Craig MacTavish returns to the Edmonton Oilers

Jonathan Willis
June 11 2012 10:54AM

The Edmonton Oilers have hired Craig MacTavish as the team's new Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations.

According to the team's official website, the Oilers will hold a press conference at 4:30 MT to discuss the return of MacTavish to the organization.

MacTavish had been working in the Vancouver Canucks organization as the head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.  Earlier today the team announced that MacTavish was leaving to "pursue other opportunities," with general manager Mike Gillis making a short statement:

Craig brought a tremendous amount of experience and expertise as Head Coach of the Wolves this past season. We were pleased to have him as a member of our organization and wish him continued success in the future.

The return of MacTavish has been hinted at previously in the media, with the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson reporting the rumour yesterday.  Matheson was not only ahead of the news, but he seems to have gotten things exactly right:

The Oilers won’t comment yea or nay on whether MacTavish, who left the Oilers in 2009 after coaching them for eight years, could return in some capacity. Maybe I’m being led astray by the background chatter, but would it be a stretch to have MacTavish, who got his master’s degree in business from Queen’s University after leaving the coaching gig here, return to assist Kevin Lowe, the team’s president of hockey operations? An extra set of eyes and ears, a sounding board for evaluations? A smart hockey man. Even after leaving the Oilers in 2009, and before he got a coaching gig with the Chicago Wolves last summer, MacTavish was quietly doing some behind the scenes scouting for the Oilers.

Back in April, our own Robin Brownlee also suggested a return could be in the cards, though the expectation at that time was that MacTavish would want to stay behind the bench:

I'm just thinking out loud, but, given MacTavish's longstanding relationship with Lowe and Katz, his ties to Edmonton and his desire to return to the NHL, I think it would be foolish to dismiss the notion that MacTavish could return, should the team decide Renney has run his course. Just sayin.'

MacTavish is an interesting hire, particularly because he's entering the Oilers' front office rather than stepping behind the bench.  The fact that MacTavish went back to school and got a business degree separates him to some extent from the other ex-NHL players populating hockey operations positions around the NHL; that education only adds to the qualifications of a man with a long record of experience as a coach and a player.

My initital reaction is mostly positive; MacTavish is obviously intelligent, and the idea of adding him to the Oilers' management group appeals.  Fresh out of a year coaching in the AHL, MacTavish will also add some first-hand knowledge to the Oilers' professional scouting department, an area that has been weak judging by their acquisitions of the last few seasons.   Presumably, he'll also have an opinion of most of the AHL's up-and-coming coaches, having just spent the last year contending with them.

The thing I'm most curious about, and something we'll hopefully get some answers to this afternoon, is how this alters the power structure in the Oilers' front office.  The addition of MacTavish is going to do nothing to dissuade the notion that Kevin Lowe is still ultimately running the hockey operations department, yet at the same time Steve Tambellini just received an extension as the Oilers' G.M.  I know I'll be paying rapt attention to today's press conference.

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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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#1 Chris.
June 11 2012, 11:09AM
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So... the first guy Tambellini fired has returned as his boss... Hmmmmmmm...

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#2 Wanye
June 11 2012, 12:06PM
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I'm excited to watch my fellow OilersNation citizens who were absolutely ready to TAR AND FEATHER MacT on the way out of town be inexplicably excited now that he is coming back.

The revisionist history of it all warms the cockles of my heart.

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#3 D
June 11 2012, 10:55AM
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Good move. He is a talented person and acquiring talent on the management side of the house helps build the business.

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#4 Minister D-
June 11 2012, 11:06AM
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There are any number of ways to interpret this move. Let me fire the opening speculative volley and say that this means Steve Tambellini is "officially" on the clock for the first time since taking over the reigns as Oilers GM. If the Oilers fail to substantially improve at any point over the next three years, Craig MacTavish will be the next GM. Book it.

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#5 Sean F
June 11 2012, 11:19AM
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I think this means the Oilers might hire Jon Cooper or they aren't sold on whoever the coach will be. If they aren't in a good position at christmas then Tambo and coach ? will be out and Lowe and Mact will take up their old posts. My guess is this might actually be a Katz driven move

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#6 Quicksilver ballet
June 11 2012, 11:23AM
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So now the guy that fired MacT is working side by side with him? Hopefully he can bring a little more urgency to this management group.

Welcome back Craig.

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#7 CDean
June 11 2012, 11:49AM
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I wonder if MacT will be at the draft table, the table is getting pretty full, pretty soon their won't be tables anymore, but rooms or maybe they can have teepees and then then one of the tribe comes out after the pow-wow to make the announcement of their draft choice.

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#8 DoubleJ
June 11 2012, 11:55AM
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It looks like macT will be the next gm. My guess anyways.

