IT’S NOT WHAT YOU KNOW . . .

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.

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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.

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COMMON GROUND

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.

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"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."

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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?

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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.

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  • As much as I think tambellini is a doofus, this mess isn’t on him. He (as far as we know) does not have a contract yet just like Renney. Hang this bungling on Kevin Lowe. There’s plenty of incompetence and blame to go around.

  • I agree that we need a different coach too. and should wait to see who is going to be available. I think if the Oilers already know they have no plans on bringing Renney back, they should at have enough respect for him to tell him so he can explore his options. I wonder how the players would feel playing under Sutter, or if they could choose their next coach, who would get their nod. It seems that Sutter is being courted to be the next coach, and I can’t help by wonder if anyone is being courted to be the next GM.

  • #94 sized hole where my heart used to be...

    My coaching wishlist for the Oilers goes:
    1) Dave Tippet
    2) Joe Quenville
    3) One more year of Tom Renney then moving Todd Nelson up to the big club to be the Coach the year after
    4)Brent Sutter
    5) who evers left
    6) Tom Renney for more than one year

    the reason I said Todd Nelson in one year instead of now is that way he can have one more year of familirarizing himself with the young farm hands that would follow him up in the years after his hiring (think like a Boudreau in WASH when he was first hired)

    also i see next year as another year where growth and learning will still be emphasized more than winning, maybe to a lesser extent then previous years but still the bias towards learning over winning will be there IMO and Renney is a VERY good coach when it comes to teaching the young guys, his downfall is just that he’s a horrible in-game tactition, thats why youd turf him as soon as your ready to compete

  • #94 sized hole where my heart used to be...

    How many Sutters do we want anyway? These are the guys that ran the Flames into the ground. Why are the Oilers hiring former direct rivals? Hoping for trade secrets?

    There was a time when the Oilers thought outside of the box, and innovated the game for the better. I’d like to see that type of fresh thinking again.

    One idea would be to ice a team of the best players available, forgoing anyone to “soften up” opponents or be a deterrent. If the BPA’s happen to be mean, all the better.

    I also think interpersonal skills are going to be one of the most important qualities in any coach for the Oilers. He has to get them playing their best, but also maintain a good rapor so these guys actually want to stay – build “team”. Keeping the quality players together is as important as anything if the rebuild is going anywhere. Really there are only a few systems teams use, lots of coaches have the technical abilities.

  • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

    Brownlee:

    Tencer tweeted today : Nail Yakupov’s agent Igor Larionov says every team with a top draft pick has talked to he and/or Nail. Except for Edmonton. More to come…

    how can the team that has been locked down to a sure top 3 pick for so long not have chatted with the player or agent yet? this plus murray to team canada where KLowe happens to be GM a tip off something is coming?

    serenity now serenity now serenity now serenity now serenity now

  • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

    Kevin Lowe should get behind the bench. He only spent one year as coach, but he had a winning record and finished second in the NW division.

  • Jonathan: I do not know how close they are, and it’s a good question. As I recall, there was an overlap of two seasons in their time together with Vancouver.

    I have never asked Tambellini about Vigneault or vice-versa. Strange as it seems, I talked to Alain more when he was in Montreal than I did after he got to Vancouver (maybe because I ditched those west coast deadline trips to Van as often as I could).

  • Is anybody else’s Reply function broken?

    @cableguy

    It’s that kind of communication acumen that makes our GM the brilliant team builder he is. He probably thought he already had Yakupov under contract, which is why he proceeded never to bother talking to him. Ever. Even in passing.

    • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

      that is sort of what i couldnt get. how on earth can you not even talk to the player/agent when the player has been ranked number 1 overall for almost a year and you have been shaping up to be a top 3 pick since about xmas.

      add in the dreaded russian factor everyone seems to mention these days, and you would think at least a conversation would take place. to start now is mind blowing to me.

  • I think Montreal would offer Vigneualt what ever he wanted to become coach or GM if he became available. He did a good job with the habs before but was inexplicably fired.

    If the Oilers bring in Sutter it should be to replace Tambellini. BTW, does anyone know what a “president of hockey operations” does? Isn’t the GM supposed to be the head of hockey ops?

    It seems that Pat Laforge has been slowly demoted by Katz. First he was the CEO/team President, then President/COO. Now he is just referred to as COO and is basically an executive VP in charge of Business while Lowe is his counterpart in charge of Hockey. Both men report to Bob Black, who is the real CEO and reports to Katz.

    It used to be that they called department managers, well, managers. Then in an ego-stroking move they started calling managers Vice presidents. Now it’s “President of….”

    Ridiculous.

  • Culture change is as important this off season as getting a pair of top 4 d-men.

    Sutter as Head Coach and Hall as Captain might do that overnight.

    Go back and watch Boys on the Bus…I remember one instance where Kevin Lowe is about to literally pull his hair out with his hands because he is so mad that they lost.

    That my friends is “Oiler Hockey” a true hatred of losing EVER!

    A Sutter/Hall combo is just what the doctor ordered for this piss poor group.

  • The Oilers will be criticized no matter what. This has been happening ever since Slats left. Lowe has been criticized for every move he made.

    The first trade Lowe made; Hamrlik for Josh Green, Eric Brewer and something else. Fans wanted Lowe fired. Every trade Lowe made, fans wanted him fired. Every draft pick Lowe made, fans wanted him fired.

    Same thing is now happening with Tambellini as he’s not Slats.

    The Oilers draft Hall but some fans wanted Seguin. Oilers drafted RNH but some fans wanted either Landeskog or Larsson.

    Same thing with trades. Every trade the Oilers make, they’ll be criticized for it.

