In what we hope will become a regular feature, The Copper & Blue present the Fan Roundtable - a discussion with the esteemed men of Oilers Country.
Our lineup includes: the erudite Shepso, author of some of the most intellectual hockey writings - he plies his trade at Bringing Back The Glory; The venerable HBomb, frequent on-point commentor at Lowetide's place; the incisive Dawgbone, a frequent commentor all over the Oilers' 'sphere, who writes too infrequently at After The Green Light; the pragmatic Doogie2k, an excellent foil and a thought-provoking writer at Still No Name; and the hilarious Lord Bob, whose rapier wit is rarely matched in the 'sphere. Jonathan, Bruce and myself round out this merry band of brigands, obsessives, geeks, and puckheads.
1. How much of an impact will the hiring Pat Quinn and Tom Renney have on where the team finishes in the standings?
Shepso: This question is a really interesting one to answer, because in reality, I’m not altogether sure given the players on this roster. There are two keys to answering this question in my opinion.
First Point-There is one thing that I know for certain, and that’s Pat Quinn is a winner; it’s all he does, all he’s ever done. On separate occasions, both Lowetide and I have done fairly extensive profiles on the man’s success, and the bottom line is that the only thing he hasn’t won is Stanley. He’s very bright, speaks well(ish) and knows how to motivate the players around him. He’s also a bit of a stubborn mule when it comes to roster decisions, which may cause him to clash with the more even-keeled Renney on occasion.
This brings me to my next point-can they co-exist and build a winner? Even more uncertainty rests in this situation, given Quinn’s rep for building hard checking, gritty and up-tempo hockey vs. Renney’s traditional strength of tactics and defensive responsibility, not to mention getting more out of enigmatic, slightly underachieving Czech superstars than expected. So, at least on paper, these guys look like a pretty good tandem. If they can get along and combine the two approaches into a unified vision and, barring significant injury to either Shawn Horcoff or the Wall, this team should finish better than last year’s team, even without a roster upgrade before the deadline.
Hbomb: First off, I'm going to qualify my answer with the term "all things being equal" (i.e. no wild swings in shooting or save percentages at even strength). My guess is that the new coaching combination should be good for a 3-5 point increase, and my reasoning for that is an expected improvement in special teams. You'd think that to pick up a total of 15 goals worth of differential via more PP success and less PK hardships wouldn't be too much to ask, especially considering how mediocre (the PP) to awful (the PK) that the special teams were last season. The more interesting question will be trying to filter out bounce-back years from players and changes in the percentages at the end of the season to determine what the actual impact of Quinn and Renney was. Rest assured, if a bunch of guys have strong bounce-back seasons (Penner, Horcoff), while the kids take a leap forward (Gagner, Cogliano) and the Oilers somehow end up in sixth in the west with 98 points or thereabouts (what I'd consider a best case scenario), you'll hear the words "Pat Quinn" and "Jack Adams nomination" mentioned in the same sentence. Hey, considering the guy is an ex-Leaf coach, maybe the eastern media think they'll be giving us a break for that bogus Jason Blake Masterton nod in 2008 by voting Quinn the first Oiler coach as the coach of the year since Sather in 1986? But I digress. Let's see how it plays out first. Rest assured, I think the team should experience some improvement due to the coaching change. Craig MacTavish totally lost me in 2008-09, and given that he's still unemployed, well, maybe other NHL teams didn't think much of his body of work this past season either.
Dawgbone: Not much. Despite all the locker room chatter about how MacTavish lost the room, the fact of the matter is he was still doing a hell of a job at managing his lines and sheltering the right players while giving more responsibilities to others. From what we've read so far, Pat Quinn is going to be in charge of the forwards and he's pretty old school in that he doesn't match his lines much, except in late game situations. So whatever benefit there is to the players "buying into" the new system (aka executing at a level that resembles NHL calibre), is going to be offset by a lot of forwards who are in over their head far too often. Now if things somehow change and Renney gets a hold of the forwards, things could be a lot better. If the players buy in (aka execute), combined with proper line matching and this team has a chance at the playoffs. The biggest thing is going to be execution and players being able to handle their roles.
