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'Didn't see it coming': Connor McDavid says Oilers coach firings came as a surprise

Win or lose, the rumour mill surrounding the Edmonton Oilers churns constantly.

And even though a lot of talk among media and fans had revolved around what was going to happen with the National Hockey League team and its massive misfire to start the season, billed as a Stanley Cup or Bust-type of campaign by both players and executives, the decidedly predictable outcome of the head coach and his top assistant losing their jobs came as a surprise to the Oilers' top-draw superstar.

"I didn't see it coming," said Connor McDavid, the NHL's reigning most valuable player and leading scorer who hasn't scored a goal in almost a month and sits 113th on the league scoring list with 10 points in 11 games played this season.

McDavid told media following morning skate Monday he woke to the news of head coach Jay Woodcroft and assistant Dave Manson being fired following a 3-9-1 start to 2023-24 in a text on Sunday "like probably a lot of you guys did as well" and finding out his former junior coach, Kris Knoblauch, was taking over the bench.

"He never lost the room, I didn't think," McDavid said when asked if Woodcroft's message was being lost among the players, something fellow star centre Leon Draisaitl echoed.

"He's a great coach. He's going to have a lot of success where he's going," said Draisaitl, also a former MVP and leading scorer who has 15 points in 13 games so far in 2023-24, good for 31st spot on the NHL scoring list. "There's no way he lost anyone in here. Obviously us players, we're the ones on the ice. We're as prepared as any team in the league for any given night. It's on us to be better."

Knoblauch, who ran Monday's skate before the team hosts the New York Islanders in the evening (7 p.m.), will be McDavid's fifth head coach and Draisaitl's seventh since the stars were drafted by the Oilers in 2015 and 2014, respectively, relatively high numbers that Draisaitl says don't mean anything.

"We’ve had a lot of success here, too," he told reporters. "We’ve won over 100 games over the last two years. People tend to forget that. It’s definitely not the start we wanted, but that’s on no one but us players.”

Knoblauch, a former University of Alberta Golden Bears forward and seventh-round pick of the New York Islanders who joined the coaching ranks with the Western Hockey League's Prince Albert Raiders in 2006 following a minor-pro career, said he will be trying to make things "as simple as possible" for the players as he gets to know them before making any substantial, adding that he's looking to instill confidence in a group he sees as dealing with "frustration" even while "the passion is there, the work ethic is there."

"I think it's really important that players feel themselves, feel confident and put the start of the season behind them," said Knoblauch, who coached McDavid with the junior Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters and who won league titles in both the OHL and the WHL as a bench boss. "We've talked about some minor changes to our systems and we're going to move on from there, and as the season progresses, there'll be more and more changes, but we're not reinventing the wheel. We're not doing anything very drastic. We just got to get better at executing details and things will look after themselves." Top Stories

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