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, 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 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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#2 ghostofberanek
April 15 2013, 11:53AM
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DSF wrote:

The problem is Lowe...always has been.

He's still driving the bus.

I find it hilarious that you presume to know all the ins and outs of what goes on in the Oilers front office. An important distinction you should be making is, you THINK he's still driving the bus.

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#3 The Soup Fascist
April 15 2013, 01:38PM
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DSF wrote:

Burke.

Lowe, McTavish and Howson have already had numerous years to strut their stuff.

Changing their job titles does not change who they are or what they are capable of.

Been listening to sports radio out here on the west cost and everyone is laughing at the Oilers.

It's quite sad, actually.

With all due respect

.... I also have significant concerns about the Oilers "braintrust" and will admit some of your comments today are not without merit.....

... HOWEVER, no one ANYWHERE gives a rodents rump, what fans of the least successful franchise in NHL history, living in the worst sports community in Canada, thinks.

In fact, if Canuck fans / media don't like the move, maybe I should be more positive about it.

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#4 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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#5 Zamboni Driver
April 15 2013, 11:19AM
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Spector with the last question he'll ever be allowed to ask,

"How is this meaningful change?"

Well done Mark.

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#6 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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#7 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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#8 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 15 2013, 10:58AM
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@Zamboni Driver

"Based on what?! Decisions like Tobey Peterson on the powerplay?"

Dude, you've been carrying that around for this many years? And, that's why you think this is not a smart move? I feel for you. I really do. Let it go, brah!

Scorned. Wow. Woooosaaaaa....

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#9 jeanshorts
April 15 2013, 11:07AM
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"EVERYTHING THE OILERS DO IS ALWAYS WRONG EVERY TIME!!!" - Most of the commenters on here/Twitter.

THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS!!!

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#10 Harlie
April 15 2013, 11:17AM
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"BOLD THINGS, EXPOSE OURSELVES TO RISK, NOW IS THE TIME TO ACCELERATE".

MacT

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#11 -30-
April 15 2013, 11:29AM
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Whoever asked Lowe that question has gigantic balls. I wish more MSM would act that way and not ask the EASY questions.

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#12 Clyde Frog
April 15 2013, 11:38AM
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DSF wrote:

Wow...Lowe loosing it.

Who knew?

Wait, what did Lowe loose?

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#13 TDSM31
April 15 2013, 11:57AM
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Lowe demands respect...he doesn't command it. Not the character trait you want running your organization.

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#14 Neal
April 15 2013, 11:58AM
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Sorry guys, I was always the guy who liked Mac. Remember when he was coach he had to work with what he had, and he got the most out of what he had. and when what he had wasn't good enough, he tried everything he could think of until he finally became so frustrated he blew a gasket. I don't hold that against him.

Lowe and Howson are another matter. Howson, I just don't get. What is he in charge of (actually) anyway? What has he done to deserve this? What track record? Somebody will have to enlighten me here. Then we get to Lowe. He has to wear it for being the architect of the whole Oilers debacle and I've said it for over 5 years. Trouble is there's no one to fire him, so hopefully he can be duct taped and stood up in a corner. Anyway, let's give Mac a chance.

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#15 Spydyr
April 15 2013, 12:02PM
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Lowe saying there are two types of fans the ones that pay and go to the games and the ones that don't go to the games. This shows how out of touch he is. Most Oiler fans are busy raising families paying for school for themselves or their children. Trying to make it through life. Not many families can afford season tickets. Most season tickets are now corporate.

There are maybe 17,000 in the stands any game night.Millions more watch at home or in pubs and bars.They are buying jerseys and other NHL products. They are the reason the team gets television and radio money.

Putting the same people who created the mess to fix the mess is insanity.

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#16 Yep
April 15 2013, 10:03AM
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:D

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

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#18 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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#19 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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#20 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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#21 Eddie Shore
April 15 2013, 10:46AM
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Zamboni Driver wrote:

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.

I'll flip this on you. What makes you so sure this is a bad move? I think any move away from Tambo is a good move at this point. MacT seems like a guy who isn't afraid to make the difficult decisions. Maybe thats just me convincing myself, only time will tell.

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#22 Quicksilver ballet
April 15 2013, 10:48AM
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@The Soup Fascist

Your concern with MacTs health.

As a person also living with cancer, it is possible to still live a relatively normal life. I see MacT at the CCI every six weeks or so when i'm there for appointments. He always has his bodyguard Debbie with him, striking up a conversation is always difficult when his wife is always around. Haven't had the opportunity to talk to him at all, doesn't feel right to interrupt/barge in on him when he's obviously uncomfortable.

