EDMONTON, CANADA - NOVEMBER 30: Edmonton coach Tom Renney voices his displeasure after Dany Heatley #15 of the Minnesota Wild ran into Nikolai Khabibulin #35 during the shootout at Rexall Place on November 30, 2011 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
When it comes to Tom Renney's fate with the Oilers I could honestly go either way. If he's let go tomorrow I won't lose any sleep over it. And if he's extended I won't take to Twitter to rip apart Oilers management for another bizarre decision. Basically I'm ambivalent about Renney; I haven't been thrilled each and every night with all the work he's done behind the Oilers bench but at the same time I'm not sure what he was supposed to do with a roster that was virtually unchanged from the team that finished 30th overall the year before. As the saying goes, you can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit.
That lack of significant improvement to the lineup over the past summer (or the summer before, or the summer before that) is why I think Steve Tambellini, not Renney, is the man most to blame for the Oilers recent season and that if anyone is going to pay for another disappointing season with their job that his name should be at the very top of the list. And yet it would seem, if you believe what the local media has to say, that Renney is the man most likely to be sent packing. But if Oilers management is considering an extension for Tambellini the smart thing to do would be to keep Renney around for another year as well.
Let's assume for a minute that the Oilers are going to extend Tambellini for one more season. Personally the thought makes me sick to my stomach but I do think it's a very real possibility. Oilers history has taught us that anything is possible but I can't imagine how Tambellini could warrant a deal longer than a single year so lets assume that as well. Now if the Oilers don't bring back Renney, choosing instead to go a different route, regardless of who the Oilers bring in to replace Renney that new coach will also come with a multi-year contract.
At first glance this doesn't seem all that bad but if the Tambellini extension experiment fails (as I expect it will) that will leave the Oilers with a coach under contract for one or more years and new new general manager running the team. As a rule, general managers like to pick their own coach which makes sense in terms of trying to create a management team with similar philosophies about running an NHL team. However, if Renney's replacement still had a year or two on his contract there could very well be significant pressure from those paying the bills to try and make it work rather than paying two coaches at the same time. That is a situation that could work for a time but it also might set the team back in finding the general manager/coach combination that will help steer the team into the post-rebuild land of milk and honey that we've all been told so much about.
That potential rotating cast of coaches could also prove to be problematic not only to the man paying the bills but to the Oilers players as well as the team is repeatedly trying to adjust to a different coach with different ideas about how the game should be played and coached. Using Sam Gagner as an example, he has already played for three coaches in his five year career and under the scenario I've outlined that total could jump to five in another couple of seasons. Each coach will ask and expected different things from his players, and for a veteran this might be easier to adjust to but for the Oilers' youth this is one more adjustment that they don't need to be worrying about. By either cleaning house now or giving both Tambellini and Renney one more year this situation can likely be avoided.
Of course if Tambellini really knows that Renney just isn't the right coach for the Oilers then he should replace him, that is after all what a competent general manager would do. Which brings me to my last point: If Tambellini has already hired and fired Pat Quinn and Tom Renney who, as it turns out, weren't the right men for the job, why would we expect him to get it right this time around? In all honesty that is more a reason to get rid of Tambellini than it is a reason to keep Renney but it does raise questions about who would be bought in to replace Renney. Two misses in three season would seem to be a terrible hiring record for a NHL general manager, does he really deserve a third chance?
As I said before, when it comes to Renney's future with the Oilers I am somewhat ambivalent; but I think that if the Oilers are going to gamble on Tambellini for one more season they might as well roll the dice on Renney at the same time.