Calling Out Players In The Media

Jonathan Willis
April 18 2009 04:52PM

Dustin Penner

One of the more controversial weapons in Craig MacTavish’s arsenal this past season has been his willingness to call players out in the media. Robert Nilsson, Kyle Brodziak, Marc Pouliot but especially Dustin Penner were criticized in front of reporters by the coach, and for many fans that crossed a line, regardless of how much those players may have earned the criticism.

In fact, it crossed a line that MacTavish himself had rarely crossed in the past. From David Staples brilliant profile of the ex-Oilers coach comes this tidbit on the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals run:

Before the playoffs, MacTavish and his assistants set the stage. First, they made a pact that they would keep things positive with the players, pushing them hard to stick to the game plan, but never criticizing them in public.

That’s one of the big reasons why MacTavish’s public comments, particularly his public comments on Dustin Penner, worried me so much. MacTavish has always seemed to make an effort not to be overly critical of his players to the media, and his departure from that stance early in the season bothered me because it seemed to indicate that MacTavish was reaching a certain level of desperation.

From other coaches, such tactics wouldn’t have been surprising at all. Scotty Bowman, for example, often used the media as a motivational tool. As an example, here are comments that Bowman made on Pete Mahovlich during the 1976/77 season:

“I don’t think he’ll play next year… He says he’s not playing enough, but we’ve got three centres, Jacques Lemaire, Doug Risebrough and Doug Jarvis, all playing well most of the time. His record is the poorest of any forward on the team. Nobody on the team has been on the ice for more goals against than he had. You couldn’t say that he has been having a good year.”

But such an exercise, while not a surprise from a coach like Bowman (or his protégé, Mike Keenan) that exercise was a surprise coming from MacTavish. MacTavish has never been as critical as he was in his November assessment of Penner:

"When we signed Dustin we thought he'd be a top-two-line player. We thought the contract ($4.25 million average for five years) was a starting point for him, but he views it as a finish line. I can't watch it, certainly not for another 2 1/2 years."

"You can't throw gratuitous ice-time at a player that's inconsistent. It's his competitiveness. The frustrating thing for me is he has the game but he can't find it and you have to put the work in. He has a great set of tools but his legs are inconsistent. He needs more horsepower. He has to get his game to a level where he can help us. To this point, it hasn't gotten there.”

I don’t like using the media to manipulate players, but I can’t agree with the people who have commented here and elsewhere that a good coach never uses that particular tool. I mentioned Bowman and Keenan above, but other successful coaches like Ron Wilson and Andy Murray have also made extensive use of the same tactic. I don’t like the tool, but it can be useful.

But when a coach reaches out to try motivational tools he’s largely abstained from in the past, tools that can be more dangerous to the one using them than the one being criticized, well then it’s like Lowetide said back when these comments first came out: the end times are near.

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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 Magicmeatbag
April 18 2009, 05:11PM
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I think the greater question is how well would the team have done if MacT didn't do all the "questionable" things this year.

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#2 Jay
April 18 2009, 05:59PM
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@ Magicmeatbag: Unfortunately we'll never know.

In MacT's defense, there's a difference between harping on a player's deficencies and calling a spade a spade. D-Penn's didn't show enough effort on a lot of nights: Spade

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#3 esa tikkanen
April 18 2009, 06:15PM
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i don't see what the big deal is. Sather did it all the time. Muckley benched Jari Kurri in the 1989-90 season. These guys are grown ups not children. They make millions of dollars per year to play a game. If they aren't trying enough and the coach calls them out, suck it up, you probably deserve it. Has Penner ever gone to spend the summer in LA with Horcoff, MOreau and Staios to work out? I bet if he did he would get 30 goals the next year...

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#4 DonDon
April 18 2009, 06:25PM
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Ripping a player in public doesn't make good business sense in the new NHL with its salary cap. Look at Rob Shremp -- he now has questionable value to the Oilers as to a trade and if they really don't like him he just occupies a position on the farm team in lieu of draft choices needing development time. I think Craig MacTavish will look back at this past season and learn from it; he just made too many mistakes or questionable decisions for a veteran coach. For this team to get better, Tambellini will need to move a bunch of mediocre players. This will prove very difficult due to toxic player contracts and the public criticism of underperformers made by MacT; it undervalues the franchise's "assets." It really was time for MacT to move on, in spite of Katz's text message to Stauffer.

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#5 abdullah the butcher
April 18 2009, 06:36PM
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When your players aren't playing to their potential or playing how they were asked to play you use everything in your arsenal to get the point across.

I think MacT exhausted every avenue. Used every trick and played good cop, bad cop to Penner. This was a last resort. What else do you do to get the big guy to play consistently?

It worked. For a little while. You can't really blame MacT for the rotten job Lowe and his scouting staff have done supplying talent to the organization.

The Oiler players have shown a ton of disrespect for MacT the whole season. No one has been accountable. If I ever hear Moreau tell the press after two period of stinking the joint out that "we played really hard", I am gonna puke and send it to Rexall wrapped up in his jersey.

Let's hope the players get the coach they deserve.

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#6 Ogden Brother
April 18 2009, 06:56PM
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Great blog, brings to light that it is common place around the NHL while many fans here seem to think MacT was the only one to use the tactic.

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#7 Bob
April 18 2009, 07:15PM
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Well, I am not a big Penner fan, but I do like logic and here is the logic that is missed in much of this.

Penner was put back with Horcoff and Hemsky after his big 'call out' the media. He did better because he was back in his position with some really good players.

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#8 Magicmeatbag
April 18 2009, 07:27PM
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@ Bob:

I think he did better because he was playing better AND was playing with better players. He was skating faster and harder after that call out. Too bad it didn't last :(

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#9 BeeDoubleRYouIn
April 18 2009, 08:16PM
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MacTavish's legacy as a coach will be forever remembered what he did this season. I can't remember a coach ever coming under so much fire from fans and media alike. Him calling out players and making them seem like they were the problem just made me scratch my head even more. Giving roster spots to guys like Reddox, Petersen, Thoresen and so on and so forth just went further in the argument agains't him. To me this move is two years late and it was at the cost of the fans and people who love the team. MacT's scapegoating was probably his last and only option because he knew he had lost this team.

His comments about Penner went to show you that he didn't know where to direct this team with the talent that was available here. He had guys who could get some passion and put it on the ice. It was his way of coaching, like the miracle of 06. He expected this team to play rope a dope with every team and expect to win. Teams that succeed take chances on players and evolve with what is given to them year in and year out. When you have a foundation for a team that is high octane and high skilled the last thing they needed was an ex-checking center telling them to stay in there zone and watch their man rather then letting these young guns do what got them here in the first place.

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#10 Homie
April 18 2009, 08:16PM
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DonDon wrote:

Look at Rob Shremp — he now has questionable value to the Oilers as to a trade and if they really don’t like him he just occupies a position on the farm team in lieu of draft choices needing development time.

I think the 7 goals he got in the AHL as a "scoring" forward is what affects his trade value, not what anyone said about him in the media.

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#11 MattL
April 18 2009, 08:31PM
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@ Homie:

I couldn't agree more. DonDon, other teams have people called scouts, that are paid to watch players and judge their games. GM's don't just sit at home and watch YouTube to find their crop of superstars. Well, maybe Dallas does.

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#12 oilersseasonticketholdersince99
April 18 2009, 09:21PM
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Mac T calling out his players in public, cost him his job at the end.He had no reason to do what he did,he should of tried to motivate his players in a different way,venting in public lost him the room, the players stuck together and left Mac T looking like a idiot,watch Dustin Penner have a break out year next season,with a new coach, and a new gameplan this team should do alot better than what we got from gold old Mac T,I for one can say I look forward to not seeing him behind the bench this year.

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#13 DonDon
April 18 2009, 09:36PM
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esa tikkanen wrote:

Has Penner ever gone to spend the summer in LA with Horcoff, MOreau and Staios to work out? I bet if he did he would get 30 goals the next year…

And what good did working out in LA with Moreau's brother do for Horcoff, Moreau and Staios this past season considering their poor performances.

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#14 rickithebear
April 18 2009, 09:55PM
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Jay wrote:

@ Magicmeatbag: Unfortunately we’ll never know. In MacT’s defense, there’s a difference between harping on a player’s deficencies and calling a spade a spade. D-Penn’s didn’t show enough effort on a lot of nights: Spade

Blah Blah Blah 110% That is How looked when he sat our Best even outscore. A guy in the top 30 for forwards.

Then heaped praise On the player taking the most penalties in the league.

As a player I want the guy who does not try called out.

But **** as a player if we do way better with him in the lineup play him.

Sit the guy costing us the games.

Half way thru the season I started wondering if MacT was intentionally throwing games. Some of the moves he made were crazy.

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#15 Jonathan Willis
April 18 2009, 09:57PM
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@ BeeDoubleRYouIn:

MacTavish guided last year's team to more points than anyone had a right to expect. The 2007-08 Oilers shouldn't have got even a whiff of the playoffs, and the fact that they did is a testament to MacTavish's ability as a coach.

This season I didn't like what he did, but when people criticize his 8-year record they really ought to look at the rosters he was dealing with. He got a lot out of a little more than once.

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#16 Jonathan Willis
April 18 2009, 09:58PM
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MattL wrote:

I couldn’t agree more. DonDon, other teams have people called scouts, that are paid to watch players and judge their games. GM’s don’t just sit at home and watch YouTube to find their crop of superstars. Well, maybe Dallas does.

Thirded.

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#17 yo
April 18 2009, 11:37PM
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Jay wrote:

In MacT’s defense, there’s a difference between harping on a player’s deficencies and calling a spade a spade.

You may call a spade a spade but it's a question of where the spade should be called a spade. I would submit that MacT may have been accurate but unwise in venting publicly. My respect for him plummetted at that point and I wouldn't be at all surprised if his stock started to fall at terminal velocity in the dressing room. Hence he is, as Terry Jones put it so aptly, MacToast.

There is no defence for MacT. in my opinion. He's history...gone...kaputsky. Let's get on with the future.

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#18 Archaeologuy
April 19 2009, 12:19AM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

"But when a coach reaches out to try motivational tools he’s largely abstained from in the past, tools that can be more dangerous to the one using them than the one being criticized"

So what you're saying is that MacT using the media as a motivational tool is akin to me juggling chainsaws without practicing first.

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#19 alon
April 19 2009, 12:47AM
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esa tikkanen wrote:

Has Penner ever gone to spend the summer in LA with Horcoff, MOreau and Staios to work out? I bet if he did he would get 30 goals the next year…

Penner scored 17 goals playing 1/3 of the year on the 3rd and 4th lines. That would seem to suggest to me that he's around a 25-30 goal guy playing on the top line every night.

But maybe that's just me...

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#20 Archaeologuy
April 19 2009, 01:15AM
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@ alon: I think it's fair to say that he would have hit 20. I dont know about 25-30 considering how terrible the 1st line was down the stretch. You try scoring 30 goals with Horcoff on the ice at the same time as you.

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#21 Jasmine
April 19 2009, 01:17AM
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I remember hearing somewhere but can't remember where that calling out players doesn't work long. MacT was criticized for calling out Penner in the media. It didn't work long. As a coach, you should try to motivate players without having to call them out in the media. He called out Penner in November. Rumours have it that leaks in the dressing room started in December. Hmm, shortly after Penner is called out in the media.

Didn't he also call out Nilsson, Brodziak and Cole in the media. However, never once did MacT call out his favourites like Moreau, Staios or Reddox. MacT had favorites and it showed.

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#22 Homie
April 19 2009, 09:33AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ BeeDoubleRYouIn: MacTavish guided last year’s team to more points than anyone had a right to expect. The 2007-08 Oilers shouldn’t have got even a whiff of the playoffs, and the fact that they did is a testament to MacTavish’s ability as a coach. This season I didn’t like what he did, but when people criticize his 8-year record they really ought to look at the rosters he was dealing with. He got a lot out of a little more than once.

I totally agree. This is the first year I think MacT did a poor job. Almost every other year he coaxed a lot of points out if a team with a ton of second and thrid liners, 3-4--5 defencemen and erratic (at best) goaltending. It was time for him to go, but he did yeoman's service here for a number of years in tough circumstances.

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#23 Bob Cob
April 19 2009, 09:57AM
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If players egos are bruised that easily than they shouldnt be in a "what have you done for me lately" sport. Penner and Nilsson where both soft this year and I for one dont have a problem with MacTavish said.

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#24 Smokin' Ray - NNC
April 19 2009, 10:09AM
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@ Bob Cob: Agreed! The people that MacT called out deserved every bit of the wrath. Good god people. Penner sucks! MacT was not wrong here. Same with Nilsson.

Why are we talking about this anyways? I mean, MacT was fired. You all got your wish, so who cares?

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#25 mole
April 19 2009, 10:19AM
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lsdfj

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#26 David Staples
April 19 2009, 01:04PM
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Glen Sather often went public to blast players. . . Worked OK for him. . . . . It wasn't what MacT said about Penner that was the issue, it was the way he never gave him a real job, kept putting him out with the wrong players in the wrong situations. That's what made no sense here.

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#27 Rob
April 19 2009, 03:09PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ BeeDoubleRYouIn: MacTavish guided last year’s team to more points than anyone had a right to expect. The 2007-08 Oilers shouldn’t have got even a whiff of the playoffs, and the fact that they did is a testament to MacTavish’s ability as a coach. This season I didn’t like what he did, but when people criticize his 8-year record they really ought to look at the rosters he was dealing with. He got a lot out of a little more than once.

A testament to MacT's ability as a coach?!?! His hands were tied the last half of the season. He didn't have any other options but to play the rookies, and to let them play THEIR game. All the vets were out on the IR, it was late in the season, past the deadline, the cupboard was bare. He wasn't playing Gagner or Nilsson much at the start of the season, even Cogs wasn't getting alot of ice time. What were they averaging, 9 mins a game the first half of the season. Once the roster started to shrink, and MacT HAD to go with the rookies, he couldn't tell them to play a grinding defence first style and expect to win games. He had to let them play the way they knew how to play, and it almost worked. In my mind what the team did in the last half of that season had nothing to do with the coaching, and everything to do with the players themselves, and the style of play they enjoy playing. Once this season started, I think MacT thought he had all his "freinds" back in the lineup, so he could go back to turning the rookies into grinders rather than letting them play the way they played the season before. Until AGAIN they were desperate and he let them play "their" style of play again. He said it himself, that he tried every type of game plan. He should've stuck with the game plan that got them to within a point of the playoffs the season before. Let offensive skilled players play that style, and let the grinders grind.

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#28 Death Metal Nightmare
April 19 2009, 05:35PM
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this amounts to an apologist rant for players on a terrible roster. being motivated by desperate measures shows what immaturity Mac-T had to deal with: immaturity vs. immature motivational tactics. an analogous butt spanking to toddler hockey minds.

saying its end times for the coach is stating the obvious. whats more important now is when are these few immature/materially over rewarded players going to be ditched from the roster?

Nilsson, Penner and Pouliot dont deserve to be on this roster during this "transitional phase" or used a as part of the "core". post up all the stats you want about them, youre going nowhere with them in the long run.

