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The Oilers Should Have Fired Ken Holland, Not Jay Woodcroft

Let’s get one thing straight.

Firing Jay Woodcroft was the biggest mistake the Edmonton Oilers’ brass could make. And they have a storied history of bad decisions. 

Players are a function of their system, and Woodcroft has an excellent track record of getting the most out of what he has. But you don’t have to follow the thread far to see what’s plaguing the Oilers’ goaltending woes. And questionable personnel decisions could be a more significant factor in the Oilers’ slow start.

It begs the question, did the Oilers fire the right person?

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Neverending Coaching Carousel

For years, Edmonton was the laughingstock of the league. Bequeathed with a stable of first-overall draft picks, the Oilers were never able to shake their reputation as league-worst performers. It wasn’t until Woodcroft landed with the big club that the team finally started to get some stability behind the bench.

Familiar Voice

Granted, Woodcroft has only been around for a few seasons, but his voice resonated with the Oilers’ young core. The Oilers’ former head coach spent three years with the team’s AHL affiliate, getting to know the franchise’s up-and-comers. 

League-Best Coaching

At the time of his dismissal, Woodcroft had led the Oilers to the top of the analytics rankings. Edmonton led the NHL in expected goals-for rating thanks to its second-best Corsi rating and league-best high-danger chance percentage.

It’s not like this was a fluke. Woodcroft has put his stamp on the team over the years, compiling the fourth-best expected goals-for rating since the start of the 2022-23 campaign.

More importantly, it’s yielded positive results. Woodcroft has the best points percentage of any Oilers coach since the Wayne Gretzky glory days in the 1980s.

Ken Holland is Running Afoul

Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz needs to seriously re-evaluate Ken Holland‘s accomplishments as General Manager. 

Holland was stood pat while other members of his brass have sunk the Oilers’ assets. Specifically, goalie coach Dustin Schwartz has almost single-handedly ruined every goaltender who has walked through their doors. 

Lack of Experience

It’s not like Schwartz has a winning pedigree, either. He played major junior, concluding his playing days with the University of Alberta Golden Bears. In contrast, while some teams have prioritized getting former NHL goaltenders to help their netminders, Holland and the Oilers’ brass are more interested in self-gratifying some local kid who doesn’t have a lick of experience at the professional level. 

Troubling Trend

Virtually every goalie who has played for Edmonton over the past few years has played below their typical level. Worse, the goalies that have stayed in the league were quick to re-establish themselves as legitimate starters after leaving town. 

Devan Dubnyk, Cam Talbot, and Laurent Brossoit all suffered under the tutelage of Schwartz, going on to earn prominent roles on other clubs after departing. 

Cap Mismanagement

The last indictment of Holland’s tenure as GM is his inability to create cap space for the Oilers. 

Edmonton didn’t even have a full complement of players on opening night because they couldn’t afford to send anyone down or bring anyone up as a replacement. Rather than pairing assets with cap liabilities to create space, Holland deferred to buyouts and league minimum contracts for reclamation projects. 

The result is a team that can’t afford to build a competitive bottom six and continues to make questionable decisions in the offseason.

Final Thoughts

The Oilers fired the wrong executive. Jay Woodcroft has been integral to the Oilers’ success since landing in Edmonton. The same can’t be said for Ken Holland or Dustin Schwartz. Moving on from either would have been a more surefire way of improving the club.

Instead, the Oilers will continue floundering under the guidance of a GM who lost touch with the game decades ago.

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