Man of Action

Jonathan Willis
December 23 2013 10:10AM

 

Craig MacTavish, like any general manager of a losing team, has taken some heat this season. The heat's been made worse by things he said in the summer, when he sold Oilers fans on "bold moves" and promised action.

The funny thing is that by Edmonton standards, we've seen that action.

Steve Tambellini Mid-Season

The entire list of trades and signings made to add players by Steve Tambellini during mid-season follows below:

  • March 2009: Patrick O'Sullivan and a second round pick acquired for Erik Cole and a fifth round pick
  • March 2009: Ales Kotalik acquired for a second round pick
  • March 2010: Ryan Whitney and a sixth round pick acquired for Lubomir Visnovsky
  • February 2012: Nick Schultz acquired for Tom Gilbert
  • April 2013: Jerred Smithson acquired for a fourth round pick
  • March 2013: Mike Brown acquired for a fourth round pick

There's an old line about some skaters having to play their way into midseason form after a summer spent getting out of shape; Tambellini was the general manager equivalent of that, spending the winter in hibernation and then coming to life at the trade deadline to make like-for-slightly-inferior trades or acquire irrelevant pieces for draft picks.

Jerred Smithson is the ultimate Tambellini player. Edmonton needed a centre months earlier, and the solution Tambellini came up with was a marginal fourth-liner two months after he might have been useful.

Ilya Bryzgalov

Craig MacTavish hasn't made a midseason trade to add players yet either - though he's shipped out Ladislav Smid and Jason LaBarbera and Mike Brown - but he did make a free agent signing to bolster his team.

Ilya Bryzgalov was signed as the solution to a problem.

The problem, of course, was Devan Dubnyk's implosion, an implosion that cost the Oilers dearly. For all the harping about how Edmonton is no better this year than last, if Dubnyk had managed the 0.920 save percentage he did one season ago the team would be 21 goals better than it is and likely be ahead of both Calgary and Nashville. It's an implosion that represents more than half the gap between where Edmonton is and being a break-even team by goal differential.

The difference between MacTavish and his predecessor was that he didn't wait until March before getting proactive. He gave Dubnyk as much time as he could, and then made a move. On a team that once handed the reins over to Jeff Deslauriers after its starter got hurt, this is a novelty.

It's also an encouraging sign. I've had many people tell me they can't tell the difference between the Oilers under Tambellini and the Oilers under MacTavish. This is a big one. And while the picture's awfully black right now, and lots more changes need to be made, Edmonton already made the most crucial decision it could have: firing the man who led the descent into the abyss, and replacing him with someone willing to make moves before March. 

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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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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#101 Chris.
December 23 2013, 03:11PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Let me put it this way:

Kevin Lowe made plenty of mistakes before turning the wheel over to Steve Tambellini. I'm inclined to think that's part of the reason he stepped back, honestly. But I don't think retroactively firing him for stuff he did in 2008 or earlier moves the team forward one iota right now.

Further, I'm still in the cautiously optimistic phase with MacTavish. You disagree, and there's room for that disagreement, but I'm just not in the 'fire Lowe because he hired MacT' camp.

Take those out and your argument basically comes down to 'he said stupid things about fans in the heat of the moment.'

I won't shed a single tear if the Oilers fire Lowe tomorrow, and I'm not going to campaign for him to stay on with the team. I just think we're past the point where firing him makes the Oilers better.

Hi Willis.

It's been a long time.

I believe Katz should look at cleaning house: Lowe, Howson, Bucky, MacT, Smith... everybody... I believe the Oilers are going in circles. I know that the rebuilt core of Hall, Eberle, RNH and Schultz are better than the core of Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson and Gilbert that was assembled by essntially the same braintrust years ago... However, both groups are similar in that they are comprised of smaller, skilled, mostly perimeter type players who seem to underachieve the lofty expectations of those who assembled them.

