If two heads really are better than one, why does Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini have to settle on a single candidate to replace Craig MacTavish behind the bench?
The short answer is, he doesn’t. While most fans and interested onlookers have been satisfied with the assumption Tambellini will hire a head coach, who will in turn appoint his own assistant coaches, I suspect Tambellini is considering going a different route. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Tambellini hire a head coach and an associate coach in tandem, then fill out the bench roster by adding an assistant or two.
Why not Pat Quinn as head coach and Tom Renney as his associate? Both have long resumes as NHL head coaches. Both have history with Tambellini. Both have been interviewed by Tambellini and president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe.
While Tambellini and Lowe could certainly pick one or the other — I’d give Quinn the nod if I had to choose one — there’s nothing preventing a package approach that would see Quinn and Renney run the show together.
The concept of using a head coach-associate coach set-up isn’t exactly new. Eight of the NHL’s 30 teams went that route this season — Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Dallas, Montreal, Nashville, Phoenix and Vancouver. The difference between an associate and an assistant coach is more than terminology.
Generally, an associate is more experienced and has more input into decisions. Mike Keenan had Jim Playfair in that role in Calgary. Alain Vigneault had Rick Bowness in Vancouver. Quinn, who has a regular season career coaching record of 657-481-154-26 (.567) and has won the Jack Adams Award twice, is certainly on Tambellini’s short list of candidates.
Quinn has interviewed for the GM’s job in Minnesota, but beat writer Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune doesn’t see him being on the short list in Minny, and big Mike always has the dope. Renney, working as a TV analyst after taking the pipe from the New York Rangers, boasts a career mark of 203-170-9-46 (.539) and stands to be on the short list. So, likely, is Marc Crawford, who has the personality of a shit sandwich but does have a Cup ring and an Jack Adams on his resume.
RIGHT HAND MEN
There are several other names who could fill the associate’s role in a two-man set-up, but I’m not sure about the language in the contracts they have with their current teams. Teams have out-clauses in their contracts that allow coaches to take a job with another team if it’s a step up, usually to a head coaching position, but I don’t know if moving from an assistant’s job to associate spot is considered the same thing.
Brent Peterson has history with Tambellini, but he’s an associate to Barry Trotz in Nashville. I can’t see the Predators letting him make a lateral move. Boston assistant Geoff Ward is highly thought of by the Oilers after several seasons in the organization. Would the San Jose Sharks allow Todd Richards to take an associate’s gig here?
Would Mark Messier, who joined Tambellini and Lowe in Europe at the World Championships, take a job in Edmonton as an associate or is he destined to go the management route? And, would plugging Messier into that role with no experience be a good idea? I’m not sure.
What I am sure of is that you can’t have too many good hockey minds in an organization. Detroit has proven it for many years by adding sharp people to middle-management positions, and in my mind the same approach can hold true with a coaching staff.
From where I sit, it makes sense.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.