“I don’t see why he wouldn’t want to coach the Edmonton Oilers. He’s a very worthwhile candidate. No question. Brent is obviously a good coach, he’s an Albertan, he’s more than familiar with the Battle of Alberta and I would think Brent would want to coach the Oilers.”
The other candidate hasn’t received the same attention as Sutter. But he’s getting it now.
He was Tom Renney’s associate coach Ralph Krueger.
“He is a candidate,” confirmed Lowe.
But to what extent?
An e-mail exchange between well-known long-time Swiss hockey writer Klaus Zaugg and Krueger, the former Swiss national team coach, indicated Krueger considers his candidacy to be serious.
Zaugg contacted Krueger, who spends his summers in Switzerland, about his interest in the Zurich Lions job vacated by Bob Hartley to go to the Calgary Flames.
The response was interesting.
“You know me. One job at a time. My contract with the Oilers runs until the end of June. I cannot say whether I have been contacted but my present focus is on the possible head coaching job in Edmonton.
“I feel well prepared for this challenge. The Oilers are my third organization in 22 years and I would prefer not to change. (I would only stay as the head coach). I am patient and will have no problem with however the cards may fall.”
Barely had that exchange been made when a quote from the winningest coach in all of hockey history, Scotty Bowman, appeared to endorse Krueger for the Oilers’ job.
Sunday, I reached Krueger at his home in Switzerland.
“A few years back Scotty started showing up at world championships and he was always open to a conversation,” said Krueger, the Winnipeg-native, from his home in Davos where his family has lived for two decades.
Krueger, who worked as a European consultant to Team Canada GM Kevin Lowe at the world championships this year, said he thinks all is positioned well with where he’s at in the process of the Oilers finding a new coach.
“The whole thing has developed at kind of a comfortable pace,” he said.
“I’m very comfortable in having had time away and I find the opportunity to be the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers to be very exciting.”
Krueger said he believes he’s a serious candidate but says there’s nothing there beyond that.
“Nothing has been offered. I haven’t had official contact. And I can’t speak of what kind of contact I’ve had.”
But now that he’s had time away from Edmonton, he knows where he wants to be and that’s not back in Europe, it’s in the National Hockey League and there’s no job he’d rather have than the one in Edmonton.
“I feel really ready. And 100% at the head coaching position,” said Krueger, who came to the Oilers after coaching Switzerland to a shootout loss against Canada at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
When Renney moved up from being Pat Quinn’s associate coach to the head job, Renney’s timing in asking him to take over as associate coach was perfect, said Krueger.
“After 20 years coaching in Europe, I was really looking for growth and something that would take me out of my comfort zone,” he said. “It was the perfect call to get from Tom at the right time.”
Krueger had put his toe into the NHL pond taking a consultant position with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 in time to win a Stanley Cup ring sitting in the stands with his son for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final against the Oilers.
“The Carolina experience, which I continued with until I joined the Oilers, allowed me inside the walls of an NHL team and at their table at the draft. But I knew I needed to get away from Europe and get out of my box.
“I experienced more than I expected in Edmonton.”
Krueger was heavily rumoured in Europe to return to taking a national team job leading to the Sochi Olympics or a league team job in the right situation.
“I hadn’t made any statements. The only statement I made was that I was planning on going forward as a head coach. I wasn’t thinking of being a candidate for an NHL job until Tom’s press conference,” he said of watching Renney’s exit on the internet.
“I was pulling for Tom to be coming back. But watching that I started thinking of the potential reality.
“It was good to be so far from everything emotionally.”
In recent weeks, Krueger admits he’s had “multiple offers” in Europe.
“I’ve told everybody I will wait out the process. In the past few weeks I have come to realize my passion is to stay in the NHL. My heart is beating to be a head coach in the NHL.”
Krueger knows that he’s been labeled as a defensive-defensive coach and that there’s the idea he wouldn’t provide a dramatically different style than Renney.
“I’m not a defensive coach,” he said. “I’m a coach who looks at the skills of my players and coaches them accordingly.
“Switzerland is a country that has trouble scoring but has players who play good defence and play as a team. I coached the Swiss to be able to beat the teams we were supposed to beat and to compete with the top counties in the world.
“I had a team in Austria with Bengt-Ake Gustafsson where we won the European championship where we were offence, offence, offence with a good defensive base,” he said.
Gustafsson would later become Swedish national coach.
Krueger says any testimonial to his coaching a team with offence is there to see in what he did taking over the Oilers power play last year.
The Oilers ended up third at 20.6% after being 27th at 14.5% the year before.
“It was the first season I ran it by myself,” he said.
As for the concept of having a similar style to Renney, he said that’s likely a product of his role as an associate coach to Renney.
“There’s only one leader on the team,” he said. “But every leader is unique and has his own style. My cornerstones are respect and creating an honest environment with accountability being really high. I’m a big fan of discipline with simple priorities — hard work and accountability.
“I’m not interested in my own popularity. I don’t need anybody to like me. It’s about liking the results.
“I know how much potential I feel there is in Edmonton. I don’t think there’s any question there’s a big upside. It’s there. But it’s going to take a lot of hard work in the next while to get there.”