As a coach, MacTavish predicted the first group would challenge for the division... Forgive my pessimism years later when the same crew at Kingsway predict a team with similar deficiencies, and lack of balance will one day soon challenge for the cup. We are just wasting time. This organization is in desperate need of a core philosophical shift... Organizationally from the draft on out, too much faith has been placed on the idea of the NEW NHL (rebranded post 2004 lockout) where speed and puck handling skills would trump size and tenacity...

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#102 KEVIN
December 23 2013, 06:26PM
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Nice way to paint lip stick on a pig. For too long we the fan have shelled out huge amounts of after tax dollars to support this team- our beloved oilers and far too often there have countless promises for hope. More false hope. Coaches and GMs have come and gone, certain other coaches and scouting staff have survived when the axe has fallen. Yet we the paying fans are played for idiots by this group of millionaires professing to be builders of NHL calibre teams. As players we can not take aways their winning and cup victories. Our Patience has allowed former players to try their hats as coaches, General managers and Team Presidents. Time and proven that the current formula is not working and has not worked and there is no sign that this ship will ever sail in the right direction again. In fact the team has digressed and is on pace to champion the worst record. It is time for change. May the new year bring about change from the top and right the way through to scouting and development on all levels. Let's not continue to say- ya but in 2006 we were one game from the cup. Real, knowledgeable hockey watchers know that during that year they were badly out played and outshoot in all series leading up to the final and should have never made it past the third round. Let's call a spade a spade. Lets not find and create excuses. Let's not put lip stick on a pig- in this case ugly is ugly. This is down right ugliness, no question about it.

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#103 Tuningout
December 23 2013, 07:02PM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

So you believe he is a failure as GM because he was unable to acquire 4 top 4 defensemen in a single off season? I've now asked repeatedly what a good GM would have done differently. You refuse to answer.

I'm not putting words in your mouth, I'm spelling out the implications of your own words.

No. I've read everything that was written here and you are 100% putting words in his mouth. You can argue his other points. But of this one there is no doubt.

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#104 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
December 23 2013, 11:02AM
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Mo Playoffs Mo Problems wrote:

That's fair enough. I imagine they're both trying to play their way into a job for next year (be it with this organization or another). Too bad they'll probably flush Dubnyk, a shame to spend so long on a guy and probably let him walk for nothing, but a lot remains to be seen in how both goalies play.

Anyhow, thanks for the response and Happy Festivus. I'm sure there'll be plenty of Oiler-related grievances aired today.

Put another way, I think it's a shame to spend so long on a guy to see him turn out way worse than you ever could have expected.

I tried to give Dubnyk the benefit of the doubt this season. I even picked him up in my fantasy pool when the Oilers were playing the soft parade in November. I'm now leaning towards his league-average seasons being the aberrations and his current performance been the accurate depiction, though.

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#105 Burnward
December 23 2013, 11:14AM
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@ColourMeImpressed

That's how I see it as well.

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#106 Burnward
December 23 2013, 11:15AM
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@Jonathan Willis

Fair enough. I think the quality of chances given up by the Oil this year probably has a lot to do with it though.

There is no way they were this bad defensively last season.

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#107 Yep
December 23 2013, 11:21AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

No, we're blaming Tambellini for years and years of incompetence. Specifically, three times he thought he had playoff teams (2008-09, 2011-12, 2012-13) a significant distance into the year, and three times he twiddled his thumbs rather than trying to improve them.

But if you'd like to go into the rebuild (a rebuild caused when he signed a terrible old goalie who promptly got hurt, an old coach who was out of touch, and handed the team over to Jeff Deslauriers) we can do that too.

Tambi was a Lowe hire. And Tambi was only GM for as long as he was because Lowe kept him there. Blaming Tambi is equivalent to blaming Lowe.

