My favourite memory of Tom Renney came at the Edmonton International Airport last summer. I, being an obsessed 18-year-old hockey fan and budding sports journalist, was about to embark on my first vacation paid for exclusively by myself. No taking out a loan from the Bank of Mom and Dad, I was flying to Minneapolis for the 2011 NHL Draft, staying at a hotel and attending a sports conference all on a $15/hour credit card salesman's wage. I met Tom at the airport, while I was on my laptop. Upon seeing him I immediately posted to my Facebook: "Oilers Head Coach Tom Renney is 10 feet away from me!!"
I approached the coach with the same nervousness that accompanies sauntering up to a 10 at a bar on a Friday night. I forced words out of my mouth, which was still salivating at this point. Tom and I shook hands, and chatted for a few minutes. I was actually the one who informed him that the Philadelphia Flyers had blown up their roster and traded away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Very cool feeling.
After talking to him for several minutes, I walked away knowing that I had perhaps overstayed my welcome. Tom, after all, was headed to an event where he, along with the rest of the Oilers brain trust, would map out the future of the organization. No matter, the coach was one of the nicest, most genuine people I have met in the business. He signed my boarding pass, "To Salim. Best Wishes. Tom Renney." I ended up getting upgraded to first class, and Renney sat across the aisle from me. Intentionally or not, the coach fell asleep and only woke up as we were landing in Minnesota.
Renney and the organization have since parted ways. Contrary to what many think, Renney wasn't fired. His contract expires this year on June 1; the team simply chose not to renew it. In two previous pieces, I outlined what was next for the Edmonton Oilers and who would take over for the departed head coach. Now it's time to look at Renney, his body of work, and where his future may lie.
Currently, there are three other NHL head coaching jobs open: the Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames and Washington Capitals. In his final media scrum, Renney said that he has already been in contact with other NHL teams regarding open positions.
Who is Tom Renney as a Head Coach?
Based on his recent experience in Edmonton as well as his coaching career in the WHL, where he owns a career winning percentage of 0.714, it's safe to say that Renney is a good developmental head coach. In spite of his showings in the league standings during his time in Edmonton, there are positives to draw from, particularly the development of the young players. Devan Dubnyk is a legitimate threat to become a No.1 goalie now. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is likely to win the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. 22-year-old Jordan Eberle became a point per game player last season. Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid are now top-four defencemen.
"I think I coached for tomorrow as opposed to today, which may have hurt me in the end," Tom Renney.
There is also Renney's prior experience to consider as well; particularly his time in New York, where he coached from midway through the 2003-04 season to midway through the 2008-09 season. During his three full seasons in New York, his teams won over 40 games and made the playoffs in all three years. In 2005-06, Renney anointed his starting goalie to be none other than 2012 Vezina Finalist Henrik Lunqvist, who rewarded Renney's faith by winning 30 games and posting a 0.922 save percentage while being named to the NHL All Rookie Team. Also during that season, 33-year-old Jaromir Jagr posted 123 points, second in the league to Joe Thornton. Jagr, who has had trouble warming up to coaches in the past, enjoyed playing for Renney. It was Renney who gave 2012 NHL All Star and undrafted rookie Dan Girardi his opportunity to play in the NHL. Marc Staal is another young defenceman given a shot under Tom Renney during a time when the Rangers were expected to make the playoffs and win at least a series.
During Renney's time in New York, the team never finished lower than ninth in the league in terms of goals against. Renney's systems emphasize two-way play and defensive accountability. He was also willing to put young players directly into the line of fire, as seen with Girardi, Staal and Lunqvist. He is a coach who is willing and able to develop young players. Renney employs a heavy forecheck, and prefers his forward lines to consist of a speedy winger, a center who can transport the puck, and a big winger.
Another interesting note about Renney is that in his past five full seasons as an NHL head coach, the highest point total recorded by a defenceman on of those teams is the 40 points (10 goals, 30 assists) by Michal Rozsival in 2006-07 for the New York Rangers. An attribute of Renney's teams is their preference for short passes from defencemen to forwards as opposed to the long outlet pass other teams use, as well as his conservative approach to offensive defencemen.
The Calgary Flames, Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens are the only NHL teams with out head coaches right now. How may Renney fit with these organizations?
The Washington Capitals need to make a run next season. Heck, they needed one this season. Alexander Ovechkin is the centerpiece of the organization. As demonstrated by his handling of Jaromir Jagr in New York, Renney is able to get superstar players to buy into his approach. Braeden Holtby appears to have won the starting goalie job after his stellar performance in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. The team has morphed from one defined by offense to one defined by defence. Having two first round picks in this year's NHL Draft, the Capitals will add to an impressive group of young players. Renney is a capable head coach. Alexander Ovechkin may have his best opportunity to resurrect his status as the NHL's premier player under Renney.
Renney and current Capitals General Manager George McPhee worked together in Vancouver in the mid '90s. Based on his coaching track record, Mike Green and Dennis Widemen would see their offensive responsibilities reduced. Needing to make a coaching that hire that will likely save his job and with numerous other candidates out there that have won more than Renney's two career playoff series victories, there are better options for McPhee to consider as he attempts to avoid unemployment. Marc Crawford may be a better fit.
The Canadiens are a roster comprised of young feature players in goaltender Carey Price, defenceman P.K. Subban and forward Max Pacorietty. The Canadiens have five highly paid forwards with no-trade clauses (Scott Gomez, Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta, Erik Cole, Rene Bourque), limiting GM Marc Bergevin's ability to reshape the roster. Renney's ability as a developer of talent is noted from his time in Edmonton. Subban, coming off a disappointing season, would benefit from the man who helped mold Ladislav Smid from a middling third pairing defenceman to a solid top-four option.
Bergevin is in the fortunate position of inheriting a solid team and farm system. Subban, Pacorietty and Price are under 25 years old, the team has ample cap space ($18.5 million) and several budding prospects (Brendan Gallagher, Louis Leblanc, Nathan Beaulieu). With a team on the rise and still young, an AHL coaching option would make most sense for Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens.
The Flames are the most intriguing team looking for a head coach. A barren prospect base consisting of little more than Sven Baertschi and a team not having made the playoffs since Mike Keenan coached the team to a 46 win season in 2008-09 and a first round exit, success for the 2012-13 Flames may be achieved by just making the playoffs, with anything else being extra. Renney's teams play sound defence, and despite being 27th in the league in goals scored, they were 14th in goals allowed. The additions of Baertschi, who may be the early Calder Trophy favourite, and KHL star Roman Cervenka will improve the team's ability to score dramatically.
The blueline is led by Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano and Anton Babchuk. The three are adept at moving the puck, play sound defence and can log big minutes. Miikka Kiprusoff can still steal games at the age of 35. Renney had his most success with the New York Rangers, when his teams were sound in their own zone and able to win 2-1 and 3-2 games. This Flames roster has the tools to make the playoffs, and I see Renney as the perfect fit.
There would be little pressure on him to perform in the playoffs, with getting in being enough. The team is built to play defensive hockey and he would have one of the league's top goaltenders at his disposal. If Sven Baertschi's first two NHL seasons go anything like Jordan Eberle's, Flames fans will be more than satisfied.
In his own words, Renney has talked to other NHL teams since he was let go by the Edmonton Oilers. With Brent Sutter considered the front runner as his replacement in Edmonton, it adds to the allure that Renney may be Calgary's best bet to return to the playoffs. The two teams have never traded with one another, may they be inadvertently swapping head coaches?
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