Tom Renney, Todd McLellan and Stability

Todd McLellan10

It was a good day when the Edmonton Oilers hired Todd McLellan to be the team’s head coach. It isn’t just that McLellan is a good head coach, though he is. It’s also because he’s an established coach. Unlike most of his predecessors, he’s not likely to be fired if the team strings two bad seasons together.

He has the kind of staying power his predecessors lacked.

Expansion Teams

Recent NHL expansion teams do much to drive the point home. Of the league’s four most recent expansions, two hired a strong coach out of the gate and retained him for at least five seasons. Two others would fire their coach relatively early in his tenure. The two teams who retained their coach have emerged as healthy franchises, while the other two have both been failures:

  • Nashville: Barry Trotz, coached 15 full seasons (franchise has won 21 playoff games)
  • Atlanta: Curt Fraser, fired midway through his fourth season (franchise won zero playoff games)
  • Columbus: Dave King, fired midway through his third season (franchise has won two playoff games)
  • Minnesota: Jacques Lemaire, coached eight full seasons (franchise has won 22 playoff games)

There’s certainly room to argue cause and effect here. It’s as fair to say that the coaches were retained because their teams succeeded as it is to argue that the teams succeeded because the coaches were retained. The former is certainly true, but I think the latter has some merit, too.

The key point for me is the difference between Columbus and Nashville.

The Thrashers tried to be patient with Fraser, but his best season was a 0.366 points percentage performance in Year 2 and the club took step backwards each of the next two seasons; he clearly had to go. The Wild went to the third round of the playoffs in their third year of existence and it was a no-brainer to hang on to Lemaire.

In Nashville, general manager David Poile gave Trotz—then an up-and-coming AHL coach—his first major-league job. He knew Trotz intimately, as his last job had been as general manager in Washington and Trotz had coached the Capitals’ farm club. So when the Predators missed the playoffs for five straight seasons, and especially when the club took a step backward in Year 4, he didn’t waver from his commitment to a man he knew was a good coach. The Predators were rewarded for that faith.

In Columbus, general manager Doug MacLean went with a veteran coach. Dave King was well respected from his time running the Canadian National Team, and had coached Calgary into the playoffs in three straight years but was let go after failing to get past the first round. After two seasons assisting Alain Vigneault in Montreal, King was brought in to oversee the Blue Jackets. They had a good first season, took a step back in Year 2 and King was fired in Year 3 despite the team gaining ground. No coach since has lasted for even four full seasons.

With expansion teams and rebuilds alike, roster turnover is a simple reality. A lot of the players taking shifts in any given year aren’t going to be around when the team turns the corner. That makes it important to build in certainty and stability wherever possible, with the coach being the obvious place to start. Find a good coach and then keep him long enough to build a team.

That brings us to the Oilers, who over the years have opted for a different approach.

The Rebuild Oilers

Renney, Tom

No coach of the rebuild era Oilers has lasted more than two seasons.

  • Pat Quinn: 2009-10 (fired after one season)
  • Tom Renney: 2010-12 (fired after two seasons)
  • Ralph Krueger: 2012-13 (fired after an abbreviated lockout season)
  • Dallas Eakins: 2013-15 (fired midway through his second season)
  • Craig MacTavish: 2014-15 (interim coach)
  • Todd Nelson: 2014-15 (not retained after a half season as interim coach)
  • Todd McLellan: 2015-16 (in his first season with the team)

Quinn’s firing was inevitable and deserved. Then-general manager Steve Tambellini miscalculated on his first head coach and that was a key factor in Edmonton’s implosion in 2009-10.

There are those who still pine for Krueger, but then-general manager Craig MacTavish didn’t have the luxury of waiting to see how things played out and clearly lacked the conviction necessary in the man to keep him on through thick and thin. He was sold on Eakins, but the rookie coach’s first year went extremely poorly and when the goaltending imploded in the second year it cost him and ultimately MacTavish, too. Nelson had long history with the organization and might have been a good bet, but lacked long history with new general manager Peter Chiarelli, who needed a coach he had boundless confidence in.

