About the only thing worse for fans than cheering for a losing hockey team is cheering for a losing hockey team that induces coma in the paying public by playing boring hockey.
So, while fans of the Edmonton Oilers have had precious little to cheer about the past four years, including an embarrassing 30th-place finish under Pat Quinn last season, I was happy to hear today that coach Tom Renney intends to provide some sizzle. As for steak, we’ll have to see.
With Renney characterized by some as a defence-first coach and new associate Ralph Krueger known to bring the Zs while running the Swiss National Team — like he had a choice — some fans rightfully wondered if they were in for a losing snoozefest at Rexall Place this season.
Apparently not, at least to hear Renney tell it on Oilers Lunch with Bob Stauffer on TEAM 1260 today. It sounds like Renney wants to see the Oilers on the attack and is willing to let his horses run. Whether he has enough of them, well, that’s another question.
First things first.
Let them go
The offensively challenged Oilers scored just 214 goals last season on the way to their 27-47-8 record under Quinn, who nagged about sound defensive hockey to the point, at last to my ear, that former bench boss Craig MacTavish seemed like a balls-out, go-get-’em-boys advocate.
So, with Renney calling the shots and the defensive-minded Krueger enlisted to join Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith on the coaching staff, some feared they might see a wet blanket thrown over Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Dustin Penner, Ales Hemsky and any other Oiler with an iota of offensive creativity this coming season. Renney says no.
"When you’re in a situation, as was Ralph, where scoring is going to be at a premium, you’ve got to make sure at the very least you don’t beat yourself by giving up too much," Renney said of Krueger.
"That said, I’m completely fine with Ralph’s approach to the game there, and I’m happy with myself, too. We are still going to make sure we’re an attacking team without or without the puck. We want it back quickly. We want to transition quickly.
"We want to put the opponent under duress and we want to make sure that, through the process of three periods of hockey, that we generate not just enough offence, but all kinds of offence to make sure that teams have to really change their game plan for us, make adjustments for us."
Let’s not get carried away
At first take, Renney’s approach sounds a lot more palatable than the vision of Buchberger and Smith drawing up defensive schemes and going through chalk by the bushel while eyes glaze over.
But, while fans can expect Hemsky to be allowed to freelance as he’s prone to do, Penner to get the opportunity to carry the offensive mail again and Gagner to be put in positions (and with linemates) where he can succeed, there will be, as you’d expect, limits. To drive that home, Renney dusted off a tried-and-true MacT-ism.
"The integrity of your team is going to be not so much what you make as what you leave, and we’re not going to leave a whole lot," Renney said. "What we want to do is make sure we’re the team that is the more pro-active on the attack.
"I know darn well I can teach both sides of the puck and I know Ralph can, too. I know what we’re doing with respect to our coaching staff is really building a team game."
— Renney was asked about the possibility of using Penner at centre.
"No questions it’s under contemplation," he said. "I think the thing we have to determine with ourselves is, if you look at other teams in our division especially, is size something we require in the middle?
"Can Dustin provide that? Yes. Is some type of scoring enhancement by having somebody in the middle like Dustin (going to) help us? Yes. Is Dustin the type of guy who can play 200-by-85, as a centre man needs to, be very calculated and very intelligent but also be a part of a team that has to be quick, has to show speed, has to be explosive? That might be the $60,000 question and we’ll see in September when he gets here for training camp."
— What of Hemsky, the most offensively gifted forward Renney will have at his disposal? Will he get increased power play time and maybe stay out with both units?
"There’s no question he’s an offensive talent," Renney said. "I think we’ve got to make sure we give him the opportunity to really punctuate his game by being a big part of that.
"That said, you’ll probably see two units and maybe even three. It’s safe to say Ales might be on two of them."
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.