Losing the Room

Jonathan Willis
March 24 2009 02:11PM

MacT and the team

The Edmonton Oilers fired Springfield Falcons head coach Jeff Truitt back in early February. The Falcons have struggled mightily this season and Truitt’s replacement, Rob Daum, has made some gains but has been unable to turn the team around.

Here’s what the players in Springfield had to say about Truitt being fired:

“I personally didn't think he deserved to be fired -- he was a great coach -- he didn't make the mistakes out there, we did. We let him down, along with ourselves and I think that he would want us to go out and play hard and do as well as we can for the rest of the season."

– Springfield Falcons captain Tim Sestito

“We let [Truitt] down and he took the fall for it.”

– Springfield Falcons forward Ryan Stone

“It’s still a shock.”

– Springfield Falcons forward Rob Schremp

“Truitt was well-liked by his players, coaching staff, the media and the team's staff. But in a results-oriented business, the Falcons weren't producing.”

– Springfield reporter Frank Sypek

“ [Ryan] O'Marra described Truitt as a player's coach and made it clear that even though the team has struggled mightily for the last couple of months, there was no dissention and that the coach had not lost the room.”

– Edmonton reporter Guy Flaming

“I asked Reddox if it was fair to say that Truitt was indeed liked by everyone and that he felt the Falcons coach was 'a player's coach'. Reddox echoed what O'Marra had told me in that Truitt had the respect of all of the players and that the team was taking responsibility for the poor play upon themselves rather than looking to pass blame to the coaches.”

Where am I going with this? There’s a popular notion that Craig MacTavish has “lost the room” in Edmonton; that players are tuning him out and aren’t willing to try for him.

I don’t spend time in that dressing room, but I haven’t read anything from the reporters who do to indicate that this theory is at all accurate. There’s the odd quote that is mildly critical of MacTavish (Hemsky’s quote yesterday being a good example), but no frequent grumbling.

When asked why they fell MacTavish has lost the room, the common answer I get from proponents of this theory is “look at their record this season” or “do you think they’re playing to potential?”

This is my response. The Falcons have been miserable this season; far worse than the Oilers. Players like Stone, Schremp, O’Marra and Sestito haven’t exactly had banner years, yet they praised the coach despite his firing. In short: a team’s record does not necessarily show how much they like or respect their coach.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Word
March 24 2009, 02:14PM
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You just had to put a picture of Cole up there to ruin Wanye's day huh?

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#2 Word
March 24 2009, 02:18PM
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Word wrote:

In short: a team’s record does not necessarily show how much they like or respect their coach.

Also known as:

"Hockey players aren't known for insightful commentary."

I'm surprised nobody said that "Truitt, y'know, uh, went out there, and uh, just gotta play the game, y'know, and uh, he gave 110%. Helluva coach. But y'know, we uh, just gotta move forward, and uh, take it one game at a time. Just nice to get a win."

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#3 Ogden Brother
March 24 2009, 02:20PM
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Scapegoat excuse for fans that have overated their players. Plain and simple.

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#4 Jonathan Willis
March 24 2009, 02:21PM
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@ Word:

I've never seen a word otherwise; even a hint of an indication from anyone in Springfiled/Edmonton that any of the players had a problem with Truitt even off the record.

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#5 Dennis
March 24 2009, 02:23PM
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For all the gnashing of teeth over MacT's '09 performance - and I've contributed to that since the loss in Mtl - he'd be under much less scrutiny if even say just the PK wasn't weapons-grade ugly.

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#6 Word
March 24 2009, 02:26PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

No, and I agree with you. Truitt wasn't even there long enough to truly work up a large degree of disdain anyway.

I just don't think that in hockey culture you can take most player comments with any more than a grain of salt. The only comment above that shows an actual understanding of the business of hockey is Schremp's.

It goes to show why sudden a outburst like the one from Hemsky can cause such an uproar. When a player loses their cool enough to accidentally let the media and fans into the real dressing room, we pounce. The rest of the time it's just 110%, one game at a time.

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#7 humantorch
March 24 2009, 02:28PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

What about the anonymous Oilers' player who was quoted earlier this season as saying "maybe a trade, then the coach?" (obviously I'm paraphrasing, as I don't have the exact quote in front of me). How do you interpret that?

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#8 baggedmilk
March 24 2009, 02:30PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

don’t spend time in that dressing room, but I haven’t read anything from the reporters who do to indicate that this theory is at all accurate.

I guess you didn't read Spector's article on Sportsnet a while ago with a quote from an unnamed veteran that said a change would be good.

