EDMONTON -- Dave Tippett has a bold message for Edmonton Oilers fans who have contemplated giving up on a team that has missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 12 of the past 13 seasons.
"This is going to be a fun ride," Tippett said Tuesday when he was hired as Oilers coach. "If I'm a fan out there thinking I'm going to step away, you might be disappointed. I think there's lots of upside in this team and I'm excited to get going. I feel that good about it here."
The Oilers (35-38-9) finished seventh in the Pacific Division this season, 11 points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. Coach Todd McLellan was fired Nov. 20, and general manager Peter Chiarelli was fired Jan. 23. Ken Holland was hired as GM on May 7.
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"I think there's a ton of upside in this group here, with Ken coming along here to give it stability, and that was a big check mark for me," Tippett said. "In the hockey world, this is still looked upon as a great place."
Though Tippett takes over a team that has made the playoffs once (2017) since reaching the Stanley Cup Final and losing in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, he will be coaching young, high-end talent.
Center Connor McDavid had an NHL career-high 116 points (41 goals, 75 assists) in 78 games this season. The 22-year-old finished second in the NHL in points, 12 behind Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Forward Leon Draisaitl set NHL career highs with 50 goals, 55 assists and 105 points in 82 games this season. The 23-year-old was second in goals behind Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (51) and fourth in points.
"I come to a team here that obviously has good pieces, lots of upside, and everybody talks about McDavid and Draisaitl, there's more pieces here than McDavid and Draisaitl," said Tippett, who is 553-413-120 with 28 ties in 14 seasons as an NHL coach with the Dallas Stars (2002-09) and Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes (2009-17). "There are good players here to build on."
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In addition to McDavid and Draisaitl, he mentioned 26-year-old center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who set NHL career highs with 28 goals, 41 assists and 69 points in 82 games, and 24-year-old defenseman Darnell Nurse, Edmonton's first-round pick (No. 7) in the 2013 NHL Draft, who set NHL career highs with 10 goals, 31 assists and 41 points. Nugent-Hopkins played for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 when Tippett was an assistant to McLellan.
Tippett's enthusiasm will be tested next season. The Oilers must make major strides to return to the playoffs.
Their goal-scoring was particularly top-heavy this season. Four players -- McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and forward Alex Chiasson (NHL career-high 21 goals) -- accounted for 141 of Edmonton's 229 goals (61.6 percent). It will be Holland's area to address first with roster moves before Tippett tries to fit the pieces together in training camp.
Tippett also will need to install a more reliable defensive structure. Edmonton allowed 271 goals, tied with the New Jersey Devils for the sixth most in the NHL. (To that end, the Oilers presumably will acquire an NHL-level goalie to join Mikko Koskinen, the only goalie with experience in the League signed for next season.)
Tippett believes he can do both and disputed the notion that he is a rigid defensive specialist. He said his first NHL coaching job, with the Stars in 2002-03, came about after he was an assistant with the Los Angeles Kings in charge of a power play that led the NHL at 20.7 percent in 2001-02.
"I laugh at that [label] all the time," said Tippett, who coached the Coyotes to the Western Conference Final in 2012. "My first job in the NHL I actually got from (current St. Louis Blues GM) Doug Armstrong in Dallas because I was an offensive coach. Doug hired me because he thought I could work more creativity and offense.
"Then I went to Arizona and we had to figure out how to win without those high-end scorers, so we figured out how to win in Arizona with character and grit and good defense and good goaltending. So I don't look at myself as a defensive coach or an offensive coach. I look at myself as a coach that tries to find a way to win with the people I have."
Lead photo courtesy of Marko Ditkun/Edmonton Oilers