Edmonton Oilers fire Steve Tambellini, Craig MacTavish to replace him

Jonathan Willis
April 15 2013 10:02AM

As broken by TSN's Ryan Rishaug, general manager Steve Tambellini has been fired by the Edmonton Oilers.

Who replaces Tambellini? Both TSN's Bob McKenzie and CBC's Elliotte Friedman report that Craig MacTavish will be the Oilers' new general manager and that former Columbus G.M. Scott Howson will be taking over MacTavish's role with the team.

Club president Kevin Lowe will hold a press conference at 9:30 MT, at which point it is expected the team will officially confirm the reported changes. Update: Oilers confirm all of the above.

Initial Reaction

  • The decision to replace Tambellini was necessary and long overdue. For that alone, this was a positive move.
  • The Oilers are being pilloried on Twitter for the decision to replace Tambellini with an internal candidate, but while Craig MacTavish is seen by some as more of the same, that's likely not entirely fair. He was a strong head coach, and he only returned to the Oilers last summer. His CV is pretty strong and while nobody knows how well he'll do in the top job he's a bright hockey man and a legitimate candidate.
  • Also worth noting: the last time the Oilers went outside the organization, they ended up with Steve Tambellini. Sometimes the grass isn't greener.
  • Scott Howson previously worked as the assistant general manager in Edmonton before taking the top job in Columbus, and was obviously fairly successful in the role. The perception of him has changed markedly since then, but like other former G.M.'s - Don Waddell in Pittsburgh, John Ferguson, Jr. in San Jose - he may be better suited to a depth role. Certainly the Oilers wouldn't be expanding his role if they weren't impressed with his work in a similar role previously. 
  • Why not wait until summer? The obvious answer is that the team felt they had their guy in MacTavish. With that said, I'd have preferred seeing a full search in the summer that included external candidates. It's not like the Oilers have a bunch of trades and moves to make over the next few weeks.
  • This is a plum job. Is there a team in the league - outside of the current Stanley Cup contenders - that has more raw material to work with than the Oilers over the next few seasons? 
  • The perception that Steve Tambellini was just a puppet and that nothing will change until Kevin Lowe goes is not one that I buy into. The Oilers were a better team under Lowe than they were Tambellini, and when Tambellini came in there were significant changes in how the team was run - most notably in the head coaching department, where a pair of ex-Vancouver bench bosses were hired. 

To sum up: replacing Tambellini was a necessary move, and while I would have preferred a full search over the summer for a new general manager, MacTavish would have been a legitimate candidate in such a search. This isn't an ideal decision, but the Oilers are better in the hockey operations department today than they were yesterday.  

Comments from the Press Conference

  • Kevin Lowe thanks Tambellini and his family for their service to the Oilers, says he released him of his duties yesterday,
  • Lowe: "Despite showing areas of improvement... the fact of the matter is we are not where we want to be right now nore where we should be."
  • Lowe says that Craig MacTavish "played the lead role" in acquiring Justin Schultz last summer.
  • Lowe has lots of praise for other areas of the organization - the AHL, the WHL - but sharply critical of where the Oilers are now.
  • MacTavish: "I have great faith in Scott [Howson]."
  • MacTavish: "I'm an impatient guy, and I bring that impatience to this situation, and I think we're at the stage... where we have to do some bold things. We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk."
  • MacTavish: "I know every time I turn my alarm off there are 29 teams trying to beat my brains in."
  • MacTavish is on fire, hammering away on the need for the team to make immediate changes, to take some risks to get to the next level, to add depth to the organization. 
  • MacTavish: "It makes very little difference what I say today. What really, truly matters is.. what we do tomorrow."
  • Lowe, asked by Mark Spector how this represents meaningful change, says the team has much more ammunition now if what he means is that they aren't capable as a group. 
  • Lowe: "The timing didn't have anything to do with an article that was written."
  • Steve Tambellini had one year left on his deal.
  • Lowe on the 8-2 win over Calgary: "Even our biggest critics thought that we had arrived." Uh, no. 
  • MacTavish references the Oilers' five Stanley Cups when asked about how the group that made the mess that Tambellini couldn't clean up is going to do a better job than Tambellini did. That was a long time ago.
  • MacTavish says he doesn't know that he's ever failed the organization in any of his previous positions. 
  • Lowe: "You're talking about the team that came within one period of winning the Stanley Cup. Someone in the crowd: "Seven years ago."
  • Lowe: "Are you saying to me you're getting impatient after three years?"
  • Lowe says there's only one general manager in hockey who has won more Stanley cups than him, so he knows al ittle bit about winning.
  • Lowe: "The general manager makes the decisions in hockey, my position... is similar to the chairman... I'm a liaison to our owner Daryl Katz."
  • Lowe: I don't think there was ever a time when Tambellini wasn't able to do something he wanted to do, or I asked him to do something he didn't want to do.
  • MacTavish, asked about grit in the top-six: "Grit without skill, as I mentioned, is not something that's going to move the dial of our team forward."
  • MacTavish talks about acquiring "Milan Lucic-type" players, told "I don't know if you're allowed to say that." 
  • MacTavish, smiling, "Just happy times" when asked about this being the anniversary of his departure from the Oilers.
  • MacTavish: 'If you can't do the difficult things that this job requires, how can you ask your players to do them.' 
  • Lowe: "For the record, Craig stepped down four years ago... Tambi didn't fire him."
  • MacTavish: "If you're referring to the young core that we paid an exceptionally high price to acquire, we would part with those assets very begrudgingly."
  • Good news for Ralph Krueger; MacTavish says that the team's burned through four coaches and that it's very remote that coaching is the problem. "I give Ralph a lot of credit."
  • MacTavish: "My physical health is good," jokes that his mental health is open to discussion.

