Yesterday the Oilers surprised everyone by naming Steve Smith an assistant coach. Instantly many questioned the decision, and some thought Kevin Lowe must have orchestrated this hiring.

I was surprised it was Smith, but I don’t understand the logic from some who think Lowe must have strong-armed Steve Tambellini and Tom Renney into making this decision.

Up until yesterday most of you who accused Lowe of interfering had conceded that this was Tambellini’s team now based on all the moves that have happened since the end of the season. Do you honestly think Lowe would let Tambellini make all the other decisions, but that he would have the arrogance to tell his GM and coach who should be the assistant coaches?

On the contrary, I don’t think Tambellini had much say in this hiring.


Steve Smith sent a text to Kevin Lowe asking him what Renney was doing regarding his coaches. Lowe replied and asked Smith if he was interested. He then said Tambellini would need to talk to Bowman before going any further.

Bowman granted the Oilers permission to talk to Smith and two days later Renney called Smith. They chatted for an hour and half and then had more talks later.


This decision was Tom Renney’s, and Robin Brownlee and I had a chance to chat with the bench boss  to find out how he decided that Smith and Kelly Buchberger were the right guys for him.

JG: Steve Smith came out of nowhere. Give us your thought process on what led you to hire Smith?

RENNEY: I chatted with Steve a few weeks ago and I was really impressed on where he took the conversation. I got into a lot of detail and talked about the technical sides of the game, both on a team perspective and individual player development.

He was really current in every way and very well spoken and I thought had the temperament and the enthusiasm to engage a team and engage players. In subsequent conversations I solidified that frame of mind even further. I think a real good hire by us, given our situation and where we are now, I think Steve is one of those guys that can help us set a foundation.

RB: It’s been awhile since Steve has been an assistant coach. What transfer, if any, do you see in the experience pro and advanced scouting with the Blackhawks that keeps him current and keeps him up to date in your mind with the position he has here? 

RENNEY: That’s a really good question. I think since the lockout this game has evolved into something more each and every year. Steve has been working since the lockout and been able to witness that and chronicle that in his own way. From a player personnel perspective he has seen the influx of great young players come into the league and is familiar with them.

He’s seen coaching strategies continue to evolve to the point they are today and is comfortable with that. He just so happens to have been in a pre-scout situation with the Blackhawks during the playoffs and helping Joel (Quenneville) get ready for their opponents. Obviously he contributed, in some degree, to their huge success.

JG: Will you have another person on the bench, you had four last year, or will you go with just the three of you?

RENNEY: At this point in time I have three, but I’ve got another list of guys and quite honestly Don Hay was in that list. I had Steve and Kelly as part of the staff first and foremost, and I then I wanted to look for that guy that I thought would complement the three of us best. I’m going to continue to study that, research it and talk to people. It’s not a fair answer to your question Jason, but I’m not quite sure yet.

RB: In the case that you do look at another person. Will you be looking at a career coach type, in terms of balance? You have Steve and Kelly as former players and maybe somebody more on your side of the ledger.

RENNEY: I would certainly be looking for someone for that would challenge me technically, because I think that is important. I don’t think we have all the answers, and anybody who thinks they do is pretty much off the mark. I do want someone to challenge me in the technical department, and that’s not to suggest Kelly and Steve can’t. But through some type of width and breadth of experience I do need that challenge, if, in fact, I do decide to go to a fourth coach. That said, certainly a former player who has had good experience and has done good things in the game is not overkill.

At the same time that I say that, someone who might have a background similar to mine with the type of experiences that I’ve had, or at least something to that degree I think would be good for us. What’s most important now is that the personalities match up. You don’t just hire someone for the sake of hiring someone. We want to make sure we have a staff that is equally good and adept at dealing with our players and helping this team move along as anything and that is an important consideration.

JG: How do you foresee the assistant coach’s role under you? Do you have a specific role that you are going to use Steve Smith in?

RENNEY: I’m sorting that out now. What I’d like to do is make sure we are in a room together talking about where we are as a team and where we want to go. And talk about each other’s strengths and weaknesses and where we think we have to fortify our own games from a technical perspective, identify with our own strengths and those types of things. And then draw some conclusions beyond that.

