Oilers to name Ralph Krueger as head coach
Ralph Krueger, 52, spent his life coaching in Europe, including a long run in charge of the Swiss national team, a squad that upset Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympics and almost beat Canada again in 2010. Krueger joined the Oilers as an associate coach two years ago, and his hiring is set to be made official at a morning press conference in Edmonton on Wednesday.
Lowe, in an interview Tuesday, described Krueger as an “innovator” and a “motivator,” a combination that has already shown results, even during the dreadful past season. And Krueger made his mark on offence, rather than his focus on defence when he led the Swiss team.
While Edmonton finished second last in the league in 2011-12, up slightly from dead last the two previous seasons, a sign of promise was in the Krueger-coached power play. With the younger firepower led by Jordan Eberle, Edmonton was third-best on the man advantage, scoring 20.6 per cent of the time, up from 27th at 14.5 per cent the season before.
“He’s brilliant,” said Lowe of Krueger. “He could be one of the smartest coaches in the game.”
The confirmation of Krueger as coach comes in a busy week for Edmonton. The team scored its third straight No. 1 draft choice last Friday, picking consensus top pick Nail Yakupov, the Oilers’s latest young star scorer. Now, Lowe wants to bolster his defence and strongly pursue free agents, starting with Justin Schultz. The Oilers have more than $25-million of room on the salary cap and while Taylor Hall and Eberle are restricted free agents after the 2012-13 season, Lowe will push to be a contender in this year’s free agent market, competing for the best available talent.
That list is very short, includes New Jersey captain and forward Zach Parise, a position where Edmonton is strong, and Ryan Suter, the Nashville defenceman, where Edmonton is weak.
“We’re definitely going to be a player on July 1, to try to add to the team, and/or through trade, which is always another option,” said Lowe.
And Lowe has the backing of Oilers owner Daryl Katz, the billionaire who has owned the team since 2008 and wants to fund a winner.
“Every year since he’s taken over,” Lowe said of Katz, “he’s challenged us to think big.
As for Schultz, the 21-year-old defenceman being wooed this week by Edmonton, Vancouver and other suiters, Lowe smiled.
“We definitely have interest in Justin Schultz, us and 29 other teams,” he said.
He also added he believed Edmonton’s defence is underestimated, with its current roster improving and underpinned by a deep list of prospects.
In goal, Lowe expressed confidence in Devan Dubnyk, a 26-year-old who was a first-round pick in 2004, No. 14 (ahead of No. 26 pick Cory Schneider in Vancouver). Lowe said the next step for Dubnyk is to establish himself as Edmonton’s starter, ahead of 39-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin.
Lowe said Dubnyk’s strong play late in the season and at the World Championships gives the Oilers “a lot of optimism.”
“He’s really come on,” said Lowe of Dubnyk, who made a 9-4-1 run near the end of the season, and was 20-20-3 for the year, with a 0.914 save percentage. At the World Championships, he won two games, let in only two goals and had a 0.956 save percentage.
Dubnyk is a restricted free agent and a qualifying offer has been tabled.