One topic that did not come up when Oilers president Kevin Lowe was at the recently completed IIHF World Hockey Championship was whether Brent Sutter would like to be the new coach in Edmonton.
Sutter, who coached Canada at the tournament in Helsinki, is rumoured to be the front-runner to replace Tom Renney, who was fired last week after two years behind the Edmonton bench.
And while Sutter is most closely linked to the arch rival Calgary Flames, where he coached the last three seasons, Lowe sees no reason why he wouldn’t be a candidate for Edmonton.
But it wasn’t raised at the worlds
”Brent’s been a good coach,” Lowe said Tuesday at the Bionest Arena, where his son Keegan is playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings in the MasterCard Memorial Cup. ”We’ve seen him recently.
”He’s Albertan. He knows the Battle of Alberta well.”
But Lowe said he didn’t want to discuss it because ”technically, he’s still under contract with the Flames.
”But more importantly, with the sacredness of the world championships and everything it means, he didn’t need any distractions. He’d just come from the Flames, making the mutual decision that he wasn’t going to continue to work with them, and he had a new coaching staff and team to learn in a short time.”
But, he added ”I don’t see why he wouldn’t want to coach the Oilers.”
Many names have been put forward, including Oilers assistant Ralph Kruger, veteran coach Marc Crawford and Jon Cooper, who was named AHL coach of the year with Norfolk.
Lowe said he had no announcement to make, but said ideally a coach will be named before the NHL draft in June.
”That seems to be the start of the next season,” said Lowe. ”Hopefully that will work out, although I’m not sure if that’s going to be the case.
”We know we have a stable of very good, young NHLers, other than the obvious ones, and we’ve drafted well over a number of years. We just want to find a guy to steer them into that next stage.”
Some felt firing Renney after two seasons of working with that young talent was premature, and questioned why they waited until mid-May instead of giving him the chance to start looking for a new job when the season ended.
”I’m not going to get into the whys of what Tom didn’t do well,” Lowe said. ”The fact that we took as long as we did to me shows we gave it careful consideration and [were]respectful of Tom and the job he did.
”He’s a very good hockey man and he’s going to work in the game again. He can do anything in the game. He can be a manager. He can coach. A number of things led to the decision. And we felt we’re still in a transitional period, so we can make changes at this point and not really affect the team overall.”
That transition includes whoever the Oilers select with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, which they hold for a third straight year after taking gifted forwards Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins the last two years.
Lowe said the scouting staff will be asked to pick who they feel will be the best player in the long run, rather than taking a player who suits the team’s needs, like a defenceman.
The Canadian team in Helsinki, which lost in the quarter-finals, included Ryan Murray, a draft-eligible defenceman who is expected to go in the top five or perhaps the top three. Lowe likes him.
”I’ve never been around such a young player who came in to play at such a high level and do it with such calmness,” he said. ”He’s everything he’s been billed as.
”His composure, his skating ability. I don’t know what he projects to be down the road. That’s the difficult job when you’re assessing young guys. But no doubt he will play in the NHL and in all likelihood he could play next season based on his skating and strength and understanding of the game. I was really impressed.”
Another standout blue-liner could be one on the Oil Kings, Griffin Reinhart, the son of former NHL defence star Paul Reinhart.
”I tell everyone Griffin is Paul at six foot four,” Lowe said. ”Paul was a heck of a player. Most teams are looking at Griffin as being a 22-to-25 minute a night guy for a lot of years. He’ll be a top pick as well.”
Lowe was also asked if Gerard Gallant, coach of the defending Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs, may be a candidate for Edmonton. Lowe said he didn’t know Gallant much as a coach, but said a player like Gallant used to be with the Detroit Red Wings was exactly what the Oilers are looking for. A big, hard-nosed winger who scores a lot of goals.
Lowe said his attention will be split in Shawinigan between helping his scouts assess talent for the draft and cheering on his son. Keegan Lowe asked his father specifically not to draft him last June so he could make his own way in the game. He was taken by the Carolina Hurricanes.
”He’s a better skater than I was,” he said. ”He takes a lot of pride in defending and a perfect game for him is not giving up any goals. If he can add to the offence, it’s a bonus. That was my game. I haven’t told him to do that. I said there’s more money in scoring. But, like I did, he’s figured out what he needs to do to be able to play.”