If Steve Tambellini is as serious about doing a proper rebuild of the Edmonton Oilers as he says, then the GM had better be taking a long look at his coaching staff, including old friend Pat Quinn.
Having written I believed Quinn was the right man for the job when he was hired in tandem with associate coach Tom Renney last summer, I’ve got some significant misgivings whether that’s true after a conversation I had with a veteran member of the Oilers today.
— I’m told Quinn likely didn’t get as much out of his veterans as he could, that he didn’t communicate well with them. I’m told he didn’t do much to embrace the veterans, to build trust and let them know they’d be his go-to guys on a team trying to put three straight years out of the playoffs behind them. It’s now four years, of course.
That criticism is particularly unnerving because much of Quinn’s distinguished NHL resume has been built on his ability and willingness to lean on his veterans, to get the most out of them.
— I’m told that Quinn and Renney weren’t always on the same page in terms of game preparation — what strategy should be employed against a particular opponent. Apparently, Quinn sometimes overruled Renney, scrapping strategies that had been drawn up.
— I’m told there was confusion and disagreement about roles players were expected to play — for me, that started right out of the blocks when Sam Gagner opened the season on the fourth line. Apparently, it didn’t end there.
Houston, we have a problem
Lack of communication? Failure to connect with the veterans on the team? The head coach and his associate at odds? Players cast in the wrong roles? And 30th place. Any of that sound like a problem to you?
I’ve got no reason to question what the player I talked to today told me. This isn’t somebody with an axe to grind. This isn’t a malcontent prone to whining or somebody just pissed off about missing the playoffs for four straight seasons. This was a player offering an honest assessment.
Jason Gregor hinted at a "disconnect" between Quinn and some of his players in a brief item a week or so ago. I remember questioning Gregor about it because, to be honest, I hadn’t heard anything firm that there might be an issue. Today, I’m certain there is.
Was Tambellini made aware of any of the issues related to me today by players during exit interviews? Did Tambellini come to any of the same conclusions on his own after watching Quinn for a full season behind the bench?
I don’t know the answer to that, but it sure didn’t sound like it on the weekend. Tambellini gave Quinn a vote of confidence in a interview with Jim Matheson of The Journal.
Quinn is Tambellini’s guy
In last Sunday’s Hockey World, Matheson wrote:
"Unless Edmonton Oilers coach Pat Quinn tells GM Steve Tambellini that he doesn’t want to return as Oilers coach in a couple of weeks when they sit down to discuss the past season, Quinn has certainly got the job for Year 2 of his three-year deal.
"Pat’s our coach. Yes, I want Pat back. I just wanted to give Pat some time to think where he’s at and what lays ahead for us to get better, then go talk to him. To talk to coaches two days after the season, that’s not the time," said Tambellini.
"Quinn was often exasperated by the Oilers’ play (too small, not competing hard enough) for the first several months of the season, but backed off in the latter going, knowing his team was hurt and clearly not good enough. There has been some online conjecture that the Oilers might want to go younger if they are into a major rebuild next season, but Quinn is Tambellini’s guy."
Of course Quinn is Tambellini’s guy. Quinn gave Tambellini his first sniff at a hockey operations job while running the show with the Vancouver Canucks. But should Quinn be Tambellini’s "guy," the man with the keys to a rebuilding Oilers team, moving forward?
So, yes, Tambellini wants Quinn back. Hmm. That answer leads me to believe there’s three possible scenarios.
First, Tambellini wasn’t telling Matheson the truth. He’s aware of the concerns regarding Quinn’s handling of the team but he isn’t about to embarrass his old friend. Tambellini is putting his best foot forward while looking for a way to extract Quinn from behind the bench gracefully.
Second, Tambellini has been made aware of the concerns but hasn’t been swayed by them enough to consider making a change behind the bench. With the team in transition, those players not happy with Quinn might be a minority that can be moved in the normal course of rebuilding the roster leading into training camp next season.
Third, Tambellini has no idea of the concerns related to me. He hasn’t heard them from any of the players. He hasn’t seen them with his own eyes. There is no issue and Quinn is the guy Tambellini wants running the bench for the coming season.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.