Doogie2k: Everything I know about Pat Quinn I learned from your Torontonian SBNation colleague, Julian of Pension Plan Puppets. It helps to know that his "struggles" with young players are greatly overstated, because we've got quite a few of them on the roster. Indeed, looking back, he was the first NHL coach for both Luc Robitaille and Pavel Bure, and neither of them were held back in any way that I can discern. According to his interviews with Dan Tencer, Quinn's basically used every offensive and defensive system ever conceived at one point in his coaching career, which I can actually kind of believe, considering he's been at this gig for most of the last thirty years. At first glance, the fact that he likes to roll four lines and keep his stars relatively rested during the season would seem to bode well for a guy like Shawn Horcoff, who damned near had his shoulders fall off last season due to Craig MacTavish's obsession with the chess game. For better or for worse, though, it also creates a bit of a sink-or-swim environment for a lot of the youngsters in the lineup. If Sam Gagner or Marc-Antoine Pouliot winds up out there against Jarome Iginla or Ryan Getzlaf, are they going to get completely worked from start to finish, or will they learn to hold their own? I think a good part of any improvement in the standings is going to come from whether the Quinney staff can get the most out of these kids, particularly those vying for the checking centre job (Pouliot, Gilbert Brule, maybe Patrick O'Sullivan) and get it more consistently, from the start of the season. If they can -- and all three men consider themselves teachers, so one would hope so -- then I think the team's record will reflect it.
The other consideration here is special teams. Special teams were, put bluntly, fucking awful last year. Quinn was able to run a balanced power play his last couple of years in Toronto, with Sundin working down low and Kaberle and McCabe controlling and blasting from up high, so we should hopefully see both Hemsky and Souray become more effective, as neither is forced to rely on their own personal bags of tricks too often. Tom Renney's Rangers had a solid PK (10th, 12th, 6th, 1st; never worse than 83.5% efficiency), and while some of that was undoubtedly due to Henrik Lundqvist being a consistent Vezina-calibre goalie, good goaltenders with bad defensive coverage still don't put up sparkling numbers; it's a team effort, as the old cliché goes, and hopefully one that includes shot-blocking again. Given that special teams, and in particular the PK, were massive Oiler weaknesses last year, one can only hope to see things get better from here.
Lord Bob: The move from MacTavish to Quinn is a little better than lateral. Both play favourites, both are a little too set in their ways, both have had problems relating to young players. MacTavish's greatest gift was turning fourth-line plugs into contributing pieces, whereas Quinn has always been able to extract the best from his superstars - a much less valuable skill on a team with far more plugs than superstars. Quinn and Renney come in with a clean slate and they certainly won't make MacTavish's infamous elementary mistakes, but a coach is a marginal part of a single season's standings anyway. Two points, maybe three.
Bruce: I expect significant improvement under Pat Quinn. He brings a (commanding) new voice in the room which will immediately get the attention and respect of every man on the team. Those who may have started to tune out Craig MacTavish, or who had personal issues with him, will get a fresh start. Moreover, they had better be paying attention! I anticipate a more motivated Oilers squad in '09-10, one which is more proactive in establishing the tempo of games. I also expect an improvement in team unity which seemed to be an issue in '08-09 on a team with two distinct age groups. It will be interesting to see how Quinn elevates the roles of maturing youngsters and reduces those of players with declining skills.
Quinn and his assistants Tom Renney and Wayne Fleming comprise one of the most broadly experienced coaching staffs the league has ever seen. Both Renney and Fleming are versatile coaches who have achieved their greatest successes in subordinate roles with Team Canada, so in theory they should easily adapt to similar roles here. Their expertise in the technical aspects of the game should have an impact on special teams, both of which need improvement.
In Quinn's first full year with his respective teams, the Flyers improved by 21 points; the Kings by 23; the Canucks by 31; the Leafs by 28. That's an astonishing record. I don't have quite such lofty expectations for his impact on the Oilers, but in that light an upgrade of 10 points seems downright conservative.
Derek: I think it depends on how the matchups 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. However, the penalty kill can't be worse than it was last year and the power play has been mired in MacTavish mediocrity for years now. If he makes marginal improvements in those two areas, it will be a wash with the destruction at evens. If he realizes he has no choice but to ride Horcoff at even strength and improves special teams, this team is going to get a bump. How much of it is regression is up for debate, but line matching like last year to go with a 14th ranked penalty kill and a 14th ranked power play and the Oilers are a 6th place team.
Jonathan: A fair bit. I think Craig MacTavish did a fairly good job with an overmatched team at even-strength, but that there was some room for improvement, and I have a hard time picturing any of the incoming coaches doing a better job with the defense than Charlie Huddy did. That said, the powerplay has been bad for virtually MacTavish's entire tenure and the incoming coaching staff - in particular Wayne Fleming - should fix that. Additionally, there's some question as to whether the penalty-kill last year was influenced by poor coaching; I hope to see it rebound although I think they're still short on personnel. Ultimately, results will still be dictated by how young players move forward, but the coaching change should be a positive.