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Renney: We Are a Family

On Tuesday, July 19th Edmonton Oilers' head coach Tom Renney spoke with Ross MacLeaod of the Team 1260 on Oilers Lunch. Through this 20 minute interview, the two discussed the plans for the upcoming season, the player development and Renney's thoughts for the upcoming seasons. If you have the chance, I recommend giving the interview in it's entirety a listen

Renney is definitely an optimist and sounds as though he is excited not only to hold the job that he has, but also to be in the unique to the NHL, position that the team has found itself in. Renney recognizes that not every team is going through rebuild through the draft and as such the Oilers have some challenges that are different from the other 29 teams, but that the ultimate goal of cup contention remains the same for every team. 

Renney told MacLeod on the plan for the season that there "Seems to be more and more science to this than perhaps there needs to be," and that that preparation begins early. "You've got to have your plan for the season, then you look at your roster. Then you identify through your roster exactly what it is you think you have to work on, what your team make up might be so you can define a style of play for you based on roster of course and to that end the schedule." It's funny to think that it is the schedule that would drive the plan for the roster, at least on paper. At the same time however, it's not funny at all and actually makes a lot of sense. 

The development of the Oilers prospects has been of great interest to many Oilers' fans. Bill Moores has mentioned that each player receives a personal plan. The contact between the players and the Oilers' development staff also includes Tom Renney. "I guess it varies. They'll all hear from me 3 or 4 times this summer for sure, directly. I send out texts and emails and those things," at least that sounds a little more personal and private than the twitter option. "It's not to police them, it's to encourage them and make sure that they understand that there is a coaching staff here." I love hearing Renney say that he sends out texts to the players, especially the younger players who are used to communicating with others through text messaging. It may be a short method of communication, but it's also effectual and easily accessible.

As Renney mentions, the texts or emails are not intended to be a chance for the coaching staff to find out exactly what everyone is eating or drinking, but rather to remind the players that they have help available to them at any time. Also, just a reminder that the team cares. "We do that on a regular basis just because we care. We care how they're making out, and how their summer's going. Often times the phone call doesn't even talk about their level of fitness."

"This is not a situation where we're trying to fill this tank with the fire hose and have one shot at it and be done with it. Because of the process and because of our ability to identify with the growth of individuals first and then our team beyond that it is something that stands the test of time." After sticking with this team through the cup drought of the past 21 years, and the two 30th place finishes in a row, it's comforting to hear that the Oilers are making it a mission to ensure that this team will remain competitive for a longer period than just one season. 

"You've got to be prepared enough and organized enough to stay with it based on a vision and a philosophy which is certainly what Daryl, Kevin and Steve have here for our team. It's kind of a luxury for a coach because you can keep your eye on the ball and realize that as much as anyone you should be paying attention to development too Under my circumstances, there aren't too many of us in the league that have that opportunity to look at almost development first and winning you hope will be a byproduct of that sooner rather than later and more of it and so it's kind of a unique situation from that point of view."

The players and the development and coaching team spend more time with each other than they get to spend with their own families. As such you have to think that the team becomes more than just a tight knit group."You know what, we are a family. From my point of view, that's my coaching style. We've got to be there for each other, we've got to work and make the rink a destination and we've got to do the best that we possibly can to get the best out of each other, no matter what the challenge might be." This sort of attitude will also go a long way to attracting other UFAs and making new players feel welcomed. Once Edmonton is seen again as a place to want to play because of the team, the game on the ice should reflect that. When the players truly care about their line mates and there is that cohesion, that should be something that will become very evident.

"My style is to teach in the moment and deal in the moment and gets wins today, no question about that, but it won't be at the expense of what we have to invest in to make sure that this hockey club is something that the fans of Edmonton can be really proud of for an awful long time. And that's sincere." It is one thing to make a plan, but to expect no deviations, no other changes that you will have to react to would be folly. It is good to remember that although it is an 82 game season, you can only play one game at a time. 

If at the beginning of the season, you see Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the ice, it is not because Renney and the rest of his staff need to see him play just one more game to make a decision, even if it ultimately is. "I think if a player warrants that opportunity to play, to at least start the season with your team, it's pretty much a game by game situation for everybody. That's why you carry 23 people, that's why you have an end to the bench and that's why you have a press box."

"If the player's not able to measure up, I'm not going to be the guy to stand in the way of a young fella that could be playing an awful  lot of hockey at the junior level by putting him in the pressbox because I don't think he's ready. If he's going to start the season with us then he's going to play nine games and you had better rest assured that if he's done his work and we do our due diligence developing him that he's going to play ten games and beyond. You can't do that and play a kid 40 times and play him 8 or 10 minutes and expect him to be what you want at the end of that day, that's diminishing return."

"The bottom line is that you are going to have to make a sensible decision on a player like he to make sure that if he's going to stay with us, that he's going to play, he's not going to be a spectator. It's important. If you look at last year, the young guys played and they needed to. It wasn't a case of protecting them by not putting them out on the ice to do certain things and I think that that's where [Taylor] Hall and [Jordan] Eberle and [Magnus] Paajarvi were strong enough to deal with the rigors of the NHL. The great question for Ryan... and that's without having seen him at training camp, that he can navigate his way through a hockey game with his intelligence and his hockey sense and what's intuitive to him. The great question will be can he handle it physically."

So there you have it folks, the best few minutes of the interview in my opinion. Renney sounds sold on Hopkins as a skilled player, as one that he is excited to have in his line-up, but he seems to have the same questions that everyone else has. True Nugent-Hopkins has put on weight and grown a couple of inches so far this year, but he has been playing at a junior level. To see him faceoff against the players the Oilers have depended on at the NHL level should help to answer the questions that we can only keep asking for the remainder of the off-season. 

There are many questions running through Renney's mind this off-season, but it there is one thing in particular "It's how much better are we, how much better can we become and are we in a position to legitimately pursue a playoff spot and that's what we want to do. That's our objective for sure. So I guess our biggest question mark will be how far have we come." The answer to that question in the opinions of Oilers fans seems to be mixed. I feel that the team has made some huge improvements, and I felt that way as soon as the draft was over and Ryan Smyth was once again an Oiler. (I don't know how many times I've now typed that Smyth is once again an Oiler, it still just doesn't seem real.) With the free agent moves and subsequent trades, I feel that this team has the tools in place to show that they have made some big changes. It won't be until they face some competition that we will know. Well, that and any potential further moves. 

There are those saying that this team, as it stands will be another lottery team (30-25), while there are others who believe that this team will be anywhere else. That does include some who feel that this team could push for, or even make this year's playoffs. According to Renney it's "Hard to say, you don't know until the puck drops and you get a chance to see the other teams. You get to see the distance between yourselves and the front runners... I see no reason even to be in the league if you don't identify with the playoffs, what are we doing.. There are 29 other teams wanting to do the same thing. "

With interviews such as this one, I come to appreciate having Tom Renney as the Oilers head coach more and more. Renney doesn't seem like the coach that the players find to be the toughest part of their career. He doesn't seem to be out of touch with the GM and owner, nor does he seem as though he is running out of patience. If anyone sees the next few years as a marathon and not a sprint, I think that it is Tom Renney. 

I will never say that I don't miss press conferences and interviews with Craig MacTavish, because that's impossible, but hearing Renney speak candidly about what he sees going forward makes what I think I'm seeing just a little more real.