Comparing Coaches

Jonathan Willis
January 22 2014 10:32AM

Coaching has been an oft-discussed potential reason for the Edmonton Oilers’ collapse this season. While nobody claims that it is coaching and coaching alone that has the Oilers where they are, some wonder whether general manager Craig MacTavish didn’t make a mistake when he chose Dallas Eakins to replace Ralph Krueger.

How does Eakins’ team compare with that of Krueger, and of Tom Renney at five-on-five?

The Comparison

What is needed for a fair comparison between coaches? A level playing field. Because Ralph Krueger’s Oilers only played against Western Conference teams, we will only consider Oilers games played against Western opponents in 2011-12 and this season.

That introduces another problem. Eakins’ Oilers have played 19 games on the road against Western teams, but only 11 at home. To compensate for that, we will be weighting his home and road games equally so out analysis isn’t impacted by an unbalanced schedule.

What should we compare? We’ll run the gamut of five-on-five statistics: shots, Fenwick (shots + missed shots), Corsi (all shot attempts) and good old goals. All numbers will be expressed as a percentage of total events – in other words, 50 percent represents the break-even mark and a higher number is better. We will also include shooting percentage and save percentage.

Tom Renney

Ralph Krueger

Dallas Eakins

Head-To-Head-To-Head

Tom Renney comes out looking awfully good here. Steve Tambellini never offered an actual explanation of what he thought Renney was doing wrong behind the bench when he fired the veteran coach, but it is abundantly clear in hindsight that canning Renney was the wrong move. The Oilers did a better job at getting shot attempts, and getting shot attempts through without them being blocked, of getting shots on net, and of scoring goals under Renney than they would under either of his successors. If one believes (as I do) that Renney had the weakest roster of the three coaches, it’s impossible to look at this without thinking he did an awfully good job.

Ralph Krueger vs. Dallas Eakins is where it gets interesting. Eakins’ team did a better job of generating shot attempts, but Krueger’s did better work getting them through to the opposition net. Krueger’s teams also did a better job of winning the goals battle, in large part because the team shooting and save percentages were better.

Eakins’ home/road splits are compelling. At home, Eakins’ team is pretty competitive with Renney’s in the shot metrics, but on the road the numbers fall apart to a degree not seen under previous coaches. I don’t have an explanation for that; it’s something I’m going to watch for in future games but the difference suggests that whatever Eakins is doing on the road isn’t working at all.

The other item to note here is the save percentage splits – that the goalies’ terrible play isolated to home games suggests to me that the bad goaltending this year isn’t necessarily driven by team defence. By that, I mean that while the Oilers allow way more shots than the league average, there seems to be little reason to believe that they’re consistently allowing higher quality chances than other teams. Certainly they weren’t under Renney or Krueger; it’s possible that Eakins is doing something bizarre but I don’t think it’s likely.

Would Edmonton be better off with Tom Renney behind the bench? I think so, yes, potentially much better off (particularly given the benefits of continuity). Would they be better off with Krueger than Eakins? I don’t know, but I believe there’s a strong learning curve for any rookie NHL head coach, and Krueger already had a year under his belt. That has to be balanced against MacTavish getting a guy suited to his style of managing, so I’m not sure there’s a definite answer here.

Both Eakins and Krueger strike me as intelligent, motivated coaches; I think Krueger would have figured things out eventually and I believe Eakins still will, but the big mistake here was making Renney a scapegoat for problems that weren’t of his creation.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, 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 KSC10032
January 22 2014, 10:44AM
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Interesting comparison.

IMO -- this underlines the issue that is overlooked by everyone who calls for X, Y or Z to be "fired". These folks always ignore the other, more important, half of the equation -- who do you replace them with?

All of Renney, Kreuger and now Eakins have had large percentages of the fan base calling for their scalps. Few of these people are concurrently suggesting replacement alternatives.

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#2 godot10
January 22 2014, 10:47AM
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Renney was fired because he finished 30th and 29th in a 30 team league over two full seasons.

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#3 Robert Ore
January 22 2014, 10:50AM
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One other comment on comparing coaching is the injury factor. I do not have the stats for the periods you have shown, but I believe under Eakins term we have far fewer man days lsot due to injury than previous years (particularily to our top end forwards)

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#4 Matt Henderson
January 22 2014, 10:54AM
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And I don't recall anybody outside of Oiler Management having a big problem with Renney either. In fact I distinctly remember the feeling that the Oil not only fired him without cause but also screwed him on the timing of the firing.