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#9 Dan the Man
June 11 2012, 12:05PM
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Soooo.....zero chance that the Oilers sign Penner this summer then?

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#10 druds
June 11 2012, 12:09PM
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A few days ago Tambi got the carrot of a 3 year(?) contract extension and today he was shown the stick...If the team falls on its face next year Tambi's replacement is sitting right in the office next door...;) I like it....

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#11 Acumen
June 11 2012, 12:31PM
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Interesting article, considering:

http://www.queensu.ca/news/alumnireview/business-hockey

This might shed some light onto the structure the Oilers are intending to go for as well:

"The 16-month EMBA program is designed for working managers, and lets them take part in virtual classes and group work from their home cities. Teamwork is stressed in the program, and Craig found that he really enjoyed the team dynamic. “We had a terrific group of people,” he says, “all very self-motivated. We had an eclectic mix of skill sets. I was really fortunate to have been part of that group.” He learned a lot by collaborating with people with diverse business experiences. 'The power of the team is obviously in maximizing those skill sets and in reducing and protecting any weaknesses.'"

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#12 Clarkenstein
June 11 2012, 12:50PM
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Even Hutterites bring in fresh blood once in a while. This train has left the station.

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#13 The Soup Fascist
June 11 2012, 02:58PM
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Guessing the Katz kid has a summer intern position - so MacT is #2.

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#14 Chris.
June 11 2012, 10:55AM
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Let me be the fist to say: Welcome back MacT.

Edit: Fail. :(

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#15 freeze
June 11 2012, 10:58AM
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I like this.

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#16 Bubslug
June 11 2012, 10:59AM
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Thats why we need the new arena to fill it with all the mamngment we have. So lets see we have Tambi responding to to MacT, responding to Klowe....what an abismal mess of an old boys club. Can you say more support for going nowhere fast.

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#17 A-Mc
June 11 2012, 11:01AM
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When i saw the headline on my Twitter feed i thought the oil had hired him as head coach.

So i suppose we can cross his name off the list of potentials for Head Coach of the Edmonton Oilers.

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#18 geoilersgist
June 11 2012, 11:06AM
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I think this is great! Tambi now has someone breathing down his neck if he makes mistakes. His extension must have been 2 years at most

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#19 master of my domain
June 11 2012, 11:06AM
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welcome back Mac-T

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#20 magisterrex
June 11 2012, 11:07AM
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This is good news. Smart guy, educated, experienced, and knows how to string multiple sentences together without making his audience wonder what his first language is. I'd be even happier if his title was General Manager.

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#21 Zed
June 11 2012, 11:15AM
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"MacTavish, who got his master’s degree in business from Queen’s University after leaving the coaching gig here"

How does one get a master's degree in business and coach an AHL team for a year in a span of 3 years?

That is impressive.

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#22 Copperblueandwhite
June 11 2012, 11:19AM
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That is a bit strange that Tambo fired him and now Kevin Slowe reloads with him...how do the Sutters get along with MacT? Defensemen please...no, more experiments, just NHL calibre Dmen.

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#24 vetinari
June 11 2012, 11:24AM
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When I first read the headline, I stopped for a second because I thought it was going to say that he was the head coach again! And frankly, I would have had no problems with that.

The other thought that comes to mind is that perhaps he's Lowe's insurance policy for the 2012-13 season-- if Tambi's hire doesn't pan out and Lowe is forced to turf Tambi and his coach during the season, Lowe has an experienced Oiler coach on staff to fill in and pick up the reigns. Just sayin'....

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#25 Zamboni Driver
June 11 2012, 11:27AM
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I'm still holding out hope for Lummer.

Because there is no person involved in hockey that doesn't have a relationship to the Boys on the Bus.

#LummerforHeadCoach

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#26 Bucknuck
June 11 2012, 11:36AM
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It's weird how things are structured in the NHL from a Nomenclature perspective.

In most companies, it goes something like this. Owner, President and CEO, VP's and then the various managers report to the VP's.

In the NHL, GM stands for "supreme mover and shaker", wheras VPs are what, exactly? And heaven forbid someone puts the term "Director" in the mix. Do they have Supervisors?

Weird setup.

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#27 James Gronau
June 11 2012, 11:38AM
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It was MacT who decided not to return and while it may have been amicable, he did not get fired. Why would it matter anyway?

Certainly agree that there is a lot going on at the exec level which seems like corporate overhead, but lets compare this new structure to much like the Red Wings. How could anyone question the Oilers following that model for success?

I think the next surprise will be selecting Galchenyuk. Seems the idea that he didn't play for a season has most moving him down the list. The key here is had he played this season would he have been as good as Yakupov.