I hope to have that done in the next week to two weeks and from there start to devise job descriptions. You can appreciate where Steve, with his experience, I think will be a very good one-on-one teacher for sure; whether that is with the forwards or the defence. You know he played the position so I think that lends itself nicely to the growth of our defencemen. At the same time I want to keep and open mind here, and not peg guys into these roles too early without having the chance to talk to them together.

RB: Aside from knowing who Steve was, before these past few weeks did you have any connection what so ever with him?

RENNEY: I’ve never discussed anything with Steve before (the past few weeks). I’ve nodded at him in the hallway of the odd rink here and there but I’ve never spoke to him. I did for the first time about three weeks ago, and then subsequent to that I have a number of times. And every time I spoke to him it just become clearer to me that he will be a good addition to our staff.

RB: How do explain hiring a guy who three weeks ago wasn’t even on your mind. What about Steve led you to believe this is the kind of guy I want on my staff?

RENNEY: Listening to him talk about where he sees the game today, where he sees player development today and where he sees the game going beyond now really impressed me. The fact of the matter is that Joel used him to a great length in pre-scouting their opponents in the playoffs and that shows me a real technical awareness, and ability to adjust and prepare a team to play.

He happens to be an ex-player, and an ex-oiler player on top of that which, quite honestly, is coincidental. My interaction with Steve had been so minimal that I became educated very quickly over the past few weeks about him. And it didn’t matter what I had heard about his depth and width of his hockey ability, because it was sound to me.

JG: It is clear that Steve has a lack of coaching experience. How do you respond to that, and can coaching experience be over-rated at times and does it matter if he hasn’t been around coaching that long?

RENNEY: It depends on what he has been around and what he has been exposed to. How he has been able to simulate all of that information, make it current and be able to put himself into a position to use it now. I feel that Steve has done that. I think coaching experience is huge, but what I think is more important is the quality of that experience and how recent it might be.

I believe what he has experienced with Chicago in the last three or four years and his ability to recognize where the game is and know a teams’ strengths, those are his strong points. His interpersonal skills in talking to him, I have no doubt in my mind he could deliver a game plan to a dressing room prior to a game or deal with a player one-on-one and help him correct his game. I’m very comfortable with him.

RB: How much different, philosophically, will this coaching staff be from the one that started last year and how much has the task at hand changed?

RENNEY: I really enjoy being well-prepared, well-organized, I like attention to detail and I like eliminating the excuses. In other words doing everything you possibly can to have your players and your team ready to go. If you do that, it actually allows you to have the latitude and creativity to be a staff and a player in today’s game.

What we want to do is allow our players to sign their work with the creativity that I think they’ve got in them. But pay attention to the detail of the game, when you don’t have the puck do everything you can with good work habits to get it back. Is that redundant? Probably. What might not be is my personality in the equation here, which has served me well to date and, quite frankly, I’m not going to change. I do recall when I left Vancouver that it was said I was ahead of my time back then so maybe I’m more current now.


Any player, scout or management type that is part of a Stanley Cup magically looks more valuable to other teams in the league, and that must have been a factor in Renney’s decision to hire Smith.

Smith has more experience than we thought, but even Renney hinted he’d like another experienced coach on his staff. It’s obvious he wanted Don Hay in that role, but why would Hay leave one of the best paying and most secure jobs in junior hockey to be one of three assistants in Edmonton ? It’s clear to me why he stayed in Vancouver .

We’ll never know who else was on the short list, but Renney seems convinced that Smith will be good for the Oilers. We’ll see in a six to eight months if he was right.

We also asked Renney about a few other scenarios and strategies. They’ve added Jim Vandermeer, Steve MacIntyre, re-signed J.F Jacques and I asked him if he plans to protect his young guys.

“I think so. I think that is important, regardless of who is in the lineup. It is about respect and hockey is a tough game, a physical game and a game of intimidation. You can do that (intimidate) in a number of ways; great skill base, great speed, great game plan, toughness or through a reputable goalie. We certainly expect to be all of those, and I don’t have any problem with getting respect because we are tough.”


“I like my fourth line players to be more than just a tough guy. Our mandate now is clearly development. I’m not sure that was the case last year, as much as we needed to do that, I’m not sure that was the case to the point where we able to pay enough attention to a guy like Steve. This year we will. We are going to work on Steve MacIntrye’s skill as much as we are J.F Jacques’ or Andrew Cogliano’s or any of our skaters. I think it’s more a matter of good timing for Steve, and he fills a need that we have and something that we will need with what appears to be a younger team.


