UNIONDALE, NY – Over the years, the New York Rangers were notorious for acquiring personnel from the Edmonton Oilers. All the way back from when they traded for Mark Messier to when Glen Sather became the general manager, the Rangers were known as Oilers East.
So it stands to reason that Edmonton returned the favor by hiring former Ranger coach Tom Renney last summer as associate coach under Pat Quinn.
“I knew I was being considered head coach for the team,” said Renney who came back to the New York area for the first time since leaving the Rangers, as his Oilers were down by the Islanders 3-1 at Nassau Coliseum. “The strategy wasn’t what I was looking for. That said, when [Oilers GM] Steve [Tambellini] presented me the idea, given the people who were involved, it was a pretty easy decision to make, recognizing that there may have been head coaching opportunities and those were looming, I just looked at the people involved and thought this was the right opportunity.”
To Renney, an intellectual man, this was the smart move. Although he said he has other head coaching opportunities available to him, the coach is able to be involved with an organization by slowly making it part of his culture. Add to the fact that he is very close friends with Quinn, and it’s a move that makes total sense for the egoless Renney.
As is his personality, he also holds no ill will to the Ranger organization and said he still keeps tabs on his old club. “They are part of my family and certainly, I take interest in how they are doing,” he said. “I am not consumed by it, because I have my own organization I have to help win, but I certainly keep an eye on them and how they are doing.”
Believe it or not, it’s easier for Renney to do it this way and come to the New York area visiting the Islanders, while staying away from Madison Square Garden, as the Rangers visit the Oilers on Thursday. He is still emotionally connected with the club and needs time to make Edmonton his home.
“I have to say so, because I so much enjoyed it there,” he said. “I think I have to be immersed and embraced by my own team before I go into Madison Square Garden and kick their [butts]. I am not there yet. I have no problem trying to beat them at home in Edmonton. I have to say the fans were very supportive of me and what I was trying to do there. It would be fun to go back there at some point of time and win a game at MSG for somebody else, but right now I am still emotionally connected to that situation.”
It’s his love for the Rangers that made last Feb. 23rd so difficult. Even though he finished his Ranger tenure with a record of 164-117-46, leaving him fourth on the all-time coach’s win list for the club and since the lockout all his teams made the playoffs, something the Rangers didn’t sniff for seven seasons prior to his arrival.
And even though his replacement John Tortorella finished what Renney started last season, he did so with the additions of Nik Antropov, Sean Avery and Derek Morris. And Tortorella only could bring the Rangers to the first round, embarrassing the organization in Game 5 by throwing a water bottle at the fans sitting behind the glass at the Verizon Center in Washington.
Although those changes happened, you have to wonder if Renney could have done better.
“It’s inevitable that you think that way and change is something that’s supposed to happen to get back to where you want to be,” he said. “It started with me and that was the best place to start. Certainly I felt confident in my ability to coach and felt that they didn’t have to do that.
“But that said, subsequent changes suggest that there was more involved with the team than coaching, even beyond the conclusion of the season with free agency. I am over that and I think the body of work will be looked at as being successful, given what happened the number of years prior to that.”
It’s that class which makes Renney remembered by the fans and the media. He said that Sather told him the day he fired him he “dreaded this day, since the day he gave [Renney] the job.” And the New York Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association awarded the erstwhile coach with the Good Guy Award last season.
Even with all of those accolades, Renney’s biggest attribute was coaching the uncoachable. He had a great relationship with notorious coach killer Jaromir Jagr and was one of few who could control Sean Avery.
“That’s certainly what you want is that [the players] like playing for you,” he said. “Now that’s not always going to be the case, but if they appreciate playing for you and like playing for you that’s what you want more than anything else.
“Part of that is that they are winning and you get a sense that you will takes through your help. I enjoyed every single guy. There’s not one guy in that organization I had a hard time with and I enjoyed every single guy. As much as I hoped they helped them, they certainly helped me in my career.”
And if he has a regret, it has to be the Buffalo series back in the 2007 playoffs.
“That one was a bummer,” he said. “I think of that one, I think, ‘Aw gosh, we had that right on our fingertips and we let it slip away.’ It was a youthful team, but you have to quit losing before you start winning, and as much as we’d been able to do good things in the regular season, and to that point in time in the playoffs, we still weren’t quite ready for the responsibility of being complete in postseason play. And we paid the price.”
A price which eventually cost him his job two years later. Yet, Renney has moved on and has another goal now, and that’s to get the Oilers to the Stanley Cup. And guess what, he has an opponent in mind too — how about the Rangers?
“I would ok with that one,“ he smiled. “It would be fun to have home ice advantage and winning the Stanley Cup in front of the home crowd.”
Spoken like a true Edmonton Oilers coach.