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#108 Fossil
December 23 2013, 11:21AM
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The basic hockey mistakes made by this team defy logic. Lazy line change when the play is headed into your end is the worst example. Not getting the puck in deep when pressured at the blue is another. Not shooting when there are guys going to the net for a rebound, instead try to go cross ice through multiple defenders for a tap in that isn't there. Not clogging the middle of the ice when defending or creating offence by going to the middle. And lastly, button hook, drop pass.....? I question the hockey IQ of all levels in this organization.

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#109 Zamboni Driver
December 23 2013, 11:33AM
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I wonder if, since it was a Hemsky jersey, that somehow Eakins got confused?

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#110 tileguy
December 23 2013, 11:35AM
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@Zamboni Driver

Exactly what is Messier doing here? Is this more boys on the bus ship? Which managers idea is this?

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#111 Zamboni Driver
December 23 2013, 11:38AM
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tileguy wrote:

Exactly what is Messier doing here? Is this more boys on the bus ship? Which managers idea is this?

I can only guess Batman is going through the Glory Days' roster hockey cards.

Got 'im. Got 'im. Need 'im. Got 'im.

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#112 Zamboni Driver
December 23 2013, 11:49AM
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@TigerUnderGlass

I'm inclined to agree with some of your responses here - don't know what firing Lowe would do now, anyway...

But this one: 8. The rookie GM hires a rookie coach. Much better to hire retreads who have been fired repeatedly by other teams. Why try to find new talent right? There is some interesting research out there on new/veteran coaching hires. You might be surprised at what it says.

Yeah I don't know that you can call Tambellini's replacement being really 'thinking outside the box'.

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#113 Rheal1
December 23 2013, 12:00PM
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Looking forward to tonight's game. I am super hopeful that the Oilers can pull a nice win for the fans. A nice xmas gift for the fans, I wish: 1. A 6-1 victory; looks good for the cosmonaut and the D. 2. Yaks gets two goals. 3. Justin S gets a few assists and looks defensively aware. 4. All star type dominance by Hall.

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#114 Zamboni Driver
December 23 2013, 12:01PM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

The comment I responded to referenced the Eakins hire, not he MacT hire, and my response has less to do with "thinking outside the box" than "seeking new talent/giving new talent a chance".

Righto - misread. My bad.

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#115 Spydyr
December 23 2013, 12:03PM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

So your belief as that a better GM would have this team in the playoffs right now? What exactly would this mystery GM have done.

Clearly MacT can see what is wrong based on what he has tried to do.

The question is, did he choose wrong or did he take the best options available?

Not sure where you got the playoff thing from.

A new owner hiring a friend to run his hockey operations. Who in turn hires his friend a rookie GM. Who in turn gets a man crush and hires a rookie coach. For some reason the new coach does not or is not allowed to replace the assistant coaches who just happen to be friends with the head of hockey operations. What possibly could go wrong?

You would have to be very naive to not understand that every hockey decision made here in the last eight years crossed Lowe's desk first.

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#116 Racki
December 23 2013, 12:07PM
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I admittedly was a proponent of khabi being signed, but only if Anderson wasn't. I am not sure the Oilers even made an attempt at him. Also, when I saw the contract khabi got, I was immediately sick. It was obviously terrible even though I thought he'd be good here. Too long.. Too much money. Very much like Horcoff's 5.5m deal.. A player I loved but said... "wtf??" when hearing the deal.

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#117 reaperfunkss (2nd tier fan)
December 23 2013, 12:13PM
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Wow Tambellini really was Satan wasn't he? The way he totally disregarded Lowes thoughts on everything (Cause Oil Change season 1 showed us that tambo didn't make a move without Lowe involved but we can ignore that) Lowe`s mandate publicly was that the Oilers were gonna let youth develop and not make any big moves. The team is in a totally different place from when tambo came in to when MacT came in. To compare the 2 this way makes me think Lowe came over to your place for a brew to explain how what we see is all Tambo`s fault. I am not gonna give any big credit to tambellini for anything but I am certainly not gonna lay this mess on him when Lowe has been the architect

You been drinking from the Stauffer revisionist cup?

