The next head coach: Matheson’s list

Jonathan Willis
May 30 2012 11:50AM

It was interesting to see Jim Matheson’s list of head coach candidates in the Edmonton Journal yesterday. Matheson has a long track record of breaking news about the Oilers and he’s one of a handful of people well worth listening to for an idea of what team management has in the works.

Answering a question from reader Dennis Wong, Matheson suggested that former Calgary Flames coach Brent Sutter was the most likely replacement for Tom Renney, echoing similar statements from Terry Jones and OilersNation’s own Robin Brownlee. Matheson also brought up Ralph Krueger’s name, which also doesn’t come as a surprise.

But there are two other points that strike me as being of interest. The first is this:

But I believe that Tambellini will interview six people for the position over the next few weeks.

That comment fits with what Darren Dreger of TSN reported a few days ago: basically that the Oilers wanted to a) go through a bunch of candidates, b) ideally by the draft but c) that no firm timeframe existed. Six candidates in the next few weeks would let the Oilers burn through most, if not all, of the top contenders on their list, with the possibility of a decision before the draft at the end of June.

The other thing that jumped out at me were the names listed by Matheson as potential interviewees:

  • Brent Sutter
  • Ralph Krueger
  • Dallas Eakins
  • Jon Cooper
  • Todd Nelson
  • Paul Maurice
  • Ron Wilson
  • John Stevens

That’s eight names total, but it’s also worth remembering that Eakins and Cooper both have other things on their plate: as Wong points out, they’re coaching in the AHL finals. The seventh game – if necessary – of those finals is scheduled for June 15, so Tambellini isn’t likely to interview either candidate any time over the next two weeks. The seventh game (again, if necessary) of the Stanley Cup Finals – where Stevens is coaching – would take place on June 15. Is it likely the other five are on Tambellini’s interview list for the next few weeks?

Equally as interesting as the names listed are those omitted. Marc Crawford, who worked with Tambellini in Vancouver and was interviewed the last time the Oilers went coach-hunting, is not on the list. Neither is the man who succeeded him in Colorado, Bob Hartley. That may or may not mean anything – I credit Matheson with a great deal of information the rest of us lack, but not with omniscience – but it is interesting all the same.

Regardless, this further confirmation that the Oilers are going to do an extensive search for their next candidate is welcome news.

I’ve argued previously in favour of Jon Cooper, the lawyer who guided Norfolk (AHL) to 28 straight wins to close out the 2011-12 season, but there’s a lot of talent and hockey knowledge on that list. Todd Nelson’s work in Oklahoma City speaks strongly in his favour after years of poor Oilers farm teams (Gregor talked to Nelson about the possibility of becoming the Oilers' head coach here), while Dallas Eakins is deservedly a highly-regarded candidate.

The more veteran names on the list all deserve to be there too. Brent Sutter is a good NHL coach who has been discussed at length, while Ralph Krueger did superb work as the head of the Swiss national team. Paul Maurice is bright and articulate; Ron Wilson tough, demanding and innovative. John Stevens won it all in the AHL in 2005 and was a solid coach for the Flyers.

The last time the Oilers made this decision, Tambellini talked to a lot of people but eventually settled on Pat Quinn, a highly respected man he had a long history with. It backfired disastrously. That can’t happen this time – not just for Tambellini’s sake, but for the sake of the team. The Oilers are at a critical juncture, and how far they ultimately go is going to depend to no small degree on finding the right man to bring out the best in his charges.

As Lowetide put it the other day, this might be the team’s most important coaching hire since Sather. A thorough look at the different options is a very good idea.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.