We can see how instability in the front office played into the poor longevity of coaches. MacTavish didn’t trust Tambellini’s man and my guess is that he lacked the internal clout necessary to hang on to his guy. When Chiarelli was hired, change was inevitable.

The place to stop the madness was in the summer of 2012, when Renney was fired. Tambellini failed to articulate the reason why Renney was fired beyond the team’s record, despite the fact that the Oilers had won seven more games in 2011-12 than in the previous year. Renney was an established coach with a history both as a bench boss and as an executive on the player development side; he’s precisely the kind of coach a rebuilding or expansion team might identify to build a team from the ground up.

Renney has since commented that he lost his job because he refused to give more minutes to injured players; I don’t know if that’s true or not but as Copper & Blue argued at the time it would fit into the depressing pattern of the Tambellini Oilers with regard to injured players.

Todd McLellan9

All that, though, is locked in the firmly unchangeable past, and there’s good news now. NHL teams don’t take flyers on coaches like McLellan; he was brought in to manage Edmonton’s bench over the long term. He’s not a perfect coach; like any other he will (and has) made mistakes. But in the grand scheme of things those little mistakes matter much, much less than ensuring that the voice behind the bench is competent and unchanging.

McLellan brings stability to a team in dire need of it.

  • Oliveoiler

    Tom Renney is deservedly now President and CEO of Hockey Canada, while Tambellini is deservedly out in the hockey wilderness. Karma that Tambellini had to ask Renney for a job coaching juniors a couple of years back.

    Spot on with the article – Renney should have been given his full 4 years to get the team on track. Tambellini cost us big time. Thank God his legacy is all but over.

    • S cottV

      Agreed – no good reason to have let that tandem go.

      Eakins and the swarm – omg, what were you thinking MacT?

      Nelson – not established enough to take heat, like what has happened this year. On a relatively cheap two year deal, the entitled players are able to shirk responsibility and blame the coach. A coach in that situation panics and has to try short term – stop gap measures to save himself and it gets worse.

      McClellan – will be fine with the years learning curve for this group under his belt and with PC getting the roster in better shape over the summer.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    well at least we can finally stop blaming the coach for this team’s woes and make them the continued scapegoats by letting them go when the real problem is and continues to be the on ice team itself. i’m hoping there are some big player movements in the off season to finally actually address properly the problems this team has….unless fans would like to see us continually lose to Arizona, San Jose and the top teams yet again next season?

  • I love McLellan as a coach but I think we should’ve kept Ralph Kreuger. Gagner and Yakupov had their best years under Kreuger. Imagine how good Yak would’ve been if Kreuger continued to develop him and Dallas Eakins never had that whole saga with him??

    • HardBoiledOil 1.0

      i say the Oilers should have re-signed Derek Roy for this season. Yak had some of his best success in the NHL playing with that guy, a small but cagey veteran NHLer with a good compete level to his game.

        • Serious Gord

          If, as I think likely, Nelson had not had much better results than tmc has had this season he would have been fired. And round again we would have gone.

          Tmc is only remaining as coach because of his CV.

          Having said that if the team disappoints yet again next season he’s a goner.

    • TyeDye

      Eakins set us back 5 years in every department. He’s one of the biggest idiots I’ve ever heard. The moronic crap that comes out of his mouth is bad enough, but he ACTUALLY BELIEVES what he is saying.

      • Derian Hatcher

        This ^^^ All day long…when you listen to Eakins and Bryan Hall…they sort of sound the same. Unfortunately, one of them had a huge responsibility but epically failed, the other just tells us sports scores.

  • MessyEH!

    Krueger has done very well for himself. The Southampton Football club Chairman is kind of a big deal. Being named as a coach in the world cup of hockey is not exactly a minor thing either.

    I’m not sure which was the bigger mistake, firing Krueger or hiring Eakins.

      • O.C.

