The Edmonton Oilers fired head coach Todd McLellan on Tuesday and replaced him with legendary coach, Ken Hitchcock, who came out of retirement to join the Oilers.

Ken Hitchcock
Ken Hitchcock, with the third-most wins in NHL coaching history, running a practice with the Dallas Stars last season. (Image: AP)

After 20 games, the Oilers started the season 9-10-1 and languishing at the bottom of the Pacific Division. The team needed a wake-up call.

McLellan Nipped in the Bud

Last season, no coaches were dismissed during the NHL regular season. That had never happened before in the NFL since the Original Six expansion. Within a 12-hour span, two coaches were axed.

On Monday evening, the St. Louis Blues fired Mike Yeo on Monday evening and on Tuesday morning, Todd McLellan got the pink slip.

The Oilers struggled under McLellan with a sub-500 record. They were sixth place in the Pacific League. McLellan coached the San Jose Sharks for seven seasons before joining the Oilers in the 2015-16 season.

“Obviously we’re in a rough patch here,” said Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli. “We’re leading into American Thanksgiving. It’s a bit of a template for making the playoffs. I felt I was seeing some things that I had seen last year after not seeing them for quite a fair bit this year, and these recurring themes, I wanted to nip them in the bud.”

Hope in Edmonton

The Oilers had a breakout year in 2016-17 with the rise of Connor McDavid. For the first time in a very long time, Oilers’ fans were excited about the Stanley Cup potentially returning to Edmonton.

However, the 2017-18 season was a dud. The squad failed to make the postseason after compiling a 36-40-6 record and earning a paltry 78 points. McDavid had a strong season, but the team could not win games. The Oilers finished in sixth place (out of eight teams).

“It’s tough to pinpoint what we need,” say star player Connor McDavid. “But we’re all to blame here. This obviously isn’t on Todd at all. It’s on us as players. That’s just how the business works sometimes. We got to wake up here.”

Management and fans expected the Oilers to bounce back this season and return to the playoffs. Yet after 20 games, the team was stuck in the same rut.

Welcome Back, Hitchcock

Some folks don’t take kindly to retirement. Ken Hitchcock coached the majority of his adult life. For the first time in a long time, Hitchcock started the season as a civilian. However, after 20 games of sub-standard hockey, the Oilers gave Hitchcock a call.

“It’s not going to change overnight,” Hitchcock said about his new team, the Oilers. “But we can start taking some steps. I told the players today I can take them to a place personally that they can’t get to themselves, but they’ve got to buy into that, and it’s not going to be comfortable at times.”

Only two other coaches have more career wins than the 66-year old Hitchcock (823). Only Joel Quenneville (890) and the legendary Scotty Bowman (1,029) won more games than Hitchcock.

Hitchcock spent 22 seasons at the helm in Dallas (twice), Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Columbus. Hitchcock won the Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999.

Hitchcock still had time remaining on his contract when he stepped down as head coach of the Dallas Stars at the end of last season.

Hitchcock felt the modern game was passing him by, so he decided he wasn’t the right man for the job.

“I have contemplated this since our last game,” explained Hitchcock. “I came to the conclusion that now is the right time to step away and let the younger generation of coaches take over.”

Alberta Born

Hitchcock was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Like every Canadian, he played hockey. But from an early age, Hitch knew he had a knack for motivating players. Coaching seemed like a natural fit. Hitchcock paid his dues and started coaching at the lowest levels.

In the mid-1980s, Hitchcock got his first big break as cash of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers. He excelled coaching at rough and tumble the Junior hockey ranks that had no shortage of hockey fights, but his teams never won the coveted Memorial Cup.

After six years with the Kamloops, Hitchcock joined the Philadelphia Flyers as an assistant coach in 1990. In 1993, Hitchcock became the head coach of the Dallas Stars’ minor league team (IHL’s Kalamazoo Wings). After a couple seasons there, Hitchcock finally got the call he had been waiting for in January 1996.

Despite being a mid-season replacement, Hitchcock guide the Stars to a first-place finish in their division. In his second season, the Stars lost to the Detroit Red Wings in the Conference Finals.

The Stars and Hitchcock hit pay dirt during the 1998-99 season. The Stars finished with the best record in the NHL (51-19-12) and won its first Stanley Cup. Hitchcock and the Stars beat the Buffalo Sabres. The next season, the Stars lost in the Stanley Cup finals to the New Jersey Devils.

In 2009, Hitchcock won his 500th career game with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He won the Jack Adams Award (a.k.a. the NHL’s coach of the year trophy) for the 2011-12 season.

Hitchcock also served as assistant coach for the Canadian Olympic team.