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#5 tileguy
January 22 2014, 10:54AM
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No mention that Kreuger didn't have a training camp, you think that might of skewed the number a little?

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#7 northof51
January 22 2014, 10:55AM
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I question the way the Oilers play under Eakins, and numbers show that he isn't carrying the mail. However, there are 2 reasons I am not hopping on the "Fire Eakins" bandwagon, and that's because:

1) I am tied to the Lowe Must Go bandwagon; and

2) Eakins track record with the Marlies suggests that he vastly improved his team over time. Maybe it's gonna take a while for the players to figure him out, and to get the right players in place. But maybe, just maybe, Eakins is the guy to float this ship back up from the depths of the NHL standings.

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#8 northof51
January 22 2014, 10:55AM
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Double comment, please ignore.

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#9 Dave
January 22 2014, 10:57AM
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This article takes us back 4 or 5 years of coaching the players. It points directly at management: they choose the players that the chosen coaches coach in their system. Really, the coaching results are marginally different in so much that there were no great results in any case.

So what's that tell you? Mgt has given them nothing to work with. That's the consistency.

And I think I heard something from someone that some fans want a mgt change or something? ;)

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#11 Lochenzo
January 22 2014, 10:59AM
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Thanks for the analysis JW. Just confirms what I felt about Tom Renney and you're absolutely right about the benefits of continuity. The only argument that I could think of at the time for canning Renney was that Renney was originally brought in before the rebuild, so maybe they didn't see him as the right guy to bring along the kids. But on the surface, I didn't see any issues there. The team was designed to tank and draft 1st overall so the team record is not on Tom Renney.

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#12 Lowe Expectations
January 22 2014, 11:02AM
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Comparing these coaches is like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. This team hasn't got the right balance of players (too many players with the same skill set, size etc) and doesn't bring the effort on a consistent basis.

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#13 Serious Gord
January 22 2014, 11:02AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I recognize this.

But if the guy managing the team can't point to the reasons why coaching led to those finishes, the logical conclusion is that managing played a much bigger role.

For fans, it can be as simple as 'the team finished here, therefore the coach needs to go.' For the manager, who has to replace said coach, the explanation needs to be deeper: what did the coach do wrong that his replacement will correct? If he can't answer that question - and Tambellini couldn't - then he has no business firing the coach (and the team has every reason to fire the manager).

He was fired because he wasn't a FOK and thus could be thrown overboard as a gesture of "accountability".

Tambo was dumped for the same reason.

And If the team starts miserably next year another non-FOK - Eakins - will be tossed overboard.

CORSI et al has nothing to do with it.

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#16 OilClog
January 22 2014, 11:05AM
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Renney was fired because the Kids fired him.

Kruger was hired cause the kids loved him.

Eakins is failing cause the kids can't stand him.

It's pretty simple.

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#17 Serious Gord
January 22 2014, 11:06AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Definitely, that might have been a factor.

One thing to note, though - if you split the Oilers results under Krueger, the first half was actually a little better by shot metrics than the last half, which I personally wouldn't have expected to see if lack of training camp was the primary issue.

Possible explanation for that is that all teams had no training camp and that EDM had most of its star players playing in the AHL and thus in game-ready shape right off the hop compared to their opponents.

That advantage dissolved as the season wore on.

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#18 tileguy
January 22 2014, 11:07AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Definitely, that might have been a factor.

One thing to note, though - if you split the Oilers results under Krueger, the first half was actually a little better by shot metrics than the last half, which I personally wouldn't have expected to see if lack of training camp was the primary issue.

That could be explained by the fact that no teams had a training camp and it takes a veteran team with an established coach just a wee longer to get going. MacT deviated from the plan to find an X and O's type of assistant coach for Krueger and that has been his biggest mistake since becomind G.M.

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#20 outdoorzguy
January 22 2014, 11:07AM
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Sorry, I don't buy all these fancy statistics.

For me it's wins versus losses...plain and simple!!

By the way, I notice in the picture at the top of the article, all three coaches have the same stunned look on their faces. Coincidence??

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#22 DisappointedFan
January 22 2014, 11:10AM
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I think we can paint the coaching picture however we want to on the history of the coaching. But plain and simple, MacT didn't fire Tom Renney or hire Ralph.