MacTavish came across pretty well, though as he says he's going to be judged on actions, not words. He repeatedly tossed Steve Tambellini under the bus during the press conference without mentioning his name, alluding to his impatience with the slow process of the rebuild, and talking about the need to take action, to take some risks to get ahead. The "if you can't do the difficult things line" was particularly noteworthy in that regard.

The low point was both Lowe and MacTavish referencing the Oilers' glory days victories at the press conference today. A Stanley Cup ring as a player (or five, for that matter) is a lot different than a Stanley Cup ring as a general manager - not that there isn't cross-over, but the skillset to build a team is completely different than the skillset to score a goal or block a shot. Neither man is doing a job on the ice today, and they shouldn't expect any forgiveness for a poor record in the front office based on their work on the ice. It's a different job. 

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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 Yep
April 15 2013, 10:03AM
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:D

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#2 Romulus' Apotheosis
April 15 2013, 10:04AM
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long overdue.

who is really running the ship?

I guess we'll find out.

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#3 Kent Wilson
April 15 2013, 10:06AM
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Sounds like MacT is the new GM.

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#4 Czar
April 15 2013, 10:06AM
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I will miss his lucky tie at the draft lottery.

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#5 Jay
April 15 2013, 10:07AM
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Doesn't change a thing as long as Lowe is still there

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#6 Frustrated oil fan
April 15 2013, 10:08AM
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Next question is will Mac T finally address size in top 6 and a number 1 d-man?

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#7 Mike Krushelnyski
April 15 2013, 10:08AM
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Brb, running through the streets George Bailey styles wishing everyone merry Christmas

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#8 Quicksilver ballet
April 15 2013, 10:10AM
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MacTavish in as GM and Howson to take over MacT's duties. Now we'll find out how long Tambellinis contract was for. He'll probably be on the payroll for two more years i'm sure. Contract length was to be determined upon his firing.

Not enough changes made upstairs. Hope we aren't doomed to much of the same with Kevin Lowe still in charge.

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#9 MarcusBillius
April 15 2013, 10:10AM
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This is absurd! The cancer starts with Lowe. He was GM when we started sucking. He hired Tambellini. He meddled with management behind tambo's back. How is Lowe not gone?!

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#10 Dawn
April 15 2013, 10:11AM
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Well hopefully MacT has brains and balls in sufficient measure to turn this thing around.

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#11 Romulus' Apotheosis
April 15 2013, 10:11AM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

MacTavish in as GM and Howson to take over MacT's duties. Now we'll find out how long Tambellinis contract was for. He'll probably be on the payroll for two more years i'm sure. Contract length was to be determined upon his firing.

Not enough changes made upstairs. Hope we aren't doomed to much of the same with Kevin Lowe still in charge.

are you suggesting they give ST the Pat Quinn special?