Growing up in Edmonton, I always feared even driving by the Cross Cancer Institute. Now that I actually have to go in that place it's not a facility to be feared at all. To be the 1 person in 15 (based on the worlds population) who has access to this quality of healthcare, is a very humbling experience to say the least. It isn't a place to be feared if you ever find yourself having to go there.

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#23 vetinari
April 15 2013, 11:02AM
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Dear Calgary Flames:

Thank you for putting what is most likely, the final nail in the coffin of our 2012-13 season with your win the other night if it meant that Steve Tambellini was the corpse inside. I owe you a beer at the next BOA.

Regards,

v.

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#24 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 15 2013, 11:09AM
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Zamboni Driver wrote:

Well I gave evidence of lack of judgement.

You show off your Oiler underoos as reasoning that this is a good idea.

I'll take my position.

Also...I get blind faith I guess. But good lord. Aren't you TIRED of this nonsense? Demand better.

Fair enough. But, everything he did to get to game 7 in the SCF with what most would agree was a subpar team means absolutely nothing? C'mon, dude. Give that old cat some credit.

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#25 Ducey
April 15 2013, 11:12AM
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Zamboni Driver wrote:

Well I gave evidence of lack of judgement.

You show off your Oiler underoos as reasoning that this is a good idea.

I'll take my position.

Also...I get blind faith I guess. But good lord. Aren't you TIRED of this nonsense? Demand better.

Lets say they fired Lowe and undertook a massive worldwide search to find a replacement GM.

It would come down to someone who is a retread (like Burke who has made some good moves but also some terrible ones like the Kessel trade - one of the worst in history) or someone with no real managment experience thats an up and comer.

Tambo was highly regarded and an "outside" guy from a successful organization that needed to take the next step. How did that work?

MacT has the kind of life experience (cancer, prison, Stanley Cups, being fired as a coach, MBA) that should give him the wisdom needed. He has been around the game at all different levels (even a broadcast announcer). He has Howson to help him. I also don't think he is going to take any crap from Lowe or anyone else.

Who would you put in the job instead of him?

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#26 Ducey
April 15 2013, 11:23AM
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Zamboni Driver wrote:

That's a good question. I really don't know.

the huge problem, and the one that we ALL need to be tired of....

They don't consider anyone else.

Let's move forward by moving backward. Oh hey look! Scott Howson too- well he was horrific in Columbus, but he was an Oiler too.

The move now makes absolutely no sense.

Was Howson horrific in CLB?

I don't think so. CLB is full of the big bodied players the Oilers need. He basically had no choice but to lose the Nash trade, but its arguable he won it.

http://www.jacketscannon.com/2013/2/12/3982644/what-scott-howson-did-right

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#27 The Soup Fascist
April 15 2013, 11:53AM
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Smokey wrote:

At least the Toby, Marty, and Liam never quit like the shiney new first rounders

Right about a lot of the guys. Not sure if that is fair to say about yakupov and certainly you can't say Hall has been anything but a trooper.

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#28 DSF
April 15 2013, 11:55AM
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Anyone who still was harbouring doubts about Lowe needs to watch that pathetic performance again.

Blaming the mess he made on winning 5 Stanley Cups more than 20 years ago and then slagging Oiler fans who aren't season ticket holders as if they aren't entitled to their opinions was beyond the pale.

That clown is STILL RUNNING THE EDMONTON OILERS.

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#29 Romulus' Apotheosis
April 15 2013, 12:00PM
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that was ugly.

peevish is the best description.

questions were remarkably sharp though... good for the media... that was impressive.

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#30 Fresh Mess
April 15 2013, 12:18PM
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So the organisation that claims it is losing money can afford to create a redundant position for an ex player to act as "a liaison" between the owner and GM? And they can afford to pay him well over a million dollars per year for this part time job?

And this organisation has no problem insulting non ticket buying fans while at the same time demanding the citizens of Edmonton, and perhaps Alberta, buy them a new building?

Unreal.

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#31 Zamboni Driver
April 15 2013, 12:26PM
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Dear Batman & Kevie,

I am not a season's ticket holder (I'm not a glutton for punishment with more dollars than sense).

I am, however a tax payer in both the City of Edmonton and the Province of Alberta.

I understand you want a sh*tpile of my money to build an 'office' for you to bring us your below-average performance into the future.

But it turns out you don't really care about me.

Guess what?

It's mutual.

