Former Rangers head coach Tom Renney was introduced as coach...

Former Rangers head coach Tom Renney was introduced as coach of the Edmonton Oilers on June 22, 2010. Credit: AP

Tom Renney makes his return to Madison Square Garden Sunday, and if ever there was a returning Rangers coach completely free of animosity, Renney's your man.

He was fired 21 months ago by the Rangers, who now are led by a group of young players who began their NHL careers under Renney. His work with Canada's various national teams had him pegged as more of a younger players' coach, though that wasn't always evident in his nearly four full seasons behind the Rangers' bench.

Now, though, as coach of the painfully young Oilers, Renney is in full coach / teacher mode. And that's the only way he would have it.

"There's only two situations you want to be in as a coach in this league,'' Renney told Newsday. "One, obviously, is as a contender for the Stanley Cup year-in and year-out. The other is where I am: Helping an organization set the compass, gain some traction and learn the right way to do things. There's a lot of room in between, but that's the mediocre area. None of us embrace that spot. I know where I am, and I'm happy with it."

He did some crucial building with the Rangers, taking them from pre-lockout laughingstock to post-lockout respectability, relying on the talented Jaromir Jagr and the emerging talents of Henrik Lundqvist. The current core of Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi came up to the Rangers with Renney and learned his patient defensive style.

"He taught me a lot about defensive-zone responsibility, about two- way play," said Callahan, who has embraced that style better than almost any other young Rangers forward who played for Renney. "He was very patient with me, very positive. That was big for me when I came up and went back down [to Hartford] a few times. He always made sure I knew what I needed to be working on."

Renney has enjoyed seeing his former young charges grow into bigger roles, and has nothing but praise for the man who replaced him as Rangers coach.

"Torts has done a great job giving those young guys a chance to excel," Renney said of John Tortorella. "As a coach, you're always passing the baton off to someone else eventually. I'm happy for guys like Brandon and Ryan. They've earned their rewards."

And Renney's reward, after a year as associate head coach to Pat Quinn in a dismal 2009-10 in Edmonton, was getting the reins himself for this season when Oilers management decided to change tactics.

Renney has more players under 21 than over 30, and the growing pains are evident. They followed up a big win in Chicago to start their current five-game road trip with losses by a combined 14-3 total in Carolina and Detroit. Then they blew a two-goal lead and lost in overtime to the Devils Friday in New Jersey.

"This is by far the youngest team I've had at the pro level, and it's a challenge," Renney said. "We've had to do a lot of educating - players, fans, even the media up here - on what we're trying to set down as far as a philosophy, where we're headed as a franchise.

"It's not much different from what we did with the Rangers during the lockout year. We were trying to tell the fans what the New York Rangers needed to do to be successful. I think everyone embraced it then, and everyone's embracing it now."

It wasn't easy in New York and it's probably more difficult in Edmonton, where the fans were accustomed to success for a longer stretch than the Rangers ever had.

But Renney is an optimist. He's got this year's No. 1 overall pick, Taylor Hall - "We've already seen him make some plays that get fans out of their seats," Renney said - a host of other young talents (Magnus Paajaarvi, Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle) and probably a lot of tough losses to go this season.

"It's an exciting time to be a part of this," Renney said. "I've had some input into personnel decisions. We're rebuilding and resetting the goals of the team. It's great to be a part of it."

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