Dreger’s initial take on Oilers hiring Hitchcock

Darren Dreger broke the news Tuesday morning of the Edmonton Oilers firing Todd McLellan and bringing in Ken Hitchcock as the team’s head coach.

Minutes after the club made the move official on Twitter, Dreger joined Leafs Lunch on Toronto’s TSN 1050 (for a brief appearance ahead of his regularly scheduled slot in the following hour) and was asked how long he thought the Oilers had been speaking to Hitchcock.

“I don’t think that they’ve been talking to Hitch very long,” indicated Dreger. “Those are some of the details that we’re going to hear about probably very shortly.

“... I had a back and forth conversation with Hitchcock a few days ago, but it was specific to St. Louis and the speculation swirling around Mike Yeo, who was let go earlier this morning. And I just said to Hitch, ‘Look, is there any way you could see yourself getting back onto a bench.’

“Now, I was implying St. Louis, even on a short term, right, to help them through the end of the year, maybe see if Craig Berube was 100 percent ready to be an NHL head coach again in that sort of scenario. He joked and said, ‘I doubt it. In fact, I don’t even know if I can find my skates.’

“I had an exchange with him last night as well, and he didn’t indicate anything specific to the Oilers, although in fairness I didn’t ask specific to the Oilers.

“So I wouldn’t be surprised if this is simply Bob Nicholson, Wayne Gretzky, Kevin Lowe - the old Hockey Canada regime - just trying to take advantage of a veteran coach who’s got the opportunity to help them, even again on the short term.

“What we need to find out moving forward here, and we will in the next hour or maybe a bit longer than that, is the specifics. Is it for the rest of this year or is it longer than that.”

Leafs Lunch co-host Gord Miller pointed out how Hitchcock represented a shift for the Oilers in terms of having a defensive-minded coach.

“Yep,” agreed Dreger. “And to that point, I had a conversation with a Western Conference coach last week who talked about aside from the speed of McDavid and the lethal combination at times that can be McDavid and Draisaitl, the Oilers are a very easy team to play against. They don’t have a lot of offensive zone time because they try to do everything off the rush. It’s all about speed.

“And as Peter Chiarelli, the general manager, has acknowledged, their defense doesn’t play that transition game very well. So they’re trying to play a game that isn’t working, and that is not the Ken Hitchcock style.

“So whether McDavid and Co. enjoy it or not, I would suspect that in a short period of time there’s going to be a relatively significant crash course on team defense, not just the defensive corps of the Edmonton Oilers.

“And maybe it makes them better. It’s hard to imagine this organization getting much worse, but makes them better in the sense that some of the guys that they have probably are going to be better-suited to playing that style of game.”