        The Vanek offer sheet and the ridiculous chasing of Hossa and Mr. “I’m an All Star” Heatley are all surreal moments in the last ten years of mis-management.

        Getting rid of Tambo was a good thing. That was where an established GM was needed, not someone who just got a cereal box MBA and sold that as the qualifications required.

        Lowe, nice guy, was a great player and coach, but his GM legacy after Pronger and Peca successes, was just awful.

        So ya, hiring MacT was the worst, sort of. It exacerbated the tire fire that followed.

        • Spydyr

          Lowe went from assistant coach to coach to GM way to fast. Promoted beyond his abilities.

          Don’t forget Mac-T “losing” out on Clarkson despite offering him more money than Toronto.

          • Seanaconda

            Lowe was a decent gm most of his years he was the gm. Was a budget team most of his tenure as gm and that handicapped him but he still managed to keep the oilers competitive. After 2006 the oilers crashed hard but he was the gm long before that.

          • Oiler Al

            Things started to go south when Katz took over the organization.!!!!!! Things have not change much since, what is it 10 years now.

            I have no proof, but I would bet when the Golden card came up last year, someone from McDavids camps made the call to “clean up this gong show” or McDavid will take a pass on the Oilers. Within a week there were major changes in the ivory tower.

          • Gordon Bombay

            As much as people hate Katz for the way he has run the team. I am one of them. I’m not sure that without him the new downtown arena would be getting built. Probably one of the best things to happen to the city in a long time. Yea yea taxpayers blah blah. Not here to argue politics. That place is going to bring way better events to the city then rexall ever would

          • Seriously Bored

            I can’t tell if you are joking or not. You do realize if mcdavid took a pass on the oilers he would not be able to play in the NHL and would be giving up the chance to earn millions of dollars?

          • Seriously Bored

            Yes but that was far different then what you are describing and was also 25 years ago before NHL players made the kind of money they do now.

            Teams have far more control over entry level players than they did before and a guy like mcdavid would make the max anywhere. The oilers do not have to trade mcdavid just as the nordiques did not have to trade lindros. Lindros publicly stated he would never play for them before he was even drafted.

            I’m not sure what the exact rules are but if mcdavid held out and did not report to the oilers he would not be eligible to play hockey too many places in the world and any return to the NHL his rights would still be retained by the oilers.

            Had mcdavid stated he did not want to play for the oilers I would be more interested in your conspiracy theory but it just does not seem very plausible to me.

          • MessyEH!

            No such thing as an entry level contract at the time. Lindros was out for money. He wanted advertising revenue and a high salary. He successfully got both.

          • JimmyV1965

            What is McDavid’s camp? I can almost guarantee you no one with McDavid phoned up Katz and read him the riot act. It’s not like he could refuse to come here. And he truly doesn’t seem like the type of kid to be issuing ultimatums.

    • pkam

      Hiring Eakins is a mistake, but I don’t know why firing Krueger is.

      As a head coach, shouldn’t he pick his own associate and assistant coach? Shouldn’t he find a guy who meets his requirement and expectation?

      How can you trust a head coach who leaves this responsibility to someone else?

      • #1 overall waivers pick

        Tambellini fired coach MacT. So I’m not surprised that, MacT blocked all of Tambellini’s appointees. Krueger got canned and Nelson barely got a sniff. Revenge is sweet…

  • IronX

    Honest question: why don’t players get asked tough questions in their pressers?

    I want a reporter to put a microphone in front of Eberle and ask “do you think you had a good effort tonight?”

    Why? I feel like in other sports players respond to media and fans here we have the same canned questions (and answers). Are reporters afraid of being banned from dressing rooms?

    • Oil City Roller

      I would say because the people who cover hockey here aren’t reporters or journalists. As far as I know, they don’t even really pretend to be. Take the cocaine scandal from the eighties. It took Sports Illustrated to report on the story even though a large group of local sports writers have admitted they knew of several players with substance abuse issues.