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#9 Chaz
March 24 2009, 02:30PM
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I agree with this your article JW, but I also don't think an organization needs to wait until a coach "loses the room" before making a personnel change behind the bench. All of the Ottawa Senators, to a man, deflected blame from Hartsburg after he was canned, but they are still playing way better and getting more wins under Clouston. I'm not saying a new coach will always improve performance of a team, but you'll never know until you try. Sometimes it takes a new vision / direction to tap into the true potential of a team, and it seems that a lot of the supporters of this team are ready for such a change.

That being said, I think it's best to let Mac T ride out the season, then make a change. I think he deserves at least that.

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#10 Jonathan Willis
March 24 2009, 02:30PM
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Word wrote:

It goes to show why sudden a outburst like the one from Hemsky can cause such an uproar. When a player loses their cool enough to accidentally let the media and fans into the real dressing room, we pounce. The rest of the time it’s just 110%, one game at a time.

True enough. It seems that every time a player speaks his mind it's blown out of proportion.

Sometimes I don't like my boss. He's actually a very good boss, but he bugs me enough occasionally that I'll make a snide comment.

Can't do that as a hockey player.

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#11 Xavier
March 24 2009, 02:32PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

I'm guessing that you've never played hockey a day in your life. Using stats to explain everything is useless considering the majority of players have no idea what a Corsi number is. If you think that players like Brodziak and Penner or those that have been thrown under the bus in the media still have respect for MacTavish, you're crazy.

@ baggedmilk:

I read that article as well, and I was going to bring that exact same thing up.

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#12 Jonathan Willis
March 24 2009, 02:33PM
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@ humantorch: @ baggedmilk:

I read that article too, and I was curious as to who it was (my money's still on Cole, btw).

I think it could be interpreted a number of different ways, but the best interpretation is probably the simplest (i.e Occam's Razor): when a team is struggling, the GM generally tries to shake things up via trade, and if it continues by firing the coach.

If you'd have asked me what the Oilers would do had they really struggled this year (say, in 9th or 10th right now) I'd have given that answer. It shows awareness; not necessarily hatred.

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#13 Jonathan Willis
March 24 2009, 02:34PM
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Xavier wrote:

I’m guessing that you’ve never played hockey a day in your life. Using stats to explain everything is useless considering the majority of players have no idea what a Corsi number is.

Show me one stat I used in the article above. Please, just one. And if there aren't any, please explain why your comment has any relevance to this discussion.

And for the record, I've played plenty of hockey.

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#14 Jonathan Willis
March 24 2009, 02:36PM
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Chaz wrote:

I agree with this your article JW, but I also don’t think an organization needs to wait until a coach “loses the room” before making a personnel change behind the bench.

I completely agree. In point of fact, I've argued that MacTavish should be fired, an argument that I think still stands.

I think that "MacTavish should be fired because..." is fine, but "MacTavish should be fired because he lost the room" is baseless.

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#15 Jonathan Willis
March 24 2009, 02:37PM
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Xavier wrote:

If you think that players like Brodziak and Penner or those that have been thrown under the bus in the media still have respect for MacTavish, you’re crazy.

Do you remember Dan Cleary? Look him up some time; both what MacTavish said about him (the organization bought him out, btw), and what he's said about MacTavish since.

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#16 george
March 24 2009, 02:38PM
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Here's a solution to the Oilers' woes. If Edmonton's performance over the past - say - seven seasons has been sub par to par save for 2006 when they came within a period of hoisting Lord Stanley's mug than why not try a new coach. If the same old same old is surely not working, then a change in coaching can only mean one thing: better results. Give it a try boys. It just might work.

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#17 Jonathan Willis
March 24 2009, 02:39PM
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Xavier wrote:

I’m guessing that you’ve never played hockey a day in your life. Using stats to explain everything is useless considering the majority of players have no idea what a Corsi number is.

~I'm guessing that your parents are cousins. How else can I explain your attack on statistics when I never even used any ?~

See what fun we can have with assumptions?

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#18 baggedmilk
March 24 2009, 02:45PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

If you’d have asked me what the Oilers would do had they really struggled this year (say, in 9th or 10th right now) I’d have given that answer.

The problem is that we're a couple straight losses away from 9th or 10th place. We're too far up against the cap to have a finish in 9th be acceptable this year. Although that's Lowe's fault and not MacT's. Personally I think Tambellini has a big mess to fix with what Kevin Lowe has done with the contracts on this team. Hemsky's excluded of course. At some point though, the coach has to be accountable for the performance of the team.

IMO it could have been one of the goalie's at the time. Roli probably wasn't too happy and neither was Garon. Tossing that out there although I really have no idea.

