Since taking over behind the bench for the Edmonton Oilers in the summer of 2010, life hasn’t been easy for Tom Renney. In his first season as head coach, Renney compiled a record of 25-45-12 and his team finished last in the entire NHL. This year, the Oilers are headed for yet another lottery pick, and a 6th straight season of no playoff hockey in the city of Edmonton. The blame has been passed around for the team’s struggles, but with rumors of GM Steve Tambellini getting a new extension, where does that leave Renney?
The Oilers weren’t a good team when he took over as head coach from Pat Quinn. The defense was suspect, the goaltending was shaky and the forwards weren’t developed. In the two seasons Renney has been in charge, one could argue that the young stars like Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, even Sam Gagner, have taken large steps forward. 18 year 0ld Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has had a sensational rookie year under the leadership of Renney. Players like Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark have had their struggles in Edmonton, which can be a slight against Renney. He doesn’t really see eye to eye with Omark, but the core of the team appears to be on the same page as their coach. In a results based business such as hockey, no playoffs for this many seasons means a shake-up may be in order. But is Renney the one who should take the fall?
Captain Shawn Horcoff, who has never scored more than 22 goals in a single season, was signed to a massive 6 year deal worth $33 million in 2008. Steve Tambellini took over as General Manager a couple of weeks after Horcoff re-signed, indicating he was involved in the contract negotiations. He also named Horcoff captain in 2010. Tambellini signed goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin to a 4 year deal worth $15 million in 2009, and that deal has been mainly a flop. Ales Hemsky, who hasn’t scored more than 23 goals in an NHL season, was given a 2 year $10 contract just a few weeks ago. Now, every GM makes deals that have others scratching their heads, and yet continue to keep their jobs. Fair or not, GM’s don’t get fired as easily as head coaches do. But despite Tambellini’s inability to ice a legitimate defense corp, arguably the Oilers biggest problem, there’s a good chance he will still be the GM come next season.
Nothing is for sure until the contacts are signed, but ownership likely wants to give Tambellini one more chance to see the re-build through. But doesn’t Renney deserve the same opportunity? Coaches don’t sign players to contracts, they don’t draft players, then don’t acquire free agents, and they don’t play the games, but they are often the fall guy when a team doesn’t perform. Such is the cruel business that hockey can be. In only two years behind the bench though, a guy with a good track record such as Renney should probably get another kick at the can. Whether or not management feels the same way remains to be seen.