      The guys who write about the Oilers are just people who want to get paid to watch hockey. I’m not criticizing, who wouldn’t want to get paid to watch sports. The reason they don’t ask any revenant questions is because they don’t want to get kicked off the gravy train.

    • pkam

      You really think that will make a difference?

      If I am making 6M a year and a reporter asks me that question, my simple answer is, ‘What do you think?’. If the reporter says he thinks ‘I don’t.’, then my reply will be ‘you are entitled to what you think’.

      Remember Dustin Penner?

  • Hammers

    Both our PP and PK seem worse when I see more potential talent this year . That is on coaching ,not the GM unless the GM is insisting on the players who dress every game but you would thinkboth the coach and G M are experienced enough to resolve that in the beginning . Also know RNH is back ,put him with Hall and Ebs . McD , Yak and Leon should get a run together. I would put Lander with Letestu with Maroon, Kassian , Hendricks and Pakirinen. Mix that bottom 6 and the top 6 in any way you want . It’s nearly year over so decide on your top 6 and play them together,also bottom 6 . Must admit,lots of injuries but at least try to get our 4 lines established D is still in limbo .

  • Verdad3.0

    MacLelland’s insane affection for Letestu and Korpikoski is reason enough for firing him this week.
    This team is as heartless and gutless as it ever was.
    That very much on the coach.
    MacLelland is a total failure at the power play.
    Goal differential is no better.
    Surely, Tortarella would have been better.
    It is clear that Nelson or Kruger were better motivators and tactians.
    So tell me what is their to like about MacLelland other than resume?
    That is all there is just resume. That if I recall ended repeatedly in playoff failure.
    Flushing him and Chiarelli this week would be entirely justified.
    One is indolent and the other is a rigid autocrat who relates to the least talented plugs on the team and abuses real talents like Yakupov.
    Reality.

  • Boom or Bust

    Krueger never got a decent shot. They played well for him in that shorten season. I always thought it was a horrible decision to replace him so soon after they players were starting to gel. But management was so twitterpated with stud Eakins and the bragging rights about getting him. Shame

  • EZ76

    Some off-top here. For nearly two years i create new style for Oilers. New colors, new logo, new 100% Edmontonian identity. I tried many different variants, colors, logos. Hope some day i’ll show my works, and this isn’t gone in vain

  • Oiler Al

    One might wander what Trotz might have done with this team? He has done more to improve the Caps, than McLellan has with the Oilers.In fact the Sharks are doing much better without McLellan and Co. in San Jose .

    Not saying MacLellan is a bad coach, but between him and Woodcroft they cannot put together a half decent power play with a dozen first rounders on the ice.

    The defense is an issue, but how much did Johnson do to improve certain players ? Not very much. Schultz seems acceptable to Pitts.

    If the on ice personnel is the real elephant in the room than Chia better strip this down to two or three players and build a team that McLellan thinks he needs….. rebuild number three.

  • reaperfunkss

    I am in the camp that thinks Tambo was never truly given the reigns from Lowe. Not saying that Tambo is under rated or anything like that but I think most of the failure of his reign is that Lowe was using him as a place holder until he felt that MacT could be brought back.

    i dont believe he actually made any decisions. He seemed to be asking permission not actually managing.

    Not trying to defend Tambo here as there were no good results under him but i am not convinced that he should receive as much vitriol from the fan base.

    Mact came in saying he was gonna get experienced help for ralphy and then completely changes his mind. Shows that there was no actual plan and you cant succeed in this field without a real plan that you actually follow.

  • RJ

    The only downside to stability is that means the Oilers are stuck with Woodcroft running the PPs and face-offs. Have the Oilers ever been worse at face-offs or had a worse PP than this season?

    Great coaching Woodcroft.

    #epicfail

    • O.C.

      In the 43 years of the Oil including WHA, and even in the cup years, the abysmal PP has, except for some blips, been a constant top discussion on sports talk radio.

    • Randaman

      Ok, these players have to accept some or most of the blame here, don’t they?

      They have all played the PP for years being the stars of their teams coming up.

