Oilers GM Chiarelli on Ken Hitchcock hiring: ‘We felt a new voice would be helpful’
The seeds for the hiring of new Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock were planted during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Then Boston Bruins general manager, Peter Chiarelli, was in Sochi, Russia, to represent the eventual gold medal-winning Team Canada while Hitchcock was an assistant coach.
“I had the experience of working with Ken in Sochi, I got to know him fairly well in that short period of time,” now Oilers general manager Chiarelli told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday. “What I saw was a high level of input in a short period of time.”
Hitchcock, 66, was hired as the Oilers’ (9-10-1) new head coach on Tuesday while Todd McLellan was fired after three-plus years on the job. With McLellan at the helm, Edmonton went 123-119-24 record and the playoffs once.
The #Oilers have named Edmonton native Ken Hitchcock as their new Head Coach after relieving Todd McLellan of his duties earlier this morning. pic.twitter.com/joNXTLMXol
McLellan, 51, had the remainder of the 2018-19 campaign and next season remaining on his contract. But with the Oilers losing seven of their last 10 games, Chiarelli said the organization decided it was time for a change.
“We felt a new voice would be helpful,” Chiarelli said. “This isn’t just an indictment of Todd or the players. But I saw some reversion, levels of flatness, levels of non-responsiveness, and that’s when we decided to act.”
If it’s prior success that the Oilers desire, Hitchcock’s resume exhibits that. The Edmonton native is the third-winningest coach in NHL history with 823 wins to his credit. Only Scott Bowman (1,244) and Joel Quenneville (890) have won more games. Hitchcock has also racked up eight division titles and one Stanley Cup (1999) during stops with the Stars, Flyers, Blues and Blue Jackets.
“He’s well-respected, a taskmaster, he’s got a lot to his portfolio and I felt he was the right person for the job,” Chiarelli said.
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In the meantime, that prior success could resonate for the struggling Oilers. Earlier in the season, the Oilers reeled off five wins in six games as the ship seemed to steer in the right direction. Now, the ship has a new captain and Chiarelli is confident that Hitchcock can steer it right — and do so quickly.
“He can instill something in short order, execute it and direct it,” said Chiarelli. “We had some good discussions with him the latter part of yesterday and he’s very excited and motivated. He had our team down as far as player to player and our systems.”
It remains to be seen whether or not the head coach was the real problem for the Oilers. Edmonton has had eight different head coach and three different general managers since 2008. In that time, the team made one postseason appearance; under McLellan during the 2016-17 season.
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Chiarelli noted that Hitchcock would coach the Oilers for the rest of the season and that his status would be reevaluated at the end of the year.
“These are difficult decisions,” Chiarelli said. “There’s still a lot of runway left this year.”
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