There was a lot of speculation at Monday’s news conference to introduce Brent Sutter as head coach of Team Canada that the gig will double as an audition for the job as coach of the Edmonton Oilers.
While that job belongs to Tom Renney until we’re otherwise informed, it seems obvious there’s a measure of doubt the Oilers have decided to retain Renney – this "Take some time and then come back and tell me what your plan is" pitch being sold by GM Steve Tambellini doesn’t ring true – and it’s equally obvious Sutter is a candidate to replace him.
Sutter has history with Oilers president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe, who will be in on the decision about what happens with Renney and is also part of Team Canada’s management team. They go back all the way to 1984, when they were teammates with Team Canada.
And, given the reasons we’re hearing behind the mutual agreement Sutter and the Calgary Flames decided to part company last week – Sutter wanted to begin a full-scale rebuild of the team while Jay Feaster and ownership are not so inclined – there seems to be an alignment in philosophy in Sutter’s approach and what’s going on here in Edmonton.
While it’s fair to argue the merits of giving Renney the golden handshake to make room for Sutter based on coaching style and career records, if you know the business of hockey, any business, you know Sutter’s history with Lowe and being on the same page philosophically carry as much weight as a few percentage points either way in career coaching records.
Of course this is an audition, denials be damned.
Sutter is back on the coaching market because he and Feaster didn’t see eye to eye on the future of the Flames. Sutter made it clear Monday he preferred going the full rebuild route rather than trying to tweak and coax the Flames into playoff contention as an also-ran. Sound familiar, Oiler fans?
"I’m not a guy to just get in seventh or eighth. To me, you build your team to win the Stanley Cup," said Sutter, who also commented on what he sees happening up the road in Edmonton.
"I like the direction Edmonton is going. They have a lot of young players. It’s a young man’s game. They’ve had an opportunity to take a lot of the best players in the draft. They’ve done a good job of drafting."
Then, there’s the history with Lowe, who has always placed a premium on the relationships he’s made in his career as a player, coach and manager. You need look no further than Lowe’s long friendships with Craig MacTavish and Kelly Buchberger to know that.
"We go back a long, long way. We played together in a Canada Cup," Sutter told Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun, referring to being teammates with Team Canada in 1984.
"I was real nervous. I was the youngest guy on the team. I’d come in late after camp started. I was in the lobby ready to take a cab to the rink when Kevin came down and suggested we share one together. Remember the Oilers and Islanders were at war back then.
"Kevin convinced me to relax, be myself, that I was a good player and deserved to be there with the others, that we were all good players, and to go play the way I always played. He helped me through it. He didn’t have to say anything."
HERE AND NOW
Is Renney out as Oilers coach? We don’t know for sure, although I suspect Tambellini leaving him to twist is not a good sign he will be back. Would Sutter represent a clear upgrade and a better match for the likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?
It’s difficult to know for sure, just basing it on career points percentage and playoff performance. Neither Sutter nor Renney have enjoyed post-season success at the NHL level. Sutter’s regular season points percentage through 410 games with New Jersey and Calgary is .584. Renney sits at .504 through stints with Vancouver, New York and Edmonton.
While those numbers tell us what Renney and Sutter have done until now, the history between Lowe and Sutter and the time they’ll spend working together with Team Canada will likely carry far more weight as to what happens from here on out.
"Everybody knows the Sutters well," Lowe said. "They’re honest people. They’re obviously passionate about the game of hockey . . . I know what Brent represents. I know the type of person he is."
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.