The Oilers have decided to bring in another coach to save the day. Before we begin to discuss the new coach, let’s ask a simple question: what did Tom Renney do wrong?


Ask an Oiler fan about what’s wrong with the team and the answers come flooding out. I’ve heard a bunch of things, but the one that I’ll take issue with today is the following: the coach didn’t play Hall, Ebs and the Nuge enough. The reason I believe it would have been a mistake for Renney to overplay the kids is simple: with the exception of Taylor Hall none of them would have been able to handle it.

I’m going to do a quick comparison here of the four main centermen. I’ll begin with the toughest competition faced, and follow the depth chart down. These players are listed in the order that Renney used them: toughest opposition to easiest, but we should also be aware of the extreme zone starts. Horcoff and Belanger were both in the low 40s.

Shawn Horcoff

  • 5×5 points per 60 minutes: 1.04
  • Qual Comp: toughest among centers and all forwards
  • Qual Team: 2nd best among centers and 5th best among forwards
  • Corsi Rel: -1.0 (7th best among regular forwards)
  • Zone Start: 43.9% (2nd toughest, 13th easiest among regular forwards)
  • Zone Finish: 45.4% (11th best among regular forwards)
  • Plus Minus: -23 on a team that was -26

Horcoff had the toughest opposition, the most severe zone starts among centermen and clearly he did not handle it as well as one would hope from the highest paid center on the roster. The coach decided–and I think rightly–to sacrifice his veteran as opposed to overwhelm his #1 overall pick. I don’t think you can blame Renney for this move. Horcoff’s offense isn’t strong enough to deliver under these circumstances but his CorsiRel suggests he’s miles from being the problem.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

  • 5×5 points per 60 minutes: 1.98
  • Qual Comp: 2nd toughest among centers, 4th toughest among regular forwards
  • Qual Team: best available among centers, 2nd best teammates among regular forwards
  • Corsi Rel: 5.6 (6th best among regular forwards)
  • Zone Start: 62.5% (easiest among regular forwards)
  • Zone Finish: 53.6% (2nd best among regular forwards)
  • Plus Minus: -2 on a team that was -26

The Nuge faced the 2nd toughest opposition among centers, not a huge surprise when you consider he played with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle quite a bit and that’s the line the other side would focus on. He got a really nice zone start, credit Renney there with trying to help the team’s offense. RNH’s CorsiRel is solid, but in a classic case of Who’s Zooming Who it is important to have a long look at the name at the top of the charts.

Sam Gagner

  • 5×5 points per 60 minutes: 1.96 
  • Qual Comp: 3rd toughest among centers, 8th toughest among regular forwards
  • Qual Team: 3rd best among centers, 6th best teammates among regular forwards
  • Corsi Rel: 6.3 (4th best among regular forwards)
  • Zone Start: 54.1% (4th easiest among regular forwards)
  • Zone Finish: 51.8% (4th best among regular forwards)
  • Plus Minus: +5 on a team that was -26

Gagner got a push this season and delivered very good numbers across the board. His Corsi Rel, plus minus and 5×5/60 were impressive and he clearly had the puck going in the right direction. Gagner had a good season, although the club should expect him to perform this well against tougher competition as he matures. His 5×5/60 was the 91st best number in the NHL among forwards who played >50 games this past season.

Eric Belanger

  • 5×5 points per 60 minutes: 0.64
  • Qual Comp: 4th toughest among centers, 10th toughest among regular forwards
  • Qual Team: 7th best available teammates among regular forwards
  • Corsi Rel: -4.1 (10th best among regular forwards)
  • Zone Start: 43.2% (toughest among regular forwards)
  • Zone Finish: 48.9% (8th best among regular forwards)
  • Plus Minus: -13 on a team that was -26

Belanger was a disaster but he was also gifted with the toughest zone starts. On the other hand, he played the easiest competition and with decent linemates and delivered a ghastly plus minus, Corsi Rel and 5×5/60. It’s almost unbelieveable, and I think the Oilers will be tempted to see if this was just a lost season. That may be a mistake.


Horcoff hung in there and I believe coach Renney correctly identified him as the best available talent to handle the toughs. His CorsiRel indicates he can still play tough opposition with drastic zone starts and land in the "average" range compared to the rest of the roster. Horcoff’s offense against that kind of pitching tells us the new coach may look elsewhere in an effort to get more offense power v power.

