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Woodcroft, Oilers ready to build off conference final appearance

Jay Woodcroft said the Edmonton Oilers are not satisfied with simply making it to the Western Conference Final this season.

“For us, we’re driven to take the next step, ask ourselves hard questions, be open to the seeking of answers to try to push us forward,” the Oilers coach said Wednesday.

Woodcroft’s contract as Edmonton coach was extended through the 2024-25 season Tuesday. The 45-year-old, who took over after Dave Tippett was fired on Feb. 10, went 26-9-3 to help the Oilers move from six points out of a Stanley Cup Playoff berth to second place in the Pacific Division (49-27-6).

But the message Wednesday was that more work needs to be done, and it needs to start now.

“For me, that starts with discipline with our summer time,” Woodcroft said, “making sure we’re putting in the necessary work to feel good heading into training camp, being prepared to lay a foundation in training camp that will set us up for success over an 82-game schedule. For me, I’m excited about rolling up my sleeves and getting to work come September because I really believe that’s where a lot of gains can be had.

“We’re digging in to try and get better each and every day, not accidentally but intentionally.”

The Oilers defeated the Los Angeles Kings in seven games in the first round and eliminated the Calgary Flames in five games in the second round before being swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the conference final. It marked the furthest Edmonton has gone in the postseason since 2006, when it lost the Stanley Cup Final to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games.

“Both Ken [Holland, Oilers general manager] and I had some really good exit meetings, good feedback from our players,” Woodcroft said. “The people in our organization, this year’s version, got a taste for playing deep into a playoffs, playing hockey in the month of June. But I don’t think anyone’s satisfied with just that. We understand that there’s a whole lot of work that’s going to be required in order for us to have the season we want to have next year.”

Woodcroft said he will be speaking in the days ahead with assistants Dave Manson, Glen Gulutzan and Brian Wiseman regarding contract extensions.

Woodcroft was promoted to his first job in the NHL from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League, where he had been coach of the Oilers’ top development team from 2018-22.

After he took over in Edmonton, the Oilers had a .724 percentage points from Feb. 11 through the end of the regular season, tied with the Flames for second in the NHL in that span, behind the Florida Panthers (.757). Edmonton also improved its goal differential under Woodcroft, going from 3.18 goals per game (12th in the NHL) and 3.32 goals allowed per game (tied for 23rd) before his arrival to 3.82 goals per game (fifth) and 2.76 goals allowed per game ( tied for fifth).

Holland said the mission was simple when Woodcroft was brought in: get the Oilers into the playoffs.

“No. 1, Jay delivered,” Holland said. “He came in and made the decisions that were needed and the team responded and played at a high level. In talking to players in the exit meetings, they all believe in his direction. They all believe in his leadership and believe in his communication. “

Holland said he began his 1-on-1 dialogue with Woodcroft regarding a contract extension on June 14 before an agreement was reached Tuesday.

“It’s a great day for the Oilers,” he said. “Jay did an incredible job once he took over in leading our team into the playoffs and … we played at a high level the last half of the season and obviously got us to the final four. I’m thrilled we were able to find a solution to bringing Jay in and look forward to working with Jay over the next three years to build on what we accomplished.

“Jay’s got a lot of energy and a ton of passion.”

Woodcroft said Holland’s message upon his arrival was a big help.

“For me at the time … I felt that was really freeing because it allowed just to make decisions with that direction in mind and I thought the team performed well,” he said. “I mentioned at the time how humbled and privileged I feel to be the head coach of such a proud organization and that’s certainly how I feel today. I want to thank the organization for their belief in me.”

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