared to look for them. Climbing 6 spots from the basement may have seemed like a step in the right direction, and it certainly is. No one can discount the fact that Krueger took the Oilers to a place they hadn’t seen since the current GM left the coaches chair vacant, a finish outside of a lottery selection, but it simply wasn’t enough to be considered a successful season when
A) The team lets a playoff spot slip through their fingers in the final 10 games to go.
B) The team gets outshot in a majority of their games.
C) The PP comes to a grinding halt, in spite of the abundance of offensive talent available.
D) Continued over reliance of ineffective veteran players, for at least the first 2/3 of the season.
The fact is, if the first item is not on this list, we may not be expecting the announcement of Dallas (it’s pronounced Eh-kins) Eakins as the new head coach of the Edmonton Oilers. Unfortunately, for more reasons than one, it is on this list and here we are.
No matter how much I may have liked the man, both before and after the 2013 NHL season, liking someone on a personal level (well, as personal a level you can like someone without ever actually meeting them) that does not qualify them to be the coach of your hockey team. I don’t doubt for a second that this was an easy scenario for the current GM. I’m sure he wrestled with the decision, and probably had that ‘sick to your stomach’ feeling the whole time he sat waiting for Ralph to accept the now infamous Skype call.
Mac T: Kicking Down Doors Since 2013
For those of you that take issue with the conversation happening over Skype; it’s the 21st century folks.
Ralph makes his home in Davos, Switzerland and there is no reason Craig should fly half way around the world for what Krueger himself referred to as a five-minute conversation. Should MacT really be expected to spend 14 hours travelling to sit in the man’s living room and shit can him over a cup of tea? Those of you complaining out the impersonal, dehumanizing manner in which the conversation was carried out, are the same folks who will text before the call someone, or go out to dinner/drinks with friends and spend 85% of their time staring at the screen on their iPhone. So don’t give me a bunch of malarkey (can’t believe I squeezed in a malarkey) about how gutless it was to fire Ralph over Skype. This may be the first time an NHL coach was fired over Skype, but how many have been fired via phone call? That seems a little more impersonal than the ability to look the man in the eye that Skype allows. The truth is that many of you will probably be fired via Skype/video call at some point between now and the day you retire. Ain’t technology grand?
Be Careful What You Wish For
Terry Jones from the Edmonton Sun and TSN’s Ryan Rishaug each had conversations with Krueger following the news of his dismissal, credit to Ralph for not ducking the media, and one constant that comes from these chats is that he may have been surprised at the time; in hindsight Kruger probably empathizes with the decision.
Jones article has the quote that stands out the most to me:
“In the final quarter of the season, the toughest quarter of the season, I truly did not know what it takes (to win)” (Jones)
It’s this understanding of his own shortfalls as an NHL bench boss that both endears Krueger and makes his release that much easier to swallow. He was not the choice of the incumbent GM. He was the old guy’s guy. So was Quinn, so was Renney, and so was MacTavish with what’s his face (the one with the stupid grin) when a new GM was brought on board. The fact that this will be the Oilers 5th coach in 6 years has nothing to do with Craig MacTavish as general manager of the club. If anything it is just another of the glaring deficiencies of the old regime, and it cannot be expected that a new GM would carry on with the other guys coach, just because the other guy changed his coaches more than his underwear.
When Ralph openly admitted that he was in a little over his head without having an experienced NHL coach on his staff to help, he may as well have handed in his resignation at the same time. Certainly someone with Krueger’s intelligence and forethought could have pieced this together. You went to your GM, who didn’t hire you in the first place, who apparently already had philosophical differences with your vision (in all fairness those differences were never vocalized to Krueger), and told him that you realized you were not 100% comfortable in running an NHL bench on your own, and essentially sent your GM out to interview a series of experienced, qualified, and available coaches…Am I the only one connecting these dots?
Though the situation is not necessarily ideal, and optics from an outsider’s perspective it looks like a laughable Oilers organization going about their business as usual, but for those of us who follow the team on a regular basis, this move signifies anything but status quo. This is the first in what is expected to be a series of serious changes, impatient action, and a GM that has the fan base captivated and excited, already accomplishing more in 6 months than the old regime did in 5 years.
I’m not the only person that is starting to see this for what it is. A great move for a young, up and coming team. There are individuals far more intelligent and qualified than this lowly scribe (more like scribbler) that are echoing the same thoughts. Dreger, McKenzie (the smart one), Rishaug, Mirtle, Matheson, even Terry Jones are all starting to see the light. Though the circumstances are not the sexiest, the results could be…I don’t know...Dallas Eakins sexy when the dust finally settles. I don’t know a whole heck of a lot about Dallas Eakins, but there are some fantastic write- ups about the man already circling the inter web, most notably Gregor and Willis each posting some fine reading material about our soon to be fearless leader, over the past calendar year.
Whether you agree with the way this all came about or not, the more we stop and really look at what happened and what lead us to this point, it becomes clear that this may actually be the best move for the team, and maybe even Krueger himself knows it. More than anything else, the one element of this story that has me thinking this was the right thing to do, is the fact that this coaching change has managed to piss off BOTH Toronto Maple Leaves and Vancouver Canuck fans. In the end, isn’t that what we all want anyway?