Safe Is Death

Jonathan Willis
May 31 2012 12:42PM

There’s a school of thought out there that suggests that Oilers’ G.M. Steve Tambellini would be making a mistake if he opted for anything other than a head coach with NHL experience. If this hiring fails, the reasoning goes, it will probably cost Tambellini his job, and it would be a mistake to gamble on someone inexperienced.

That reasoning, while understandable, doesn’t jive with past experience.

Remember back in 2009, when Steve Tambellini was making his pivotal first hiring of an NHL coach? He decided to bring in the coaching dream team: the uber-experienced Pat Quinn as head coach and chief motivator, with former Rangers’ bench boss Tom Renney as an associate coach.

On paper, things couldn’t be better. Quinn had a long history with Tambellini and a successful career as an NHL coach behind him. He’d shown he could coach younger players by winning gold with both Canada’s U-18 and U-20 teams on the World stage.

For those who worried about Quinn’s ability as a tactician, Renney was on the staff as an associate. Like Quinn, Renney was a known quantity for Tambellini from their time together in Vancouver, and of course he’d also had a long career as an NHL head coach.

Then the team imploded under Quinn, stayed in last place under Renney during a rebuild year, and advanced a total of one spot in the overall NHL standings under Renney one year later (though it’s worth noting that they were much improved in terms of goal differential). Quinn was “promoted” to a front-office position to finish off his contract; Renney’s contract was not renewed when it ended.

The Best Candidate

Maybe the best candidate is an experienced NHL coach. If that’s the case, then so be it. On the other hand, there is a trio of first-rate AHL coaching prospects available, men that haven’t had an opportunity behind an NHL bench before. They’re all relatively young, all very highly regarded, and any of the group might be considered the best coach available depending on perspective.

It would be a mistake to develop tunnel vision, to say ‘this is an important decision that could lead to heads rolling; therefore we’d better turn to experience.’

Dan Bylsma had three seasons as an AHL assistant, one as an NHL assistant (with the New York Islanders) and a grand total of 54 AHL games as a head coach under his belt when the Pittsburgh Penguins handed him the top job in the NHL. He won the Stanley Cup in that first half-season with the team. Randy Carlyle had three seasons as an NHL assistant and six seasons as an IHL/AHL head coach when the Ducks hired him to run their team; he got them to the Western Conference finals as a rookie, and won the Stanley Cup with the team the following year. John Tortorella – who used the “safe is death” line when Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup in 2004 – had been an NHL assistant for a long time but had just two seasons of AHL head coaching experience when the Lightning hired him.

Experience can pay off, of course. Claude Julien, Joel Quenneville, Mike Babcock and Peter Laviolette had all coached other NHL teams before they won it all.

The important thing is to land the best candidate. If one of Todd Nelson or Dallas Eakins or Jon Cooper is the candidate that with the best plan for the Edmonton Oilers, then that’s the guy to hire. Nelson had success with an Oilers farm team that has been terrible since forever. Eakins guided his team to improvements in each season behind the bench, culminating in this year’s team, fighting for the AHL championship. Cooper ran an NAHL juggernaut, then as coach/G.M. of the Green Bay Gamblers took them from last place to the championship in two seasons, and guided his AHL club to 28 straight wins this year. If Ralph Krueger - one of the key architects of Switzerland’s rise from laughing stock to a team that can play any one, - is the man with the necessary vision, hire him.

When I look at the crop of NHL re-treads – a list reduced by one with Bob Hartley’s hiring in Calgary – I find myself wondering if there’s a fit there. There could be – there are arguments that could be made in favour of most of the candidates, in particular John Stevens – but I don’t see a slam-dunk obvious choice for the job.

I see a long list of people who might be the right fit – both with and without NHL experience – and I think it would be a mistake to cross of the latter group out of a misguided belief that there’s a “safe” choice in the former. The last time around, the safe choices didn’t work out.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Bucknuck
May 31 2012, 01:03PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

If the Oilers go with somebody who does not have experience as an NHL head coach, that somebody will be Ralph Krueger.