Maybe a suitable comparison we should be looking at isn't the numbers on how their systems performed (easy to compare) but rather what is it on the ice that they are doing differently. Was the set up of the power play and how they position themselves or how they pass really that different from coach to coach or is this a factor of personal on the ice. Is their positioning and coverage 5v5 in their own zone and in the offensive zone so different from coach to coach that it is causing these differences or is it the players on the ice who can't follow these systems.

Next how do their systems compare to other teams in the league, are they really that different at handling the coverage in our zone and in the offensive zone compared to say the Canucks or even the Blackhawks or is there something else personal wise at play.

My point is that let's look at what exactly he's doing differently compared to other coaches before we continue saying he's a problem (I'm not saying he's possibly not). I'd personally just like to see if he has really had that big an impact or if we just have a completely different and inconsistent team.

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#23 pkam
January 22 2014, 11:11AM
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Robert Ore wrote:

One other comment on comparing coaching is the injury factor. I do not have the stats for the periods you have shown, but I believe under Eakins term we have far fewer man days lsot due to injury than previous years (particularily to our top end forwards)

Not true.

Kureger has the least man games lost at 118 over 48 games. If you subtract the 48 games by Sutton, we only lost 70 man games over 48 games.

Renney lost 246 man games in 11-12 over 82 games.

So far, Eakins has lost 215 man games over 52 games. At this pace, we will lose 339 man games over 82 games. The worst since the 520 in 09-10.

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#24 DisappointedFan
January 22 2014, 11:11AM
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I do like the comparison of stats by the way Willis, it does portray the evidence of drop in numbers quite well.

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#26 toprightcorner
January 22 2014, 11:14AM
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godot10 wrote:

Renney was fired because he finished 30th and 29th in a 30 team league over two full seasons.

Renny was not fired solely on the standings. He was Tambo's scapegoat to protect himself and his job. Tambo did nothing to improve the team to give Renney a chance to win, with the team they had, they should not have expected to finish any higher.

The reason a GM should fire a coach is if the record should be better based on the talent he has to work with. Renney had minimal talent and Tambo did not add to it so he was more responsible.

I would suggest that if Renney kept his job, Tambo would have been shown the door earlier than he was.

Firing Renney was simply self preservation for Tambo.

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#27 ubermiguel
January 22 2014, 11:15AM
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Hind-sight tells us Renney was a good coach, but we can't go back in time and fix that firing. At this point I feel continuity in coaching is the more important than the relative quality of the coach. Keep Eakins. Keep MacT. Fire Lowe.

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#28 ubermiguel
January 22 2014, 11:17AM
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pkam wrote:

Not true.

Kureger has the least man games lost at 118 over 48 games. If you subtract the 48 games by Sutton, we only lost 70 man games over 48 games.

Renney lost 246 man games in 11-12 over 82 games.

So far, Eakins has lost 215 man games over 52 games. At this pace, we will lose 339 man games over 82 games. The worst since the 520 in 09-10.

But none of the top-end players have missed significant time.

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#29 DisappointedFan
January 22 2014, 11:17AM
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@Jonathan Willis

Actually they don't include Sutton in that because he was consider non-roster as he never started the season. So those 118 games are all playing roster players.

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#30 tileguy
January 22 2014, 11:21AM
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Less vitriol with the comments than I expected, its early yet.

MacT has to decide if Eakins is the right guy and he has to decide now. If Eakins has lost the room, what is the sense of holding on to him. If the players have respect for him and what he is doing then he deserves another year. No sense in crying over spilt milk.

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#31 godot10
January 22 2014, 11:22AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I recognize this.

But if the guy managing the team can't point to the reasons why coaching led to those finishes, the logical conclusion is that managing played a much bigger role.

For fans, it can be as simple as 'the team finished here, therefore the coach needs to go.' For the manager, who has to replace said coach, the explanation needs to be deeper: what did the coach do wrong that his replacement will correct? If he can't answer that question - and Tambellini couldn't - then he has no business firing the coach (and the team has every reason to fire the manager).

With basically the same team (and no training camp, no experience assistant coach, and a compressed schedule) Krueger finished 24th.

And a lot of people argue (not me) that Krueger is a horrible coach.

So if a horrible coach could finish 24th with basically the same team, and Renney couldn't budge out of the last two spots over two seasons.

