Comparing Coaches

Coaching has been an oft-discussed potential reason for the Edmonton Oilers’ collapse this season. While nobody claims that it is coaching and coaching alone that has the Oilers where they are, some wonder whether general manager Craig MacTavish didn’t make a mistake when he chose Dallas Eakins to replace Ralph Krueger.

How does Eakins’ team compare with that of Krueger, and of Tom Renney at five-on-five?

The Comparison

What is needed for a fair comparison between coaches? A level playing field. Because Ralph Krueger’s Oilers only played against Western Conference teams, we will only consider Oilers games played against Western opponents in 2011-12 and this season.

That introduces another problem. Eakins’ Oilers have played 19 games on the road against Western teams, but only 11 at home. To compensate for that, we will be weighting his home and road games equally so out analysis isn’t impacted by an unbalanced schedule.

What should we compare? We’ll run the gamut of five-on-five statistics: shots, Fenwick (shots + missed shots), Corsi (all shot attempts) and good old goals. All numbers will be expressed as a percentage of total events – in other words, 50 percent represents the break-even mark and a higher number is better. We will also include shooting percentage and save percentage.

Tom Renney

Ralph Krueger

Dallas Eakins

Head-To-Head-To-Head

Tom Renney comes out looking awfully good here. Steve Tambellini never offered an actual explanation of what he thought Renney was doing wrong behind the bench when he fired the veteran coach, but it is abundantly clear in hindsight that canning Renney was the wrong move. The Oilers did a better job at getting shot attempts, and getting shot attempts through without them being blocked, of getting shots on net, and of scoring goals under Renney than they would under either of his successors. If one believes (as I do) that Renney had the weakest roster of the three coaches, it’s impossible to look at this without thinking he did an awfully good job.

Ralph Krueger vs. Dallas Eakins is where it gets interesting. Eakins’ team did a better job of generating shot attempts, but Krueger’s did better work getting them through to the opposition net. Krueger’s teams also did a better job of winning the goals battle, in large part because the team shooting and save percentages were better.

Eakins’ home/road splits are compelling. At home, Eakins’ team is pretty competitive with Renney’s in the shot metrics, but on the road the numbers fall apart to a degree not seen under previous coaches. I don’t have an explanation for that; it’s something I’m going to watch for in future games but the difference suggests that whatever Eakins is doing on the road isn’t working at all.

The other item to note here is the save percentage splits – that the goalies’ terrible play isolated to home games suggests to me that the bad goaltending this year isn’t necessarily driven by team defence. By that, I mean that while the Oilers allow way more shots than the league average, there seems to be little reason to believe that they’re consistently allowing higher quality chances than other teams. Certainly they weren’t under Renney or Krueger; it’s possible that Eakins is doing something bizarre but I don’t think it’s likely.

Would Edmonton be better off with Tom Renney behind the bench? I think so, yes, potentially much better off (particularly given the benefits of continuity). Would they be better off with Krueger than Eakins? I don’t know, but I believe there’s a strong learning curve for any rookie NHL head coach, and Krueger already had a year under his belt. That has to be balanced against MacTavish getting a guy suited to his style of managing, so I’m not sure there’s a definite answer here.

Both Eakins and Krueger strike me as intelligent, motivated coaches; I think Krueger would have figured things out eventually and I believe Eakins still will, but the big mistake here was making Renney a scapegoat for problems that weren’t of his creation.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • Lowe But Now High Expectations

    Comparing these coaches is like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. This team hasn’t got the right balance of players (too many players with the same skill set, size etc) and doesn’t bring the effort on a consistent basis.

    • Certainly the roster is a massive problem. The defence is a waste land, the forward corps needs a significant rework and the goalies have been a revolving door of lousy.

      But, aside from the goalies, that’s been the case for three years now, which is why I think it’s notable that Renney’s team did a significantly better job of things like shot generation.

  • Robert Ore

    Thanks for the analysis JW. Just confirms what I felt about Tom Renney and you’re absolutely right about the benefits of continuity. The only argument that I could think of at the time for canning Renney was that Renney was originally brought in before the rebuild, so maybe they didn’t see him as the right guy to bring along the kids. But on the surface, I didn’t see any issues there. The team was designed to tank and draft 1st overall so the team record is not on Tom Renney.

    • One thing to remember about Renney, too – like Eakins, he had a pre-Oilers background in player development. He always struck me as a decent teacher in things like Oil Change (that’s just a surface impression; it’s entirely possible I’m wrong on that) and his resume suggests he had the chops.

      I really wonder what would have happened if the Oilers had made a management change in the summer of 2012 rather than a coaching change. Impossible to know, now.