To hear someone in the know say this, before they even interview candidates, really makes me sick. Tunnel Vision close minded stupidity. EDIT - Not you Robin, Oilers Mgmt.

IF they interview candidates and compare the candidates and then choose Kreuger, then I am fine with the choice. I like Krueger better than a lot of candidates mentioned. I just want them to make an informed and thoughtful decision.

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#2 Clyde Frog
May 31 2012, 10:35PM
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The sky is falling! The sky is falling...

I never thought DSF would become synonymous with chicken little, but yup there it is.

I'll give you a hint, we hope and talk because we are fans. You post doom because you want to be recognised as being smarter than all.

Well, I'll officially recognize you as the smartest kid who can google succesful teams and point out how we are not them, have not their roster, gm or coach.

Kudos chicken little, kudos.

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#3 Robin Brownlee
May 31 2012, 12:59PM
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If the Oilers go with somebody who does not have experience as an NHL head coach, that somebody will be Ralph Krueger.

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#5 The Soup Fascist
May 31 2012, 04:16PM
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Bucknuck wrote:

After you mentioned Jon Cooper in a previous thread, I did some research on the man and there's nothing not to like so far in his resume. He's a Lawyer turned coach who has done nothing but win. Add his legal degree to the mix and you can't help but think (future GM?) that he has a big future in the NHL.

I hope they take a really hard look at him, and not dismiss him because he doesn't have NHL experience, or because Tambellini and Lowe haven't worked with him before. This should not be an Old boys club hiring (Sutter).

"....nothing not to like ..."

"He's a lawyer ..."

Unfortunately Bucknuck these statements are mutually exclusive and cannot appear in the same post.

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#6 dulock
May 31 2012, 01:20PM
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I really like John Stevens and hope he gets some serious consideration. Particularly because he previously took a team from second-worst into the playoffs the next year.

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#7 JB
May 31 2012, 02:09PM
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And Ralph Krueger would be an upgrade over Tom Renney in what way? Jesus this organization is a disaster.

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#8 Jake
May 31 2012, 03:33PM
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How about Igor Larionov coach the Oilers.

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#9 Jason Gregor
May 31 2012, 08:38PM
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I don't think anyone should ever bring up Bylsma as a comparison.

Has any other "rookie" coach taken over a team late in a season that had lost in the Cup final the year before?

He had Crosby and Malkin and basically he wasn't a tyrant like Therrien. I'd say more of a perfect scenario.

Not saying he isn't a good coach, but the Oilers are a team that is coming off of 30th, 30th and 29th place finishes. I don't see anything comparable to them and the time Bylsma took over the Pens.

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#10 Bucknuck
May 31 2012, 12:56PM
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After you mentioned Jon Cooper in a previous thread, I did some research on the man and there's nothing not to like so far in his resume. He's a Lawyer turned coach who has done nothing but win. Add his legal degree to the mix and you can't help but think (future GM?) that he has a big future in the NHL.

I hope they take a really hard look at him, and not dismiss him because he doesn't have NHL experience, or because Tambellini and Lowe haven't worked with him before. This should not be an Old boys club hiring (Sutter).

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#11 vince
May 31 2012, 01:14PM
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The important question to ask is "but can they speak french?"

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#12 Terran
May 31 2012, 01:30PM
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Hire a hungry AHL head coach with a good record and good people skills. We don't need the "same old, same old", or a guy who knows if he gets canned can be back with another team the following year.

We need someone with a desire to prove themselves and a winning philosophy.

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#13 Robin Brownlee
May 31 2012, 02:06PM
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To follow up: I've said, and continue to think, that it's unlikely the Oilers will go with a coach who does not have NHL experience running the bench. I'm not saying that's right or wrong, I'm saying that's what I believe they will do.

IF they go outside that comfort level -- experience -- Krueger has a signficant edge on outside candidates because he is very familiar with the personnel here (and he impressed with his communication skills and his technical knowledge). The familiarity factor carries a lot of weight.

