The Old Boys Club is Dead. Long Live the Program of Excellence!
Steve Tambellini has returned to his roots, which seem to be as deeply entangled in Hockey Canada as in Vancouver. Yesterday's double-hiring of Pat Quinn and Tom Renney provides the Oilers with a fabulous wealth of coaching experience at both the NHL level and across the international spectrum.
Ever the optimist, I would have found a reason to support, at least on a 60/40 basis, the hiring of either Quinn or Renney to the job. The creativity and flexibility shown by all sides to add both, has my 120% support. Coaching will not be a weakness for the Edmonton Oilers.
Pat Quinn may never have won a Stanley Cup, but in the current decade he has captured Gold Medals at the Olympic Games, the World Cup of Hockey, the Spengler Cup, the World Under-18 Championships and the World Junior Championships, a collection of goldware that almost certainly will never be duplicated.
Particularly encouraging is Quinn's recent success connecting with youngsters, including Oilers prospect Jordan Eberle who has already won two championships under Quinn's guidance. Not sure how those experiences will colour the Irishman's known preference for veterans, established in other times under other circumstances, primarily in big-budget markets in the pre-cap era, and mostly with Quinn acting as his own GM. That whole landscape has changed. Quinn -- who has posted an above-.500 record in 13 of his 14 complete seasons and made the playoffs in all but two of those seasons, winning 17 series -- wouldn't have survived this long if he wasn't adaptable.
I very much like the idea of a strong associate coach, especially given the established weaknesses of the new head man on the technical side of the game. Such an arrangement worked fine with Glen Sather and John Muckler. Renney has strong credentials as a head man -- post lockout his Rangers won 42+ games and made the playoffs every year, while he compiled an less-impressive-than-it-looks-but-still-pretty-darn-good 159-106-42 mark with what always seemed to me middling talent. He has experienced the constraints of the cap era including a few millstone contracts, and has consistently delivered competitive teams.
Critical to all this is what appears at this distance to be a complete absence of ego on Renney's part. After two years as a head coach in Kamloops, where he posted the best career Pts% (.714) in WHL history, Renney became head coach for the Canadian national men's team, a group he guided within a Peter Forsberg/Tommy Salo highlight reel of the gold medal in Lillehamer 1994. A couple of months later, Renney agreed to serve as assistant coach to George Kingston at the World Championships, and the pair successfully oversaw Canada's first gold medal in 33 years. A lesser man might have seen it as a demotion, a slap in the face even, but Tom Renney put that aside, answered the call, and delivered the goods.
Renney has continued to serve his country in a variety of roles at no fewer than 10 (ten) World Championships, compiling 3 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze. He also won silver at the 1999 World Juniors, losing the gold medal game in overtime. On the senior level he has appeared to transition seamlessly from head man (1995, 1996, 2000) to assistant, and has in fact achieved his greatest team successes (the golds) in the latter role. With a track record like this I have no problem envisioning Renney stepping up to -- but not overstepping -- a strong associate coach role.
Certainly between them Quinn and Renney have won everything worth winning on the international level. Quinn won the Memorial Cup as a player, Renney as a coach. Both are proven winners, yet share the same gaping hole on the resume, the Stanley Cup. If that fact -- more an historical oversight than a blemish -- serves to drive them through the gruelling days and nights of the long seasons ahead, so much the better.
The whole thing hinges on teamwork among the triumvirate that unquestionably now runs the Oilers. As Renney must support, advise and ultimately defer to Quinn, so must the Irishman himself defer to Steve Tambellini. It's his former protégé's job to have the overarching vision, and the coaches' to implement it. That said, I suspect Tambellini's and Quinn's Idealized Roster Manuals already share many of the same pages.
Steve Tambellini has won the Stanley Cup as a player (see picture), but his roots are also firmly established in the international game. He represented Canada on the ice at the World Juniors, World Seniors, and Olympic Games, and has since served Hockey Canada at the management level for those same competitions. As a player he was a participant (one bronze); as a manager, a winner. As Quinn's best success occurred when he was head coach with strong assistants (just say no to Ricky Ley), and Renney's occurred when he was an assistant on a strong staff, Steve Tambellini has had his best success as a manager with a strong coaching staff. Lo and behold, that is the position that each now occupies with the Oilers.
Speaking of roots, some of them can get pretty tangled. Check out this Hockey Canada news release from March 2005:
CALGARY –Tom Renney, Head Coach and Vice President of Player Development of the New York Rangers, and Craig MacTavish, Head Coach of the Edmonton Oilers, have been named Team Canada’s assistant coaches for the 2005 IIHF Men’s World Hockey Championship, Team Canada’s General Manager Steve Tambellini announced on Thursday.
It's hard to put Kevin Lowe's fingerprints on the departures of Craig MacTavish and Charlie Huddy, in fact so little has been seen of K-Lowe that it seems safe to conclude that he too is now at arm's length and the Old Boys Club is officially histoire. All that remains of the old guard is Kelly Buchberger, who spent more time as MacT's winger than he did his assistant coach. As I (ever the optimist) wrote in defence of Bucky yesterday over at Lowetide's place:
As for Buchberger, I understand the frustration but as was the case when he was a young player, patience is key. When he broke in he was like Zack Stortini was two years ago, all warts and rough edges. The object of no little derision especially at first, Bucky worked harder than anybody, soaked up information like a sponge, and drove the twin engines of heart and desire to capacity on a daily basis. He was, and presumably remains, the ultimate team player. As a coach he perhaps achieved better results in Springfield than it seemed at the time, and who knows what he did or didn't accomplish last year. He's clearly the #3 man on the new totem pole, which is fine by me. If he had somehow been given the head job, that wouldn't have been fine at all, but the current situation calls for a little mortar between the bricks which is a role Kelly understands well. It's a hell of a learning opportunity for a young coach to put it mildly. I wish him well.
Finally, I also wish nothing but the best to outgoing coaches Charlie Huddy and Billy Moores as well as Craig MacTavish. While MacT's time had come, I'm less sure about Huddy and Moores who were caught in the crossfire of change. Both have been fixtures on the Edmonton hockey scene for three decades, with Huddy winning 5 Stanley Cups as a player for the Oilers, Moores 5 national titles as a head and assistant coach with the Golden Bears. Both came within a hair (pardon the pun) of adding a Stanley Cup as a coach in 2006. That near miss notwithstanding, both men are winners, and both men are class acts. Like MacT, they will be both missed and remembered fondly. For what it's worth, one Edmonton-area hockey fan of long standing says Thank You.