VANCOUVER – For the first time in his career, Tom Renney has made it to the end of an NHL season on the final year of his contract.
But with the Edmonton Oilers out of the playoffs and his contract due to expire, there are no guarantees he will continue beyond Saturday’s final regular-season game against the Vancouver Canucks.
“I don’t think I’m naive,” said Renney. “I try to work hard. I try to be the good soldier in what the organization requires of me. I do try to let my body of work speak for itself. Obviously, it’s about wins and losses. That isn’t indicative of what you’d hope, but it’s the same approach from me every time.”
Renney, a 56-year-old Cranbrook, B.C., native has completed his second season as Edmonton’s head coach and served as associate coach the season before.
He was fired as coach of the New York Rangers in February 2009 after 61 games, following three full seasons and 20 games in another when he took over from Glen Sather, who remained as general manager.
“We were 10 games over .500 and we were having a little difficulty,” Renney recalled. “I knew I should have gone in there (to talk to Sather about an extension) in November.”
Renney was also fired before his deal was done in Vancouver in 1997-98. Now, he hopes to remain with the Oilers as they continue to rebuild with a foundation of young stars like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and veteran Ales Hemsky.
“I’m all-in as an Oiler,” said Renney. “I’ll do whatever it takes to help this team grow and be a contender. I’ve said it 100 times, and I’ll say it again: This team is growing up in front of the eyes of everybody in hockey, quite honestly.
“There’s a certain amount of impatience and frustration as that happens, but this isn’t my first rebuild. If we can just step back from the ledge and understand exactly what we’re building here, I think people will be able to watch our team for quite some time and be very happy with it. It’s just that getting traction from the start can be frustrating.”
Despite missing the playoffs, he said, the Oilers have had a strong player-development year. Young players have grown and others integrated into the lineup have flourished. If not for a three-month span in which the Oilers dealt with inconsistent goaltending and injuries to defencemen and blue-line changes, the season could have gone differently.
Players, he added, have been very coachable in spite of his uncertain status.
“We’re all in this together, and these guys, I think, have displayed that from the get-go in terms of how hard they’ve played for each other and their staff,” said Renney.
Veteran winger Ryan Smyth said he understands that Oilers’ management has to make decisions on how to rebuild the club. But he hopes that Renney can continue at the helm.
“I think he’s done a tremendous job,” said Smyth. “He’s a teacher of the game. This organization is going through the rebuilding stage, and for him to be a part of it is big. He can relate to the players excellently.”
Now, said Renney, it’s time for everyone in the organization to see what they can do better.
“We have to really sit down and do some soul-searching here and understand what we need to do better and how best to attack that,” said Renney. “From a players’ perspective, as they do, as we all should, you take responsibility for your own season, for your own performance.”
In the meantime, Renney, a former Canadian Olympic and national team coach, is open to the idea of coaching Canada’s entry at the upcoming world championships. He is also encouraging his players, health permitting, to accept opportunities to play for their countries.
The experience and the format, in which every game counts, will help them prepare for important games in spring in the future.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” said Renney. “It’s always good to play for your country. I’m a big proponent of that, in any opportunity, naturally, but health is an issue that we all have to look at, and determine on an individual basis whether or not it’s the right for the player. But, certainly, if they’re healthy, I would endorse it 100 per cent.”
Nugent-Hopkins, 18, a candidate for NHL rookie of the year honours, said he would like to suit up for Canada. It would be his first world championship experience after he was cut from the 2011 world junior team and was unavailable last Christmas because of his NHL commitments.
“If I get invited, it’ll be something I’d enjoy doing,” he said. “I think it’ll be a great opportunity for me. I’ll get some great experience and, obviously, getting to represent Team Canada, doing anything really, will be very exciting.”
Oilers goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who played for Canada at the past two world championships, is weighing whether to go again, if he is invited. Normally, Dubnyk would accept automatically, but he is due to become a restricted free agent and an important personal matter is coming up.
“I’m getting married this summer,” he said. “It’s an important summer for me contract-wise. The situation would have to be right, whereas this is the only year I would even consider the situation to decide whether to go or not.”
But he hopes invitations after this year are few and far between.
“Every other year my entire career, hopefully, I’m not having to go, because we’d like to be in playoffs,” said Dubnyk.
Notes: Roberto Luongo will start for Vancouver. … Defenceman Chris Tanev drew back into the Canucks lineup after sitting out Thursday’s game in Calgary. … Manny Malhotra also returned after being scratched against the Flames. He was slotted as a fourth-line winger, while Byron Bitz, a winger until now, was pencilled in at centre. Bitz has played centre in the minors. … Canucks winger Mason Raymond was absent because his wife was due to deliver their first child.