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#19 humantorch
March 24 2009, 02:46PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ humantorch: @ baggedmilk: I read that article too, and I was curious as to who it was (my money’s still on Cole, btw). I think it could be interpreted a number of different ways, but the best interpretation is probably the simplest (i.e Occam’s Razor): when a team is struggling, the GM generally tries to shake things up via trade, and if it continues by firing the coach. If you’d have asked me what the Oilers would do had they really struggled this year (say, in 9th or 10th right now) I’d have given that answer. It shows awareness; not necessarily hatred.

Fair points, can't say I really disagree.

You really think Cole, though? Seems like an odd thing for someone so new to the organization to say. Having said that, I've got no idea who it COULD have been, so Cole is as good a guess as any.

(Sorry, kind of off-topic from the original post.)

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#20 Archaeologuy
March 24 2009, 02:47PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

~I’m guessing that your parents are cousins. How else can I explain your attack on statistics when I never even used any?~

ZING! Though my 0 average in Math 20P would suggest a dislike for stats, when theyre wielded in the right context they put quite the stamp on a good argument. Willis, you make stats cool, even though an online Willictionary would be usefull.

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#21 Chaz
March 24 2009, 02:48PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: True that.

While we're picking on him, here are some tangible reasons why this team may need to start looking for a new coach:

-terrible special teams all year long. These are very coachable aspects of the game. -Throwing players into unfamilar roles at inopportune times: IE: Having O'Sullivan and Kotalik playing 4 on 4 during the first period of their first game with the Oil seemed reckless to me. -Mismanagement of his backup. Mac T publically promised JDD a start on the 4 game road trip in Feb. They won the first two games of the trip, and then Mac T changed his mind and still didn't get him in for a game. -Poor starts to games and lack of 60 minute efforts all season long. Is this the coach's fault, or the players? A lot of people say it's the players, but if most of the room is bad on most of the nights then one must look at the coach and / or mangement. -Playing people out of position. Considering none of these experiments have been successful (Cole, Smid, Kotalik, Pisani, Reddox on the 1st line) I can't understand why he keeps making these moves.

I have got to get a hobby...

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#22 Jonathan Willis
March 24 2009, 02:51PM
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humantorch wrote:

You really think Cole, though?

I can't take the credit for it. David Staples said something (I'm paraphrasing here) like this: "Journalism 101: See who else was quoted in the article."

The only player quoted was Cole.

It's just a guess; I have nothing more substantial to back it.

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#23 Jonathan Willis
March 24 2009, 02:52PM
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@ Chaz:

I have some minor quibbles with your list, but on the whole I agree; Craig MacTavish should not coach this team another season.

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#24 Word
March 24 2009, 03:10PM
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Xavier wrote:

@ Jonathan Willis: I’m guessing that you’ve never played hockey a day in your life. Using stats to explain everything is useless considering the majority of players have no idea what a Corsi number is. If you think that players like Brodziak and Penner or those that have been thrown under the bus in the media still have respect for MacTavish, you’re crazy. @ baggedmilk: I read that article as well, and I was going to bring that exact same thing up.

Did Willis sleep with your girlfriend or something?

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#25 King Mob
March 24 2009, 03:20PM
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The Jack Adams should be renamed the Craig MacTavish for all the garbage he's had to put up from the "fans" this season.

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#26 baggedmilk
March 24 2009, 03:25PM
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King Mob wrote:

The Jack Adams should be renamed the Craig MacTavish for all the garbage he’s had to put up from the “fans” this season.

A fan since the cup run I'm guessing?

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#27 Archaeologuy
March 24 2009, 03:45PM
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King Mob wrote:

The Jack Adams should be renamed the Craig MacTavish for all the garbage he’s had to put up from the “fans” this season.

I didnt realize they were changing the Jack Adams award to go to the coach who keeps his mouth open the most in a season.

please go on about "fans", I'd like to know what it takes to be a real fan.

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#28 Ender the Dragon
March 24 2009, 03:57PM
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I absolutely hate the fact that all MacT haters have jumped on these comments from Hemsky as some sort of jubilant proof that the coach is Stalin back from the dead.

MacTavish is not the best coach in the NHL. If we can all accept and agree on that point, then let's move on, shall we?

Jonathan Willis wrote:

Craig MacTavish should not coach this team another season.

I will endorse this statement with a giant IF; Craig MacTavish should not coach this team another season IF an even better coach is available.

Firing someone because they are not the best at what they do makes no sense. That's about as logical as arguing that Hemsky should be released because he's not on pace to win the Rocket Richard trophy this year.

