The Edmonton Oilers announced Wednesday that associate coach Ralph Krueger will take over the head-coaching duties next season.
Krueger takes over a team that hasn't reached the postseason since 2006 or finished higher than 14th in the Western Conference the past three seasons. The Oilers have yet to reap the rewards of all those high draft picks, something Krueger feels will come to fruition with a detail-oriented approach.
"A winning culture grows out of a culture of excellence," Krueger said at a press conference Wednesday morning. "We're going to be extremely detail-focused. From the summer training that's going on right now, we'll communicate with the players as much as possible to support them. We want to be known as a hard-working team on and off the ice — a very disciplined team. The winning will come as a byproduct of that.
"Our natural ability will lead us to winning. The winning is a byproduct, not a focus. The focus will be excellence; it will be our execution, our practices. You won't come to a practice where you see us, in any way shape or form, compromising our quality. Every practice, on or off the ice, will be at the highest possible level and winning will naturally be a byproduct of the time we put it in."
The 52-year-old joined the Oilers staff in 2010 under coach Tom Renney, who was relieved of his duties at the end of this season. Krueger has been a head coach for teams in Germany and Switzerland and was the coach of the Swiss National Team before coming to Edmonton. During his tenure with the Swiss team from 1997-2010, the squad rose from 15th to 7th in the IIHF world rankings.
Krueger's contract is for three years.
"On hockey's world stage, coach Krueger exhibited his poise and experience behind the bench to help the [Swiss team] overachieve in Torino," said Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini, referring to Switzerland's sixth-place finish at the 2006 Olympics. "This is an example of the type of leadership Ralph will bring to Edmonton."
Associate coaches Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger will remain on the staff.
Krueger worked mostly with the Oilers' special-teams units, which had a big turnaround during the 2011-12 season. Edmonton's power play and penalty kill finished third and 14th, respectively, after placing 27th and 29th in those categories a year ago.
"I'm about creating processes that are positive," Krueger said. "Anybody who's worked with me knows that. But that doesn't mean happy-go-lucky, hugging kind of positives. It means solutions are what we're going to be all about and working toward those. It's not about me, it's about the group. I’ll pull out a whip if I need to communicate quickly with the players.
"Tough empathy is what I'm really about as a leader."
Former Canucks and Stars coach and current TSN analyst Marc Crawford and Oklahoma City Barons coach Todd Nelson were also interviewed, but for Krueger's ability to teach made him the right man for the job with a young, talented team in Edmonton.
"(His) teaching ability, obviously his technical skill is elite," Tambellini said. "The leadership of this group is so important right now. Our young people need the right message; one that's instructive, inspiring, motivating — and I can't think of a better person to do that than Ralph Krueger."
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