Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Next Coach of the Oil... Kings?

In looking for the next coach of the Edmonton Oilers I've tried to look primarily at names that have some NHL experience, have a previous relaltionship with Steve Tambellini, had a team in the playoffs this year, and come from outside the Oilers organization. I've also tried to use names that have come up from reasonably well-connected sports writers. This fits that last criteria a whole lot more than the first four: Pierre Lebrun mentioned Marc Habscheid a few moons ago and although he doesn't fit many of the criteria, he is an interesting candidate. Lebrun also mentions several other possibilities in his article (Pat Quinn, Marc Crawford, Scott Arniel and Tom Renney), all of which have been mentioned here in the past (I've also discussed Kevin Constantine and Perry Pearn)

Habscheid does not have any NHL head coaching experience (and only one season as an assistant in Boston) so most fans will only have really seen his international teams. Habscheid was the coach of the World Junior team that won a silver medal in 2003 as well as the gold medal team at the (Senior) World Championships in 2004 and the silver medal team in 2005. He was also an assistant for the Olympic team in 2006. In these last three instances Habscheid would have worked with Tambellini, so there is some familiarity there. The World Championship experience also means that he would have coached a couple of the Oiler veterans in Shawn Horcoff and Steve Staios. Unfortunately, all of these international gigs are far enough in the rear-view mirror that most fans won't have (m)any memories of his coaching style (this is certainly true of me).

So what else does Habscheid have on his resume? His professional playing career began in Edmonton. He was drafted by the Oilers in the 6th round of the 1981 entry draft and was in the organization until 1984-85 playing several games with the Oilers over four seasons but never managing more than 32 games in a season and failing to sneak his name onto the Stanley Cup. Nonetheless, that's a nice Edmonton connection that could serve to help or hurt him in the hiring process. The fact that he wouldn't be the first head coach of the Oilers that they drafted as a player illustrates the hestiation Tambellini may have bringing in another (albeit more obscure) face from the 80s.

Habscheid's junior coaching career has been very successful. He spent seven seasons coaching in the WHL,, two with Kamloops and five with Kelowna. When Habscheid took over in Kamloops the team was coming off of a dreadful 63-point season. Habscheid then led the Blazers to seasons of 77 and 109 points. In the latter season (1998-99) Habscheid led the team to an appearance in the WHL finals. After that season, Habscheid was dismissed (though I'm not sure why). In the year after his departure the team fell back to 78 points. The Blazers still have not had a more successful season than that of 1998-99 either in terms of regular season points or playoff success. After leaving Kamloops, Habscheid coached the Kelowna Rockets for five seasons between 1999-2000 and 2003-04. Habschied took over in the middle of a dreadful season in 1999-2000 in which the Rockets would amass only 57 points (a two point improvement over the previous year's performance). The following year the team improved to 86 points. In 2002-03 they won the WHL championship and Habscheid won the 2003 coach of the year award. The team scored 311 goals that year and allowed 164 for a +157 goal differential in 72 games. 2003-04 was his final year as head coach. The team lost in the WHL final but won the Memorial Cup tournament which they hosted. That team scored 185 goals and allowed 115 (!) in 72 regular season games and posted a +70 goal differential. I think it's safe to say that Habscheid probably leans toward defence.

After leaving Kelowna Habscheid spent a few years as the coach of Hockey Canada until he took a post as an assistant coach with the Boston Bruins for one season in 2006-07 (this was when Dave Lewis was head coach of the Bruins... not their best time). Although he's been out of coaching since this time, an interview he did with Regan Bartel in the winter of 2008 suggests that he's still interested in coaching, although he definitely downplays the possibility of coaching in the NHL and instead talks mostly about a return to the WHL. In a more recent interview with Jon Keen, Habscheid still emphasizes the fact that he's looking for the right situation but does sound like he's itching to get back into coaching but again, only WHL options are discussed.

Marc Habscheid looks to me like a very good coach that leans toward defence. He has some limited connection to Edmonton and given his "not quite there" status on the teams in the glory days he may respond with the appropriate surliness to their being mentioned. His track record is very good, though it's almost all with junior aged players. At this point, I think it's unlikely that he ends up in Edmonton since his heart seems to be in coaching in the WHL. If he does end up in Edmonton the lack of pro experience makes it a bit of a risky choice but one that I think would pay off.

No comments: