The Blame Game

Jonathan Willis
April 01 2009 11:23AM

lowe-tambellini

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you place the blame.”

- Oscar Wilde

With the Oilers all but eliminated from the playoffs, Craig MacTavish took a chance last night. Down a single goal in a must-win game, he asked for a measurement on Teemu Selanne’s stick, a decision which backfired when it turned out that Selanne’s stick was legal. Ducks players were surprised; Bobby Ryan said that they “got lucky”, while Scott Niedermayer suggested that Selanne had a chance before the game to switch to a legal stick.

It doesn’t much matter now. MacTavish was wrong, and he took the blame for it afterwards – calling the decision a “terrible mistake” and saying that he felt his choice sabotaged what looked like a terrific comeback. That’s as it should be, of course, but that willingness to accept responsibility contrasts in an ugly way with Ethan Moreau’s post game comments.

“A lot of that game we played really well. I thought we were physical, we stood up for one another. There were some good hits, good fights and we went to the net harder in the third period and created some offense. There’s going to be games where we have to get four or five goals to help Roli out, and we haven’t found that offensive output yet.”

He expanded on that with Dan Tencer later in the evening; Tencer mentioned special teams and again Moreau said that they couldn’t score when they needed to.

It’s interesting to me that a guy like Moreau (who plays a major role on the penalty kill, and doesn’t play at all on the powerplay) would point a finger at offensive production on a night where powerplay production matched the penalty kill’s ineptitude. The Oilers went 1-for-4 on both the penalty kill and the powerplay. 25% is a fine rate for man advantage production (it would be second in the league over the course of an entire season) but it’s an awful number for the penalty-kill to be lugging around.

It’s especially ugly when you consider that it was Ethan Moreau who made the decision to creep out to the point and double-team Ryan Getzlaf; a decision that left the man he was covering (Scott Niedermayer) alone in the slot. Niedermayer then scored the first of three Ducks’ powerplay goals on the night. Given that it has been the penalty kill, more than any other single factor that has sunk the Oilers this season (and sunk them again last night) it comes across as self-serving for the team captain (a defensive specialist) to blame the offense on the night of a 5-3 loss.

There’s no doubt that Craig MacTavish bears much of the blame for problems this season. He’s likely to pay for that with his job, and if he holds true to form he’ll publicly claim responsibility for a poor season. Individual players deserve some of the blame, and that includes the captain, even if he is unlikely he is to admit it. Still, none of those targets should hold the final responsibility if (likely when) the Oilers miss the playoffs.

It was Kevin Lowe who decided this summer that the Oilers only needed one veteran centre on the team. It was Kevin Lowe who traded away key members of the penalty-killing unit without bothering to replace them. For that matter, while Craig MacTavish is frequently blamed for years of low achievement, it has been Kevin Lowe who assembled those teams from the G.M.’s office.

Steve Tambellini was brought in this summer after Lowe’s promotion. Whether the blame should fall to him or to Lowe is impossible to say from this vantage point, but between the two of them they decided not to address the penalty-kill all season long. They decided not to bring in another veteran centre; leaving Shawn Horcoff to play far too many minutes and take nearly every critical faceoff. They decided to invest a second-round pick in Ales Kotalik; a powerplay and shootout specialist who has helped the team but who is not only likely to depart this summer, but who never could be the answer to the Oilers’ biggest problems in the first place.

The problems with this team may not stop with the two men making the decisions, but there’s no doubt that they start there.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, 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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#51 Reggie
April 01 2009, 04:17PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Jack “FMNF” Bauer: Corson seems to be the consensus, and for good reason.

Let's start with his trying to get the official scorer to award an assist to him [Corson] instead of another Oiler resulting in having his captaincy stripped from him.

[correct my memory here if anyone has a better memory of the episode]

A sad moment.

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#52 Pinto
April 01 2009, 04:28PM
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Mike Krushelnyski wrote:

MattL wrote: Let me guess, you want them to hire a top-notch coach to replace MacT by treating MacT with zero respect? A coach can still “resign” on someone else’s terms, ask Tom Higgins… How is firing a coach on an underacheiving team “treating him with zero respect”? How many orginizations have never fired a coach?

Easy Answer Nashville Predators Minnesota Wild

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#53 Andrew W
April 01 2009, 04:31PM
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Touche, Pinto.

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#54 Jonathan Willis
April 01 2009, 05:01PM
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The Menace wrote:

@ Jonathan Willis: Jonathan - you’ve said a couple of times that you don’t think Kotalik will sign here. Is that a hunch, or have you heard something? Doesn’t he like being around other Ales’s?

With Visnovsky coming back next year, Kotalik's spot on the powerplay point will be gone. Since he's a powerplay specialist, it would make little sense for the Oilers to pursue him.

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#55 Jack "FMNF" Bauer
April 01 2009, 05:04PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

He could always take a wing spot on the 3rd line. This team could always use another 15-20 goal scorer. Plus who knows how the power play will look next year under our new coach.

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#56 The Menace
April 01 2009, 05:11PM
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@ Jack "FMNF" Bauer: To me, I liked how he was starting to fit in on the line with Gagner and Nillson. He was showing some prowess that I don't think was there in BUF.

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#57 DK0
April 01 2009, 05:25PM
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I really like Kotalik as well. Maybe he had the benefit of an overzealous hit counter in Buffalo but i remember one of the announcers last night saying he has the 2nd most hits on the team behind Moreau. I'm not saying he was doing any JFJ + Stortini manwich's in the corner, but he sure finishes alot more checks then Penner does.

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#58 zagreb
April 01 2009, 05:38PM
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I dunno about messing with cogs position, his speed is better served when he has more room to work with. And offensively he has been the best centre, easily. Ideally it would be 89 who moves to the wing and like DKO said maybe he could take draws, sadly, its an improvement

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#59 AlBundy
April 01 2009, 06:13PM
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Boys and Sandra, I remember when the Oil were winning the Cups, I was in Banff for the final game, it was on a weekend. The girlfriend advised me it was either her or the Flyers the night the Oil won the cup. I told her see ya and went out and had a great time in downtown Banff with all the tourists, should we say. Girlfriend left town on the hound and never seen her again. I wish I could same the same thing about KLOWE. See ya never again.

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#60 BarryS
April 01 2009, 08:06PM
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Get used to it folks, the new breed of players comes from the "self esteem" generation and every team will have more inconsistent period to period not knowing what you'll get periods. All those great players from small towns who had to earn their self esteem and weren't praised by mom and dad just for showing up at the rink are a thing of the past. I know I sound like an old fart lost in yesterdays glory, but I see very few really hard nosed guys coming into the league the last few years. Mostly what we get are parameter guys or cherry pickers lolling at the blue line waiting for break out passes. What passes for hard nosed and tough these days are mainly cheap shot, hit from behind artists. Once you sign for your multi-million, multi-year guaranteed contract, you get paid no matter how you play and at the end, you're set even if you don't get another contract. As for good coaches, by definition the good ones are working. Any coach we get will be a newby stepping up a level and just like a draft pick, will be a fifty fifty proposition. Coaches nowadays seem to need to be playschool teachers constantly struggling to keep their players focused on the game,

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#61 firemactandkloweallready!
April 01 2009, 08:19PM
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Lets just hope Katz is listening to what the fan base is saying,If not we will all be complaing again next year come April.

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#62 beedouble-R-You-In?
April 01 2009, 08:30PM
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@ Rice:

Let's wind the clock back to 2006 when the Oilers got to game 7 of the Cup Finals. We had a pretty stellar team made up of the right mix of veterans and youth. Pronger, Spacek and Jason Smith on the back end. Up front we had a group of forwards who had career years, young fast and skilled with the right mix of veterans. Somehow MacT managed to limp that team into the post season. I can't go back on what I said on my last post.

I'm too frustrated and have zero confidence in this team under MacT. Either he uses the wrong guys in the wrong situations and has a hard on for longshots. Out of all his career 4th line players with heart he loves to play we got Brodziak, Horcoff and Pisani giving it on a nightly basis. Out of necessity he played the young guys last year and they ran with it. I just don't know with this team anymore, I think the way they start their games is a reflection on a guy who can't get his team properly fired up for anything.

I personally think MacT is a nice guy and sets forward an attitude that is easy to like. Maybe that's the weakness in his happy go lucky attitude and the players don't respond or want to play for a guy who seems to be as dangerous as a bag of pillows. I have ideas what they need and what they should do, but thats one opinion out of a thousand from probably that many frustrated Oiler fans like me. I don't wanna see guys like Gagner getting turned into a penalty killer. We have the skill we need the toughness, the balls, the leadership and most importantly someone to f'in show them what to do. ie: COACHING!

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#63 Jonathan Willis
April 01 2009, 09:06PM
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beedouble-R-You-In? wrote:

I don’t wanna see guys like Gagner getting turned into a penalty killer.

I've been critical of a lot of moves this year, but that one was a purely developmental one IMO. It's going to help the kid long-term on his defensive zone awareness if he can play in that situation, and I'm sure that's what MacT was going for.

Not going to win the team any games right now, but it should pay-off in the future.

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#64 blackadder
April 01 2009, 09:43PM
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@ beedouble-R-You-In?:

I'm not a huge fan of MacT's work this year, and I'm not opposed to bringing in a new coach, but I think MacT is getting too much blame for this year, and not enuff credit for what he's done for the past seven years. I don't think it's a stretch to say that over MacT's tenure the team performed at a level higher than the talent would suggest it would. And there hasn't been an Oiler team since the lockout that didn't have at least one glaring weakness MacT had to overcome. In 2006 it was goaltending, until Roloson arrived. In 2007, we had no defence. In 2008, no scoring. This year, as Willis noted, we got rid of half of our PK core and a couple of key veterans that were never replaced. Up until this season, one of the strengths of the Oilers was their preparation and their work ethic. I think the way the Oilers played this year speaks as much to the players, who shouldn't need to be inspired by a coach to play hard at this time of year and with this much at stake, than the coaching.

I'm not gonna say that this has been a stellar year for MacT, he's been part of the problem not part of the solution. Still, this can't all be thrown at MacT's feet.

This season, probably the most frustrating I can remember, was truly a group effort.

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#65 the Menace (mobile)
April 01 2009, 10:53PM
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@ BarryS: I don't think it's fair to say that by definition the best coaches are all working. I would say there are more than 30 good coaches in the world.

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#66 esa tikkanen
April 01 2009, 10:56PM
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i think jonathan nailed it on the head, that penalty killing has been the team's single biggest problem. a similar problem the oilers have had this year is the way the play whenthey have the lead. when the game is tied or they are behind, they play with passion and intensity. when they have the lead, they go into a shell , sit back and try to protect the lead. this killed them in the Detroit loss last week and in the OT loss in Montreal a few weeks ago, as well as the OT loss to Nashville a few weeks ago. It almost cost them the Anaheim game in Anaheim on Sunday too. The point I think Jonathan and Lowetide made 3-4 months ago is that it is not that hard to bring in a veteran center or defensive penalty killer. finding scorers is difficult. there are not that many of them and they cost a lot of money, and a lot of players or draft picks. how much would it have cost the Oilers to get Marty Reasoner and Marek Malik at the trade deadline or better yet three weeks earlier? a 6th round pick for each of them? or maybe one of the prospects on the farm who will never pan out like Goulet or Trukhno or O'marra? And while we are at it, one topic that has not been discussed much is the trading of Raffi Torres for Gilbert Brule. Now I know Torres was a popular whipping boy here but at least he was a legitimate NHL player with speed, toughness and grit. His offensive contribution was streaky, but when he did not score he was an effective defensive player, he had speed and toughness and a mean streak. When he did score he was like a lesser version of Jarome Iginla with speed, toughness, good in tight and very good in shoot outs.

I look at the team the Oilers had believe it or not only two years ago. All the frigging trades and moves are they any better off? What if they had just kept Ryan Smyth, is Nilson, O'Marra and Plante any better?? THen they spend that money on Penner. Who would you rather have, Smyth and the picks we gave up for Penner, or Penner, Nilsson, O'Marra and Plante... How about Stoll and Greene for Visnovsky? What is the point? We already have three offensive defenceman who cannot kill a penalty! If the Oilers' third line was Stoll, Torres and Pisani this year with Brodziak, Morea and Stortini on the third line isn't that a much better bottom six? I am not even going to go to the Glencross screw up.

I guess my point is, despite Mctavish's quirks, I think Lowe is much more to blame. He has made so many inane player moves, sometimes it seems just for the sake of doing something. then this year when it became so obvious at the 25 game mark that they could not hold a lead and could not kill a penalty, that they needed some veteran help, they did nothing when every observant fan recognized the clear need...

so where now? well if they win 5 in a row they make the playoffs . LOL. but seriously, they need to get bigger. they need to trade Nilsson and Pouliot for a legitimate third line center who can win faceoffs, fight and kill penalties. whether or not that guy gets points is less important. they need to trade Gilbert Or Grebs or Vish for a legitimate top 6 power winger. they need to sign a big tough mean dman who can kill penalties and be a number 3-4. a 28 year old Jason Smith if there is one.

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#67 Antony Ta
April 01 2009, 11:04PM
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We need Sgt. Gunnery Hartman to coach the Oilers.

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#68 Antony Ta
April 01 2009, 11:05PM
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TAGNCEHM6g

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#69 Antony Ta
April 01 2009, 11:08PM
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68Yv2NPAJ_w

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#70 deepoil
April 02 2009, 08:32AM
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firemactandkloweallready! wrote:

Lets just hope Katz is listening to what the fan base is saying,If not we will all be complaing again next year come April.

LAUGHS FALLING OFF CHAIR

LOOK AT TAMBO AND lOWE IN THE PHOTO - ONE IS ENGAGED - ONE IS DUMBFOUNDED

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#71 Homie
April 02 2009, 08:51AM
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esa tikkanen wrote:

how much would it have cost the Oilers to get Marty Reasoner and Marek Malik at the trade deadline or better yet three weeks earlier? a 6th round pick for each of them? or maybe one of the prospects on the farm who will never pan out like Goulet or Trukhno or O’marra? And while we are at it, one topic that has not been discussed much is the trading of Raffi Torres for Gilbert Brule. Now I know Torres was a popular whipping boy here but at least he was a legitimate NHL player with speed, toughness and grit. His offensive contribution was streaky, but when he did not score he was an effective defensive player, he had speed and toughness and a mean streak. When he did score he was like a lesser version of Jarome Iginla with speed, toughness, good in tight and very good in shoot outs. I look at the team the Oilers had believe it or not only two years ago. All the frigging trades and moves are they any better off? What if they had just kept Ryan Smyth, is Nilson, O’Marra and Plante any better?? THen they spend that money on Penner. Who would you rather have, Smyth and the picks we gave up for Penner, or Penner, Nilsson, O’Marra and Plante… How about Stoll and Greene for Visnovsky? What is the point? We already have three offensive defenceman who cannot kill a penalty! If the Oilers’ third line was Stoll, Torres and Pisani this year with Brodziak, Morea and Stortini on the third line isn’t that a much better bottom six? I am not even going to go to the Glencross screw up.

Now, I agree that Lowe is probably the biggest part of the problem the Oilers face, but why do people think that Reasoner or Torres could be a solution to any problem?? I realize Marty can win draws, but that's all he can do. He was taking up a spot on the roster that could be better used to develop a young player like Brodziak. Is Brodziak as effective as Reasoner in every aspect? Obviously not, but he is bigger, faster and younger - he can improve, whereas Reasoner is winding up a pretty decent career.

And Torres???? How the hell can anyone say with a straight face that he was an effective defensive player?? He was, without question, the worst defensive player on the Oilers during his last two years here. He would show up every 10 games or so to tease the fans with a rare combination of toughness and skill, but it happened too few times. I don't think I've ever seen a player give away the puck so many times from his own blueline and through the neutral zone. He was the forward equivalent of Marc Andre Bergeron. He has all the tools, but no toolbox.

I agree that the Oilers miss Stoll more than I thought they would, but have you noticed how Hemsky performs without Lubo? The guy is a premier puck moving defenseman and I think if he wasn't hurt, the Oil are comfortably in the playoffs. There are only a handful of those kind of defenseman in the league and the Oilers are fortunate to have one.

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#72 esa tikkanen
April 02 2009, 03:00PM
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Torres was a plus player on a minus team here every year except 2007 when they lost 20 games in a row to end the season. I cannot remember him being a liability at all. He won battles and got the puck out of his own zone better than many of the midgets playing for the oilers this year. He scored the biggest goal in recent franchise history against san Jose in the third period of game three with the Oilers down 1-0 he tied the game. He knocked Michalek unconscious and put him out of the series, did the same thing to a player in Detroit. On this small team that refuses to hit he is more of an nhl player than Brule, and if Brule ever makes it here, it will be because we had to ship out one of the other smurfs up front. In addition, every once in a while he went on a scoring streak and got a ton of goals when the Oilers needed them, like he is doing now for Columbus...

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