      Yes, some personnel decisions are questionable but these players must be held accountable. I strongly believe Krueger just said Ok boys go get em, move the puck fast, be creative, etc.

      Sometimes too much structure is over rated. It’s a game, right? Let’s quit taking the fun and creativity out of it.

      Getting closer to play off time so fewer penalties will be called. It’s tradition.

      • RJ

        The whole MacLellan hype coming in was that he knew how to coach the PP. And he has. Just nobody thought he’d make them worse than Eakins ever had them.

        Pretty much all the forwards that matter are healthy. So why is Korpikoski still out there? Crappy personnel decisions are a major part of it.

    • This is a big deal doing into next year. The PP is where the Oilers should be making up for defensive mistakes made, and they should be a legitimate threat every time they go on one.

      The problem here is that NHL coaches refuse to think outside the box in any way. If it worked for a team that is in no way built similar to the Oilers, then it will work for the Oilers. Stupid way to think.

      Kassian in front of the net, Nuge on the right wall, Eberle on the left wall, and Davidson and Sekera on Point. And skate this puck in do not dump and chase. Unit #1 Remember when Eberle and Nuge destroyed penalty kills this way?

      Put McDavid with Yak and Hall with Maroon in front next.

      Good lord, enough with having Letestu on the ice, and enough dumping it in on the PP. The only one able to beat defenders back is McDavid, the rest of the time it’s just voluntary giving up possession. Come on Mclellan, these aren’t the SJ Sharks.!!

  • McPucker

    What I liked about Krueger is that he asked for help.

    To me that’s someone that knows he doesn’t know everything and realizes the advantages of having a good staff. It shows confidence in his abilities and a willingness to learn.

    I don’t know how he would have done coaching this mixture of players but I sure like his attitude.

    That’s all done now and I still believe in and support TMac as coach. I hope he does something more that addresses the Oiler’s poor power play and scoring. This will be telling because it may involve firing one of his staff.

  • Anton CP

    Many put the blame of this year’s record on McLellan but overlooked that how decimated the team has been for the entire season. Many like to use the cliche that “injury is part of the game and should not be the excuse” failed to understand that as up until now that the Oilers have not had a single game of a fully healthy roster, the Oilers lost most man games to injury by almost doubled the next team. Winning McDavid may just have suck all the luck out of the Oilers for this entire season. We can hope that next season that the Oilers will be a bit more lucky on injuries.

  • NoisyNufe

    Those awful teams all those years, have ruined hockey for me. As i was an Oiler fan, now, i’m not even interested in the games anymore. I’m in purgatory.

  • Pouzar99

    McLellan is a proven, experienced, successful coach and Chiarelli has a similar record as a GM. They deserve a long term opportunity to remodel this club and make it into a winner, but it will take time and patience. I suspect both men were surprised to learn just how serious the problems are here, but they are committed to changing it and while there is no guarantee they will be successful, we are lucky to have men of their quality in the positions they are in with the Oilers.

    • Oiler Al

      Wake up, Teams like Panthers and Stars were cellar dwellers ,without getting all the top draft picks , 3 years later are in the hunt for a play off spot. Don’t talk to me about time and paitience. What have the Oilers done in the last 3 years? They are still cellar dwellers.

      This is what happens when an owner has his nose in hockey ops. You don’t have to look any further than the Canucks.[ playing in front of empty seats now ]

      • Vic Venom

        Well the panthers did have lots of top draft picks, and yes did draft 1st overall just 2 years ago, and they are now a top contender in the east. They do have proven goaltending and a stud no 1 defencemen now. Not trying to defend the oilers, but the panthers have a few things that the oilers havent had for years. ( talbot is starting to look like a legit no 1 ) .. theres still no excuses for the oilers to be in 29th place still, as injuries are just a crutch.

  • Jay (not J)

    Wow. Click the link to the C&B article and it will bug you a bit. Click the link in that article to Claude Moreau piece and you can feel the scowl forming on your face. The good thing is that when you start clicking the links there about Souray, Tambo and the idiot show they were running back then you forget all about the lackluster game last night.

