NHL Playoffs: Underestimate Edmonton Oilers Coach Kris Knoblauch at Your Own Risk

The Edmonton Oilers have faced significant adversity this season and throughout the NHL playoffs, but coach Kris Knoblauch has made strategic moves that have paid off brilliantly. Will his tactics continue to succeed?

The contrast between the coaches in the Stanley Cup final is stark. In Florida, there’s the witty Paul Maurice, who uses humor and charisma to deflect pressure from his players. Maurice, despite not having a Cup, has a wealth of experience, with 1,848 games coached since 1995, the most of any active coach and second only to Scotty Bowman in NHL history.

In Alberta, Kris Knoblauch is entering his first Stanley Cup final after just 69 regular-season games as an NHL head coach. Many believe the Panthers have the edge due to their experience last year, but Knoblauch is an X-factor who elevates the Oilers beyond the contributions of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

Knoblauch led Edmonton to a .703 points percentage during the regular season, equating to a 115-point pace over a full year, which would surpass the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers by one point. In the playoffs, Knoblauch has been masterful with player deployment. He benched struggling Stuart Skinner for two games against Vancouver and then successfully reintroduced him. He has also made strategic adjustments with top players and smaller tweaks in the bottom six and on defense.

Almost everything Knoblauch has tried has worked. He managed Draisaitl during an injury scare and integrated young defenseman Philip Broberg into the lineup against Dallas. Even Connor Brown, often criticized, has become a regular, seeing increased ice time due to his strong penalty-killing and responsible play, contributing to Edmonton’s improved defense.

Knoblauch’s NHL experience before this season included two seasons as an assistant with the Philadelphia Flyers and a successful run at the junior level, including a WHL championship with the Kootenay Ice in 2011 and an OHL title with the Erie Otters in 2017. Despite limited NHL playoff experience, he has been impressively composed during Edmonton’s postseason run.

The pressure of being ‘Canada’s team’ hasn’t fazed him, even when Edmonton was down 3-2 to Vancouver in the second round. Goaltending issues and criticism of Darnell Nurse in the conference final were quickly resolved, with the Oilers players avoiding divisive or provocative statements.

As the spotlight intensifies, starting with media day in Sunrise, Fla., on Friday, if Knoblauch can continue to manage distractions and optimize his roster’s performance, the Oilers’ chances of ending Canada’s 31-year Cup drought may be better than many anticipate.