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#118 ivan drago
December 23 2013, 12:28PM
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?

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#119 tileguy
December 23 2013, 01:26PM
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Rocknrolla wrote:

messier was hired as a consultant this year. While he finishes his multi arena project in New York. Scouting and such is the details. Google Elliot Friedman for the article.

Rumor has it he was offered the HC job before it was given to Krueger....

At least Messier I think could motivate this team, he is a true leader.

That's boys on the bus talk. "I think I know a little about winning", "I think I know a little about motivation".

got I'm, got I'm, need I'm.

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#120 pelhem grenville
December 23 2013, 02:49PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

He does, doesn't he?

There's probably a whole generation of die-hard hockey fans that will die from premature aging experienced during the rebuild.

...ya and here I thought I'd see this squad win another Stanley Cup prior to my passing...didya know I wrote the forward to the book "Fat Chance"?~

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#121 Chris.
December 23 2013, 02:51PM
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Remember when Tambellini hired a new coach and crashed a team expected to compete for a playoff spot into last place?

Remember when the pundits said he deserved more time because he hadn't really been GM for very long?

How did that work out?

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#122 Johnnydapunk
December 23 2013, 03:26PM
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I'm still on the fence about MacT, I will always be impressed with the fact he was the one who decided that the "responsible forechecking system" (the trap) was the way forward for the Oil in the 2005-06 playoffs which was in my view one of the keys in the Oil getting as far as they did. That was coaching to me.

So far he tried to address goaltending, trying to trade for Schneider, making it clear that Dubnyk was walking a fine line, and signing LaBarbera, who shouldn't have been as rubbish as he was based on his past history, and when that didn't work, trading him off and signing The Bryz on a fairly friendly trial deal for the season. I also give him credit for signing Bachman who I think could be resigned and be a good number 2 next season as I think he has been alright and putting up good numbers in the AHL.

His trade for Perron was also very good, Boyd Gordon has been decent, Belov needs time, but is gonna be a good solid 3-4 defenceman, maybe a number 2, early to say. Grebs wasn't that bad of a signing, he was an experiment that didn't work, it may have also helped get Belov here and settled a bit so there was some value in signing him. MacIntyre was signed as a reaction to the fact the Oil didn't have enough toughness and was an "impulse" signing. And when he was injured, Gazdic was a great find on waivers and he has done what has seemingly asked.

I think the problem Eakins has and will have now is that he got everyone's hopes all up and someone "pumped his tyres" a bit much and now he is looking like a right muppet. I agree with what he is trying to do, though I don't know if it will work tonight and I wouldn't be overtly shocked if he got the sack or he walks out on the job. Having a pop at the fan who threw the jersey is not the thing to do though, the dude did it because he was frustrated and rightfully so after the horror show of that game. Think it would be wise to keep the fans not necessarily on his side, but cool enough that they aren't screaming for his head every home game. If the team loses like that again, it will be like the teddy bear toss of jerseys.

I am surprised saying this, but a player like Ryan Smyth is incredibly valuable to the Oil right now as he is one of the few, few players who bleeds for the Oil, I mean have you ever heard of a player requesting a trade to Edmonton in the last 15 years? Sure players come here, but that is sadly rare, and the Oil don't have enough players like that. Gags could be one of those, I really hope he improves his game to get the donkey off his back.

The season is a write off, and I've accepted that. This summer is gonna be big for MacT as a lot of contracts are up and some decisions are gonna be made. I would like to see 6Rings out of that process and someone from the outside with no loyalties to come in and see what the mess is really all about as someone neutral would be able to make some more objective decisions. I doubt it though, but one can only hope.

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#123 pelhem grenville
December 23 2013, 03:27PM
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...katz can't clean house chris...put your self in katz place right now...take each of those names you have mentioned and replace each name with a new one ...

we're hooped bud ...