Has MacT done some boneheaded things this year? Pretty hard not to say yes. Has he done some questionable things that maybe had quite sound reasons behind them that the average fan didn't understand? Almost definitely. Has he tried some brilliant things that no one sang his praises for because although they made they Oilers better, that's his job? Yeah, that too.

MacT's doing a job, just like you and me. He does it the best he knows how, and some days it works out and some days it doesn't. On top of that, he gets credit for nothing and blamed for everything. The biggest difference between MacT and the rest of us is that a half-million people don't sit in judgement of the job you're doing today; if they did, they might find that you could have done something better as well. Wouldn't it be nice if they all wrote to your boss every day regarding what he ought to do about you?

He's not going to win the Jack Adams. Justice will prevail. Go ahead and scout for someone better in the off-season, and good hunting. But this mob mentality of FMNF and to hell with the consequences; when we end up with Skippy-the-Wonder-Bunny at the helm next year, I wonder how many people will sit back and reflect on what the word 'reactionary' means.

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#29 Archaeologuy
March 24 2009, 04:10PM
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@ Ender the Dragon: I'd rather be reactionary than non-responsive. If your goal is to be the best and you know your coach isnt even close to being the best then why keep him around? You're very worried about hiring some lame duck Skippy the wonder bunny coach. Well dont look now, cuz he's already coaching the team. Maybe MacT is SO forward thinking that he's unappreciated in his own time, maybe just like G. W. Bush history will judge him. Somehow though, I dont think so. (i would be interested in knowing those brilliant things you talk about)

by the way, i dont think that taking 8 years to make a decision on MacT is reactionary, but maybe i just havent reflected long enough about what the word means.

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#30 Deans
March 24 2009, 04:15PM
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I would agrue that losing the room has nothing to do w/ how much the players like or dislike the coach. Look back at Ron Lowe's tenior here in Edmonton. Near the end of the R.Lowe era the team lacked focus, intesity and direction (I.M.O.). I'm not saying that Truitt lost the room in a similar way (I dont follow the team). What I am saying is that players coaches can 'lose the room', it just presents itself differently then when a hardnosed coach 'loses the room'(see also: Mike Keenan after two seasons).

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#31 King Mob
March 24 2009, 04:18PM
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@ baggedmilk:

we had a cup run?

Archaeologuy wrote:

please go on about “fans”, I’d like to know what it takes to be a real fan.

stop scapegoating the Oiler who shows up every practice to work and every game to win. That'd be a good start.

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#32 King Mob
March 24 2009, 04:22PM
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@ Deans:

that's a really good point.

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#33 Deans
March 24 2009, 04:26PM
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Re: Mac-T debate I think that if the Oilers dont make it past the second round MacT will quit. He might quit even if they make the conference finals (BTW I dont think this will happen). I really would be shocked if he is back next year, so the Mact haters just need to calm down and wait for the inevitable sword to fall. MacTezzy is a pretty good coach but the oilers need some fresh ideas. On a side note, I guarantee everyone will miss his press conferences.

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#34 Word
March 24 2009, 04:27PM
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Deans wrote:

Re: Mac-T debate I think that if the Oilers dont make it past the second round MacT will quit. He might quit even if they make the conference finals (BTW I dont think this will happen). I really would be shocked if he is back next year, so the Mact haters just need to calm down and wait for the inevitable sword to fall. MacTezzy is a pretty good coach but the oilers need some fresh ideas. On a side note, I guarantee everyone will miss his press conferences.

Very true.

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#35 Chris
March 24 2009, 04:37PM
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Ender the Dragon wrote:

I wonder how many people will sit back and reflect on what the word ‘reactionary’ means.

Reactionary (also reactionist) referrs to any movement or ideology that opposes change or progress...

*Irony DEFINED*

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#36 Ender the Dragon
March 24 2009, 04:39PM
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@ Archaeologuy:

So your argument, then (just to be sure I have it right), is that after 8 years you have decided that no one else could possibly be worse. I just want to get you on record now, so that we can talk about this again next November.

And how's this for lousy; MacT is a lifetime .541 behind the bench during 8 regular seasons and a .567 lifetime in the post season. He even actually had a losing season once, where he posted a .433 in 06-07 (eleven roster players injured at the same time is no excuse). Seven seasons where he won and finished as high as .590; that has 'Fire Me' written all over it. Now that I reflect on it, I can see why we'd want to bring in Sean Avery to coach next year ahead of this MacTavish clown.

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#37 Ender the Dragon
March 24 2009, 04:46PM
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@ Chris:

I was thinking more along the lines of:

relating to, marked by, or favoring reaction

Still, after verifying your definition . . .