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#29 yo
April 19 2009, 10:51PM
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alon wrote:

esa tikkanen wrote: Has Penner ever gone to spend the summer in LA with Horcoff, MOreau and Staios to work out? I bet if he did he would get 30 goals the next year… Yes, Penner went to SoCal with the boys but it was not successful. He got a part time job with room and board a5t at Whitecastle and licked the scraps off the plates. It cut his living expense down but didn't do his weight any good.
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#30 c33
April 19 2009, 11:44PM
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Too bad that all of the MacT fans are out AFTER he has been fired.....

I agree that he did the best he could with what he was given - come on people, look at the rosters he has had to deal with!! And look at 2006 when he has some prime players!

If Penner had a problem with being called out in public (and this is AFTER MacT tried to motivate and work with him privately), then maybe he should have put just a wee bit more effort into the game. My nine year old skates harder than Penner to get a hot chocolate after the game, let alone getting paid.

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#31 Jasmine
April 20 2009, 12:58AM
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I think the problem was that he called out some players but he never called out his favourites like Moreau Staios or Reddox. Another problem is he played a lot of players out of position. What right did Reddox have to be on the first line. MacT was whining about size yet Stortini, MacIntyre and Jacquest were constantly in the PB while Reddox was in the PB till late in the season after his concussion.

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#32 Rob
April 20 2009, 05:53AM
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c33 wrote:

Too bad that all of the MacT fans are out AFTER he has been fired….. I agree that he did the best he could with what he was given - come on people, look at the rosters he has had to deal with!! And look at 2006 when he has some prime players! If Penner had a problem with being called out in public (and this is AFTER MacT tried to motivate and work with him privately), then maybe he should have put just a wee bit more effort into the game. My nine year old skates harder than Penner to get a hot chocolate after the game, let alone getting paid.

That season showed that MacT didn't/doesn't know how to use players to their strength. Peca was lost out there for most of the season, because MacT was trying to turn him into a first line scorer, reather than use him in a checking role he's been in for most of his career. He even admited that later in the season. The team barley made it into the playoffs that year, so saying that he DID a good job coaching when he had good players to coach is a bit of a strech. That was the last time "OILER hackey" was played in Edmonton. Then he decided he was a TRAP expert.

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#33 Jonathan Willis
April 20 2009, 08:34AM
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Rob wrote:

Once the roster started to shrink, and MacT HAD to go with the rookies, he couldn’t tell them to play a grinding defence first style and expect to win games. He had to let them play the way they knew how to play, and it almost worked.

Nonsense. Do you remember who the Kid Line was playing against down the stretch? Lots and lots of marginal players. The reason for that was because MacTavish threw them all together where they could be sheltered and ran his other lines against the tough opponents, which in turn allowed the kids to succeed.

DO you honestly think MacTavish was basically reduced to one option so he said "meh" and did the only thing he could do? Because that's not what happened.

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#34 Jonathan Willis
April 20 2009, 08:36AM
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Death Metal Nightmare wrote:

post up all the stats you want about them, youre going nowhere with them in the long run.

That's awesome. Please show one stat that I used in the article. Just one.

Please confine your anti-statistical raving to articles where statistics are actually used. Thanks for coming out.

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#35 Jonathan Willis
April 20 2009, 08:37AM
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Rob wrote:

The team barley made it into the playoffs that year, so saying that he DID a good job coaching when he had good players to coach is a bit of a strech.

Fine. MacTavish made it to the Stanley Cup Finals with bad coaching. He also made it the playoffs with Conklin/Markkanen as his goaltending tandem with bad coaching. Happy now?

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#36 Boris
April 20 2009, 10:14AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: MacT did great job in the playoffs but we backed in to the final spot. If there had been one more win by Vancouver (I think) The Oilers would have been out and MacT would have been gone a long time ago....

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#37 c33
April 21 2009, 09:09PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Rob wrote: The team barley made it into the playoffs that year, so saying that he DID a good job coaching when he had good players to coach is a bit of a strech. Fine. MacTavish made it to the Stanley Cup Finals with bad coaching. He also made it the playoffs with Conklin/Markkanen as his goaltending tandem with bad coaching. Happy now?

Great comment Rob, I concur.

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