    Lowe and now Tambellini are being criticized 24/7. Scotty Bowmann could be coach and Ken Holland GM and fans will find something to critiicze the Oilers for.

    They could finished 82-0 and fans will critiiczed them.

  • bazmagoo

    It will also be interesting to see how far Todd Nelson can take the OKC Barons in the Calder Cup playoffs. I think that’s going to factor into the equation as well.

  • bazmagoo

    Brent Sutter is very respected in the coaching ranks! He did marvelous things with the Jersey team when he got there that surprised many people at the time. If Sutter would coach outside of Alberta I believe he would have many opportunities. Lou L. at Jersey would take him back in a heart beat.

    Having said that, I have nothing against what Renney has done as a coach. We don’t know the inside word though & what his relationship is with the up & coming young leaders on the Oilers. I do know this, the young guys were talking lots about added ice time & more responsibilities on the team for next season. Remember Hall being upset with Renney’s decision to leave the goalie off the ice when the outcome of a game was clearly decided. Just little things but who knows what goes on behind closed doors.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Reply button not working, @RB.

    How’s that Biscuit antique automobile you recently aquired doing Robin, did you whip that baby over to Canadian Tire and find some Seal All yet? That stuff will fix anything.

    • DieHard

      What kind of bonuses are allowed? Games played? Points? I’m assuming these but are their different ones and are they team determined or league. I think this is the Oiler’s and Symth’s best bet going forward.

  • Rama Lama

    There is nothing wrong with wanting to change this Oiler’s coach staff under the right reasons or circumstances. Renney and Sutter are very well each respected. While Renney is excellent to speak to or communicate with the kids, I feel he is not the right one or disciplarian as someone like Sutter would be with the vets who got lazy or pouted.
    Its a fact that Renney did do some things this year that were very questionable to outrageous and yes he was questioned a lot by the media and/or players like Hall (next Oiler Captain).
    With krueger leaving and me not sold on Smith or Buckberger as continuing assistants I want a change….also along with several third, fourth line and defence changes.
    If Sutter does bring this Team Canada to the forefront in the Championship finals with the Oiler kids being awesome then why not say come on over for a couple years.

  • Vaclav

    Robin,

    You suggest that Tambellini is “allowing Renney to twist in the wind”.

    While this is the case Tambellini himself is, of yet, not under contract for next season with the Oilers. Should a GM without a contract be hiring (or re-hiring) the head coach of a hockey team under the circumstances?

    Most of the MSM and blogosphere have assumed that an extension for Tambellini is a given at this point. But until the assumption becomes fact maybe it’s Tambellini that’s actually twisting in the wind.

  • Vaclav

    This is a valid point due to that a GM might not be able to and/or should not be able put a coaching team in place if he himself is not contracted to run the team either.
    It may very well be that Renney has to wait to see what happens to Tamby first as well. It has been suggested that Tamby will be renewed but that has not happened yet. Also, there may be a small rift between Tamby and Renney and some players from this year involved enough to a point that other coaches may be looked at and or contacted soon so as to see if they could work with these Oil players and a couple changes with Tambellini as still being the manager for the next year to three years.
    I also must say that if Renney is replaced then Sutter or even Vignault (if released by Vancouver) are two very decent choices to start a new era.
    MacTavish is a great person and coach too but he has been here already long enough and it may too soon for a rematch.

  • O.C.

    Yep a lot of what ifs…

    Another one:

    What if Tambo told the media one version and in private said to Tom Rennie – “Ya know, we might be hiring you back but we have to see what else is available before renewing the lease.”

    Of course ST couldn’t release that officially… and the “go on a holiday” story is probably a B.S. line to buy time.

    For everyone.

  • BigE91

    His tenure with the Flames not withstanding Sutter along with the rest of his brothers seem to have some principles. He sees the Oilers letting Renney twist in the wind, who’s to say he wants to work for an organization that hangs their coaches out to dry like the Oilers have with Daum in Springfield and now Renney?

    Renney is owed an answer sooner rather than later, let the man get on with his life.

  • BigE91

    Robin – Just to clarify i was not refering to your blog or your comments. I always enjoy your straightforward take on things i can assume you have a little more insight than the average joe.

    Im refering more to the comments slandering Tambo and the Oilers organization as to how they are treating Renney. We really dont know the specifics…do we?

    Speculation is great but throwing people under the bus doesnt help this organization’s image anymore. They can mess things up on their own without our help. haha

  • Thailand Oilfan

    @Robin Brownlee

    Completely off topic here, have you heard any news on the Oilers trying to extend Hall and Eberle’s contracts this summer or will they wait until after the new CBA is done?

  • Joy S. Lee

    Obviously there is some doubt about Tambellini’s supposed suggestion that Renney take that vacation and come back with a plan devised to take the team to the next level. I would hope that Tambellini is busy doing the same thing. In fact, the whole organization should be doing EXACTLY that, devising how they will go from (A) to (B), with B equalling at minimum a playoff appearance, but more ideally a Stanley Cup in 2013. That HAS TO BE the goal, and that’s exactly what they should be doing their best to put into action.

    I mean, I don’t know what is reality in this, but ST’s story is at least a legitimate fable, and maybe it’s Renney’s last kick at it to show he knows just what they need to do to win. And then he has to sell management on his plan, otherwise, he gets shown the door.

    All things being equal, and Robin being connected, the between the lines part appears to read like the old ‘twisting in the wind’ tale we’ve already seen. I’m hoping that is not the case, because I agree that Tom Renney in no way deserves to be treated with absolutely any disrespect. He is a class act all the way, and deserves the same in return. I would be very disappointed in the brass if this were anything other than what Tambellini was telling us.