• I’m with Hallsy Potter

    by  • January 23, 2012 • NHL • 26 Comments

    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.


    26 Responses to I’m with Hallsy Potter

    1. Cam Charron
      January 23, 2012 at

      How would Rishaug have phrased the follow-up?

      “Talk about how you rarely pull the goalie when down by three goals.”

      • Tyler Dellow
        January 23, 2012 at

        “My recollection is that you don’t usually pull the goalie down three goals. Why was it the right play tonight and not other nights?”

    2. January 23, 2012 at

      Tyler Dellow for GM!!!!

      I sure hope Tambo doesn’t get extended, the Oilers management sure like to make it hard for people to keep cheering for them. Ineptitude gets old, fast.

    3. Garnet
      January 23, 2012 at

      The note about Renney being fired not long after the Devils game has me thinking that pulling the goalie in this situation is not so much Renney trying to win the game as an attempt to be seen as trying – to demonstrate to his bosses that he’s still scheming, still putting in an intellectual attempt. Unfortunately, if that’s so, the implication is that Renney is trying to divorce himself from the actual results the team generates; “I’m still coaching hard down here, folks, the problem must lie elsewhere.”
      Then again, who wouldn’t try to protect himself in that way in this context? If you care about keeping the job, what’s your best move in Renney’s position – putting countless probably pointless hours into trying to improve the roster’s many mediocrities, or doing something irrelevant but showy?

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    4. Jordan
      January 23, 2012 at

      Why are the St Louis blues so far ahead of the Oilers. 6 yrs have passed Oilers same team as 6 years ago St Louis not so much

    5. Ribs
      January 23, 2012 at

      The Oilers are 29th in the league in 5vs5 Goals For. Maybe he thought pulling the goalie was necessary for any kind of comeback attempt. I don’t know. I can’t seem to work up any angst for the move.

    6. Dogisland95
      January 23, 2012 at

      When Renney pulled the goalie I thought “fuckin’ right!”. If these guys want to come out against the Flames with an effort like that first period they deserve to play without a goalie. Rennys only mistake was not keeping the net empty the rest of the game. Good thing i’m not the coach.

    7. Saj
      January 23, 2012 at

      Don’t coaches usually go with their “gut”? Maybe his “gut” is making him take more risks as he fears for his job, as it made him do 2 weeks before he was fired in NY.

      Really, really disappointed to hear rumours Tambo is being extended. How do you have such awful seasons as GM (despite top-notch draft picks) and still get extended??

    8. M
      January 23, 2012 at

      There are a lot of assumptions being made, I think…

      First, that what Hall said out loud were the full extent of his thoughts on the matter. He could have been thinking “Why did we pull the fucking goalie when NONE of my teammates seem to be giving any effort tonight?” or “Why did we pull the fucking goalie at that time and not wait for an offensive zone faceoff?”

      The other assumption is that Renney pulled the goalie in order to win the game. Maybe it was his misguided attempt to send a message to his team about their lack of effort. It would go a long way to explaining why he has done it so infrequently in the past, and why, the previous time he did it, he was close to being fired.

    9. beingbobbyorr
      January 23, 2012 at

      I think the real answer is “What difference does it make losing 5-2 or 6-2? Pulling the goalie gives the boys a training opportunity for some future trailing-by-one-goal game when playing w/ an empty net could turn a loss into a point or two.”

      Of course, he can’t publicly say “we’re turning the last 2 minutes into an ad-hoc practice session”, lest it harm ticket sales, but that would be my behind-closed-doors justification.

      If I’m losing, I’m pulling the goalie. The greater the goal differential, the earlier he comes to the bench.

      • Garnet
        January 23, 2012 at

        That’s obviously the logical position, but in that case Renney waited too long, right?

        • beingbobbyorr
          January 23, 2012 at

          Sure. We can quibble about the duration of the empty net vs. goal differential (and whether there ought to be a threshold of ___ # of empty net goals that forces one to sheepishly return the goalie to the crease).

          The real question is: what are the repurcussions to the coach/franchise if they admit they’ve turned the last ___ minutes into a situation drill? For all intents and purposes, they’ll have given up (on that game) and turned their attention to future games (for the betterment of the whole season, hopefully). By any objective measure, this would be a good use of resources/time/opportunities, but can it be sold to emotion-fueled, paying fan?

          • Garnet
            January 23, 2012 at

            I doubt the fans are the problem; after all, as you note, these are the right calls if you’re actually trying to win. But if Renney looks ridiculous in the eyes of fellow hockey decision-makers, it might mean he never gets to be an NHL head coach again. Bill Belichick of the Patriots made a gutsy call a few years back in a game vs. Indianapolis, and I interviewed a pro sports number-cruncher about it. He said NFL coaches told him that they knew the odds favoured more of certain gambles than they actually try, but they have to appear respectable within their community.