“I think what I will do is look at our lineup and determinations in my own mind on who has the leadership skills that we require, and I hope it is more than a few guys. And then I will develop a plan on if we have to put a C on someone, or if it is one of those years where we have three A’s and let our captain emerge.

“I don’t think there is an incumbent in any or our responsibilities on this team, and that includes a captain, so maybe it is one of those things that evolve during training camp and the pre-season and we may even go a through the season without indentifying that. I hope not, but I’ve done that before and it’s worked out wonderfully well, so it’s not something I wouldn’t leave to chance. I think we have some we have some good leaders in that room and I think we have people who are now free and clear to emerge and blossom into what they can really be, in terms of what are needs are.”

I liked how Renney pointed out there is no incumbent for any role on this team. No player should be satisfied in their role, and every one of them should feel they can produce more.

  • SkinnyD

    I like that Renney’s taken responsibility for the hiring. He’s the career coach…tactician…bench manager…if Smith and Buchberger bring in some complementary skills to his, then who are we to say it’s a bad hiring? Sometimes people need to be given a chance…I hope Steve makes the most of it!

    Nice FIST, Wanye.

  • Slocan

    Agree 100%. With all of the changes this offseason, why not let the C13 emerge from the new crop of players. Talk of bringing in someone with past experience, ties to the organization (ie. Smyth/Comrie) does not instantly solidify your leadership with the kids. A leader will surface, possibly a Whitney, Penner, Horcoff.

    I still don’t understand the idea to bring in yet another coach…Isn’t Quinn going to be in the fold for a different perspective??

  • I actually like the Steve Smith hiring. I think Buchberger should have went to OKC, and I’m not sold on Todd Nelson.

    I’m curious though… if the announcement yesterday would have included Don Hay as an associate coach with Smith & Buchberger as assistants, would the initial negative reactions been there? I think not. And from what Renney is saying, Hay, Smith & Buchberger was the plan. Now they just need to find the right person to fill Hay’s role.

    • I agree that if Don Hay was in the mix, people probably would have thought better of the coaching hirings.

      One thing I brought up yesterday was that I found it funny how some people were thinking “hey we should sign Jason Smith as coach!” and then complain when Steve Smith (who was a solid d-man, and has experience with the game after his playing career ended) was hired, because he’s OBC (or because of that other lame reason).

      I say just give these guys a chance. Renney picked both himself, and might bring in another guy to “challenge him” as he said (basically an equal). That might not happen, but if it does, hopefully it’s a guy with a bit more bias on the offensive mindedness.

    • Pajamah

      You’re more in the know than the majority of us here, and maybe some Giants fans can speak on this, but what kind of coach is Don Hay.

      Obviously he has to have some development in his coaching, or else he wouldn’t be a WHL coach, but does he lose points for having a stronger program than the majority of small town WHL teams?

      Renney seems formulaic, but prefers to have his associates provide some juxtaposition for balance. Would Hay bring that, or more of the same

    • Ross, the Pipeline Show has a blog post up about the list of UFA goaltenders out there (you may have seen this post already). My vote at the time (and still now, if he’s available) was for Yann Danis as well.

      But whatever the case, OKC definitely needs someone there. Last year, the Falcons were in the race for top spot in the conference in December. Dubnyk got called up, and they went on a ginormous losing skid that they never recovered from (doesn’t help that we were picking all sorts of players from them as well). Anyways, having a vet down there could really go a long way. Aside from that, Tambellini’s done some good stuff this off-season to give them a good shot in year 1.

  • I can understand steve Smith being hired back,because he actually has some Hockey brains…but Buchberger???
    All he does is get Tim’s coffee and Donuts for the boys…he will never be a Head Coach with any NHL team and having him Hang Around the team brings down the Intelligence level…
    Kevin Lowe feels sorry for Buchberger and has given him this job out of MERCY for the poor dumb putz…

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    In regards to farm goalies; would i be wrong in assuming Tambo will not get a vet, and go with whomever clears waivers and Roy? Obviously in our minds it sounds horrible, but he seems high (enough) on JDD and might try to sneak one of them through waivers. We of course know that Kabby will break again and need someone as a replacement, but Tambo has done some strange things and I would not put it past him to not sign a goalie.