  • Robert Ore

    This article takes us back 4 or 5 years of coaching the players. It points directly at management: they choose the players that the chosen coaches coach in their system. Really, the coaching results are marginally different in so much that there were no great results in any case.

    So what’s that tell you? Mgt has given them nothing to work with. That’s the consistency.

    And I think I heard something from someone that some fans want a mgt change or something? 😉

  • northof51

    I question the way the Oilers play under Eakins, and numbers show that he isn’t carrying the mail. However, there are 2 reasons I am not hopping on the “Fire Eakins” bandwagon, and that’s because:

    1) I am tied to the Lowe Must Go bandwagon; and

    2) Eakins track record with the Marlies suggests that he vastly improved his team over time. Maybe it’s gonna take a while for the players to figure him out, and to get the right players in place. But maybe, just maybe, Eakins is the guy to float this ship back up from the depths of the NHL standings.

    • I think that’s a really solid comment.

      I’m not convinced either way on Eakins. He might be the guy, and his work in the AHL suggests it’ll take some time for him to get there (plus, even with guys who turned out to be good coaches there seems to be an NHL learning curve).

      He might not be the guy, either, but MacTavish hitched his wagon to Eakins and it makes sense to see it through at least a while longer.

    • Definitely, that might have been a factor.

      One thing to note, though – if you split the Oilers results under Krueger, the first half was actually a little better by shot metrics than the last half, which I personally wouldn’t have expected to see if lack of training camp was the primary issue.

      • Lowe But Now High Expectations

        That could be explained by the fact that no teams had a training camp and it takes a veteran team with an established coach just a wee longer to get going.
        MacT deviated from the plan to find an X and O’s type of assistant coach for Krueger and that has been his biggest mistake since becomind G.M.

      • Serious Gord

        Possible explanation for that is that all teams had no training camp and that EDM had most of its star players playing in the AHL and thus in game-ready shape right off the hop compared to their opponents.

        That advantage dissolved as the season wore on.

  • And I don’t recall anybody outside of Oiler Management having a big problem with Renney either. In fact I distinctly remember the feeling that the Oil not only fired him without cause but also screwed him on the timing of the firing.

  • Robert Ore

    One other comment on comparing coaching is the injury factor. I do not have the stats for the periods you have shown, but I believe under Eakins term we have far fewer man days lsot due to injury than previous years (particularily to our top end forwards)

    • pkam

      Not true.

      Kureger has the least man games lost at 118 over 48 games. If you subtract the 48 games by Sutton, we only lost 70 man games over 48 games.

      Renney lost 246 man games in 11-12 over 82 games.

      So far, Eakins has lost 215 man games over 52 games. At this pace, we will lose 339 man games over 82 games. The worst since the 520 in 09-10.

      • Serious Gord

        The raw numbers only tell part of the story. The quality of players hurt is a big factor.

        If memory serves the players injured when renny was coach were on balance far more impactful than the ones eakins has lost.

        • pkam

          Like my reply to ubermiguel, it is very tricky to determine which players are more impactful.

          Do you consider Cam Barker impactful? He lost 39 games. How about Ryan Whitney? He got 30 games. Theo and Potter both lost 18 games. These are the players who lost most games.

        • pkam

          This is tricky. Who do you consider top-end players?

          I can list the ones who have 8 or more man games lost last season and let you decide if they are top-end players:

          Ben Eager: 9 games
          Shawn Horcoff: 17 games
          Eric Belanger: 20 games
          Mark Fistric: 10 games
          Anton Lander: 16 games
          Nikolai Khabibulin: 8 games
          Ales Hemsky: 10 games

          That is 90 of the 118 man games lost. Who on this list do you think is top-ended player?

          • ubermiguel

            Top 6 forwards included Hemsky and Horcoff and our #1 goalie. I’m not saying these guys should have been top 6 forwards or #1 goalie, but on that team they were and they lost a huge % of time.

          • pkam

            That’s why I said it is tricky to determine who is top-ended players.

            Larsen is 2nd in PPG among all our defense, just after J. Schultz. Before he got hurt, he is in our PP unit. But is he a top end player? He is out 24 games this year, does it count?

        • pkam

          I was wrong on Kureger’s man games lost. That 118 man games do not include the 48 games lost by Sutton.

          But Kureger’s year is still substantially less than the other years.

        • Muji

          Actually they don’t include Sutton in that because he was consider non-roster as he never started the season. So those 118 games are all playing roster players.