[makes wry face, offers grudging hat tip]

I salute your wit, if not your ideas.

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#38 mjsh
March 24 2009, 04:59PM
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Ender the Dragon wrote:

@ Archaeologuy: So your argument, then (just to be sure I have it right), is that after 8 years you have decided that no one else could possibly be worse. I just want to get you on record now, so that we can talk about this again next November. And how’s this for lousy; MacT is a lifetime .541 behind the bench during 8 regular seasons and a .567 lifetime in the post season. He even actually had a losing season once, where he posted a .433 in 06-07 (eleven roster players injured at the same time is no excuse). Seven seasons where he won and finished as high as .590; that has ‘Fire Me’ written all over it. Now that I reflect on it, I can see why we’d want to bring in Sean Avery to coach next year ahead of this MacTavish clown.

Nice.

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#39 Jonathan Willis
March 24 2009, 06:21PM
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And of course Ender is right that whoever is tapped to replace MacTavish needs to be suitably qualified.

Just as one wildly improbable example, if Kelly Buchburger replaces him my head may explode.

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#40 Archaeologuy
March 24 2009, 07:28PM
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King Mob wrote:

stop scapegoating the Oiler who shows up every practice to work and every game to win. That’d be a good start.

What are you talking about?

@ Ender the Dragon: ~Wow, youre logic is so crisp and undeniable~. You cant possibly expect me to look at missing the playoffs 4 of 8 years and say he did well? I dont care what his winning percentage is, show me results. What is his average placement in the West? His winning percentage is completely meaningless.

Also, MacT has won 298 games in 646 games for a 0.461 winning average, not 0.541.

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#41 Jon K
March 25 2009, 01:53AM
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If you never have reason to complain about your boss, he's probably not doing a very good job.

I take that view, especially in minor league hockey.

As such, I find it suspicious when all the players are on board with the coach, despite an atrocious lack of success for their team or themselves personally as players.

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#42 Abdullah the Butcher
March 25 2009, 07:11AM
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This whole discussion is moot.

The writing is on the wall. MacTavish will be gone at the end of the season.

Whether he has the room or not you know that his days are numbered and the management are letting him mercifully save face and finish the season.

Pick on MacT all you want. Kick him while him and the team are down because you only have a few more weeks to do it.

We need a new poll on the front page of ON. Bucky or Semenko as new head coach?

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#43 Librarian Mike
March 25 2009, 07:25AM
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Abdullah the Butcher wrote:

We need a new poll on the front page of ON. Bucky or Semenko as new head coach?

And the sad truth is that it likely will be between those two as our next coach.

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#44 Digger12
March 25 2009, 08:02AM
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Jon K wrote:

As such, I find it suspicious when all the players are on board with the coach, despite an atrocious lack of success for their team or themselves personally as players.

Agreed...I've seen it too many times over the years where a coach gets canned after his team woefully underperforms, and his former players, nearly without exception, throw flowers on his grave and wax poetic about how this wasn't his fault.

I wonder what they'd say about Truitt if they were talking to somebody who wasn't part of the media.

In other words, don't expect 100% honesty from a player if his quotes have a chance of coming back to bite him on the keister, especially when he's in a vulnerable position like the minor leagues and his chances of an NHL career are on the front burner of his mind.

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#45 yo
March 25 2009, 09:14AM
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Jonathan - Whether the Oilers like the coach or not, his results for the past 8 seasons are an issue. It's almost a non-factor whether they like him or not. People argue ad nauseum on why his judgements are suspect. MacT is not showing any markedly improved results with this team. He has had umpteen jillion players come through Edmonton and are you suggesting they all were pylons. Are you suggesting coaching is not an issue? I have yet to hear any player not take the blame for any coaches firing in any sport. Empty words.

My 1985 Hyundai sucked. It doesn't matter to me how smart the engineer was who designed it. Results are everything. MacT's popularity with the players is not the issue but performance sure is. KLowe is the only reason he has been allowed to continue to founder here as we reach for our wallets.

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#46 rindog
March 25 2009, 11:29AM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

I don't know how many times this has been mentioned (I've said to Gregor many times)....

Do you really think that players are going to say anything negative about their coach while he is still in charge?

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#47 Jonathan Willis
March 25 2009, 12:44PM
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rindog wrote:

Do you really think that players are going to say anything negative about their coach while he is still in charge?

Not really, but I think the burden of proof lies on the guys advancing a theory, not the folks debunking it. In other words, while a lack of evidence is not an evidence of lack, it isn't evidence of anything else either.

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#48 Marcello
April 22 2009, 06:42PM
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