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#32 MAC962
April 15 2013, 12:41PM
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Nice Kevin - you made me and my family feel like second rate fans because we cannot afford season tickets, yet many have said buy Jerseys- Hats- you name it, literally thousands of dollars of Oilers gear, but we don't really count. Kiss my arse Kevin Lowe I hope you sink. And so i am sure does every other hard working joe here who cannot afford your seasons tickets.

Classy all the way Lowe.

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#33 Ducey
April 15 2013, 12:52PM
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Zamboni Driver wrote:

Dear Batman & Kevie,

I am not a season's ticket holder (I'm not a glutton for punishment with more dollars than sense).

I am, however a tax payer in both the City of Edmonton and the Province of Alberta.

I understand you want a sh*tpile of my money to build an 'office' for you to bring us your below-average performance into the future.

But it turns out you don't really care about me.

Guess what?

It's mutual.

Really. Are they posting about you?

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#34 Dave
April 15 2013, 01:07PM
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I didn't sense that Craig felt that coaching was the issue -maybe after Christmas next year.

Kevin came off really bad ... he should have foreseen the questions that would be asked.

He said that they talk with the fans - that attend the games. Where ? How ? not to me at any rate.

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#35 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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#36 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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#37 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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#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 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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#40 Gazmort
April 15 2013, 10:48AM
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It is a challenge to be optimistic about this move when the guy who requested a player pay back part of his salary prior to finalizing a trade is ultimatley still in charge (nevermind who the player coming back was).

Give Lowe full credit though; he is exceptional at putting people in front of himself to take the bullets. He's a survivor!

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#41 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 15 2013, 10:49AM
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Zamboni Driver wrote:

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.

Or you could explain why this is a bad decision.

What do you call disliking something with no supporting evidence? Hate.

You got a hate on for Management. I get it. There are a few scorned women on here.

Give him a chance. He coached this team to game 7 in the SCF. He's not an idiot.

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#42 freeze
April 15 2013, 10:52AM
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This is a great start. Anything is better than listening to Tambo in a press conference.

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#43 westcoastoil
April 15 2013, 10:55AM
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I like this. MacT is intelligent. He had the opportunity to step away from the team for a while (and while away worked within another org), and right or wrong I don't see him taking the job if Lowe is going to still be in the driver's seat.

How he deals with the pro scouting department over the summer will be a tell.

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#44 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 15 2013, 11:05AM
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Zamboni Driver wrote:

First of all...Please don't bring up the fluke.

Or I will trot out $7 million for Horcoff and $3 million for Pisani.

Also.

Please understand as well.

He was the COACH of that team.

His new job is as General Manager. For which he has part of one year's experience as an assistant.

But I know I know...he's a boy on the bus, Ole MacT...so I should believe.

You should give him a chance. That's the main point.

A COACH does influence a GM when trades are being made. Why? Because, he knows what HIS team needs. One reason why I think there should be a change there too. We'll see.

"Or I will trot out $7 million for Horcoff and $3 million for Pisani."

Trot it out, dude. This is a forum where healthy arguments are intended to be made. That's what this is.

Pisani got sick. Maybe we should blame God on that one. As for Horcoff, yup, way too much money. And?

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#45 The Soup Fascist
April 15 2013, 11:12AM
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"This Lowe guy seems a little wooden up at the podium".

Signed,

A Cigar Store Indian, Pinocchio and Dutch Shoes

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#46 Ducey
April 15 2013, 11:16AM
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DSF wrote:

As long as Lowe still has the keys, the Oilers aren't going anywhere.

The Oilers could install the Almighty himself (I mean God, not Brian Burke) and you would find a problem with it.

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#47 Scary Gary
April 15 2013, 11:24AM
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Finally! At least a change is better than no change. One would have to think the MacTavish/Howson combo couldn't do any worse than sit-on-his-hands Tambo.

Gotta love Lowe deflecting criticism; I'm still shocked he was promoted instead of fired.

First order of business, find an adequate backup to Devon, a top four defenseman (Yandle to mentor Schultz), and some veterans that don't drown versus the opposition (I'm looking at you Smyth).

Congrats!

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#48 DSF
April 15 2013, 11:25AM
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MacT playing the 5 cups card.

FFS.

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#49 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 15 2013, 11:31AM
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Nice to see a little fire from Lowe.

Good points he made. Best: 3rd year of a rebuild.

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#50 The Soup Fascist
April 15 2013, 11:31AM
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vetinari wrote:

Lowe's blowing a gasket... maybe he's finally feeling a little pressure to be accountable for the mess that he's created?

Brings new meaning to the term "Defensive Defenceman".

Out of curiosity, who asked the question that pushed KLowe over the edge to the "Do you know who the hell I am" response?

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