EDMONTON - Ralph Krueger was introduced as the new head coach of the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday morning at Millennium Place in Sherwood Park.
Krueger, in the exclusive interview with your correspondent for the June 21 edition of the Sun from his family summer cottage outside of Kenora, Ont., suggested that he believed he’d be the new head coach of the Edmonton Oilers this week.
That didn’t mean he knew he had the job, just that he was going to be here, first in line and possibly as the only guy in line, to have the chance to seize the moment.
It would have been mind boggling if Krueger hadn’t been hired in time for the Oilers to head to Toronto to take their turn in an attempt to sell free-agent Wisconsin defenceman Justin Schultz on joining Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan-Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.
Krueger will tell the press conference, in which he becomes the 10th head coach in Oilers history, what he told me for the two-page spread in the June 4th edition of the Sun, pointing to this day that there’s no chance he’ll be the defence, defence, defence coach with this team that he was as the long-time Swiss National coach.
“A head coach must develop a strategy to win that is in line with the tools and skill level at his disposal. If you have offensive skill you can attack; if not, rely on defence and counter punching. We would take our power play foundation and attacking principles into our five-on-five game,” he said in a follow-up comment after the draft.
As associate coach to Tom Renney with the Oilers last year, Krueger took over the power play. The Oilers ended up third at 20.6% after being 27th at 14.5% the year before. If he can do that five-on-five, the Oilers are in the playoffs.
(Interesting that about the same time as confirmation of the Krueger announcement came, a source in Switzerland informed that Renney is suddenly being rumoured as the next head coach of the ZSC Lions in Zurich where Krueger was expected to go if he didn’t get the Oilers job. Ironically, Jeff Tambellini, son of the Oilers GM who didn’t renew Renney’s contract, plays for the Swiss League championship team, which was coached by new Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien last year.)
“I’m not a defensive coach,” said Krueger. “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 countries 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, he believes, is there to see in what he did taking over the Oilers power play last year.
“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 remaining in 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.”
If you want a testimonial about this guy, it’s hard to top the one that Klaus Zaugg, the longtime and highly respected Swiss hockey writer, provided.
“Ralph was the smartest and most charismatic coach in Europe for the previous 15 years,” he insists.
“He is not only hockey-smart, but life-smart. He wrote a book Team Life, about how to handle problems in life and it was a bestseller. He â¨made $30,000 for a two-hour-motivation speech in front of high-profile managers. He can fill every room with hisâ¨ presence.”
If he goes to Toronto and fills the room, with Schultz and his agent, with that kind of presence, who knows, he could be the closer in convincing Shultz to come here.
Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones