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.
BACK TO THE INTERVIEW
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.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
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.”
ON BRINGING BACK MACINTYRE
“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.