It’s difficult to get really excited about the Edmonton Oilers’ roster this season, particularly after they failed to upgrade after missing the playoffs for the third straight season and striking out on all-round good team guy and character player Dany Heatley over the summer.
The only change of substance on the ice is in goal, where Nikolai Khabibulin replaces Dwayne Roloson; pretty much a break-even proposition. Other than that, the Oilers have to cross their fingers and toes and hope a band of youngsters, underachievers and injury-prone players can step forward.
But that’s where the Oilers have something about which to be excited. The Oilers actually do stand a chance to get better because GM Steve Tambellini has put together one of the most experienced and intriguing coaching staffs in the league, one which was bolstered in a big way by the recent addition of assistant coach Wayne Fleming.
The Oilers are always supposed to be an up-and-coming team with all these promising young players…and they always somehow find a way to leave you wanting. What makes the collection of coaches in Edmonton – head man Pat Quinn and associate coach Tom Renney are assisted by Fleming and Kelly Buchberger – interesting is that these young players will be able to play an up-tempo, puck-possession game based on offense and speed under Quinn, while Renney and Fleming make sure they fulfill their responsibilities at the other end of the ice.
Tambellini undoubtedly hired Quinn with his up-tempo philosophy in mind, but he also realized Quinn has some serious shortcomings that needed to be filled out if he was going to have a chance to be successful. First of all, Quinn is 66 years old and has been out of the NHL loop for the past three seasons. His knowledge of other players in the league wasn’t great even when he was coaching in the NHL and it’s doubtful Quinn spent his nights out of the league poring over rosters and watching hundreds of games.
That’s where Renney can help. He has been closely enmeshed in the NHL culture for the past couple of seasons and has a good working knowledge of most players in the league.
Secondly, Quinn’s practices, at least when he coached the Toronto Maple Leafs, tended to be rather low on the productivity scale. There was a fair amount of teaching being done, but too often too many people were standing around doing nothing while a handful of players did a drill and valuable ice and time was often wasted. For all of Quinn’s up-tempo philosophies, his workouts were rather pedantic.
And that’s where Fleming can help. Both Renney and Fleming are keen technical coaches who run practices where every inch of the ice is used to do something productive. Fleming coached Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental League last season, where practices tend to focus on skill development and up-tempo team play.
All of which means Quinn won’t be required to do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to the details side of the game. As the head man, he’ll be able to put his philosophy in place and he’ll have able people to direct it and make any improvements that might be needed.
And even though he has critics who claim he isn’t great with young players, the thing about Quinn is that every Oiler on the roster will start with a clean slate and will have their coach’s unwavering faith and confidence. If anything, Quinn gives players more chances than they often deserve. Some respond, some don’t, but no player on that roster will be able to complain about not getting a chance.
And perhaps that will bring out the best in the young Oilers. And if they falter this time around, Tambellini will have no choice but to revamp the roster, because there’s little chance the team’s troubles will have anything to do with coaching.
One-on-one with Edmonton forward Sam Gagner
Producer Ted Cooper sits down with Edmonton Oilers’ center Sam Gagner at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ont. Gagner talks about playing under former coach Craig MacTavish, what he learned from his struggles last year, his expectations for the upcoming season and much more.
REPORTER: TED COOPER | CAMERA: JOHN VAN DUSEN
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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