NHL

Struggling Oilers replace fired head coach McLellan with Hitchcock

The Edmonton Oilers, who entered Tuesday's game at San Jose having lost six of their past seven games, have fired head coach Todd McLellan and replaced him with veteran NHL bench boss Ken Hitchcock.

Edmonton has dropped 6 of past 7 games to fall to 9-10-1

The 9-10-1 Oilers fired head coach Todd McLellan on Tuesday and replaced him with veteran NHL bench boss Ken Hitchcock, who retired in April after 22 seasons. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images/File)

The Edmonton Oilers, who entered Tuesday's game at San Jose having lost six of their past seven starts, have fired head coach Todd McLellan and replaced him with veteran NHL bench boss Ken Hitchcock.

Edmonton hired McLellan, 51, in May 2015 after he spent seven seasons as head coach of the Sharks, who top the Pacific at 11-7-3 under Peter DeBoer.

"This isn't scientific," Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said of the timing of the coaching change. "There's a sense and a feel and you talk to people.

"I saw levels of flatness, levels of non-response. When that happens the radar goes up, and so we decided to act. We felt that a new voice would be helpful."

McLellan was in his fourth season with the Oilers, who have missed the Stanley Cup playoffs twice in the previous three years and are sixth in the Pacific Division this season with a 9-10-1 mark. They lost in the second round in 2017 following a 47-win, 103-point regular season.

4th coach axed this season

"It's tough to pinpoint what we need, but we're all to blame here," Oilers captain Connor McDavid said following Tuesday's morning skate. "This obviously isn't on Todd at all. It's on us as players. That's just how the business works sometimes. We got to wake up here."

McLellan, who hails from Melville, Sask., posted a 123-119-24 regular-season mark with Edmonton after going 311-163-66 in San Jose, where he led the Sharks to six playoff appearances and three division titles.

He is the fourth coach to be fired this year, following John Stevens in Los Angeles, Joe Quenneville in Chicago and Mike Yeo in St. Louis, who was let go following Monday night's 2-0 loss to the Kings.

McLellan, who is reportedly owed $3 million this season and next, was the Oilers' sixth head coach since Craig McTavish was fired at the end of the 2008-09 campaign, following Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins and Todd Nelson.

It's our job to get to the playoffs. We owe it to our fans.— Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli after firing head coach Todd McLellan with the team sporting a 9-10-1 record

But he isn't the only person responsible for the team's plight. A series of moves by Chiarelli has yet to complement a top-heavy roster led by captain Connor McDavid and fellow centre Leon Draisaitl.

Among Chiarelli's missteps:

  • The trade of winger Taylor Hall to New Jersey for defenceman Adam Larsson in June 2016
  • The free-agent signing of bruising forward Milan Lucic to a massive seven-year, $42-million US contract a few days later.

Hall won the Hart Trophy as league MVP last season, while Lucic has two goals in his last 66 games.

"I'm certainly not absolving myself of any responsibility on the player personnel [side]," Chiarelli said. "This isn't just an indictment of Todd or the players. This is a collective thing and it's our job to get to the playoffs.

"We owe it to our fans, and I felt this was the right move for it."

Ken Hitchcock, who is coming out of retirement to coach the Oilers, is third all-time in victories (823) behind Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Joel Quenneville (890), and fourth in regular-season games coached (1,536). (Ron Jenkins/Associated Press/File)
Hitchcock, an Edmonton native, retired from coaching in April after 22 NHL seasons. The 66-year-old won a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999. He returned to the team last season, taking over from the fired Lindy Ruff.

Chiarelli and Hitchcock worked together as part of Canada's men's Olympic team at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

3rd all-time in wins

"I got to know him fairly well," said Chiarelli, who added Hitchcock's status with the Oilers will be re-evaluated after the season. "His track record is impeccable. He's a very good tactician. What I saw was a real high level of input in a short period of time."

Hitchcock is third all-time in victories (823) behind Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Quenneville (890), and fourth in regular-season games coached (1,536).

He has also coached in Philadelphia, Columbus and St. Louis, having made 14 post-season appearances and boasting a career .512 playoff win percentage.

"It's definitely going to be tough," said forward Kyle Brodziak, who played for Hitchcock in St. Louis. "It's always an adjustment. Guys will have to get used to different styles. Hitch is a hard coach, He's going to be tough on guys and demand a lot. We have to be ready to produce and face the music for sure."

The Blues made the playoffs in each of Hitchcock's five full seasons, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2016. The Blues abruptly fired Hitchcock in February last year, cutting short what was already going to be his last season in St. Louis. He returned to Dallas after 14 seasons elsewhere.

Under the man affectionately known as "Hitch," the Stars were sixth in the Central Division during the 2017-18 season (42-32) and finished three points behind Colorado for the second wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Not-so-special teams

Hitchcock led Dallas to back-to-back Presidents' Trophies (1997-98, 1998-99) and captured the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach in 2011-12 with St. Louis.

He inherits an Oilers outfit that has scored fewer goals than it has allowed (57-66) and is having its troubles on special teams as the power play ranks 15th (20.6 per cent success rate) in the 31-team NHL while the penalty kill is 27th (74.2 per cent).

Also, No. 1 goalie Cam Talbot is struggling for a second straight season with a 3.31 goals-against average and .888 save percentage. He posted 3.02, 908 totals last season after winning 42 games in 2016-17 with a 2.39 GAA and .919 save percentage.

On a bright note, star centre McDavid, coming off back-to-back NHL scoring titles, is third in league scoring this season with 12 goals and 28 points in 20 games.

About the Author

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

With files from The Canadian Press and Associated Press

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