Wanting more wins out of their young talent, the Edmonton Oilers won't renew the contract of head coach Tom Renney after two seasons in the NHL's cellar.
"We're entering a new phase of our hockey club," general manager Steve Tambellini said Thursday.
Renney joined the team for the 2010-11 season and finished with an NHL-worst 25-45-12 record. The team improved marginally this season with a 32-40-10 record for second-last in the league.
The Oilers have a stable of high draft picks, including forwards Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who were taken first overall in the last two drafts respectively.
The Oilers are banking on them and forwards Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle, both 22, and 21-year-old Magnus Paajarvi to drive them back into playoff contention.
"We need to get to a different level of compete, a different level of competing for playoff spots," Tambellini said. "We've had some young people now who have been here through a couple of years. We've had some veterans who have underachieved for whatever reason and expectations will increase, as they should."
The move indicates the Oilers' patience with their young club has its limits.
"We're starting to get to a spot where their expectations should be higher too," Tambellini said. "We expect better performances from a player like Ales Hemsky on a more consistent basis. We expect better goaltending on a consistent basis from Devan [Dubnyk] and Nik [Khabibulin].
"The people that are here right now need to be a lot better on a consistent basis."
Tambellini said he spent nine days at the world hockey championship in Finland and Sweden before flying to Castlegar, B.C., on Thursday and informing Renney of the team's decision.
Speculation about Brent Sutter
The timing of the announcement prompted speculation that ex-Calgary Flames head coach Brent Sutter is in line to replace Renney.
Sutter coached Canada at the world championship and they were eliminated in the quarter-finals Thursday. Tambellini said Edmonton's announcement on the same day was a coincidence.
"As far as guys who are candidates out there, there's going to be a lot of speculation," Tambellini said. "Brent, he's a good coach, there's no question about that, but let us go through the process and just get it right."
Sutter's contract was not renewed by the Flames after three seasons of missing the playoffs.
Tambellini said he'd like to have a new coach in place by the NHL draft June 22-23 in Pittsburgh, but he wasn't certain the hiring would happen by then.
Renney came to Edmonton having previously served as head coach with the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks.
"I'm not going to dissect Tom as a coach. He's a good man, a good coach," Tambellini said. "I'm sure again he'll work again as a head coach soon."
The 57-year-old was fired from the Rangers in February 2009 after 61 games, following three full seasons and 20 games in another when he took over from Glen Sather, who remained as general manager.
Renney was also fired in Vancouver in 1997-98 after his first full season with the club.
"Obviously, it's about wins and losses," Renney said at the end of this season. "I try to work hard. I try to be the good soldier in what the organization requires of me. I do try to let my body of work speak for itself."