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#12 michael
April 15 2013, 10:11AM
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The descisions he made at the deadline killed him. He did nothing to address the long term needs of this team. Keeping Whitney,Jones,Hemsky and not cashing those assets for players that this team needs desperately to compete long term. I am in with the rebuild.He took a short term view on a long term plan.Needed to step up.Dithered and did nothing ti improve this team. Need absolutely need someone who has the balls to move this team forward.

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#13 Quicksilver ballet
April 15 2013, 10:12AM
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Mike Krushelnyski wrote:

Brb, running through the streets George Bailey styles wishing everyone merry Christmas

Why, nothings changed, Lowes still in charge.

May still want to jump off that bridge Mikey.

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#14 719
April 15 2013, 10:13AM
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The right move in firing Tambellini. Still I feel bad for the guy, didn't seem like he was ever actually given a chance to do what he wanted to with the team. He always had Lowe approving or denying all his decisions.

I am excited to see what MacTavish can do, hopefully he can shore up the 3rd and 4th lines.

Tambo did a lot of good for this team at the draft and with the minor league system. I wish him luck!

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#15 Spydyr
April 15 2013, 10:13AM
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Titanic meet deck chairs, deck chairs meet Titanic.

So Tobey will be re-acquired forthright.

The ship is still sinking.

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#16 Quicksilver ballet
April 15 2013, 10:14AM
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Romulus' Apotheosis wrote:

are you suggesting they give ST the Pat Quinn special?

Yes sir, they do take care of their own in those circles. We should soon find out.

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#17 gcw_rocks
April 15 2013, 10:14AM
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Well, if we were wondering if Katz was an idiot, this move at this time confirms it completely.

A competent owner would have waited to end of season and at least thought about cleaning house.

Instead, the old boys club continues to rule. Can't find the words to say how disappointed I am.

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#18 Shifty203
April 15 2013, 10:15AM
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Based on this move, I'm guessing Katz is just happy with keeping the seats full in Rexall, and doesn't actually care about ice'ing a winning team.

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#19 Mike Krushelnyski
April 15 2013, 10:15AM
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@Quicksilver ballet

Yeah, to be fair when I posted that I had only seen the part about Tambo getting fired. Maybe we can get Ron Low back to coach too.

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#20 Chaz
April 15 2013, 10:16AM
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Means nothing if Lowe still has his job. Need to cut off the head to kill the Dragon. Fire Lowe Now!!

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#21 The Soup Fascist
April 15 2013, 10:17AM
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This just in ..... Oilers have given up their 1st round pick in 2013 in order to ammend the NHL trade / acquisition deadline and have acquired Toby Pederson, Marty "Don't call me Harry" Reasoner and Liam Reddox.

Now we are getting somewhere!

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#22 Harlie
April 15 2013, 10:17AM
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Wow, it looks like Lowe was reading Gregor's ON blog yesterday, the first point on my list was FIRE Tambo and replace him with MacT.

Keep going Lowe and MacT...more changes needed!!

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#23 Jason
April 15 2013, 10:18AM
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I dunno. When I watched oilchange, it didn't look like Tambo made any moves by himself yet he is taking the fall. Such is life.

My real dissapointment still lies in the effort of the players. Wether it is Horcoff, Hemsky or Smyth's fault or not - they need to go for next year.

p.s. if anyone suggests we hire Burke one more time I am going to throw up.

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#24 morgie99
April 15 2013, 10:18AM
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the old boys club is still alive and intact, too bad, hopefully the results are better but i doubt it

with Klowe still around, hard to expect anything truly to be different

at least Jasmine will be happy LOL

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#25 Eddie Shore
April 15 2013, 10:20AM
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Jason wrote:

I dunno. When I watched oilchange, it didn't look like Tambo made any moves by himself yet he is taking the fall. Such is life.

My real dissapointment still lies in the effort of the players. Wether it is Horcoff, Hemsky or Smyth's fault or not - they need to go for next year.

p.s. if anyone suggests we hire Burke one more time I am going to throw up.

Maybe that is part of the problem? The guy appeared to be afraid to make a decision on is own.

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#26 Harlie
April 15 2013, 10:20AM
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P.S - anyone catch the Oil Change this weekend? I was shaking my head in disbelief when they showed Tambo on the phone trying to make trades and he didn't seem to have a clue on his own assets. Then he called over Stu and said he traded a pick for Smithson and asked Stu if that was OK and Stu said something like..."yeah, I already told you a couple times that a 3rd round, 4th round pick is nothing so get what you can for them.." It seemed like Tambo was just lost.

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#27 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 15 2013, 10:22AM
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Wow!Here we go. lol Lose five in a row after winning five and you don't need to fall on your own sword. They'll do it for you.

Didn't see that coming at this time. But, what can you say? It IS a results oriented business.

Are there more dominos to fall?

Mac-T should pick his own coach. Sutter, Ruff and possibly Tippet are FAs this summer. Experience.

On a positive note for the former GM: I'll give Tambellini credit for the draft, OKC Barons and for not doing anything stupid to the point where this thing got F'd up real good.

The pieces are in place. Mac-T, you have my attention.

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#28 Eddie Shore
April 15 2013, 10:23AM
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Also, I'm interested to see if MacT states a specific type of team he envisions the Oilers being moving forward and how he intends to make his mark on this team.

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#29 Jaw17
April 15 2013, 10:23AM
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The one thing is that Mac T might have some more pull with Lowe so he can do what he wants instead of having to go with Lowe

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#30 Czar
April 15 2013, 10:24AM
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Now that was some timely reporting JW! Is the press conference being televised?

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#31 michael
April 15 2013, 10:24AM
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I am excited about this move in a good way. I am at this point relieved that ST is done. MacT as GM is just fine by me with Howson as assistant GM. MacT with a Masters in Buisness.An intelligent man who isn't afraid to speak his mind. A puppet of KLOW? I don't think so. ST fired.About time.

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#32 The Soup Fascist
April 15 2013, 10:26AM
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Jonathan, This may be totally off base and a question that maybe should not come up in a public forum. So if you decide to steer clear of it, I totally understand. But I think given this announcement, it is valid.

Are there any concerns with MacTavish's health situation? My sincere hope is that his illness is behind him, but there are rumblings that he could still have some concerns in this regard.

To be clear, I hope this is not the case, but if there is a hint that his health is not optimum - why would he or his family want him to be in what is certainly a stressful, demanding position? Geez, you could see him age daily when he was coaching.

Just throwing it out there. If anyone thinks this question is offside, I apologize in advance.

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#33 Jason
April 15 2013, 10:27AM
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Eddie Shore wrote:

Maybe that is part of the problem? The guy appeared to be afraid to make a decision on is own.

Agreed. Hard to do a good job if big brother is always watching. Tambo may have been doomed from the start.

I do feel MacT has a big enough set to tell Lowe and Katz to "let me do my job" We shall see!

Looking forward to all the valuable insight coming up in the comment section ~

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#34 Quicksilver ballet
April 15 2013, 10:29AM
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Somewhere in Anaheim, Sheldon Souray chuckles under his breath, thinking they fired only half of the problem.

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#35 Phixieus666
April 15 2013, 10:29AM
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Jason wrote:

I dunno. When I watched oilchange, it didn't look like Tambo made any moves by himself yet he is taking the fall. Such is life.

My real dissapointment still lies in the effort of the players. Wether it is Horcoff, Hemsky or Smyth's fault or not - they need to go for next year.

p.s. if anyone suggests we hire Burke one more time I am going to throw up.

Ya that would be the day that Burkie would like Lowe be his boss. ahahahahahahah

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#36 Jason - True Oilers Fan
April 15 2013, 10:29AM
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good grief...get past the "throw Lowe off the cliff"... Lowe isnt going anywhere so stop dwelling and move on.

MacT is in and he is not a puppet. He left the team because he didnt like where it was going. Now he gets a chance to direct the ship. Im behind him as Im behind this team.

Go MacT, Go Oilers. I still support and cheer for you regardless.

This is a good move.....

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#37 Oilers21
April 15 2013, 10:30AM
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Scott Howson? Really? The same Scott Howson who "led" the Blue Jackets to exactly 1 playoff series and then 3 consecutive last-place finishes in the division? What are we thinking? Is it because of his history as assistant GM? I don't understand

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#38 Zamboni Driver
April 15 2013, 10:30AM
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The guy who figured Marty Reasoner was a "poor man's Joe Sakic" is now in charge of player evaluations.

