EDMONTON – Tom Renney isn’t wavering.
When the 56-year-old took over head coaching duties last off-season with the rebuilding Edmonton Oilers, he immediately began preaching patience and process over immediate results.
After posting a league-worst 25-45-12 record for another last-place overall finish—and with coaches of teams that finished higher in the standings losing their jobs—Renney’s message remains the same after the Oilers missed the NHL playoffs for the fifth straight year.
“All you can do as a coach is bring your personality to the job,” Renney said. “I think we’re all capable of drawing that line in the sand and delivering on the consequences and holding people accountable.
“I think the good coaches have a sense of timing for that with when, where, how and why, if you will, and a lot of that is intuitive, quite honestly. I do try to treat people the way I’d like to be treated, of course. That’s also with a boot to the backside when it’s required.”
While his predecessor Pat Quinn often seemed frustrated and flabbergasted during his only season behind the Oilers bench, Renney has taken a more even-handed approach. Quinn posted a 24-47-8 record and 62 points before being replaced by Renney.
With no shortage of turnover from the team Quinn coached and the franchise rebuilding with rookies Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, Renney knew what he was getting into.
“Certainly, they understand I have a bottom line,” Renney said. “They understand that they’re going to be treated fairly, but they’re also going to be challenged very much.
“I think that has happened this year, but they haven’t been alone trying to accept that challenge. They’ve had coaching around them that has really tried to help them get there.”
And Renney has never wavered despite the expected mistakes that come with an inexperienced lineup and injuries to such key players as captain Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Whitney, Sam Gagner and Hall.
“Tom’s been the ideal coach for a young team,” Hall said. “He’s not a coach who is going to yell at you, single you out in the media and that’s really nice for a young team.
“We didn’t want to put him in the kind of predicament he had, last place and stuff. For a guy who had to deal with that and come in with those kinds of circumstances, that we were rebuilding, he’s done a really good job. I tell you, we like playing for him for sure.”
That’s a sentiment that was expressed often by players after they did their exit interviews Monday. While nobody was satisfied with another last-place finish, a sense of optimism prevailed.
“I thought Tom did just an unbelievable job dealing with the players this year, the youth,” Horcoff said. “Going forward here, he’s going to definitely be the right guy.
“I gained a lot of respect for him this year. It was a tough situation for him in a lot of tough areas. He could very easily have snapped, a lot of instances where he could have came and just reamed on guys. You could see on his face just how frustrated he was.
“All he wants to do is win. I thought he did a real good job handling all those situations. He’s got our full confidence and support in the locker room. He’s such a great guy and he works so hard. He’s that coach where you just want to win for the guy.”
With another rebuilding season complete, Renney will stay the course with a young squad. But his expectations in 2011-’12 will change.
“It’s safe to say the expectations will increase next year of them individually and as a group,” Renney said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that, and so they should.
“With that, too, there will be a little bit more demand placed on them for the experience they’ve had. In most cases, they’ll have at least a year under their belt. In others, they’ll have had a year with me now. That’s important.”
That’s no surprise to Renney’s players.
“I think you might see a bit of a different Tom next year,” Horcoff said. “A little bit more intense, a little more focused on winning and getting results.
“If we’re not getting those for him, there could be consequences for sure.”
Maybe so, but raised expectations aside, Renney’s approach next season will be very much like it was this year.
“We wanted, as a coaching staff, to make the rink a destination,” Renney said. “Make it a place where they wanted to come and work and just put it on the line.
“I had to tell them and make it very clear that they, too, had done the same for us as a coaching staff. They made itreal easy to come to the rink and want to get here because they were honest-to-goodness good people just working their asses off as best they could.
“That hasn’t changed. My inclination from yesterday is that if we were still playing hockey and practising, they’d love it. I think they’re going to miss the rink.”