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#124 gcw_rocks
December 23 2013, 04:12PM
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Giving Lowe as pass on the decisions of his general managers is naive. As a consultant I have worked with senior executives across almost every industry and you know what they all have in common? Formally or informally they get approval from their bosses before making critical decisions and they all have their strategies and priorities confirmed as well.

And in every other industry, when the president doesn't like what he hears he provides clear direction on what he or she wants.

There is no way, none, that Lowe is president in name only. Everything material that Tambo did or didn't do came with Lowe's approval. Ditto for MacT.

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#125 Spydyr
December 23 2013, 04:15PM
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gcw_rocks wrote:

Giving Lowe as pass on the decisions of his general managers is naive. As a consultant I have worked with senior executives across almost every industry and you know what they all have in common? Formally or informally they get approval from their bosses before making critical decisions and they all have their strategies and priorities confirmed as well.

And in every other industry, when the president doesn't like what he hears he provides clear direction on what he or she wants.

There is no way, none, that Lowe is president in name only. Everything material that Tambo did or didn't do came with Lowe's approval. Ditto for MacT.

No $hit.Props

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#126 FireKLowe
December 23 2013, 06:17PM
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Cold Hard Truth wrote:

Congratulating MacTavish is more an indication of how low standards have sunk, if anything.

Aside from the Perron trade, which I will give him credit for, MacTavish's off-season and season moves look indistinguishable from the Tambellini tenure. Remember how ecstatic everyone was when Tambellini signed Eager, Belanger and Hordichuck over the off-season?

Tambellini is just a convenient scape goat. Both Katz and Lowe pushed the idea of the rebuild and no doubt, had say in the direction of the team.

Besides, you are missing the point Jonathan:

MacTavish should not have been hired in the first place. He failed as a coach, nobody else wanted him in the NHL, and low and behold, he is now our GM. Everyone and his dog knows that MacTavish was only hired because he is friends with Lowe and Katz. I would love to hear you argue otherwise. and THAT, is what is fundamentally wrong with the Oilers. Instead of filling positions out of merit, the Oilers organization has just been a body of patronage. The disgraceful play on the ice is the sum result of this.

Everyone and his dog can see that Jonathan. Why can`t you?

You nailed it! Cronyism has killed the organization.

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#127 oprah sucks
December 24 2013, 04:23PM
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the only thing i have to say is this; it is no doubt that every oiler fan is goin through hard times with no end in sight. the past 7 to 8 yrs have been brutal. numerous changes, coaching (assistants & head coach),gms,scouts( top to bottom)different farm teams, new positions created or added and one new owner not to mention the countless number of players over the years. All of these changes and still the same results. there is only two factors that still remain, 1) loses and 2)kevin lowe. There has been plenty of puppets infront of him to take the fall as he treads above water. i'm not putting the blame all on him but the evidence speaks for itself. on more than one occassion players have left edmonton on bad terms. there is also players that have come out and said that they would not play for kevin lowe. i read comments above rookie gms on teams having success and rookie coaches on other teams having it too. what team has success with a rookie team,coach, gm, and owner. not one team ever in the history of the nhl has had a rookie in all positions at the same time. and thats the puppets im referring to. i dont care how many cups lowe has won we have to ask our selves how is he still employed with the oilers. countless fall guys have come and gone. the evidence speaks for itself. i also want to comment on articles relating to edmonton rebuilding there team like pittsburg and chicago. we are quite different from those clubs. first order of business for those teams was cleaning house, the vetern players and management. we have yet to do this, infact we are opposite from that by bringing guys back like mac t and ryan smyth(luv the guy but come on). again not pointing fingers at mac because so far seems to be ok in a bad situation and cap frozen season but why is he there? kevin lowe! it was planned from the time mac left his coaching position. some might disagree with all i have said but one burning question remains which in my mind sums up everything. WHAT GM/PREZ OF HOCKEY OPPS/GOD, HAS HAD A JOB WITH ONE FRANCHISE WITH A RECORD LIKE KEVIN LOWES??? the answer is no one.

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