The role Horcoff played this year and may play next season–believe it or not–has value in that the Nuge and Gagner had the opportunity to play softer opponents. It was also wise in that the club sent their two best offensive centers out there with a chance to succeed–Horcoff’s offense is not close to being good enough to cover those minutes and deliver a strong 5×5/60. Belanger was a good bet but a terrible result. His age makes him a poor bet moving forward.


At center, the Oilers have two guys who can impact the offense 5×5 in RNH and Sam Gagner. They also have a PP savant in the Nuge. So, what the new coach will need to ask for is an upgrade on Horcoff and the flushing of Belanger. This coach will need to argue strongly against using Anton Lander as an NHL option in 12-13.

I don’t think that will happen. If the Oilers run the same group out there next season, or if (more likely) they squeeze Anton Lander into the lineup, the new coach will lack a strong outscoring option to face the opposition’s best.


The answer could be Taylor Hall at center. He had the best CorsiRel on the team against tougher opposition, he could continue to protect the Nuge if the club moved the young man to wing for a year.

Can Hall do it? He’s Edmonton’s best player, and he has shown an ability to get results against ever increasing difficulty in terms of opposition. The new coach is going to cast about and look for his leader, and that leader up front is going to have to spearhead the attack against those ultra-tough centers and defensemen.

Taylor Hall at center is an idea whose time may have come. Tom Renney talked about it, suspect the new hire will make it happen.





I’d love your questions today, we have excellent guests and the best questions always come from you. You can drop the ? in the comments section, email or tweet @lowetide_ or @ItsNationRadio.

Scheduled to appear:

  • Jonathan Willis: On Sutter, on the Oilers summer, on the #1 overall pick, on Taylor Hall’s future role.
  • Bruce McCurdy: We’ll discuss the incredible Oil Kings run, the wacky WHC’s and the coming attractions in astronomy.
  • Tom Lynn is a player advisor, agent and attorney, certified by the National Hockey League Players Association. He has acted as General Manager and Assistant General Manager of the Minnesota Wild and we’ll talk about the draft. Trades, moving up and down on draft day and the CBA.
  • Corey Pronman has quickly become a credible source on the draft and we’ll pursue answers with him with a special focus on some of the "trending" players at the draft. 
  • Kent Simpson from the Oil Kings broadcasts on Team 1260. We’ll talk about that stunning opener last night and what the Oil Kings have in store for the rest of the week. Kent also played for Tom Renney, I’ll ask his opinion of the Oilers coaching change.
  • Allan Hamilton, legendary member of the Oilers and Oil Kings. We’ll talk about that 1966 Memorial Cup team and I’ll ask Mr. Hamilton about what the current Oil Kings are experiencing at this year’s Memorial Cup.

Please post questions early, I want to make sure to get them all in.

    • Wax Man Riley


      DSF keeps this place interesting. He is the Anti-Kool-Aid. He makes me form well-thought out arguments to combat his number cherry-picking ;p

      He just comes off a bit abrasive. Take the douche out of the comments, and there is usually something to think about.

      Except the Kyle Wellwood argument. I just can’t wrap my head around that one.

  • I don’t know the ins and outs of why a winger might make a better centre. But I do know that centres control play, and that Messier wanted to be in control and could dominate other players, which is why he made a league all time best centre.

    Messier doesn’t consider himself a good scorer, but when a player can dominate to that degree, the point total becomes secondary to that fact.

    Hall wants to be in charge, takes responsibility for winning. He is chomping on the bit, and is by far the most driven player in the system, perhaps the league, other than Sid.

    Based on that, and the fact centres score more points than wingers typically, it makes sense on that level. It seems to me that he may be limited on the wing, and may not be happy in the long term unless an equally capable centre can be found to keep up with him. Toews? Crosby? Who can?

    Forwards that want to dominate like that seem to me like natural centres, to control play, to take responsibility. Even minor point production losses becoming irrelevant in respect to winning.

    Hall wants to be large and in charge, so let him try at least. So what if they lose ……. MacKinnon. Then I will have had enough. Unless, maybe Ekblad too? When will this sickness stop?