      • Tyler Dellow
        January 23, 2012 at

        This may well be a technically correct answer. I’m agnostic. I don’t think it matters though. If it’s the right move, why does Renney do it so rarely?

        • beingbobbyorr
          January 24, 2012 at

          I think Garnet answered this: the decisions of Renney (and every coach, even Bowman?) are influenced by how they think any out-of-the-box decision-making will be perceived by peers, potential future employers, media, and fans . . . . and, no, the coaches themselves don’t necessarily have a pre-conceived rationale for arriving at weights-of-importance that they assign to those various outside influences, assuming they’re even conscious of the process.

          I’m also reminded of a book I just finished that Tom Benjamin turned me on to: The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer, wherein he argues that we often make decisions first, then find evidence to support them later.

          Of course, this isn’t confined to hockey coaches. We’re all influenced by our simulated projections of other people’s reactions to our potential choices.

        • Triumph
          January 27, 2012 at

          I don’t think anyone pulls the goalie down 3 very often, but I would think it’s always the right move at some point in the 3rd period to pull the goalie down 3 to increase your chances of winning the game, much as how in football, it’s almost always the wrong decision for an NFL team trailing by e.g. 21 to punt the football late in the 3rd quarter, but unless it’s an obvious go-for-it situation, the coach will punt.

    10. January 23, 2012 at

      Well, the reason Renney was fired in New York has more to do with his style. He’s more or less a defensive-minded coach who doesn’t know how to coach offense. His tenure in New York reminded me a lot of Dave Lewis’ tenure in Boston. They played a variant of the trap that wasn’t particularly effective since the clutch-and-grab move had been outlawed, and their offense was a dump-and-change maneuver. That all worked out fine and dandy when Lundqvist was playing like Lundqvist, but if he had an off night, the offense couldn’t pick him up.

      Much as I loathe Glen Sather as the GM of my beloved Rangers, he definitely started bringing in the right kind of players to fix the by-committee offense. Once the team started loading up on decent forwards (Callahan and Dubinsky came through the system, and a season later Anisimov hit the big club, they had Jagr and they signed Drury and Gomez), it was clear to me that Renney was out of a job. The question was when. The only top-six forward who played a truly defensive game was Drury, and Renney’s system was a defense-first play it safe sort of thing. Can’t speak to his system in Edmonton because due to the crappy cable coverage and time zone difference I think I’ve seen two games so far.

      I’m not sure why Edmonton hired Renney. Their roster includes some pretty potent offensive power in Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, and other young core kids who will be an offensive threat forever. They need a coach that can harness their offensive creativity and mold his system around it. Renney is far too rigid for that.

      They also need a goaltender. Again, unfamiliar with the farm so I don’t know if one’s coming up through the system or what. But they’ve got an old man who won’t last forever, same as Tampa Bay and New Jersey.

      Once the Oilers get a more creative coach and an upgrade in the pipes, they’ll be a force for the next decade at least.

    11. Jordan
      January 23, 2012 at

      All your stats all the comments.

      Oilers are a small young fast team with potential. They never seem to get better, they could get the #1 pick again still won’t help.

      They have the wrong philosophy. These stat are hard to dispute. Same team as ever .

      Look at St louis for the right philosophy and a little luck.

      • Tyler Dellow
        January 23, 2012 at

        I believe this is the first call for the St. Louis model.

        • Passive Voice
          January 24, 2012 at


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    12. Jordan
      January 23, 2012 at

      Here are a few young players on ST. Louis

      David Backes
      P. Berglund
      A. Pietrangelo
      C. Stewart
      D. Perron
      T.J. Oshie
      Kevin Shattenkirk

      Vladimir Tarasenko
      Jaden Schwartz
      Ty Rattie

    13. Jordan
      January 23, 2012 at

      I’m watching the Oilers, I think it is a little unfair to dump on the goalies. The have had a AHL defence group in front of them all year.

    14. Alex
      January 24, 2012 at

      Ha! There was no way the oilers were gonna score 3 goals in 2:30 in stretch where they’ve been having a hardtime scoring a single goal in a whole game. Btw I read his lips as ‘ I’m not a fucking goalie’ ( he was the one that got scored on 5 hole afterall).
      I believe the exchange had more to do with pressure and expectation on hall to stop the puck rather than a criticism on any coaching decision, as dumb as it may have been. hence the apology to the bench- ‘ I’m sorry’- in a not so sincere way.

    15. FastOil
      January 26, 2012 at

      I saw it as an experience thing as well, which is fine. What concerns me is how they are communicating to the players they plan to keep around. I think a guy like Hall needs to know what they are doing and why to a certain degree. He’s chomping at the bit which is great, but on the other hand, hyper competitive people like him can get frustrated easily. It won’t be an easy thing to keep everyone on board while sucking until they figure they have enough “elite talent”. ~Nothing to worry about, I’m sure they have it all under control.~

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