Krueger, somehow, was able to optimize results better than Renney, or Eakins, with an undermanned roster.

Arguably, with an undermanned roster, your advanced stats are going to be awful. They are awful under all three coaches.

Krueger was the only guy able to optimize results with an undermanned roster.

I would argue because his strategy was to give Hall (and Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle) the best chance to win the game for him, but maximizing their effectiveness.

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#32 Mustangheart
January 22 2014, 11:22AM
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JW great job presenting the facts. Very good info.

I think regardless of Eakins performance this year, he will still survive this yea. Primarily that the management cannot afford to fire another coach after just one season. It would just highlight KLowes and Mc. T's incompetence and mismanagement.

I believe that Mc. T is doing his best to turn things around and I like his efforts in obtaining Perron, getting rid of Devon, but I cannot say the same for KLowe. I cannot help but think that the Oilers are in such a mess and disarray, why does KLowe allocate so much time to Team Canada? Does he think he is the only one that can do that job? You would think he would get his own house in order before taking on more obligations? You would think Katz would have insisted KLowe focus on the Oilers? Lot's of questions that need to be addressed to the fans.

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#33 Serious Gord
January 22 2014, 11:23AM
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pkam wrote:

Not true.

Kureger has the least man games lost at 118 over 48 games. If you subtract the 48 games by Sutton, we only lost 70 man games over 48 games.

Renney lost 246 man games in 11-12 over 82 games.

So far, Eakins has lost 215 man games over 52 games. At this pace, we will lose 339 man games over 82 games. The worst since the 520 in 09-10.

The raw numbers only tell part of the story. The quality of players hurt is a big factor.

If memory serves the players injured when renny was coach were on balance far more impactful than the ones eakins has lost.

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#34 Bob H
January 22 2014, 11:23AM
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It does not matter what sport is mentioned but there is one area that coaches have the greatest influence and therefore a measurable performance criteria. That area is special teams.

I would be very interested in comparing the three coaches results on the PP and PK.

My concern with Dallas Eakins is the overall performance of the team - in reality, the team is in an upgrade over previous years - i.e. Gordon is equal to or better than Horcoff - Perron is better than Pajavari - Ference is better than Sutton or Fistric and as a previous comment posted cited, the number of injury days is less than any of the previous two years.

There is no question that the team needs an upgrade on defence but what existing defenceman that was here last year would you rather have than what is here now?

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#35 Mustangheart
January 22 2014, 11:24AM
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JW, I your option, should Katz make the move to remove KLowe, who would be a great fit to move the Oilers ahead?

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#36 ubermiguel
January 22 2014, 11:33AM
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Mustangheart wrote:

JW, I your option, should Katz make the move to remove KLowe, who would be a great fit to move the Oilers ahead?

What exactly does Lowe do? Do they need to replace him at all?

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#38 Lochenzo
January 22 2014, 11:34AM
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I think there must be continuity within your organization as well. Guys that share in the leaders vision and who are capable at executing it. MacT finds his guy in Eakins. I was surprised that Eakins didn't get to bring in new Asst Coaches. Maybe Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger are the right guys. Or maybe these guys are a part of the old boys club, an argument the Fire Kevin Lowe crowd would adopt.

I don't know the answer to this one.

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#40 Keri Kettle
January 22 2014, 11:39AM
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Rookie NHL coaches have a very steep learning curve, which is why it is not fair to contrast Krueger vs. Eakins at this point. Krueger was on the Oilers' bench as Associate Coach under Renney for two full seasons before he took the reigns, which gives him both (1) greater NHL experience and (2) greater knowledge of the Oilers' roster.

Although I definitely agree with your assertion that firing Renney was not the right move, and I think that firing Krueger was an even worse more (if for no other reason than a need for continuity), I think that Eakins needs more time before we can assert that he is a worse/better coach than either of those two gentlemen.

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#41 pkam
January 22 2014, 11:42AM
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ubermiguel wrote:

But none of the top-end players have missed significant time.

This is tricky. Who do you consider top-end players?

I can list the ones who have 8 or more man games lost last season and let you decide if they are top-end players:

Ben Eager: 9 games Shawn Horcoff: 17 games Eric Belanger: 20 games Mark Fistric: 10 games Anton Lander: 16 games Nikolai Khabibulin: 8 games Ales Hemsky: 10 games

That is 90 of the 118 man games lost. Who on this list do you think is top-ended player?