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#14 The Beaker
May 31 2012, 02:17PM
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Hiring a coach based on experience only and passing on a superior candidate, considering overall talent etc, is like drafting for organizational need instead of BPA....

Bad idea for the organization long term.

Now I know survival instinct says "hire who is going to let me keep my job" but I want this team to be the best it can be for a long time.

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#15 rama lama
May 31 2012, 03:39PM
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I say that who ever Tamby hires will be saddled with his decisions and general incompetence! This leads us to another question exactly what mandate will the new coach be given?

The old coach was told to develop players, which he did and then was promptly fires. If your mandate is not clear.....then what strategy does one employ.

The only person not clear on strategy IMHO, is Mr. Dithers.

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#16 Wax Man Riley
May 31 2012, 04:55PM
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For all the Oil-hating going on about how this team has no direction, how they continue to lose, and how management is screwing these kids up.....

I suggest doing what I just did....

1.Google "Ryan Nugent hopkins" (I'm sure you will get the same effect by substituting RNH with "Jordan Eberle" or "Taylor Hall"), then click the "Videos" link on the side.

2.Watch for 10 minutes

3.Come back feeling invigorated.

This team will be much improved in the standings next year and will be a force moving forward.

Yay Oilers!

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#17 madjam
May 31 2012, 07:22PM
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Do not renew Tams contract . Get a new GM in place before he screws up with our kids moving forward ! He has bungled badly with forming a core base of performing veterans, and even coaches. This rebuild will ultimately fail in the results column so long as Tams is heading it . Lowe might also be part of problem like Tams - but at least he should try to get us a new GM .

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#18 Clarke
June 01 2012, 08:52AM
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This is just my opinion but I think for an up and coming team you hire an up and coming coach.

/shrug

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#19 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
June 01 2012, 05:59PM
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count grishnack wrote:

SHUT UP.

Good one

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#20 Steve
May 31 2012, 12:51PM
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My first FIST!

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#21 rindog
May 31 2012, 12:51PM
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Would you really call it "imploding" under Quinn?

Or can you attribute losing your best forward, defenseman and goaltender as a major reason for the decline?

While the results may not of came immediately, Quinn definitely had the team playing a system which may or may not have been successful had the injuries not piled up.

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#23 admiralmark
May 31 2012, 01:40PM
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More and more the Renney firing makes sense? lol

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#24 smiliegirl15
May 31 2012, 01:53PM
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So whatever happened to Pat Quinn? I heard him speak at a luncheon once. He was the guest speaker for a charity event and he was really good. He has completely disappeared from the hockey world.

As far as a new coach goes, until they get rid of that idiot GM I do not expect much. That way I will not be too disappointed. Sheesh.

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#25 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
May 31 2012, 01:56PM
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The issue is with the guy decided who is the best candidate... I have no faith that Tambillini can actually decifer who that would be.

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#26 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
May 31 2012, 01:57PM
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I've got to say Krugers accomplishments with the Swiss team make him an interesting candidate.

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#27 The Beaker
May 31 2012, 02:02PM
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@OB1

You think Tambellini is making the decision? THAT IS FAITH :)

#Pessimism #ConspiracyTheory #SortOf

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#29 Bucknuck
May 31 2012, 02:13PM
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dulock wrote:

I really like John Stevens and hope he gets some serious consideration. Particularly because he previously took a team from second-worst into the playoffs the next year.

He's an interesting candidate for sure. He did quite well with the Flyers considering where they were when he took over. Does anyone know what the circumstances of his firing were?

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#30 jonrmcleod
May 31 2012, 02:21PM
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Not sure all those Stanley Cup winning coaches are great coaches. The players make the coach more than the coach makes the players.

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#31 Cody
May 31 2012, 02:23PM
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While I don't doubt that kreuger is qualified I feel he is absolutely the wrong choice.

Even if he will end up being the best coach of the bunch down the road right now I believe the team needs a fresh face. If they are "too familiar" there is no shake up or fear of accountability. A new coach coming in wields a bigger stick. An unknown or fierce competitor demanding the most out of his players especially the vets or giving consequences for poor effort.

