In our final look at Tom Renney and his coaching tendencies while with the Rangers, we’ll examine how he handled the defense, the goaltending and rode his stars on the powerplay.
- How did he handle the blue in NYC? In his first full season with the Rangers, he relied on everyone pretty much equally at EVs and PK. Six men were between 2:49/game and 3:36/game when the NYR were a man short that season. He did rely on Rozsival, Tyutin and Poti on the PP. Each of the following seasons was very similar, although he was relying on Rozsival (and later Staal) more than the others. This isn’t Cito Gaston straight up but it’s pretty straight up.
- How does that apply to the Oilers blueline? For the purposes of this conversation, we’re going to assume Sheldon Souray isn’t on the team in ’10-’11. I suspect he’ll rely on Tom Gilbert (Gibby had a great run after the trade deadline, going 2-10-12 in his final 7 games), Kurtis Foster (3:50 a game on the Bolts PP–easily the top PP option) and Ryan Whitney on the powerplay. They would represent the Rozsival, Tyutin, Poti trio above.
- What about the PK? Whitney and Gilbert played a lot shorthanded last season, but I think Smid should be able to increase his minutes (only 1:51 a game last year). Add the other new hire (Vandermeer) and Strudwick`s return (2:33 a game last season shorthanded) and they should be able to reduce shorthanded minutes from the top pairing.
- Who is the key to the Oilers D in 09-10? Smid. He had a nice season playing softer opposition with Lubo, and will play tougher opponents this year. I’m encouraged by his possible partners (Foster, Vandermeer); Smid’s season with Staios (that was the "rip it around the boards season") didn’t use his speed or puck handling ability in any way. Renney will like his toughness and if he can stay healthy (buddy gets hit a lot) while establishing himself as a top 4 defenseman the Oilers will have an exceptional value contract.
- What about the goaltending? Renney was appointed head coach with 20 games left in the 2003-04 season. The team’s goaltending featured Mike Dunham (57gp, .896SP and this was his final season in a starting role); Jussi Markkanen (.913SP in 26GP before being dealt to the Oilers); veteran Jamie McLennan along with prospects Steve Valiquette and Jason LaBarbera. When the lockout ended, the Rangers had Kevin Weekes in the starting role and Henrik Lundqvist (an outstanding goalie in Sweden, his SEL SP’s had been eye-popping for three seasons by now) as the backup. An early season injury to Weekes meant the rookie ran with the job for awhile. Lundqvist at the time: "You always want to be the No. 1 goalie, but there’s so many games. I’m happy as long as we win. We’ve got a good start here, and so far we’re on the right track. Hopefully we can keep it up, and then we’ll see who’s playing better. I will work hard for it, though."
- So we should look to Sweden? Well maybe. My point is we shouldn’t be surprised if the Oilers rip through goaltenders in the next two seasons. The Oilers should have no loyalty to any of the three goalies currently in the mix beyond giving them some starts in hopes they (the kids) play well enough to win the job outright. There’s no reason to believe the Oilers have the next Ranford or Joseph on the roster currently, and until one of the kids grabs the starting job the Oilers should be looking to upgrade. Sweden, Finland, Russia, NCAA, look under every rock.
- What about his powerplays? He ran his best players ragged. In 2005-06, Jagr was in the top 10 in the entire league in powerplay minutes per game, with Nylander and Straka also in the top 50. Renney’s button-down defensive style at EV strength meant special teams had elevated importance.
- How good were his powerplays? The season he took over the club finished 25th overall in PP %. In 05-06, the Rangers PP was 9th in percentage; the following season the club was 8th and in 07-08 it slipped to 22nd overall. In the season he was fired, the Rangers finished 29th overall in powerplay percentage.
- What the hell happened? Good players (in their prime) slipped away and were replaced by lesser players. From the Jagr-Straka-Nylander-Rucinsky era of the middle part of the decade until the 08-09 season (Gomez, Drury, Markus Naslund, Nik Zherdev) there was a downturn in roster quality.
- Well then we’re screwed! Not so. Even in a season where the Oilers were craptastic, the PP was just a little below average (18th overall). This team has offensive talent.
- Like who? Ales Hemsky. He finished in a tie for 17th among forwards in total PP points in 08-09. Sam Gagner had a wonderful year (5.74 points-per-60 5×4 in 09-10).
- So Renney will make the PP better? He should be able to help (MacT’s powerplays were awful) and there is a bunch of talent joining Hemsky (Gagner, Hall, MPS, Eberle, Gilbert, Foster).
In a very real way we’re returning to a more button down, hands-on style which will remind us of Craig MacTavish. I think Renney’s problem solving is superior and that the Oilers have much better talent coming through the system now. Its going to be an interesting winter.