  • Oilers4ever

    Have to say that I disagree with the comment on only Hall being able to have handled more playing time. Hall flies by the seat of his pants for sure (which sometimes gets him into injury trouble). RNH and Ebs are very much cereberal players and especially Ebs with him having realistically more games played than Hall, I think he would have been fine. His stats show that from this year as well. Ebs will be a 50 goal scorer on this team long before anyone else. He could have handled the extra minutes. Their play at the Worlds should have proven this as well.

    I also think Hall at center would be a huge mistake. The style of game he plays cannot be done at the center position. You need that explosive winger who can fly like he can. If the Oilers were smart they would be drafting Galchenyuk to give them the center man they need. They don’t need another winger. Don’t get me wrong, Yaks may be the best (although as many people have pointed out had Galchenyuk not been hurt he could have been right up there with Yaks) but its time to stop drafting the BPA when it doesn’t fill a need your team so desperately needs. Galchenyuk or Murray should be their choice.

    And as far as the new coach is concerned, if his answers to playing Hall, Ebs, and RNH next season does not equal to 20 min per game then fire him before he’s even hired!!

  • Not a fan of the Hall center idea.

    How about we flush both Belanger and (maybe via amnesty) Horcoff and bring in a second line center who not only can compete against the toughs, but also contribute regularly on offense.

    The problem with the sheltering the Kid Line is there was no other line scoring with regularity, and yes that was partially due to talent, but also partially due to Renney’s stubbornness.

  • Oilers4ever

    Kyle Wellwood holding his own against Gagner… That’s a hot one.. I’m laughing.. tell me.. when did Wellwood ever score 4 goals in a game, let alone 8 points in one game. Yeah.. happened only once but at least Gagner did it. Wellwood couldn’t hold Gagner’s jockstrap so cut the BS shall we….

  • “Yes I would. Hall is not going to play many full seasons based on his style of play. If he changes his style he’ll become less effective because his shot and play making ability are not at the level of Seguin or Skinner. Don’t get me wrong…Hall is a hell of a player…but he was the wrong choice at that time”.

    “Put Gagner on the third line in LA and watch how many points he gets”.

    @ DSF

    I tend to agree with a lot of what you say, I actually believe you’re an Oilers fan holding the team accountable and see things as how they should be.

    Not that I think you’re totally wrong because Hall has to be mindful of his surroundings but I don’t think Halls style of play is as bad as you suggest.As for Hall’s shot, he has one of the fastest wrist shots I have ever seen, you dont score goals like he has with a bad shot! Hall’s has a shot, I’ll give you Seguin’s play making.

    Mark Messier was a similar player in his youth, as was Glen Anderson. I wouldn’t have drafted different because of the style of play.

    As for Gagner, you put any player on a third line roll and there play will diminish, how many goals did Stoll score this year on the third line? 5 maybe 6.

    I still think Gagner will be more useful to the Oilers as a trade, but he is effective as a second line center.

  • Aussie Oiler


    Horcoff is not going anywhere til AT LEAST THE SUMMER. Get over it.

    Hall is not a centre and should not be; let the man be a crazy cat on the wing.
    Remember a couple seasons ago, when we ‘just needed a goal scorer’?!?!

    The nice thing about having Mr. Ebs and Mr. Hall, is that if they are on different lines, they provide legitimate scoring chances on the top 2 lines (especially when you factor in Hemmer, Nuge and pick #1).

    At the end of the day, do you want Nuge and Hall at centre? Or should we have Nuge and Gags, surrounded by Hall and crown-prince Ebs, taping the sweeeeeeet. sweeeeet passes into the glory hole…?

  • RexLibris

    Okay, this has nothing to do with DSF or Gagner but rather potential head coaches.

    The Oilers are generally rumoured to be one of the ten leading teams using advanced stats for their player personnel decisions.

    Brent Sutter, from I observed and read from Flames fans and Kent Wilson over the course of the year, is not a coach that usually employs those same methods (there were many complaints about zone starts and relative competition, if I recall correctly).

    Now, I should probably declare myself as not a Sutter supporter, so I may just be rationalizing to support my own side of the argument, but it would seem incongruous for a management group to spend the time and money of having a dedicated stats team and then employ a head coach that has a history of ignoring that data.

    Younger coaches might be more willing to employ, and familiar with, this information. Cooper, Nelson, Eakins, Johnston, and Laxdal all fit that mold more than a Crawford, Sutter, or maybe even MacTavish.

    I now return you all to your regularly scheduled troll-slaying…