I see no problems with this at all.

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#39 Rob...
April 15 2013, 10:32AM
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Better now than at the end of the season. You want a GM who is established by the date trades are permitted again.

Here's hoping that MacT has the gonads necessary to ship out of town any player who all of a sudden starts competing hard.

Screw all players who only play hard when they think their job is on the line. I want players that play hardest when the current GAME is on the line.

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#40 book¡e
April 15 2013, 10:34AM
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Oilers21 wrote:

Scott Howson? Really? The same Scott Howson who "led" the Blue Jackets to exactly 1 playoff series and then 3 consecutive last-place finishes in the division? What are we thinking? Is it because of his history as assistant GM? I don't understand

Just to be clear, Scott Howson is not the new GM, Craig MacT is. Scott is basically taking over the scouting duties MacT was doing.

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#41 Jason
April 15 2013, 10:35AM
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Jason - True Oilers Fan wrote:

good grief...get past the "throw Lowe off the cliff"... Lowe isnt going anywhere so stop dwelling and move on.

MacT is in and he is not a puppet. He left the team because he didnt like where it was going. Now he gets a chance to direct the ship. Im behind him as Im behind this team.

Go MacT, Go Oilers. I still support and cheer for you regardless.

This is a good move.....

Thank you. I believe this attitude is still present among the masses.

I have been an oilers fan since they beat Montreal in the playoffs in 1981?ish. I am also a supporter of both Lowe and MacT will continue to cheer.

- nice name ~

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#42 Dog Train
April 15 2013, 10:35AM
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Definitely good news if you ask me. I don't buy the conspiracy theories that Tambellini was basically a puppet for Lowe. I think there were distinct differences in the way that they handled business as GM. Lowe was often caught trying too hard to make the team better and he made some bad trades in this last few years as GM. Tambellini was often caught doing either nothing or continuing his fascination with fixing the fourth line or bottom D pairing.

I am not a huge fan of the old boys club but this is a new role for Mactavish and he is not to blame for what has gone on here in the past few seasons. Hell, he was the last coach we've had who got this team in position to truly sniff the playoffs. I am willing to give him a chance to right this ship. Huge off-season for the club.

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#43 DSF
April 15 2013, 10:35AM
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1 step forward...2 steps back.

And on it goes.

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#44 Mike Krushelnyski
April 15 2013, 10:36AM
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Can Terry Jones please write articles about firing Lowe and trading Hemsky too?

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#45 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 15 2013, 10:36AM
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For all those that wanted Penner back, I don't think so. LOL And, thank God!

Get some cats that got try. Lots of it!

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#46 LOIL99
April 15 2013, 10:41AM
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My worry is that Mac T and Lowe are stuck in the 80's as far as the game goes. Neither of them give advanced statistics ANY credit. And like it or not, this is the Moneyball era in hockey, and we will always be lagging behind if they dont start catching up with the times. The most successful teams are using advaced stats as a large part of their decision making pie.

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#47 Hayek
April 15 2013, 10:43AM
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First Tambellini, then Brownlee? That would make a great difference for Oilers, and Oilers blogoshpere!

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#48 Zamboni Driver
April 15 2013, 10:44AM
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Nothing more pathetic than blind faithers, I'm sorry.

"I think he will a great job. I am really happy."

BASED ON WHAT, exactly?

Though I suppose that's why it's called "blind" faith.

Honestly, if you think this is a good decision you need to give your head a shake.

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#49 Crashbash
April 15 2013, 10:44AM
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I am amazed at how many of the respondents to this site know exactly the inner-workings of Oilers management. Tambelini was the GM making the GM decisions. The many comments by the uninformed are exactly that "uninformed". The Oilers organization did have a winning record under Lowe, however he was challenged with the estblishment of a farm system. Under Tambelini the Oilers have an established farm system that should be able to continue without him. Good luck to Mactavish and Howson in bringing back the team to a winning record.

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#50 Spydyr
April 15 2013, 10:45AM
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This just in Mac-t signs Horcoff to a 3 year contract extension same money.Smyth to a 4 year extension.Says Petrell is the is Cam Neely light.

Lowetide faints from happiness.

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