With Tom Renney officially out as the head coach of the Oilers, speculation has picked up surrounding Brent Sutter. Would he be an upgrade?
Sutter identified his top players in each position and rode them hard in 2011-12.
Jarome Iginla is not the same player that he once was, but he still got a hefty push in ice time from the coach. He led all Calgary forwards in total ice time, even though he didn't play at all when the team was shorthanded. By contrast, Edmonton's forward leaders in ice time per game were Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth because they played in all three situations. No Oilers player had more than Taylor Hall's 15:06 of even strength ice time per game, but he would probably get up to Iginla-like levels (17:15 per game) under Sutter.
Jay Bouwmeester was clearly Calgary's number one defenseman, and Sutter played him as such. He averaged 25:57 of ice time per game, which was sixth out of all NHL defensemen. Mark Giordano also played a load of minutes at 23:01 per game. Sutter's bottom pairs were lucky to get 16 minutes of ice time in a game, which is an astute calculation due to the precipitous drop off in talent.
Jeff Petry led the Oilers in ice time per game at 21:45, but Tom Renney didn't have a clear-cut number one to lean on. Because of that he spread the ice time out more evenly. Only about three minutes of average ice time separated Cam Barker (#6) and Jeff Petry (#1), while Jay Bouwmeester (#1) played ten minutes more per game than Cory Sarich (#6).
It's hard to say how Sutter would deploy an Oilers defense, because that defense could be very different next season. If the Oilers bring in both Sutter and a true number one defenseman, expect that player to log a huge amount of minutes and the bottom pair players to be on a short leash.
And when it comes to the goaltending, Sutter just played Kiprusoff. Kipper started 68 games in 2011-12, with Henrik Karlsson and Leland Irving only trusted with seven starts apiece. The situation is different in Edmonton because Devan Dubnyk is unproven, but one would hope that Brent Sutter could identify which goalie gives the team the best chance to win - as he did in Calgary - and play him. That never really happened under Renney. Despite mounting evidence (5 wins in 30 starts from November 11th onward) that Nikolai Khabibulin was not capable of any more than limited duty, he continued to find himself in the net. This was one of Renney's biggest failings as head coach. Playing Khabibulin went against his two mandates of development and winning.
Whoever takes over this Oilers team for the 2012-13 season will find himself with more to work with than what Tom Renney had in his years as head coach. Now that the rebuild is regarded as being over and management is serious about winning, the new bench boss should have more help. The natural progression of the young stars will be a boost as well.
The way Tom Renney and Brent Sutter would run this team in the future is probably fairly different, so if nothing else the Oilers would get a different look. Edmonton's best players would get more of a push from the coach. We know that Sutter is a good coach, but is he the guy that can get the team over the hump? Would Renney have leaned more heavily on the young stars next year, as Sutter did with his stars in Calgary? We'll never know.