    • washed up

      Maybe the the oilers should put a call in to Turco’s agent. They may be able to pick him up at a good price on a 1-year contract although i doubt he would agree to a 2-way. Maybe closer to the start of the season if nobody picks him up, which i am doubtfull. If Kabby was to go down i feel better with Turco between the pipes than the DD\JDD combo. Maybe he could teach the young guys a thing or two. This may be just wishfull thinking!!!!!!!!

  • washed up

    I wonder if a guy like Jim Hillier who’s coaching in Tri-City might ever have a sniff at the job even though he’s only been at it at the Junior level. He would know Renney from his time playing for the national team back in the 90’s.

    I don’t know him and I’ve never met him, but from a couple guys that I know who either coached with him or played with him, he sounds like a really progressive, analytical hockey mind. (The reason he springs to mind is that both of these guys who vouched for him each described him in terms of having the hockey version of Billy Beane’s mind.)

    His WHL expansion Chilliwack Bruins really overachieved in their first 2 seasons and he just coached Tri-City to the western final this year in his first year there.

    1000 to 1?

  • washed up

    Nate said:

    Steve Smith experienced the franchise’s ultimate low moment and went on to be very successful.

    When he talks about perserverance players here should listen.

    This is a really good point, especially considering the low point that brought us the first overall pick. I think that some level headedness and compassion will go a long way to insulating the younger players from the ups and downs of a pro season

  • The optics of hiring Smith look a little off at first glance. But Renney wanted Hay, and Hay didn’t want to be here for whatever reasonor reasons. Sounds like the Dark Horse had a good interview or series of phone conversations and wanted to be here, so why not?

  • R.A. Slapshotzky

    I had a hunch they were gonna go with Paul Coffey with him being on the draft podium last month. Maybe Paul was in the area taking his family to Disneyland and popped by for the pick. mahaha

  • I think keeping Bucky on the coaching staff has way more Lowe fingerprints than Smith.

    Jason, did you ask Renney why he kept Bucky around?

    There were rumours last year that Bucky sided with Quinn when Renney and Quinn disagreed (which was on almost everything).

    Not sure if keeping Bucky on the NHL coaching staff was Renney’s call.

    • Is it that hard to believe that Renney might actually like Buchy?

      People seem to think that Buchy is this big dumb retard… it’s pretty easy to think that 😛 But maybe he’s a guy that Renney actually likes to work with.

      Tencer interviewed Renney too, and I got the feeling that he chose to keep Buchy and chose to take on Steve Smith (after having the idea suggested to him, as Smith actually approached Lowe/Tambellini for a job, per the Journal) because he felt they were guys that he could work with.

      He basically stated that he wants to have a group of coaches that relate and work well together, and thinks that if they show that good relationship in the coaching, it’ll trickle down to the players.

      So anyways, I don’t think Buchy was originally his idea back in the day, and I can say (based on the EJ article) that Steve Smith wasn’t on his radar before it was suggested to him, but I think he had the final say in these guys being hired here.

      Lastly, he’s still open to a 4th coach too. Not sure who is left though.

      edit: Last 2 minutes of the interview with Tencer, he talks about why he chose Buchy:

      • R.A. Slapshotzky

        I get annoyed when people bash Bucky and piegon hole him into having a “Ryan Smyth Brain” for coaching.

        I work in the patch, and I’ve worked for Kelly’s brother…Garry I believe (an oilfield consultant). Anyway, his location ran like a charm, and the drilling rig always had the utmost respect for him; they also “feared” him to a certain degree. Guys were on high alert and expected to do there jobs 110 percent all the time. He demanded that you respect your job and you do it well and on time. He was/is always fair to work for, but a hard ass nonetheless. As a service hand in the field, I probably see 50rigs/locations a year; his location was memorable because it ran like a military operation. Tight Ship Buchberger….hahahaha

        I get the sense the Kelly is the same way, given the fact the he was a Captain for so long in the greatest league in the world.

        Go Bucky!

        • Good stuff 😉 I’m definitely not Buchy’s greatest fan, but I just don’t think us fans have really seen enough to rag on him. It wasn’t so much Woodguy as it was others. Like some guy was posting here somewhere that Bucky is an idiot. People like that have no clue.

  • R.A. Slapshotzky

    2010 – THE NEW HOCKEY ODYSSEY BEGINS .A new Era begins ! Lets face it , as Oiler fans we need to cut expediantly from the past ! Time for fans to embark on a fabulous new journey with new faces , with only a smattering of useable players interspersed amongst the team .

