The Edmonton Oilers fired coach Dave Tippett on Thursday with the star-studded team scrambling to secure a playoff spot.
Jay Woodcroft, the 45-year-old head coach of the Oilers’ AHL affiliate in Bakersfield, California, will take over behind the bench. He will be joined by assistant Dave Manson, who replaces Jim Playfair.
After beginning the season 16-5-0, the Oilers have gone 7-13-3 in a head-scratching performance for a team led by stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Edmonton (23-18-3) stands fifth in the NHL’s Pacific Division, five points out of a wild-card spot, and has lost its last two games.
The firing is the seventh coaching change in the NHL this season and second in the past two days after Martin St. Louis replaced Dominique Ducharme in Montreal, which is at the bottom of the standings after reaching the Stanley Cup Final last season.
Tippett, 60, was named Oilers coach in May 2019, three weeks after Ken Holland was hired as GM and president of hockey operations. Tippett received a three-year contract but the Oilers have never advanced past the first round of the playoffs on his watch even as Draisaitl (2020) and McDavid (2021) won the Hart Memorial Trophy as NHL MVP.
Holland described Edmonton’s season as “being up and down like a toilet seat,” including a brutal 2-11-2 stretch. In the third period of Wednesday’s 4-1 home loss to Chicago, Holland recognized he had to make a coaching change. In over a quarter century of running teams in Detroit and Edmonton, Holland had never made an in-season coaching change before.
“We played a great second period, and I hoped we could rally in the third, but we didn’t,” he said. “As the third period wound down, then, after I went home and I was by myself, I thought.
“And then I talked to a couple of people last night, and then I got up in the morning and I talked to Mr. Katz (Oilers owner Daryl Katz) and said that I felt I needed to make a change.”
Holland said he simply doesn’t have the ability to make the sort of trade-deadline deal where Edmonton gives up prospects and picks for high-priced veteran help.
“If we want to add $2 million, we’ve got to move $2 million,” Holland said, later adding: “The solution probably has to be in the room.”
Holland said he shouldn’t escape criticism.
“Put me in the group. I built the team. It’s probably why we’re here today,” he said. “If I had the answer, if anybody had the answer, there wouldn’t be those wild swings.”
Tippett coached the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes from 2009-10 through 2016-17. He earned the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year in his first season.
He arrived in Edmonton with a record of 553-413-120 with 28 ties in 14 seasons with the Coyotes and Dallas Stars, whom he coached for six seasons. Tippett, who played more than 700 NHL games, was an adviser with the Seattle Kraken before joining Edmonton.
Holland added veteran defencemen Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith in the offseason, the latter a two-time Norris Trophy winner and three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks now likely to miss a couple weeks with a recent injury. He brought in Zach Hyman and Warren Foegele to help the forecheck and crash the net, two areas Holland said the Oilers needed to improve.
Two weeks ago, he brought in embattled winger Evander Kane on a contract that takes him to the end of the season.
“At the end of the day, I built the team,” Holland said. “I take full responsibility with where we are at.”
Woodcroft doesn’t have the luxury of time as Edmonton hosts the New York Islanders on Friday night.
“My gut instincts are that Jay is ready,” Holland said. “He’s ready to be behind the bench in the National Hockey League.”
It is the second coaching change in Edmonton in less than four years: The Oilers fired Todd McLellan in November 2018 after a 9-10-1 start. Ken Hitchcock coached the team for the final 62 games of the season.
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.