As we roll towards the conclusion of another utterly awful year of Oilers hockey, it becomes more and more difficult to care about anything associated with the team. The terrible hockey and terrible decision making just starts to numb you after a while. The impact on your fandom is like freezing to death; after a while, you don’t even notice the cold and just drift away.
With that said, goofy things are always interesting and the Oilers continue to keep us well supplied with those. On Saturday night, with about 2:30 left in a game that Calgary was winning 5-2, Tom Renney pulled the goalie. Calgary scored shortly thereafter and CBC’s cameras caught Taylor Hall skating towards the bench saying something that looked suspiciously like “Why did we pull the fucking goalie?” This was followed shortly by “I’m sorry.” Tom Renney was asked about it after the game.
Ryan Rishaug: “You talk about his compete level, some frustration seeps in right at the end of the game with the empty netter. He appeared to sort of say ‘Why do we have no goalie?’ He seemed to show some frustration there. I’m not a lip reader but…”
Renney: “Maybe you are a lip reader. You seemed to phrase that pretty accurately. He’s a competitor. I bet you if you asked him right now how he felt about pulling the goaltender, he’d say “I think it was the right thing to do.” I don’t know for sure but I’m guessing he’d say that. Cause it was the right thing to do. We’re not gonna quit behind the bench either. We have to coach the game, we have to coach to win. Period.”
OK. I’ve always been interested in pulling the goalie – one of the first posts that I wrote here was about it – and generally think that teams are far too conservative. With that said, it’s a pity that Rishaug didn’t follow up on his question, as Renney’s reply kind of demanded that a follow up question be posed.
You see, Tom Renney had coached an awful lot of games before last night: 556 of them, to be exact. He’s coached a lot of terrible teams in that time: 101 games with the late 1990s Vancouver Canucks and 128 games with the Edmonton Oilers entering last night. He’s also coached a mostly decent team, the Rangers, between 2004 and 2009.
We don’t have sufficiently granular data from his time with the Canucks to inquire into how often Renney pulled the goalie when down three there. We basically do from his time with the Rangers and Oilers, although a little bit of guesswork is required for older games. I was able to identify 48 games in which Renney’s team has been down three goals at some point in the last three minutes during that period. He appears to have pulled the goalie (delayed penalties excluded) five times, including last night. Three of those were on power plays while he was with the Rangers. You can quibble with the numbers a little bit – some of these are cases where the Rangers gave up an ENG with three seconds left or something, but on the whole they aren’t. As a general rule, Tom Renney doesn’t pull his goalies down three goals.
That leaves two instances in which he’s pulled a goalie at even strength while down three. Saturday night and a game played on February 9, 2009 in which he pulled his goalie in the last minute or so while down 3-0 to the Devils. Of possible note: he was fired two weeks later.
In short, I think Hall was asking a pretty incisive question: why DID we pull the fucking goalie? Renney’s answer is completely unsatisfactory because if pulling the goalie down three goals is “the right thing to do” why does he do it so infrequently? Was he coaching to lose in those other games?
Who knows. I don’t expect anyone will ever answer this. Answers like this are why I don’t particularly like Renney as a coach though. I wonder if he has any idea why he pulled the goalie on Saturday or whether it was simply done in a fit of pique, presented after the game as “…we have to coach to win. Period.” It’s very difficult to reconcile his stated rationale with his past decisions.
In any event, whatever. None of this matters. My inner Oil fan would find taking off his jacket and lying in a snowbank for a nap more productive than actually trying to make sense of what goes on in Edmonton.