  • CMG30

    There were many problems with the Oilers over the past 10 years but the coaching carousel surely has contributed it’s fair share.

    Besides a lack of consistent message behind the bench, the constant coach firings took the focus off the players. This allowed a certain level of complacency among those players who would pack it in midway through the season. I mean, why not? Clearly they were destined for a high draft pick and history had shown them that the coach would take the fall in the summer anyway.

  • DannyGallivan

    Oilers have had a coaching carousel hoping the issue could be fixed just by changing one position. Wrong.

    Katz knows PC is a proven GM and PC knows TM is a proven coach. Done. Consistency is key.

    It is now all on the players to follow the game plan. I believe the Oilers have gotten too used to losing. Drive, determination, grit, the desire to win at all costs. If no one else puts in the effort why should I? The next step will be to weed out those who drag the rest of the team down and bring in those that are hungry to win. Schultz was a good start.

    The winds of change are blowing and next year this will be a different team than the one that started this season.

    • Vic Venom

      the fact that patrick maroon was the one in the locker room that had to tell the media about the team getting down after 1 goal, and how certain individual plays in game was not acceptable, tells a lot about the leadership on the team. There isnt any, and it shouldnt be Maroon saying those things, when he has been here for barely a cup of coffee.

      if you hear interviews with Hall, Eberle and Nuge you hear the voices of players who have been so use to losing that it doesnt faze them anymore. For a guy like Maroon who came from a winning team , its just not acceptable, its time to guy the core, and trade away at least 2 of 3 of the 6 million dollar men.

      • Ed in Edmonton 1

        This all day.

        We are just beginning to fully realize what an absolute failure the “core” of Ebs, RNH, Hall and Schultz are. There is no doubt that Ebs, RNH and Hall have some good to outstanding skills, but together on a team they are toxic.

        I have hope the next batch of high picks (Klef, Nurse, MacD) will have more competitiveness than the former.

        WRT to Shultz I see that he is +2 with 2 assists in the last 4 games with the pen. Very limited ice time of around 15 minutes per night, likely protected minutes that give him better chance of succeeding.

        • Oilerchild77

          Yep. The Schultz case is just another example of an organization showing the Oilers the error of their ways when it comes to assessing their players properly and using them appropriately.

  • Oilerchild77

    I’m not putting all the blame on Mclellan or Woodcroft for the struggles of the PP. I think it’s more of a player personnel issue.

    They need a right shot forward/dman that can one-time the puck and make a good pass. Eberle can pass, but has a brutal one-timer and Letestu? Well, he shouldn’t be anywhere near a PP.

    If they can find just one player that can do this, that will also make cross ice feeds to their left shot forwards much easier, so players like Hall can make use of their one-time ability.

    • S cottV

      It’s a bigger back end problem than just a right hand – one time shooter or two – from the point. Although this is a big problem.

      Our best left hander is Sekera and that’s not good enough for the first power play unit.

      Sekera knows what to do and is probably a decent 2nd unit kind of guy, but – he is too clunky and too slow in the manner in which he distributes and shoots the puck.

      The left hander on the right side, needs top of umbrella or high formation QB skills. He needs to be able to take the puck quickly to the middle of the ice on the point and handle it with great skill and confidence as last man back. You can’t fumble too often and when you do, you need speed and reach to recover.

      Last guy who could do this well for the Oilers was Pronger.

      So – I understand the difficulty for the coaching staff.

  • For Pete's Sake!

    @Jonathan Willis

    I disagree with the premise of this article. If the Oilers finish next year at the bottom of the league again, with a new building to fill, an ultra angry fanbase, bad economy and players like McDavid and Hall starting to wish they could play on a winner, wherever that may be…..

    I really don’t think even Todd McLellan can afford to string two bad seasons together.

    If the Oilers don’t start turning things around next year, McLellan and Chia are not as good at their jobs as we thought they were.