EDMONTON - If the NHL and NHLPA can, indeed, agree to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement within the next couple days or weeks, Head Coach Ralph Krueger -- one of the most detail-oriented, focused and prepared individuals around -- is ready to spring into action.
Talk of a 56-game season is rumoured, with a condensed, weeklong training camp kicking it all off prior to Christmas. Deal or no deal, Krueger, along with assistant coaches Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith, are chomping at the bit.
"We'd make the best of it," Krueger said at the Oilers' annual Inner City High Luncheon Thursday. "We wouldn't complain about the toughness of it -- we're going to look at being better than the opposition in dealing with it.
“It's a challenging opportunity for us. We have to be the best at dealing with the challenges of a possible tight season with travel, regeneration, what we do on the ice and how much of it. It's going to be critical to performing well in the games, so it's a great challenge. It will be fun to look at it with the coaching staff.
“We're excited, if it does happen.”
Krueger, Buchberger and Smith have spent the entire summer (and beyond) constructing new concepts and innovating old ones to better suit the fast-paced, constantly evolving NHL game. Considering Krueger’s main message of striving for excellence, the Oilers’ coaching staff is certainly committed to doing their part.
“We feel really comfortable with each other as coaches,” Krueger said. “There’s no one new on board and we’ve been together for a couple years now -- it’s a good feeling. We've tried to improve in all different departments where we have control; we're trying to get better and never be satisfied with where we're at. That's what we're working on: developing better ways to train off the ice, better ways to attack the nutrition challenges with the players when we're traveling and things like that. On the ice, it’s about having higher-speed practices.
“All kinds of details have been looked at and we feel we’re ready.”
Promoted from the associate role on June 27, Krueger, 52, became the 11th head coach in the club’s illustrious 34-year history. Built on a promise of “tough empathy,” Krueger has put together a bright resume that includes two decades of coaching experience. Most recently in a lead role, Krueger was the head coach of the Swiss National Team. Under his guidance and exemplary leadership, Switzerland climbed eight spots to seventh overall in the IIHF World Hockey Rankings in a three-year span.
Across the pond, Krueger won nine championships between the Austrian, Alpen and European leagues.
Since he’s waited so long already, a little extra added due to the NHL work stoppage hasn’t derailed his preparation.
“There have been some ups and downs, some bumps and bruises -- but they’ve really settled into a nice game as a team,” Krueger said. “Oklahoma City is really becoming a serious contender in the American League. It's a good league this year; it's high-speed, the players have been tested and challenged. That's what we like to see.
“It's a stronger league than the National Hockey League,” he said, adding that the somewhat-dramatic spike in physical play is something the younger, less developed players have to get used to. “The speed is very similar and so is the tactical side of it. The structure of the game is a little bit (wilder) in the American League. Sometimes it’s chaos when you’re trying to defend, whereas in the NHL it’s much more structured and there are clearer ways to defend. That’s something that’s been new for our talent down there.”
To suggest Krueger is pleased with the progress in OKC is an understatement. He, unlike any other coach in the League, has been able to watch his players grow as a unit, develop and win all under the Oilers’ wing during the work stoppage.
Justin Schultz leads the AHL with 11 goals and 31 points in 20 games. Jordan Eberle is on his heels, posting 12 goals and 27 points. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall are all sitting comfortably above a point-per-game average as well. In a less-than-ideal circumstance, it’s been as positive a situation as a coach could hope for.
“We’ve got a great, professional environment in Oklahoma City with NHL-level coaching. It’s been a good place to further grow our talent.”
Still, he’s eager to put all that preparation, anticipation and budding excitement to practice with the hands-on approach he’s more accustomed to.
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