This morning, the Edmonton Oilers announced that they had called a press conference for noon MDT. The internet lit up with speculation about draft announcements and trades. More savvy observers speculated that this would be the end of Pat Quinn's reign in Edmonton. When Steve Tambellini strode the the podium at Rexall Place today with Tom Renney at his side, the presser's purpose was revealed before anyone uttered a word.
Pat Quinn has been pushed aside, or upstairs, or wherever he's going as a "Senior Advisor" and Tom Renney has been handed the wheel of the Edmonton Oilers ramblin' wreck.
This decision should come as no surprise to Oiler fans. While the name Pat Quinn carried a large amount of cachet, the decision was foolish, especially for a team that was constructed like the Oilers. The team lacked real, honest-to-goodness NHL forwards and needed a coach that was willing to chase match-ups all over the ice, every night, all season long. Quinn was not that guy. Jonathan said at the time of the hiring that it wasn't a good one:
Quinn's an old-school coach; line-matching is not one of his strong suits and while Craig MacTavish (like virtually every other NHL coach) preferred veterans Quinn has an even stronger bias in that direction. I think this is a poor choice, and not one suited to the current roster.
I echoed Jonathan's sentiments in September in the fan roundtable; hiring Quinn wasn't a good idea:
I think it depends on how the match-ups are handled. If Quinn goes to his traditional management style, at least two lines (given the current roster makeup) are going to be overwhelmed by a tactician. The team is going to be in trouble at evens.
And Quinn's strategies played out exactly as we predicted. Quinn rolled his lines and defensive pairings all year long and ended up with some terrible results, whacky underlying stats, and may have stunted the development of some of his younger players. In February, when all was lost, Scott even hoped for Ken Hitchcock to ride in and save the team, but alas, there was no savior.
Quinn made strange decisions throughout the year. Renney's strengths with the Rangers were the success of his penalty kill and the ferocious nature of his matchups, both at forward and on defense. Even if Quinn were to roll his lines, the thinking was that Renney would at least improve the penalty kill to offset some of the damage from 2008-2009. Instead, Quinn decided that Kelly Buchbeger should run the penalty kill and Tom Renney should coach the defense.
But even that was in question. Renney's hallmark in New York was his attention to match-ups. He ran power-versus-power and gave the easy zone starts to the kids and less defensively-skilled players. He did not roll lines or pairings. In Edmonton, it was the opposite. Scott randomly tracked the pairings coming over the boards for the Oilers this season and it was like the Alberta waltz: 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3. Rather than give the heavy minutes to Sheldon Souray, Steve Staios, Tom Gilbert, and Denis Grebeshkov, he spread them around and it showed. Rather than have rookies starting in the offensive zone, he ended up with Taylor Chorney somehow leading all defensemen in the league in largest percentage of defensive zone starts. This goes against everything that Renney did in New York. It's pretty clear that Renney wasn't in charge of strategy or tactics and it's likely why Tambellini "accelerated his succession plan" as he said in the press conference.
It was a mistake to hire Quinn from the beginning, and Tambellini's accelerated succession plan is an admittance of that.
During Renney's time in New York, he ran a tight ship. Scott Gomez took on a power-versus-power role and Chris Drury and Blair Betts helped out by taking some defensive zone faceoffs. Brandon Dubinsky was protected from tough minutes and tough faceoffs. He gave the bulk of the offensive zone faceoffs to his offensive superstars like Jaromir Jagr. He hard matched his lines and his pairings night in and night out. His penalty kill rotated five defensemen and three pairs of forwards. He brought along young players like Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan by not exposing them to minutes that were too difficult to handle, and it paid off.
How will this look in Edmonton? Shawn Horcoff is going to take the Scott Gomez role of the power-versus-power center. Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall / Tyler Seguin are going to get loads of offensive zone faceoffs. Young players like Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson or Jordan Eberle will be protected from tough minutes and Taylor Chorney will not lead the league in defensive zone faceoffs - in fact, he might lead the league in offensive zone faceoffs. The penalty kill should have structure to it for the first time in three years and Renney will likely hand the power play duties to Wayne Fleming or someone similar.
With Renney in charge, he may also want to reach back to New York for a piece or two. Dan Girardi was a pet project of Renney's and his play has fallen off sharply without Renney's guiding hand. He's on the outs in New York now and if Renney has some say in personnel, there's a strong possibility that Girardi might end up in Edmonton. He'll also likely request a faceoff-winning center with some penalty-killing experience (Finally!) to take the role of Blair Betts.
All-in-all, it's a good day for Oiler fans. They've upgraded at the coaching position and the General Manager admitted he made a mistake, without admitting he made a mistake. Let's hope that he's learned some lessons as he moves into the draft and free agency.