Since his arrival in Edmonton, Tom Renney has confounded and astounded Oiler fans. He was known as a tactical coach in New York, his Rangers were carefully managed to ensure his best players were put in the best situations to perform. He matched lines, matched pairings, managed zone starts and ran a wonderfully effective penalty kill. The Rangers were a possession machine under Renney. Renney developed young players slowly but his methods were effective, much like Craig MacTavish in Edmonton. In Edmonton, it's a whole different story. Renney isn't matching lines or pairings and he's paying no attention to zonestarts and the penalty kill is a mess.
When Renney was named as an associate coach, confidence among fans was high. In our roundtable before last year, we asked our respondents about the strength of the team. The near-unanimous answer was defense, but I went with coaching:
If they work well together and understand their strengths and weaknesses as a duo, the biggest strength for this team is coaching. In Quinn, the team gets a guy that forces star production out of his stars and gets his role players to run through walls for him, but not so much produce. Renney is not a motivator, though he's been able to coax production out of sullen stars and uses his role players in order to maximize effectiveness. Quinn is not a tactical master and likes old-time hockey in a way. Renney is a fantastic tactician that knows how to use matchups and protect his faults. Quinn employs a hard style with a strong forecheck. Renney is a penalty kill wizard. If these two can make this relationship work, the Oilers will have their most well-rounded bench presence since...arguably ever.
Phew. Thank goodness threw in that qualifying "if". It didn't work out that way however. Quinn handled tactics and matchups and Renney handled the defense. The Oilers ended up being one of the weakest tactical teams in recent NHL history and the defense collapsed under Renney.
Ladislav Smid is going to have a breakout year. Though the management of his development has been less than stellar, Smid has 200 games under his belt and he's only 23. Defensemen take so much longer to develop, but Smid is going to get a real sweetheart break because he gets to work with Tom Renney. For an example of what Renney can do, look no further than Daniel Girardi of the Rangers. Smid is bigger, has a better pedigree, more skills and more experience at the same age. Renney turned Griardi into one of his reliable matchup guys and one of his two stalwarts on the penalty kill. I suspect Smid is in for a rocky start to the season as he learns what Renney wants him to do - but his second half should be a revelation.
There was very little in the way of visual cues last season in player development and this season has been such a mess that it's impossible to tell which players are moving in which direction.
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Renney's success in New York was predicated on protecting players from tough assignments and giving the best zonestarts to his best offensive players. We have two years of statistics during Renney's time in New York from behindthenet.ca. Using that data, we can see that Renney made sure to send out his fourth line, consisting of Fredrik Sjostrom, Blair Betts, Colton Orr, for defensive zone starts whenever possible, but judging by that line's qualcomp, he also managed those faceoffs well. His fourth line likely started in their own end against other third and fourth lines.
Sending the fourth line out for the tough zonestarts allowed Renney to send Jaromir Jagr out for the easy faceoffs and he was still able to protect his young forwards. Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky got both easy faceoffs and easier opponents.
Renney also broke in defenseman Marc Staal. In 07-08, Staal got second-pairing zonestarts and third-pairing competition. In 08-09, Renney managed his zonestarts much more closely, but gave him the toughest assignments.
Renney even had a year of Jason Strudwick in 07-08. Note that Renney gave him the second easiest zonestarts on the Rangers defense and gave him the easiest matchups on the team. In Edmonton last year, Renney gave Strudwick the second hardest zonestarts and lower-half competition. Renney's management of Strudwick indicates that he thought Strudwick got better while getting older and moving to a more difficult conference.
Even more troubling, Renney sent Taylor Chorney out for the toughest zonestarts and gave him-second pairing competition. Renney managed the rookie Chorney like he was defensive stalwart Marc Staal in his second year.
This season has been no better. Except for blowouts, lines and pairings are rolled over the boards with no concern for matchups of defensive zonestarts. The question remains - what is going on with Renney right now? What happened to that card sharp from New York? When can we expect the Oilers to implement tactics and strategies fit for an NHL team?