At the end of last season, following a fruitless campaign with the Stars, longtime NHL head coach Ken Hitchcock announced his retirement, leaving the NHL after somewhat successful stints with four different franchises and a 1999 Stanley Cup win.
“I think I’ve had enough,” Hitchcock said at the time. “I think the coaching part ... is over.”
It took approximately seven months for that retirement to stick, as the third-winningest coach in NHL history is reportedly coming back to take advantage of what is objectively a very cool opportunity: coaching in his hometown of Edmonton, and coaching Connor McDavid.
The Oilers, currently 9-10-1, are struggling for the second season in a row following a breakout 2016–17 that saw them take the Ducks to seven games in the second round. A bunch of dumb front-office moves—including the trade the sent Taylor Hall to New Jersey, where he would become MVP—and some awful goaltending from Cam Talbot have combined to keep them near the bottom of the Pacific Division since that series.
Whatever’s been going on in Edmonton over the last 10 years, the problem has generally not been the coaching:
GM Peter Chiarelli has long deserved the ax, but it’s head coach Todd McLellan who’s getting booted off the team first, in the midst of his fourth season.
The 66-year-old Hitchcock, who values a safe style of hockey that shores up the defensive zone at the expense of attacking rushes, has never managed sustained success with any of his franchises. But Chiarelli and the Oilers don’t have the luxury of long-term planning right now. To have such a weak supporting cast and such a sieve of a goalie that the otherworldly duo of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl struggle to even think about the playoffs is unacceptable, and unfulfilled potential haunts this team worse than the ghosts of the ’80s.