Tom Renney has done a masterful job of saying and doing the right things as coach of the Edmonton Oilers, picking and choosing his words carefully in praising and criticizing his team this season.
Not as quick with a quip or a juicy quote as predecessor Pat Quinn, who entertained us with bluster and Barbara-Ann Scott references, Renney doesn’t lean nearly as heavily on false bravado or catchy criticism to draw attention to whatever point he’s trying to make.
Renney, 55, has been known as a pretty sharp cookie all the way back to his days as coach of the Kamloops Blazers. He’s a smart man. He’s an accomplished career coach. He doesn’t often delight reporters with biting sarcasm or by putting his foot in his mouth with regularity. Most of what he says for public consumption is calculated. Done with a purpose.
Framed in that, it surprises me to no end that Renney said yesterday he believes the Oilers, today sitting in 15th place in the Western Conference, will make the playoffs. This year.
I said, "Pardon?"
THE WAY RENNEY SEES IT
"It won’t surprise me when we make the playoffs. It won’t," Renney told reporters. "The biggest surprise of all might be if we don’t.
"Just because I know how deep the care is. I know how willing they are to be coached. How proud they are, quite honestly, to be here doing this in Edmonton. That’s the hard part about losing.
"The masses don’t get an appreciation for how badly our guys want to do well and win and be a playoff team. When they have those tough nights, and there’s more to come, we all know that, it’s tough."
Wishful thinking for a team that’s 12-14-5? Wildly optimistic for a team that has seven others to vault over to get into eighth place? Setting the bar too high for a team that is without Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky and has glaring flaws in its line-up?
Is this just a coach spinning positive in the extreme? Is it simply a matter of positive reinforcement? What’s Renney supposed to say? "I don’t think we have any chance to make the playoffs?"
I don’t think Renney’s prone to any of that. Given the nature of many Edmonton fans, the statement likely sounds far less jarring to many after Thursday’s 6-3 win over Columbus than it would have after that 4-1 spanking from the Toronto Maple Leafs, but still…
So I wonder, what is Renney seeing that most fans and people in the media aren’t? Obviously, half-a-glance at how Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi are developing suggests great promise.
Likewise, the emergence of Theo Peckham and the leadership and on-ice production from Ryan Whitney have been a pleasant surprise to many, like found money in a jacket pocket. Nikolai Khabibulin? Who thought he’d be this good since sitting out with a groin strain?
There’s plenty of reason, warts and all, for optimism moving forward, but a playoff spot this season? Really?
"The biggest surprise of all might be if we don’t . . ." Those words stick with me. If Renney sees something we don’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s delusional or naive or ridiculously optimistic.
It means naysayers, and I count myself among them, might have to pause and take another look. I honestly don’t see it as Renney does, but I haven’t coached one second in the NHL.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.