EDMONTON – In one fell swoop Tuesday, Pat Quinn became the oldest and newest coach in the National Hockey League.
The Edmonton Oilers introduced the 66-year-old Quinn as their new head coach, and announced former New York Ranger bench boss Tom Renney as associate coach.
“We think there’s talent (on the roster),” Quinn told reporters at a news conference beside the rink in Rexall Place. “Perhaps (the Oilers) didn’t get to be a good team in the past couple, three years but we’re here to make those next steps.”
While Quinn said he considers himself an educator first and a whip-cracker second, he fired a shot across the bow of a roster criticized last season for having too many players willing to take the night off.
“We will be pushing, cajoling, teaching as well as we can to reach high standards,” said Quinn.
“If our veterans have been guys that might put their feet on the desk once in a while, we’ll have to try to change that.”
Quinn immediately becomes the greybeard of the NHL coaching ranks.
Jacques Lemaire was the oldest coach in the league last year at 63, but has since parted ways with the Minnesota Wild. The next oldest is now Andy Murray of the St. Louis Blues, at 58.
The youngest is Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins at 38.
Quinn has been out of the league since being fired as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs following the 2005-06 season.
He coached the Canadian national team to gold at the world junior championship in Ottawa earlier this year.
The Oilers will be the fifth NHL team coached by Quinn, who succeeds the fired Craig MacTavish.
The two-time NHL coach of the year has 657 career wins in 1,318 games behind the bench with Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto.
He said after being released by the Leafs, he figured he would sail happily into retirement.
“(But) as I was sitting trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I found the passion for the game didn’t dissipate once I didn’t have the work to do anymore.”
Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini said the team needed a fresh start behind the bench when he fired MacTavish on April 15.
He said he’s not worried that Quinn has been out of the pro game for three years.
“He has been in touch with so many of the young players coming into the game now, and has immersed himself at that level of play,” said Tambellini
“I know when he walks into the Oilers dressing room for the first day they’ll be all ears.”
Tambellini is familiar with both Quinn and Renney from their days together in Vancouver with the Canucks.
Quinn is a former GM and coach of the club while Renney got his first head coaching job there in 1996. He replaced Quinn, who had stepped out of the GM’s office to fill in for the fired Rick Ley at the end of the previous season.
Before joining the Oilers last summer, Tambellini spent several years in Vancouver’s front office.
Renney joins the Oilers after five seasons as head coach of the Rangers. He said taking the associate role isn’t a step down because he’ll be working with Quinn.
“I don’t know if this would work with anybody else, quite honestly. I think we’re all driven to excellence, all driven to run our own programs (but) I think a ton of Pat, as you can appreciate,” said Renney.
“I think this works.”
Kelly Buchberger will remain on the coaching staff.
Quinn said he and Renney want to hire one more coach and haven’t worked out what all their roles and responsibilities will be.
They have their work cut out for them.
The Oilers had expected to challenge for the top of the Northwest Division this season but instead slid to 11th in the Western Conference with a record of 38-35-9 for a total of 85 points.
It was the fifth time in the last seven seasons that they failed to reach the post-season. The notable exception was in 2006 when the Oilers lost to Carolina in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
The team was occasionally booed off the ice at Rexall Place, finishing with a poor 18-17-6 home record – sixth worst in the NHL.
The power play was an anemic 23rd in the league and penalty killing was 27th.
Front-line players Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff recorded fewer points than the previous season while promising youngsters Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson failed to capitalize on the promise of 2008-09.
Quinn said it’s time to get back to fundamentals.
“I like keeping the puck, but I know you have to give it up once in a while. I want a team that can get it back.
“This team was pretty good with the puck, but maybe didn’t get it back as well as it should have. So, we’re going to concentrate on that.”
Forward Dustin Penner became the unofficial poster player for coach-killing under-performance.
The six-foot-four forward, with a contract worth US$4.25 million a year, slid down the depth chart to the fourth line because of his uninspired play. He registered 17 goals, the second consecutive year of scoring decline, and was twice publicly called out by MacTavish.