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#42 RyMosh4
January 22 2014, 11:46AM
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Knowing new General Managers like to bring in their own coaches, do we think MacT would have kept Renney around? I am on the 'We should have kept Renney around' team, but I wonder if it's not worth worrying about, as a new GM (which we all agree was needed) was always going to bring in his own guy, anyway.

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#43 pkam
January 22 2014, 11:47AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Interesting. I hadn't realized the gap was so wide.

I was wrong on Kureger's man games lost. That 118 man games do not include the 48 games lost by Sutton.

But Kureger's year is still substantially less than the other years.

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#44 bdiddy18
January 22 2014, 11:53AM
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Renny had a defeatest attitude , he accepted the learning that was needed and knew that would come with loses. In many ways thats ok from a teaching perspective but from a compete perspective that was going to get you nowhere.

There were several times and very often that Renney would say " IF im still here it will be great" "IF I'm here to be a part of the success"

He already knew the likelihood of him being able to keep his job for the long haul was slim and accepted that fact rather than being determined to not let it happen.

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#45 ubermiguel
January 22 2014, 11:53AM
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pkam wrote:

This is tricky. Who do you consider top-end players?

I can list the ones who have 8 or more man games lost last season and let you decide if they are top-end players:

Ben Eager: 9 games Shawn Horcoff: 17 games Eric Belanger: 20 games Mark Fistric: 10 games Anton Lander: 16 games Nikolai Khabibulin: 8 games Ales Hemsky: 10 games

That is 90 of the 118 man games lost. Who on this list do you think is top-ended player?

Top 6 forwards included Hemsky and Horcoff and our #1 goalie. I'm not saying these guys should have been top 6 forwards or #1 goalie, but on that team they were and they lost a huge % of time.

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#46 nunyour
January 22 2014, 11:54AM
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Doesn't matter how good you are when you bring a knife to a gun fight.

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#47 philip
January 22 2014, 11:59AM
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This is the dumbest article i have ever read.

your conclusion to all the work you did was "i dont know."

You damn pointdexters will be the fall of hockey.

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#48 Dave
January 22 2014, 12:01PM
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There is one silver lining here. An experienced NHL ready coach might have had the team performing at a slightly higher level masking somewhat the weaknesses on the Oiler's line up.

We have learned that Dubnyk is not a starting goalie and most likely we need a new goaltending coach. We have learned that we can not win with a line up of Junior all stars. We have learned that skill and speed is no match for grit,determination and toughness. Most of all we have learned that we need to bring in bigger, better defencemen.

I can't say that we learned anything about Sam Gather that we did not already know.

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#49 Oil Can
January 22 2014, 12:06PM
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As we compare coaches and try to figure out which one was better or we should have kept. How about maybe we just haven't hired the right guy yet. Montreal, Ottawa, New Jersey, Colorado, ect. Have all done pretty good and have not needed to give their coaches years of loosing records to see if they are the right coach for the job. GO OUT AND GET AN EXPERIENCED CHOACH and let him bring in his own assistants.

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#50 Mack Strong
January 22 2014, 12:10PM
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It is in my humble opinion that the firing of Tom and Ralph were premature. The two of them together as Head and Associate coach had the right approach. I am guilty of being part of the mob that called for their lynching but I feel I may have been hasty.

Tom is doing well as an assistant coach in Det (one point out of wild card in the ultra competitive Western Conference) and Ralph has been asked by hockey Canada to help with our coveted Team Canada…Quite the honor for a guy we ran out of Edmonton - myself included

All three are asked to make chicken salad out of chicken $hit!

Management needs to step forward and do there job in getting guys that will help this team. We have problems all over out roster. Defence brutal….our forwards are smaller with no compliment of size at all. And we bring in young guys and expect that they become stars in a season. Remember when we were 18 19 20 years old playing sports against 28 29 30 yr olds….not easy. Add your buddy who is 28 29 30 and you compliment him…different game.

I posted it earlier but (don't like cap hit) Nash isn't having a stellar year but is big and fast. He could compliment our young guys. We took a chance on Perron (struggling at time of trade, and coming off injury) and he turned out pretty good. Lucic could fit in well here…we would have to move some of our young guys and picks (but not 2014 1st) but I don't believe thats mortgaging our future…thoughts?

I think D is going to have to be done in draft, UFA and development.

Love the Oil love the Nation!

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