The Oilers’ hiring of Kris Knoblauch invites questions about franchise decisions
It’s possible that the Edmonton Oilers made a great decision by hiring Kris Knoblauch as their new head coach, but it’s more likely that they bent over backwards to appease Connor McDavid or let him play GM.
Knoblauch may succeed in Edmonton, but looking at his resume from a 30,000-foot perspective it’s hard to see an obvious candidate for NHL head coaching.
Knoblauch has a strong resume at the CHL level, but has yet to make a strong impact in men’s coaching.
Since his last season in the OHL (2016-17), the coach spent two years as an assistant with the Philadelphia Flyers – where he led the NHL’s 17th power play – and four years as the head coach of the Hartford Wolfpack at the AHL.
During that time the Wolfpack went 112-87-31, good for a .487 hitting percentage, and made the playoffs just once.
None of this proves that Knoblauch is a bad coach. The man has won WHL and OHL titles, after all. But he’s not someone who would have been on the radar of too many NHL teams besides the Oilers. That makes it clear that the fact that he coached McDavid with the Erie Otters was a crucial factor in his hiring.
Having an existing relationship with the Oilers’ most important player is nice, but it’s unclear if it’s enough for Knoblauch to jump on other potential candidates. to be successful in the NHL – either as head coaches or assistants.
This appointment invited questions about the opinion of the Oilers players, but especially McDavid, in this decision. That question was answered in a way that did not inspire confidence as a president and GM Ken Holland mentioned talking to his former players while CEO Jeff Jackson was quick to say that there was no consult the players about the decision at all.
The mixed message leaves room for two interpretations – neither of which reflect particularly well on the Oilers.
It’s possible the Oilers talked to McDavid and their former players about the coaching position and he played a role in Woodcroft’s firing and Knoblauch’s installation behind the bench. However, Jackson does not want to appear that the players have too much power within the group, so he denies that.
The Oilers didn’t really include their players in this pick, but they independently decided that the best course of action was to get one with a -recently off to a pretty thin start as they put a big price on keeping McDavid happy.
The first situation means that McDavid and the veterans used a level of discipline that we don’t often see from NHL players and that Oilers management is concerned or embarrassed about that. The second suggests that McDavid has so much power in the building that he doesn’t need to say anything for the team to make big decisions that prioritize him above all else.
McDavid is good enough that everything the Oilers do should be remembered to some degree, but the latest hire speaks to a power dynamic that may not be healthy. Either he’s pulling the strings, or the fear has been unsatisfied and perhaps leaving after the 2025-26 season is strong enough that he doesn’t need to.
Another wrinkle in this situation that makes Edmonton’s decisions suspect is that Paul Coffey has been placed behind the bench as an assistant to Knoblauch.
Coffey is a franchise legend, but the highlight of his coaching resume is part of one season with the OJHL’s Pickering Panthers – a team he co-owns – back in 2014-15 . The team won 37.0% of their games that season, and probably the most famous moment of Coffey’s coaching career was the suspension of a Hall of Fame quarterback for using a “discriminatory slur ” while behind the bench for a AAA midget game.
While Coffey may have something to offer at the NHL level, it’s not the kind of steady hand and proven commodity you’d hope for with a new head coach with little experience leading teams at the sport’s highest level. .
To be fair, any criticism that can be leveled at the Oilers right now is about their process. We don’t yet know the results of their coaching moves.
Because Edmonton has the best 5v5 goal percentage in the NHL (57.82%), all the power play components that made history last season and a team save percentage (.864) that is going to development, it is very likely that this team will bounce. back this year.
Whether the magnitude of that positive comeback will be enough to save their season remains to be seen, but Knoblauch is well-positioned to look like a force for good, regardless of credit. he deserves it.
That means, in a few months, there will be a strong chance that the Oilers will look like they made the right move, even if they would have improved under Woodcroft if they had kept him. Before they get any praise for that, it’s worth noting the dubious way they’ve gone about their business — and the power McDavid seems to have gained within the organization, whether it’s something that ‘ used openly or not.