With New Hires, Edmonton Oilers Organization Grows Up

Ken YongContributor IMay 27, 2009

TURIN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 18:  Head coach Pat Quinn of Canada watches the game from the bench during the men's ice hockey Preliminary Round Group A match against Switzerland during Day 8 of the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games on February 18, 2006 at the Torino Esposizioni in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The hiring of Pat Quinn (Head Coach) and Tom Renney (Associate Coach) have brought both heavy praise and stern criticism, as fans and analysts chime in on the unique coaching arrangement.

Some analysts laud the experience of the two coaches. Others have called them "too old".

Many fans lament the lack of cup wins. Others praise both coaches for their consistent playoff appearances.

Unfortunately, those who are arguing the styles and coaching abilities of these two men seem to be missing the forest for the trees. These appointments are far more than just coaching personnel decisions, and they reach much farther than the players room. They are the beginning of a maturation process for the entire organization, one that has been long overdue.

Big Market Brains

Both Quinn and Renney bring a wealth of experience to the table. However there is an exponentially more important asset that they both share in great amounts: information.

Specifically, these are the most available two men that have intimate knowledge of the processes and procedures used by the two biggest hockey markets in the world: New York and Toronto.

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We're talking player development, scouting, drafting, communications, even marketing. These guys have been right in the middle of it.

For a franchise like the Oilers, they've found not one, but two gold mines. Two people who can bring a big market understanding of the most subtle aspects of player development. Two people who know how teams with limitless funds allot their resources effectively, not just from an on-ice perspective, but as an organization.

This is the real power of bringing these men in to the fold, and don't think Katz, Tambellini and Lowe aren't fully aware of it. While in public they may trot out the usual vague lines about experience, winning attitudes, and passion, in private there is no doubt their machinations are far shrewder. This is clear and methodical knowledge farming.

So what does this mean for the Oilers? How can they utilize their information advantage?

Prospect Development Key To Long Term Franchise Integrity

First and foremost on the list of organizational deficiencies has to be player development. We've now had two highly touted young players who have recently raised concerns with their comments:

  • Swedish League sensation Linus Omark expressed disappointment with his comments that the Oilers hadn't spoken to him since he took part in rookie camp last summer.
  • Alex Plante, a first rounder was quoted as recently saying, "I have no clue what's going on. I don't know what the Oilers want." He is still currently unsigned and if he remains so, he will re-enter the draft.

And these aren't the first instances where we've seen signs of communication breakdown. We also have a player pipeline that rarely develops impact AHL players, let alone bonafide NHL'ers.

It's clear the Oilers need help in the player development arena.

Now we're not insinuating that Quinn or Renney are going to outline a strategy to fix these issues. However, they both have intimate knowledge of the size and structure of the operations, and the overall procedures that the Rangers and the Leafs employed in their player development. Both these franchises had the funds and resources to get the smartest, most capable development staff, and that's what the Oilers should be looking towards.

Renney in particular has copious knowledge of the Rangers process, having worked as VP of Player Development, overseeing all areas of the Rangers player development operations. In fact, his contributions put the Rangers on a path that saw them develop a number of NHL prospects that are having great success today, including Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, and Marc Staal.

Media Savvy Can Protect the Team

If there's one good thing about coaching in Toronto, it's learning how to deal with a rabid press. Likewise for New York. Quinn and Renney are the most capable men available to handle an increasingly ornery Edmonton press corps, and will be able to properly manage the availability of the players, shielding them from the negativity that can be so often generated through the media.

Case in point: The Oilers late season plea video to the fans, begging them to "stick with us". Even the most ardent and sympathetic Oilers supporter had to be somewhat embarrassed to watch as their team was forced to ask the fans to "cheer louder", even if there was nothing to cheer about.

It was clear the players didn't want to do it. It was clear they were being forced to do it by somebody higher up the chain who felt it would be good for PR.

It turned out to not only be a PR flop, but a denigrating reminder to the players that they were disappointing their fans. That kind of negative energy has no place in an NHL dressing room.

If Quinn has his way this year, there will be no begging.

Tradition In Moderation

The Oilers love their heritage, and with good reason: They are probably the most storied and successful expansion franchise in the NHL.

But in recent years, this love has grown in to an obsession, and too often the moves the Oilers have made placed tradition and heritage above the present.

This isn't just a personnel issue either. Yes, part of the problem is the so-called "Old Boys Club" mentality. But there's a more insidious version of this effect.

Is there any other club that displays replica Stanley Cups in the entrance to their dressing room?

Did any other team create a standalone "heritage" website (http://www.oilersheritage.com)?

The Oilers too often have been an organization that placed far too much emphasis on their past, and not enough emphasis on their present.

This can have many effects on an organization and a team. If you overplay your past, you devalue your current players. They might feel like a smaller part of the organization, when they should feel like the most important part of it. They might feel too much pressure from expectations they can never live up to.

Quinn and Renney come from organizations that are steeped in tradition, even more so than Edmonton. They can help the organization understand what role tradition plays in an organization, and how the big clubs are able to balance a respect for history, with a sense that the best is yet to come.

Oilers Must Be Open To Real Change

Katz, Tambellini and Lowe are placing the safe bet with Quinn and Renney. If all goes according to plan, the Oilers will see a quantum leap in their organizational maturity.

However it's not a sure thing, and it will most likely be a slower process than most fans anticipate. If the Oilers are to make the most of their information advantage, they need to be introspective, brave, and open to completely new perspectives. They'll need to challenge themselves to be a better franchise.

It may not happen next season. It may not happen at all. But the Oilers have given themselves a chance to really grow.


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