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Tom Renney - Storyteller


A couple of weeks ago Tyler Dellow complained about Tom Renney's interview with Bob Stauffer. He felt that Renney was either delusional or disingenuous with some of his comments, pointing specifically to Renney's comment about how the season could have been different if only the team won more of the one-goal games that they were involved in. On some level, of course, Renney is right, but the implication that with a bounce here and a big save there could have made all the difference is all wrong. Tyler showed this by reminding us that even if the Oilers had won all of their one-goal games, the club still would have missed the playoffs, and that the real problem with the Oilers was their being a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad team. But it wasn't just in looking back that Tom Renney was willing to tell some stories.

Expectations are a funny thing. On the one hand, Renney can't come out and say that he expects the team to finish among the league's bottom five teams; it is, after all, his job to see that that doesn't happen. On the other hand, he's not doing himself or the team's new hires any favors by unduly raising expectations with regard to the amount of improvement the team might see or the impact of a given signing. For instance, telling listeners that Ben Eager or Darcy Hordichuk might impact that game with "a big defensive play" is both true, and very, very wrong. It may well end up happening once or twice, but these players are not defensive specialists, and talking about them like they stand a reasonable chance of having a positive impact in the defensive zone isn't helpful because, on the whole, they very likely will not.

But the bigger example that I noticed was in Renney's comments on Eric Belanger and the impact that he might have on the penalty kill, mostly because he got so specific. The Oilers were awful on the PK last season, and Belanger was brought in to help. I have no doubt that he will, but Renney's comments on why are very interesting:

With someone like Eric, I believe certainly from a penalty kill perspective, you’ve got a better than fifty percent chance you’re going to win the draw, and get the puck down the ice and get yourself an extra fifteen second off the kill, that’s huge.

The specifics here just don't ring true. To start with, the effect of winning more faceoffs on the penalty kill isn't huge. It's not inconsequential, but Belanger's proficiency in the faceoff circle might save the Oilers one extra goal over the course of next season (as compared to the player(s) he replaced from last year's squad). Further, even if faceoffs are a big deal, there's just no way that Belanger gives you a better than fifty percent chance of winning the draw, let alone of winning the draw and getting the puck down the ice. His faceoff percentage on the PK last year? 42.7%. Over the last five years? 45.8%. In his career? 47.3%.

That last number is actually very, very good relative to league average, and I'm sure Renney knows that. So why overstate Belanger's likely impact? I'm not sure, but my guess is that the interview format and the level of sophistication he expects in the average listener played a big role. 50% seems to be an important psychological number, and so Renney is probably using it here figuratively rather than literally. He wants to pump the addition that the Oilers have made in a way that's easy for listeners to understand in a fifteen-second soundbite. That requires storytelling rather than an explanation of why something less than 50% on draws is a big improvement and actually very good, but not something that will have a very big impact in the grand scheme of things, and that Belanger's penalty killing ability in general is likely more valuable than what he does in the circle. That doesn't make Renney a bad guy or a bad communicator, but it's worth remembering as we listen to his interviews in the future that Tom Renney is at least as much of a storyteller as he is a guy who wants to help those listening to better understand the game.