If Horcoff mails it in, suspend him. If Hemmer dissapears as he did so often last year let him reappear in the press box. I think Kreuger is their buddy. Great for an assistant; Not great for a new head coach in desperate need of changing attitude and effort on every night.

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#32 jake
May 31 2012, 02:30PM
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JW: "If this hiring fails, the reasoning goes, it will probably cost Tambellini his job"

I think you need to establish a grading system, minumum result requirement that would allow Tambellini to keep his job. Would that be playoffs? Move up 5 spots in overall standings etc. ie..what determines failure?--likely 20 different answers depending on who you ask.

JW: "The important thing is to land the best candidate"

Same sort of question, define the best candidate, what is the criteria? Probably 20 different answers depending on you who ask. This is very subjective I believe.

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#33 Mason Storm
May 31 2012, 02:39PM
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@Bucknuck

Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Joffrey Lupul and Scottie Upshall partied like animals and Stevens had no control over it.

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#34 freeze
May 31 2012, 02:55PM
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@Bucknuck

I've read a few articles from the time and the Flyers got off to a brutal start that year. Stevens was supposedly a very emotional coach and he had apparently 'lost the room'. Mason Storm pretty much covers it. I would guess that he learned a lot from that situation and from the current situation with the Kings.

The 2008-09 season (his best) had 99 pts and +26 goal differential with the tandem of Biron and Niittymaki in net. Decent D core with Timonen, Coburn and Carle. Forwards were led by Richards, Carter, Gagne and the ages look to average in the mid-low 20s. Good special teams that year also; 6th in PP & PK.

If he isn't even interviewed it would just another sad oversight for this organization.

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#35 book¡e
May 31 2012, 02:56PM
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JB wrote:

And Ralph Krueger would be an upgrade over Tom Renney in what way? Jesus this organization is a disaster.

In what way is he not? You see the problem is that you and the rest of us fans out there lack the detailed information to know. So, I don't understand how you conclude that it would be a disaster to hire him.

Unless you are just trolling?

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#36 gcw_rocks
May 31 2012, 03:01PM
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I am with bucknuck. It's nuts to make a call like that without interviewing the top AHL coaches. If Cooper's team murders the Marlies and he wins the Calder Cup, I can't see how any GM looking to hire a coach could pass on Cooper without serious evaluation. All the guy does is win.

Eakins likewise would make a case for himself by upsetting Norfolk.

Going to be an interesting series from a coaching candidate perspective...

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#37 @Oilanderp
May 31 2012, 03:04PM
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I'm not convinved that it really matters whatsoever who they get as a head coach. This team isn't making the playoffs next year. I also believe that Tambi's head isn't on the chopping block when the new coach fails to deliver next year. We are still in the rebuild, and the home-grown defence is years away.

This time next year is perhaps a different story.

For now, all I want is a coach who holds the players accountable for their performance. You can suck, but please, suck in the pressbox if you must.

Right now the coach is lipstick on a pig, gentlemen. Lipstick on a pig.

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#38 steelymac
May 31 2012, 03:25PM
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Jon cooper better get a good look but I think Dithers will be afraid to hire someone that is by far more intelligent than him.The Oilers would be nuts not to bring this guy into the organization.

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#39 oilerdago
May 31 2012, 03:38PM
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Would seem to me that a really bold move for Tambellini would be to hire someone who was not in the Vancouver org. and worked for him in the past.

Tambellini's failure has been not finding a coach who could get more out of the talent available. Quinn was a disaster, and Renney despite the obvious holes in the roster failed to get the most out of his team - and made some dreadful decisions regarding a number of players.

Not saying MacT should come back (he shouldn't), but it's now obvious that despite his shortcoming's at the end, he was very good at getting the most out of his team. And it should be noted, he had not been a head coach in the NHL prior to getting the job.

Nelson, Eakins or Cooper would be bold moves for this GM. Sutter, John Stevens or even worse - Marc Crawford would be a sign that the GM doesn't get it.

