Two Canadian teams with championship histories replaced their coaches this week and they could not have gone in more different directions. In Montreal, Hall of Fame player Martin St-Louis comes in as interim head coach with no pro coaching experience, but all the accolades and friends you could want in the industry. In Edmonton, the Oilers fired Dave Tippett and brought in Jay Woodcroft from AHL Bakersfield, where he helmed the franchise's farm team.
So who is Jay Woodcroft? He's a guy who grinded for his chance at this moment.
The Toronto native played NCAA hockey at Alabama-Huntsville from 1996-2000 before embarking on a short pro career that started in the low minors and ended in Germany. In 2005, he was hired by the Detroit Red Wings as video coach before getting picked up as an assistant coach in San Jose three seasons later. Eventually he shifted over to the same role in Edmonton (you may have noticed his career stops mirrored those of Todd McLellan) and in 2018, he was named head coach of Bakersfield.
Talking to pro scouts, Woodcroft is seen as a guy who truly grinded because he wanted to pay his dues. He's not flashy or loud; he's more low-key. But he has an intensity to win and brings a cerebral approach and a lot of smarts behind the bench. Scouts see him as a players' coach and give him top marks for helping a lot of Condors get called up to the Oilers in recent years.
It should also be noted that Woodcroft has a Stanley Cup ring from his Red Wings days, plus a World Championship gold medal from 2015 when he was an assistant coach for Team Canada. He was also an assistant with Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey - which means he already has a base relationship with Oilers superstar captain Connor McDavid and versatile center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
There's also the fact Woodcroft comes from a heavy hockey family: His older brothers are also coaches, with Craig helming Dinamo Minsk of the KHL and Todd in charge at the University of Vermont.
But the immediate challenge for Woodcroft in Edmonton is obvious: Get this ship turned around quickly, because missing the playoffs would be devastating. Unfortunately, one aspect of the game he probably won't have much influence over is goaltending, where the Oilers have truly struggled: According to MoneyPuck.com, Edmonton's main tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen are two of the worst in the NHL in Goals Saved Above Expected and that was under Tippett, long seen as a defensive coach.
What Woodcroft can do, however, is use his Bakersfield knowledge to perhaps unleash some more depth for the Oilers: Could Ryan McLeod, who was a point-per-gamer with the Condors last year, do more for this team? What about defenseman William Lagesson? Is there time to give Dmitri Samorukov a longer look? He got the most out of his players in Bakersfield; perhaps that will continue to translate in the NHL.
The juggling act for Woodcroft is that the short-term goal for Edmonton is pretty dang obvious right now and it involves wins - lots of 'em. The Oilers need to get into a playoff position and it won't be easy. But if Edmonton can find its footing, we know the Oilers have the high-end talent to be dangerous. How Woodcroft crafts that lineup will be intriguing in the coming months.