After an lengthy search, the Edmonton Oilers now have their new head coach.
Wednesday morning at Millennium Place, Ralph Krueger — who’s spent the past two seasons as Tom Renney’s associate behind the Oilers’ bench — was named the 11th bench boss in the club’s 34-year history in the NHL.
“You speak with people that have worked with Ralph and players that have been coached by him, they talk about leadership, clarity and motivation,” said general manager Steve Tambellini. “He’s a person that they want to play for. He has a reputation that people will play for him and want to win for him.”
In 2011-12, his second full campaign as the team’s head coach, Renney coached the orange and blue to a 32-40-10 record. It was made public on May 17 that the Oilers would not renew his contract and would seek a replacement for “the next phase of the rebuild,” Tambellini said.
Krueger, 52, is entering his third season with the Oilers and his first as an NHL head coach. The Winnipeg, Manitoba native was in charge of special teams last season, helping the team’s power-play vault to third in the NHL with a 20.6-per cent success rate.
With Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and now Nail Yakupov, highlighting the Oilers’ wealth of potentially elite skill is Priority No. 1 in Krueger’s mind.
“A winning culture grows out of a culture of excellence,” he said. “We’re going to be extremely detail-focused. From the summer training that’s going on right now, we’ll communicate with the players as much as possible to support them. We want to be known as a hard-working team on and off the ice — a very disciplined team. The winning will come as a byproduct of that.
“Our natural ability will lead us to winning. The winning is a byproduct, not a focus. The focus will be excellence; it will be our execution, our practices. You won’t come to a practice where you see us, in any way shape or form, compromising our quality. Every practice, on or off the ice, will be at the highest possible level and winning will naturally be a byproduct of the time we put it in.”
Most recently in a lead role, Krueger was the head coach of the Swiss National Team, anchoring a three-year tenure where he helped the squad climb eight spots to seventh overall in the IIHF World Hockey Rankings. In doing so, he also coached the Swiss to a sixth place finish at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
From 1991 to 1998, he was the general manager and head coach of VEU Feldkirch in Austria’s First Division. Between the Austrian, Alpenleague and European titles, nine championships were won under his guidance and leadership.
“I’m about creating processes that are positive,” Krueger said. “Anybody who’s worked with me knows that. But that doesn’t mean happy-go-lucky, hugging kind of positives. It means solutions are what we’re going to be all about and working toward those. It’s not about me, it’s about the group. I’ll pull out a whip if I need to communicate quickly with the players.
“Tough empathy is what I’m really about as a leader.”
Assistant coaches Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith, along with the rest of the staff will stay on under Krueger’s leadership.
Coaching veteran and now TSN analyst Marc Crawford, as well as Oklahoma City Barons Head Coach Todd Nelson, were also interviewed, although Tambellini wouldn’t declare the exact number of candidates.
“There were some (candidates interviewed) internally, some externally.”
Twice in 2010-11 and three more times in this past season while Tom Renney sat out with a concussion, Krueger stepped in behind the Oilers’ bench. He earned his first win on Feb. 2 at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, shellacking the playoff-hunting Flames by a 6-1 score.
In total to this point as a fill-in, he’s amassed a 2-5 coaching record. Now, he’s ready to take the Oilers to the next level.
“(His) teaching ability, obviously his technical skill is elite,” Tambellini said. “The leadership of this group is so important right now. Our young people need the right message; one that’s instructive, inspiring, motivating — and I can’t think of a better person to do that than Ralph Krueger.”
“We’re going to work,” Krueger added. “The surreal feeling is not there at all. It’s been a natural, healthy 23 years of growth as a coach and I’m ready for this situation.”