Oilers’ coaching changes will mean little unless roster improvements follow

Gene Principe caught up with new Oilers head coach Dave Tippett, who’s really excited to be back in Western Canada, to work with GM Ken Holland, and ecstatic to work with the young core led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

EDMONTON — It’s hard to keep up with the changes in Edmonton, a town where the ultimate change — a consistent spot in the National Hockey League playoffs — has yet to be achieved.

On Tuesday it was reported that the Oilers had let assistant coaches Trent Yawney and Manny Viveiros go, and we later learned that Glen Gulutzan would stay on to handle power-play duties under new head coach Dave Tippett.

On the same day, a report came out of Philadelphia that Dave Hakstol might be in line for an assistant coaching gig here — though that report appears not to be accurate. Hakstol was opening his cabin this weekend after spending time as Alain Vigneault’s assistant at the recent World Championships. He had no plans to visit Edmonton this summer.

Coaches going out. Coaches coming in. A new GM arrives in Ken Holland, while an old one (Craig MacTavish) ventures out on his own to the KHL. Paul Coffey, Duane Sutter and long-time Oilers media relations man J.J. Hebert are out, while a couple of former Red Wings types are no doubt yet to arrive, as Holland now takes aim at his scouting staff, both amateur and pro.

Let’s start with the latest:

A year ago, after the Oilers followed up their highly successful 2016-17 season with a big dud, they purged their assistant coaches. Out went Jim Johnson, Ian Herbers and Jay Woodcroft — who would land in AHL Bakersfield as the head coach — and in came Yawney, Gulutzan and Viveiros.

A year later, there is a new head coach in town and two of the three assistants are gone. Yawney, we would suspect, has an inside track for a place on Todd McLellan’s staff in Los Angeles, while Viveiros is a bright, fresh coaching mind who never really got the chance to prove his worth in Edmonton.

So many coaches, so little success. What does Edmonton teach us?

That a coach needs a proper roster with which to compete.

McLellan is an excellent coach. Ken Hitchcock has the third most wins in NHL coaching history. Neither could win with the roster ex-GM Peter Chiarelli furnished them with, and the same will go for Tippett if Holland doesn’t deliver.

The GM knows it, and that’s why he’s combing through the organization making whatever changes he deems necessary. Holland has said he’ll basically just sign off on whomever Tippett wants as his assistants — an example of a boss who hires the right people and then gets out of their way and lets them do their work.

Holland is at the combine in Buffalo, where he’s getting to know the top prospects and his top amateur scouting people — in no particular order. The Oilers’ amateur side is in a far healthier place than their pro scouting side was, which was what cost Sutter his job. They’ll draft with the eighth-overall choice on June 21 in Vancouver, but if Holland could find the right third-line centre we’re betting he’d part with his second-rounder in a trade.

With Connor McDavid as the No. 1 centre, and either Leon Draisaitl or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins lining up at 2C, the Oilers are in the market for a solid, faceoff-winning 3C. Someone who can go up against the opposition’s top line when necessary, and win some faceoffs to help a penalty-killing unit that has been substandard in Edmonton for years now.

It would take the perfect candidate to separate Holland from that second-round pick. If he can’t find that player, he’ll be in the market for some useful, moveable forwards among his bottom-six. The Swiss Army Knife types who can play centre or wing, while chipping in 12-15 goals.

If one of clicks with one of Edmonton’s high-pedigree centremen, great. If not, the depth gets a little deeper, until you can create a forward group that doesn’t need to be carried by No. 97 or 29 every night.

And maybe that player comes in trade for one of Edmonton’s many blue-line prospects. With 25-year-old Swede Joel Persson coming over and said to be NHL-ready — and Caleb Jones also ready to make the jump full-time — there are several names that could be moved in a package to help out the depth at forward.

Kris Russell, Matt Benning, Ethan Bear — perhaps even Adam Larsson, if necessary.

Holland has been busy, but that is only because there is so much ground to be made up.

He’ll be busier yet if this Oilers team is ever to find that corner to turn.

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