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#40 striker777
May 31 2012, 03:47PM
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Even though I thought Renney should've been given a 1-yr extension, at least Tambo has brought the new menality of "deliver or get out" into this organization. The most frustrating part of pre-Tambo era was not holding players and team staff accountable. Amature scouting was the worst in the league for over 15 years and everybody kept their jobs. Keep throwing away the trash, Tambo. Do it until you get it right.

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#41 Wax Man Riley
May 31 2012, 04:03PM
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@TrenasOil says the Belanger Triangle has asked for a trade!

Also says Petrell was offered a 2 year extension.

Like the idea of Petrell.... Belanger... not sure if I'm glad he wants out, or if it is just another player that doesn't want to play here.

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#42 Wax Man Riley
May 31 2012, 04:06PM
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steelymac wrote:

Jon cooper better get a good look but I think Dithers will be afraid to hire someone that is by far more intelligent than him.The Oilers would be nuts not to bring this guy into the organization.

He would be terrified of hiring Maggie the Monkey, I am sure.

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#43 a lg dubl dubl
May 31 2012, 04:09PM
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@oilerdago

Just curious why the hate for Crawford? imo I think he might do pretty good here with the kids and knows how to handle the vets, like when he was in Dallas when they won the cup. He may have been out of the game for a few years but he's still more in tune with it than McGuire or Button, and I still remember his rage sessions on the refs for a bad call when he was coach...that was AWSOME we could use that here.

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#44 a lg dubl dubl
May 31 2012, 04:11PM
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@waxman

Please dont tease me like that, I sure as hell hope Belanger wants out, I want him out too.

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#45 freeze
May 31 2012, 04:18PM
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Wax Man Riley wrote:

@TrenasOil says the Belanger Triangle has asked for a trade!

Also says Petrell was offered a 2 year extension.

Like the idea of Petrell.... Belanger... not sure if I'm glad he wants out, or if it is just another player that doesn't want to play here.

Haha, I guess her and 'garfield' had a good nooner.

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#46 oilerdago
May 31 2012, 04:27PM
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@ a lg dubl dubl:

Not so much hate for Crawford but criticism of a lack of original thinking from Tambellini. Quinn and Renney are both part of the Vancouver connection that backfired. They were safe hires because of familiarity (GM to coaches).

Quinn was not a good match for the roster he was handed. Tambi made a bad decision, but I'll give him credit for cutting his losses early on there.

Renney while being a good teacher, had some significant drawbacks and was not going to get more out of this roster because of how he used it. Yes Eberle and Hall excelled. But more players fell short of expectations because of how they were handled than succeeded.

The GM has to do a better job of understanding what kind of coach is going to make the most out of his roster. MacT wound up being very good at this.

Crawford won a cup in Colorado a long time ago. Yes, he had competitive teams in Vancouver and in Dallas. But there was a lot of criticism of him - that game management is not his strength and I would suggest we need someone who knows how to get more out of a roster and there are better options available.

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#47 RexLibris
May 31 2012, 05:13PM
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Why couldn't Belanger have (allegedly) asked for a trade when Gauthier was still the GM? Even Tambellini might have been able to coerce a 1st round pick out of him....

Okay, maybe not Tambellini, but he could have at least nabbed a second. A 3rd? A signed Jean Beliveau sweater?

Good news, maybe, the Oilers signed Davidson. Add another defenseman looking for some ice time in OKC next year.

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#48 Dog Train
May 31 2012, 05:24PM
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I am all for going with an unheralded name that isn't experienced. I agree that none of the coaches being discussed with previous NHL experience really excite me. The more that I read about Jon Cooper or Dallas Eakins, the more that I hope they get an honest chance.

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#49 book¡e
May 31 2012, 05:55PM
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@Jonathan Willis

What would you do if you pressured him against his advice to make the deal. Would you maybe realize you were wrong and actually hand over the keys to the team?

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#50 Bucknuck
May 31 2012, 06:05PM
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@The Soup Fascist

Props man... I never thought of that. :-)

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