Jay Woodcroft is out as coach of the Edmonton Oilers after a team that was supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender lost 10 of its first 13 games.
Woodcroft was fired Sunday at the end of the team’s road trip, which wrapped up with a 4-1 win at Seattle on Saturday night. That victory was not enough to save Woodcroft’s job in the aftermath of a four-game losing streak, including an embarrassing 3-2 loss at the NHL-worst San Jose Sharks earlier in the week.
Kris Knoblauch, Connor McDavid’s junior hockey coach, was named Woodcroft’s replacement, and Hall of Famer Paul Coffey joins his staff as an assistant, with Dave Manson also dismissed. Knoblauch becomes the organization’s 10th coach in 15 seasons and the fifth since McDavid joined the team in 2015.
After the loss in San Jose on Thursday night, Woodcroft said he wasn’t worried about his job security.
“No one’s happy with where we’re at,” Woodcroft said. “We all own it. We can be better, and that’s where my focus is.”
The Oilers had lost focus under Woodcroft, himself a midseason replacement in February 2022 when Dave Tippett was fired. Despite having the reigning MVP in McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, they were losing because of a combination of league-worst goaltending, porous defending and a lack of accountability.
“I don’t really know what to say,” Draisaitl said Thursday night. “We tend to outshoot other teams consistently, probably out-chance other teams consistently. Not in sync right now.”
Goaltenders Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell — the latter of whom was waived and banished to the minors earlier this week — have combined for a save percentage of .866, which ranks 32nd of 32 teams. Edmonton has allowed nearly four goals a game and at 3-9-1 is above only San Jose in the standings with seven points.
“We can’t really be looking at the standings right now,” said forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the organization’s longest-tenured player. “Just because it’s the start of the season it feels a little different. But we’re the same team that we’ve always been. It feels weird right now.”
Even weirder? McDavid — whose 153 points last season were the most of any player since 1995-96 — was held off the scoresheet against the the past two games.
McDavid did miss time last month with an undisclosed upper-body injury but still has 10 points in 10 games, while Draisaitl leads the team with 15. Still, only six teams have averaged fewer goals than the Oilers’ 2.69.
This was seen as the season for the Oilers to get over the hump in the playoffs and win the franchise’s first championship since 1990. Instead, the brutal start has significantly hampered their chances of making it.
“We’re ready to win. We’re ready to do whatever it takes to win, more importantly,” Draisaitl said before the start of training camp. “We’re definitely not far away. I certainly feel that way. I think we all do. I think the entire league feels that way about us.”
General manager Ken Holland certainly did, talking last summer about being all in on winning in the final year of his contract. Now the experienced executive’s roster construction is under the microscope given Edmonton’s struggles all over the ice.
Nowhere was that more evident than not being able to keep the puck out of the net, a constant problem with responsibility split among the goalies, defensemen and forwards. Woodcroft ultimately paid the price in large part because he failed to correct players’ habits, not benching them after making costly mistakes and failing to make the necessary adjustments.
That job now falls to Knoblauch, who had been coaching the American Hockey League’s Hartford Wolf Pack. He coached McDavid with the Erie Otters for three seasons from 2012-15 and led them to an Ontario Hockey League championship and trip to the Memorial Cup in 2017.
Knoblauch, 45, was in his fifth season with Hartford, the top affiliate of the New York Rangers, after spending two years as an assistant with the Philadelphia Flyers. He served as acting coach for a handful of NHL games with the Rangers in 2021 and 2022.
Steve Smith takes over as the Wolf Pack’s interim coach, and the organization will immediately begin the search for a full-time head coach.
AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.
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