Dave Tippett remains optimistic the Edmonton Oilers can beat expectations next season, but their new coach is certain one of the keys to progress will be success in the free agent signing period that begins July 1.
The 57-year-old was hired as Edmonton coach May 28, two weeks after Ken Holland was hired as Oilers general manager.
Tippett said a primary focus for the revamped Oilers hockey operations department is help for No. 1 goalie Mikko Koskinen.
"You're going to need another guy who can play," Tippett said Friday. "Koskinen, I watched him at different times last season. He looked really strong for stretches, and down the stretch in the last month or so, he looked tired to me. He had played a lot of games."
Koskinen returned to the NHL this season after playing the previous seven in Europe. The 30-year-old went 25-21-6 for Edmonton with a 2.93 goals-against average, a .906 save percentage and four shutouts in 55 games (51 starts).
"I'm looking forward to working with him," Tippett said. "There's some real good parts to his game. That said, we need to another guy to take some of the load off him."
In order to improve on their 35-38-9 record, which left them 11 points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference, Tippett said the Oilers will also need to find some help for centers Connor McDavid, who had an NHL career-high 116 points (41 goals, 75 points) in 78 games, and Leon Draisaitl, who had an NHL career-best 105 points (50 goals, 55 assists) in 82 games.
"[Holland] has been working away here all week with the (free agent) interview period, and he knows we've got some holes to fill," Tippett said. "There's some depth at forward that really has to be addressed. He's going at it hard with the people here. We've had some good discussions about the lineup and where it's going and who we think could fit in, so we'll see where that goes in the next few days."
Video: Oilers introduce Dave Tippett as their new head coach
Tippett discussed a wide range of topics in an interview with NHL.com:
How optimistic are you that the Oilers can exceed expectations next season and how fast can change and improvement take place?
"It was a tough year last year so everybody gets really caught up in everything that's gone bad. So when you're a new voice coming in, you say there's a lot of good parts here, too. Any time you have a core of players like McDavid, Draisaitl, [center Ryan] Nugent-Hopkins, [defensemen Darnell] Nurse, [Oscar] Klefbom, [Adam] Larsson, there are some good players here and it's not as if they missed the playoffs by 25 points. They missed by 11 in a year that they fired a coach (Todd McLellan on Nov. 20), fired a [general] manager (Peter Chiarelli on Jan. 23). There was a lot of turmoil going on. It's not as far off as people think it is and hopefully coming in with maybe making a couple of subtle moves here and there and getting stabilized a little bit, we can be a better team. If you missed by 11 points last year, you hope to make that up and get yourself in somehow."
How much discussion have you had with McDavid since being hired?
"I have talked to him a couple of times. I've had some exposure to him as an assistant [with Team North America] at the World Cup [of Hockey 2016]. He's a dominant player. He's one of those players who has the ability to dictate the outcome of games. Anytime you have a player like that on your roster, as a coach it's a nice tool to have in your toolbox. He's a very humble, good person and obviously an unbelievable player. I am looking forward to working with him on a day-to-day basis."
Are you thinking about playing McDavid and Draisaitl on the same line, as they have much of the past three seasons?
"I know that they've played very well together, so that's the early thought coming in. But really, until we get what our final roster looks like, as a coach you try to put the pieces together you think you can win with. If those guys are together, that's one way. Depending who else might join our roster, there might be other ways to do it. So I've got nothing set in stone yet."
What are your thoughts on helping forward Milan Lucic rebound next season after he scored six goals this season?
"We'll have to see how the rest of our lineup gets put together. He's a guy who can be a big, strong winger and go up and down the wing and play hard and we'll try to get him in that mode but to see who he plays with, those are things that also help players. We'll see where all that turns out."
You've been referred to as a defensive coach. Would it be more accurate to say you coach under a defensive structure?
"Call it system or structure, every team has certain ways they play in a game. It's how well the players do it together and how consistently they do it together. It's about playing as a team. Those are things that I think are prerequisites to being a winning team. My whole thing is, how do you win? You've got a group of players and the coach's job is to maximize each of those players and play a style that allows your team to be the most successful. … We have McDavid and Draisaitl and they have to be able to play to their strengths. We'll have bottom-six forwards who have to be able to play to their strengths also, and some of those strengths are penalty killing and faceoffs. There are a lot of things people can do to help you win, even though they're not top offensive players. I'm more about maximizing people I have."
This is your first time coaching a team in a Canada market. How would you describe the passion of hockey fans in Edmonton?
"We had a little 3-on-3 game here at the development camp, but the stands were full in the practice rink, so that's on a Thursday evening in the middle of summer. That's a good sign of things to come."