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#29 Greg Stink | ESPN
June 11 2012, 11:40AM
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Zed wrote:

"MacTavish, who got his master’s degree in business from Queen’s University after leaving the coaching gig here"

How does one get a master's degree in business and coach an AHL team for a year in a span of 3 years?

That is impressive.

Bachelor's Degree = 4 Years Master's Degree = 2 Years

He must not have taken any time off at all if he went straight from that to coaching the AHL Wolves, with his TSN gig and scouting for the Oilers in there too...

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#30 Zed
June 11 2012, 11:53AM
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@Igor Ulanov Fan Club

Maybe Mac T is the business world's equivalent of Doogie Howser M.D.

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#31 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
June 11 2012, 11:58AM
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With any luck MacT replaces Tambillini in the not to distant future.

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#32 Reg Dunlop
June 11 2012, 11:59AM
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What in the world? MacT couldn't get a NHL gig anywhere else. Are we top heavy enough now? Maybe Dave Hunter could serve as VP of acquisitions(ordering lunch) and Pat Hughes as VP of logistics(zamboni driver). This type of hiring re-inforces my belief that the oil are nothing but a toy for Katz. Are his other ventures run this way? If he didn't sell drugs he would be out of business.

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#33 Bucknuck
June 11 2012, 12:00PM
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Greg Stink | ESPN wrote:

Bachelor's Degree = 4 Years Master's Degree = 2 Years

He must not have taken any time off at all if he went straight from that to coaching the AHL Wolves, with his TSN gig and scouting for the Oilers in there too...

If you don't take summer's off and work your tail off you can get a degree in two years.

A Master's degree is more variable. I wonder if he had already taken some classes here and there he could use for credit.

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#34 Ryan2
June 11 2012, 12:02PM
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I was not a fan of this move when it was first rumored for one simple fact: bringing MacT back does nothing to change the management culture in the organization. They needed to go outside of the old boys club and pick someone from a winning team/organization for this.

FWIW, it should be interesting to see MacT interact with players that obviously tuned him out during his last two years behind the bench.

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#35 Bucknuck
June 11 2012, 12:02PM
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@Jonathan Willis

A lot of companies are odd that way. They give titles meant to stroke the ego, more than they are meant to represent a person's actual role.

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#36 Dan the Man
June 11 2012, 12:07PM
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When Tambellini fails it makes sense to have his replacement within the organization already.

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#37 mayorpoop
June 11 2012, 12:18PM
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was, and still am, opposed to vehemently to MacT become coach again.

that being said based on his ability to articulate and analyze i think this is a very good hire.

i hope that he brings an actual to date desire to win. we've sorely been lacking that from current management.

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#38 Smokey
June 11 2012, 12:29PM
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Backwards move. Like Craig just fine, but we don`t need a return to the Old Boys club. How many playoffs has the group of MacT, Lowe, Tambo made. You cut bait with a guy, and then you hire him back 3 years later. Katz can run a drug store, but his Hockey IQ is poor, and we in Oil COuntry continue to pay for this continuance of employing poor hockey men, or at least a group with no success. Its assinine.

In 09`we were so sick of the loosing, the constant lack of direction, poor decisions, and general lack of change. They can MacT, cause he was at the end of his rope. (out of Lowe, Tambo, MacT he was by far the best) So wait 2-3 years and hire back one of the good ol`boys, and give him a promotion cause the guy has a masters degree, which means he can no integrate his hockey knowledge with business savey cause he`s edmucated. This organization needs to hire people with the right aptitude, skill set, and who have a proven track record. This is so backward. Continuing to do the same thing over and over again is not going to move this organization forward.

I just hope they hire Sutter soon so I can moan about that move.

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#39 Smokey
June 11 2012, 12:31PM
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Was he not working on before. Even then its 2 years of course work.

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#40 DSF
June 11 2012, 12:39PM
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Acumen wrote:

Interesting article, considering:

http://www.queensu.ca/news/alumnireview/business-hockey

This might shed some light onto the structure the Oilers are intending to go for as well:

"The 16-month EMBA program is designed for working managers, and lets them take part in virtual classes and group work from their home cities. Teamwork is stressed in the program, and Craig found that he really enjoyed the team dynamic. “We had a terrific group of people,” he says, “all very self-motivated. We had an eclectic mix of skill sets. I was really fortunate to have been part of that group.” He learned a lot by collaborating with people with diverse business experiences. 'The power of the team is obviously in maximizing those skill sets and in reducing and protecting any weaknesses.'"

That last sentence ... "The power of the team is obviously in maximizing those skill sets and in reducing and protecting any weaknesses.'' ...is what this is really all about.

Another layer of insulation for Lowe.