    Lets hope our new team gets off on the right foot and does not become a “lemon” for decades . Time to put the past behind us and let the old Oiler team rest in peace .

    • R.A. Slapshotzky

      decades is what we are already closing in on, we are not a playoff team this coming year. And without some upgrade in goal we won’t be the year after. Im looking foward to all the nice draft pics.

  • Racki,

    No where in my post (which you quoted in full), did I question Bucky’s ability or use derisive comments towards him.

    There were strong rumors of of rift in the coaching ranks last year, with Renney and Bucky on opposite sides.

    Now Renney names him as one of his coaches. So if the rumor is to believed, then Renney had his hand forced by management.

    I am interested for that question to be asked of Renney by those who have access to ask that question.

    • Jason Gregor

      I’m curious where you heard that Renney and Quinn were at odds and that Bucky sided with Quinn?

      Coaches won’t agree on everything, nor should they. I’ve spoken to six different players since the coaches were announced and everyone of them said that they are happy Bucky is back.

      They like his passion and say his meetings are quick, to the point and accurate.

      None said there was any tiff between the coaches.

    • R.A. Slapshotzky

      “Strong rumors” of a rift? Renney and Bucky on opposite sides? Where did these rumors you refer to originate and who reported them?
      And, you’d like those who have access to Renney to ask him about it?

      Brownlee: “Tom, what’s this talk about a rift on the coaching staff last season?”
      Renney: “What rift?”
      Gregor: “The rift that had you and Bucky on opposite sides. The rift that leads me to believe management forced your hand in keeping him as an assistant.”
      Renney: “Pardon? Who said that?”
      Brownlee: “Somebody named OilersRuleOK on a fan website. Several others, like DoritoLips and JugOfSpriteOnFridayNight,said they heard about it, too.”
      Renney (and anybody else with a brain: “Get the f*ck out and don’t come back.”

    • While I probably should have been more clear, I wasn’t actually accusing you of those thoughts. I wasn’t trying to be rude, but in hindsight, my first few sentences definitely seem pretty venomous. Your post did trigger my comment, but it was more directed at Oilers fans in general who just can’t seem to believe that Buchy might actually have earned some respect from Renney and others he has worked with.

      The “People seem to think, etc.” not so nice comment was again directed at Oilers fans in general, although the sentiment of what I’m saying definitely applies to your post. You are insinuating that Renney didn’t really want anything to do with Buchy’s re-hiring, and I’m asking.. is it really that hard to believe that Renney might actually like working with him?

  • R.A. Slapshotzky

    With the two coaches being former Oilers and defensive minded, I guess that means Renney in “all in” of the offensive side of the game.

    The drafting, hiring and signings in this league suggests everybody has their own lists…their own ego to stroke.

  • More to the point, who cares about yet another “rift”? Last time I checked, this wasn’t Let’s leave the gossip to the blue haired bitties crew at the salon. And Eklund.

  • This coaching staff will be measured not so much by the amount of points the Oil achieve this year, but by the growth of the next-generation franchise players.
    With the possibility of making the playoffs being virtually impossible, the consistency of the team’s competitiveness, something they sorely lacked last year, should be the most valued measuring stick.
    How long do they use this as the metric? One year? Maybe two?
    I’m not convinced, however, that this coaching staff are prepared to help this team take the next leap beyond that.
    We’ll see in time, but I think new thought leadership will be needed to turn this team into a veritable winner.

  • Jason Gregor

    Great interview. He sure sounds like a smart guy. I’m not sure about Smith or Bucky, but, if Renney got a great vibe from Smith, if he believes that this is a coaching group that can challenge the players, why not?

    • Jason Gregor

      Stafford if setting up lots of behind the scenes stuff in OKC. The dressing room and other things. Sparky is a “community embassador” for the Oilers now.

  • Jason Gregor

    In other news, Riley Nash signs an entry level deal with the Canes. Clearly the kid had no interest in playing for the Oilers. He didn’t like how he was treated, or in his eyes, sometimes ignored. It will be interesting to see how he and Martin Marincin (pick they traded him for) pan out. Nash will make $550,000 this year, $600,000 next year and $700,000 in his final year if he plays in the NHL. He’ll make $62,500 in the AHL.