    • toprightcorner

      I believe Renney was fired too soon as the axe should have fallen on Tambo instead. I also believe that Renny did have a few advantages over the others that are not measurable but need to be considered

      Renney –

      Advantages – was an associate with the team for a year and had a total of 3 years with the team for the stats used. – Had an exceptional associate coach in Kreuger who was very motivational and communicated well with young players – Had a much more experienced defence – Horcoff and Smyth (2011) were still top 6 players, not bottom 6

      Disadvantages

      – Tambo did nothing to help his cause (same as Kreuger) – Injuries in 2010 6 of the top 9 scorers missed 15 or more games, 2011 Nuge and Hall each missed 20 games

      Kreuger

      Advantages – Had 2 years as an associate coach and 2.5 years with the team for the stats used.

      Disadvantages

      – no associate coach (to this day I don’t understand it and believe it was likely Tambo’s decision since after he was fired Kreuger told MacT that he needed an associate coach) – no training camp – Tambo again did nothing

      Eakins

      Advantages – The “young” players had a couple years experience and should be ready to carry the team more – has an associate coach (I believe there were better options out there and if Eakins could have fired Smith and Buchy, Acton would have been a better assistant and could have hired an associate with more NHL experience)

      Disadvantages

      – Only 50 games with team – first NHL coaching job – First time the young players have ever been held accountable – Tougher, hard-nosed personality than Kreuger who was excellent at communicating with young players – by far the worst defense of the group – Better GM with MacT but still cleaning up Tambo’s mess – One of the worst starts in team history that makes up 25% of the sample size.

      I think Renny was also losing the room onhow veterans were treated differently sodon’t think it would have worked out for him anyway.

      If it were me, I would have kept Kreuger as head coach and added Eakins as an associate to help as they could have be a very good combination. Eakins could have been plan B if that didn’t work out.

      I pray that Eakins can replace his bench coaches at the end of the season (any chance for Huddy!!) an put in the staff that he wants. I suppose I am hoping that the reason he kept the staff the same is because the guys Eakins wanted were under contact and could not leave for a lateral move.

      I also believe, based on early season play, that Renny and Kreuger did a poor job teaching the young guys the fundamentals required to succeed in the NHL and Eakins was forced to take a step back and reteach and simplify some things because of that.

    • toprightcorner

      Renny was not fired solely on the standings. He was Tambo’s scapegoat to protect himself and his job. Tambo did nothing to improve the team to give Renney a chance to win, with the team they had, they should not have expected to finish any higher.

      The reason a GM should fire a coach is if the record should be better based on the talent he has to work with. Renney had minimal talent and Tambo did not add to it so he was more responsible.

      I would suggest that if Renney kept his job, Tambo would have been shown the door earlier than he was.

      Firing Renney was simply self preservation for Tambo.

    • I recognize this.

      But if the guy managing the team can’t point to the reasons why coaching led to those finishes, the logical conclusion is that managing played a much bigger role.

      For fans, it can be as simple as ‘the team finished here, therefore the coach needs to go.’ For the manager, who has to replace said coach, the explanation needs to be deeper: what did the coach do wrong that his replacement will correct? If he can’t answer that question – and Tambellini couldn’t – then he has no business firing the coach (and the team has every reason to fire the manager).

      • Eulers

        With basically the same team (and no training camp, no experience assistant coach, and a compressed schedule) Krueger finished 24th.

        And a lot of people argue (not me) that Krueger is a horrible coach.

        So if a horrible coach could finish 24th with basically the same team, and Renney couldn’t budge out of the last two spots over two seasons.

        Krueger, somehow, was able to optimize results better than Renney, or Eakins, with an undermanned roster.

        Arguably, with an undermanned roster, your advanced stats are going to be awful. They are awful under all three coaches.

        Krueger was the only guy able to optimize results with an undermanned roster.

        I would argue because his strategy was to give Hall (and Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle) the best chance to win the game for him, but maximizing their effectiveness.

        • I think you’re losing the signal in the noise; in this case the standings position isn’t the best measure of coaching effectiveness.

          I was good with the Krueger firing because I made the mistake of not allowing for the difference playing only Western teams in a lockout year made. Now, I’d rate him and Eakins roughly the same – guys with good points going through the NHL learning curve.

      • Serious Gord

        He was fired because he wasn’t a FOK and thus could be thrown overboard as a gesture of “accountability”.

        Tambo was dumped for the same reason.

        And If the team starts miserably next year another non-FOK – Eakins – will be tossed overboard.

        CORSI et al has nothing to do with it.

  • Interesting comparison.

    IMO — this underlines the issue that is overlooked by everyone who calls for X, Y or Z to be “fired”. These folks always ignore the other, more important, half of the equation — who do you replace them with?

    All of Renney, Kreuger and now Eakins have had large percentages of the fan base calling for their scalps. Few of these people are concurrently suggesting replacement alternatives.