Oilers dismiss head coach Woodcroft, assistant Manson after poor start to season

The Oilers have fired head coach Jay Woodcroft after the NHL team won only three of its first 13 games this season. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press - image credit)
The Oilers have fired head coach Jay Woodcroft after the NHL team won only three of its first 13 games this season. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press - image credit)

The Edmonton Oilers have fired head coach Jay Woodcroft after the team's 3-9-1 start to the season.

A 4-1 victory over the Kraken in Seattle on Saturday night was not enough to save the 47-year-old's job.

Woodcroft departs with a 79-41-13 record as Oilers head coach, the fifth most wins in the NHL since he joined the team on an interim basis on Feb. 10 after the firing of Dave Tippett. He signed a three-year contract four months later.

In 2022, Woodcroft guided the club to the conference final before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.

The Oilers announced Kris Knoblauch, head coach of the American Hockey League's Hartford Wolf Pack, would assume those duties with Edmonton and be joined by assistant coach Paul Coffey.

Knoblauch coached Oilers star Connor McDavid for three seasons with the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters.

Knoblauch and Coffey were in attendance with general manager Ken Holland and Jeff Jackson, the team's CEO of hockey operations, at a Sunday news conference.

The Edmonton Oilers announced on Sunday that Kris Knoblauch, left, and Paul Coffey, right, have been named new head coach and assistant coach of the team.
The Edmonton Oilers announced on Sunday that Kris Knoblauch, left, and Paul Coffey, right, have been named new head coach and assistant coach of the team.

The Edmonton Oilers announced on Sunday that Kris Knoblauch, left, and Paul Coffey, right, have been named new head coach and assistant coach of the team. (Emily Williams/CBC)

Holland told reporters he and Jackson started to have daily conversations about possible solutions as the team's record got worse.

The team's loss on Thursday against the lowly San Jose Sharks was when they decided to make a coaching change, said Holland.

"We're in a business where you've got to win games," he said.

'It's a reset'

Knoblauch added the change in leadership behind the bench is a fresh start for the season.

"It's a reset. Hopefully our players see this and it takes the pressure off them," Knoblauch said.

Adam Zainul, an Oilers superfan, told CBC Edmonton that Woodcroft's dismissal comes as a surprise considering Saturday night's victory.

"If they lost I could kind of understand it," Zainul said. "You do something good and you get punished. So it's a confusing [decision]."

Knoblauch becomes the organization's 10th coach in 15 seasons and the fifth since McDavid joined the team in 2015.

Edmonton entered this season with Stanley Cup aspirations, believie lessons had been learned over the last two springs.

But the Oilers got blown out in their opener 8-1 in Vancouver by the Canucks and then lost the rematch 4-3 on home ice.

Edmonton picked up a 6-1 victory in Nashville over the Predators to briefly steady things, but four straight directionless losses left the club with a 1-5-1 record heading into the showcase Heritage Classic outdoor game against the Calgary Flames.

The Oilers scored a convincing 5-2 win over the Flames, leaving fans believing the team may have turned a corner but four straight losses followed, including Thursday's 3-2 defeat to the San Jose Sharks, in a battle of the two worst teams in the NHL.

"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."

McDavid no points past 2 games

Woodcroft had a plethora of offensive weapons in Edmonton with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Evander Kane, McDavid and Draisaitl,at his disposal. He also had defencemen Darnell Nurse, Mattias Ekholm and Evan Bouchard.

"We can't really be looking at the standings right now," said forward 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 the past two games.

He did miss time last month with an undisclosed upper-body injury but still has 10 points in 11 games, while Draisaitl leads the team with 15.

Still, only six teams have averaged fewer goals than the Oilers' 2.69.

Keeping the puck out of the Oilers' net, however, proved to be the biggest challenge.

Jack Campbell was signed to a five-year, $25-million US contract in free agency in July 2022 after a solid stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but never came close to replicating those numbers in the Alberta capital.

Rookie netminder Stuart Skinner took over the crease last season and was named to his first all-star game only to run out of gas in the playoffs.

The hope was that the duo could work in tandem in 2023-24, but both goaltender have struggled. Campbell was waived on Nov. 7 and is now tending goal for the Bakersfield Condors, Edmonton's AHL affiliate.