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#41 Dman09
June 11 2012, 12:47PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Yeah, each team has their own set of titles that mean different things. The same team can have two presidents, a general manager, assistant general managers, senior vice presidents, directors of hockey operations, player personnel, player development, professional scouting and amateur scouting, senior advisors, special assistants to the general manager/president...

I have to wonder JW if this was part of the plan all along. The Oilers knew they weren't going to win for the next few years. MacT takes time off to improve his education. Spends a year coaching in the minors scouting not only players but other coaches and then returns to Edm in a bigger position with a lot input at a key time for the progression of the team.

This will also take some pressure off of Lowe so he can spend so addition time with the whole team canada side of things.

Maybe just maybe there is a very specific game plan that has been all laid out from the get go and management aren't the complete idoits we all seem to think them.

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#42 mlcselli
June 11 2012, 01:09PM
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I think this is a great move for the Oilers. I'm sure Mac T will be very useful and influential in suggesting players the team needs as well as players they no longer need. With Mac T in the office, I think that will be encouraging news for Smytty and a contract will get signed . I also think most people are right in thinking he is the next General Manager.

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#43 5inatrailer
June 11 2012, 01:14PM
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So is Pat Quinn MacT's boss then as senior vp of hockey operations?

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#44 Marshall Law
June 11 2012, 01:27PM
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There is no downside to this move. He's clearly intelligent, educated, and his vast experience in the game shows that he knows the ingredients that are required in assembling a winning team.

The fact that his previous tenure here had the team battling for the playoffs each year despite a severe lack of talent on the club is most impressive. However, many Oiler fans dislike the move because it puts the "Old boys club" back together. Who cares? The man is competent.

The decline of this team coincided with Mac T's departure. Quinn had essentially the same group the very next year and they finished in the basement. This is a great hockey hire.

Mac T FTW!

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#45 Smokey
June 11 2012, 01:32PM
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Some Funny Bastard said

Even Hutterites bring in fresh blood once in a while. This train has left the station.

I don`t want to know what happens behind the Oiler curtain...

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#46 LMatt
June 11 2012, 01:51PM
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Interesting yet positive move for the Oiler's organization. One would have to consider that this will allow Mr Katz the option of moving Mac T in'multiple directions' on the Org Chart. Kevin Lowe, Tambi and the 'soon to be named head coach' I am sure are well aware of that.

L.

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#47 RexLibris
June 11 2012, 02:01PM
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I loved MacTavish as a player and for the first half of his coaching tenure here I was a big fan. He managed to hold together a mediocre roster and make them playoff-contenders every year when the money just wasn't there.

His last few years as coach began to eat away at my opinion of him, but in hindsight I can see that this was more the product of a poor roster and very little help from other areas of the organization (scouting).

All of that being said, though, I like this move. The Oilers are adding management staff with the goal of being, in my opinion, the smartest hockey organization in the NHL. Just as in the Detroit model, I think the organizational strategy is to gather together the best voices in their respective fields and then try to create a strong management team where the result is greater than the sum of its parts.

Regardless of whether a person either likes or dislikes Tambellini's management style or some of his decisions, the addition of MacTavish, who always seemed to have a good handle on talent ("Robbie Schremp is not an NHL player"), ought to strengthen this area.

I'm not entirely confident this whole thing won't still end up a smoldering wreck, but Alex Delvecchio didn't have a lot of management pedigree going for him when he was hired.

Let's see what happens with this group. If adding MacTavish to the table means not signing another Khabibulin or Barker, then it ought to be money well spent.

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#48 The Soup Fascist
June 11 2012, 02:23PM
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Certainly the Detroit Red Wings have, for years, surrounded themselves with upper management. Devellano, Holland, Nill and until a couple of years ago, Steve Yzerman have all been part of the fold in senior management positions. Chris Chelios and Jiri Fischer have recently joined the Front office as well. That model seems to have worked out OK.

I understand why there are cries of the "old boys club" running rampant, but in my opinion, MacT is a very bright, articulate, credible hockey man. I am pretty sure the comment that no one else would hire him is inaccurate. While there is some merit to the suggestions we could use fresh blood, I think it would be naive to think that MacT did not pick up some ideas in his time away from the Oilers organization. Tambellini was "fresh blood". Not sure that should be the first consideration.

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#49 misfit
June 11 2012, 02:33PM
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"We want Reasoner back. I want Reasoner back"

I hope he has more pull than he did as HC, because it took the rest of the management staff 3 years to address the need (hell, to even recognize that there was one) for a Dzone/PK centerman who can win a draw which MacT saw immediately.

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#50 Sean17
June 11 2012, 02:35PM
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Oilers filling their quota of one curly-haired employee at all times.

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