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

FFS.

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#102 Tambi Toast
April 15 2013, 11:25AM
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"Tambellini was expected to clean up the mess that was left by this group. How do you bring back the same people to fix this?"

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#103 Eulers
April 15 2013, 11:25AM
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And the heavens opened up and The Lord did say,

"Yes, Eulers, there is a God and he will shine upon you this day!"

SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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#104 Zamboni Driver
April 15 2013, 11:26AM
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@DSF

Craig doesn't have a calendar.

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#105 DSF
April 15 2013, 11:27AM
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Wow...Lowe loosing it.

Who knew?

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#106 vetinari
April 15 2013, 11:28AM
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Lowe's blowing a gasket... maybe he's finally feeling a little pressure to be accountable for the mess that he's created?

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#107 Zamboni Driver
April 15 2013, 11:29AM
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Incidentally....if you don't have seasons tickets, Kev and Daryl don't care.

So we should all STFU and buy our Oilers jerseys.

Because, you know...they WON STANLEY CUPS!!

(you know....like...23 years ago and stuff.)

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#108 -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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#109 JL
April 15 2013, 11:30AM
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Lowe keeps saying that the roster assembled is great. getting 3 first overall picks is not an accomplishment, it is a direct result of failure, I can’t believe he wants credit for the " talent acquisition"

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#110 Obiwan Eberle - Team Silver Fox
April 15 2013, 11:30AM
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this is awesome...the fans have spoken loud enough that the media is on it!

Lowe you are the precipitate, not part of the solution

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#111 Gerald R. Ford
April 15 2013, 11:31AM
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Somebody's a bit testy today. FINALLY some tough questions from the mainstream media in this town. Sounds like Lowe is genuinely shocked at the hostility and aggressive tone of the questions. Which says a lot.

I really can't believe this crap. "Definition of insanity..." etc.

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#112 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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#113 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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#114 DSF
April 15 2013, 11:31AM
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-30- wrote:

Whoever asked Lowe that question has gigantic balls. I wish more MSM would act that way and not ask the EASY questions.

Rishaug I think.

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#115 HongKongHockeyFan
April 15 2013, 11:31AM
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Yes, Lowe has lost it. Once again bring up the fact he won 5 Stanley Cups. But obviously he doesn't want to highlight he won them as a player but not as a GM. Burke was right for calling Lowe 'gutless'. Just imagine where the Oil would be if Buffalo did not match the offer for Vanek.

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#116 Eddie Shore
April 15 2013, 11:32AM
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This is quality television. Lowe is fired up!!!

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#117 Tyler Fisher
April 15 2013, 11:32AM
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I hope we see the Mac T blender come out for the support staff. Things aren't working... Water bottle guy, you're head coach today, coach, you're on jersey duty, Joey, you're swing the gate for the D and drawing up a workable PK. Smith/Bucky, take over Play by Play up stairs. Stauffer, you're on PP duty. Let do this boys.

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#118 madjam
April 15 2013, 11:35AM
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Many years late , but i said they should have promoted and made MacT . Gm years ago when they let him go as coach . Finally vindicated , after being vilified by most of ON for my forsight .

Side note : I see or hear nothing about Tam responding to him being let go . Why ? Management not saying much either . Lowe fumbling around about "boys club" allegiance - looks unconfortable answering those questions .

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#119 Will
April 15 2013, 11:35AM
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Any idea on what exposing ourselves to risk is going to entail?

I mean, I think the vast majority of ON readers and posters means 'risking' a return on Hemsky and Gagner. But it could also mean losing one of the wonder kids.

Or even worse it could mean losing our first round pick.

Our biggest gaping holes are size in the top six, a back up goalie, and of course a legit top 2 defender.

So, with baited breath, I hope the bold solution to one of these problems is not to trade our first rounder.

THoughts?

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#120 Reg Dunlop
April 15 2013, 11:37AM
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Ducey wrote:

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?

Just how is spending time in the clink a positive? Will he get soap-on-a-rope for the shower room? While I guess we must give the convict a chance, clearly Tambo was a patsy. As long as KL remains, the fundamental problem remains. Changing coaches did nothing, shuffling GMs likely will have the same impact.

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#121 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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#122 The Soup Fascist
April 15 2013, 11:38AM
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We will see if MacT can run a hockey team or not (assuming he is allowed to). I agree some of his talent usage and assessment when he coached are rightly a cause for concern.

But say what you want, the guy is a sharp dude and carries himself VERY well in these situations. MacT looks and sounds like a guy who could run a multi-hundred million dollar business. Not sure you could say that about his predeceasor or the guy to his left.

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#123 Jeffff
April 15 2013, 11:40AM
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The similarities are different.

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#124 Mike Krushelnyski
April 15 2013, 11:43AM
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Clyde Frog wrote:

Wait, what did Lowe loose?

Tambo's Magic Tie, so he could put it on MacTavish.

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#125 Kev
April 15 2013, 11:43AM
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How many losing seasons will MacTavish get ?

The more things change the more they stay the same.

Daryl couldn't fire his friend Kevin Lowe

Oilers are doomed mark my words.

Katz deserves this team

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#126 Dave Lumley
April 15 2013, 11:44AM
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Now he says, we do what ever it takes, search high and low.

What was wrong with doing that 10 days ago, you were the VP F.C.sakes.

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#127 John Chambers
April 15 2013, 11:44AM
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This will make for an interesting draft + summer.

Let the trade rumors fly and the good times roll!

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#128 Smokey
April 15 2013, 11:47AM
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The Soup Fascist wrote:

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!

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

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#129 A-Mc
April 15 2013, 11:49AM
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HA what a day. At this point, i dont care what has to change as long as something is changed.

If MacT has to be the new GM then so be it. Change has to happen this summer, good or bad - I believe the pressure on MacT will get the ball rolling.

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#130 Harlie
April 15 2013, 11:50AM
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DSF wrote:

Rishaug I think.

I think it was him too.

He'll be on with Gregor sometime today so I'll be listening. Ol' Shauger Dauger likes getting into matches with MacT...haha

Should be an interesting Oil Lunch with the shill..uhh I mean Stauffer.

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#131 Rocket
April 15 2013, 11:52AM
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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."

Hmmmm...risky.

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#132 Rob...
April 15 2013, 11:53AM
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I can already hear Gary Bettman at the draft podium announcing: "We have a trade. The Edmonton Oilers have traded the rights to Linus Omark and the 3rd overall pick to the Dallas Stars for Toby Peterson and Ray Whitney."

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#133 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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#134 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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#135 Nick
April 15 2013, 11:54AM
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MacTavish will do something bold and find a 4th line player for a 2nd rd pick.

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#136 Rocket
April 15 2013, 11:54AM
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Shouldn't The Oilers have fired Tambo before the trade deadline so MacT could have made those impatient moves?

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#137 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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#138 Dave Lumley
April 15 2013, 11:56AM
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Well then, there it is. A good time to fire him now when you can't do anything till the draft anyways. At least it will give Craig some time to assess the situation.

Give me a F'in Break.

I was a supporter of Tambellini for sticking to the rebuild plan and not selling out for the quick fix. What is going to happen now that could not have happened a month ago? Same management team sans Tambellini.

If you are going to make a change then do it. This is a Chicken sh(i)t move.

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#139 Smokey
April 15 2013, 11:57AM
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Hayek wrote:

First Tambellini, then Brownlee? That would make a great difference for Oilers, and Oilers blogoshpere!

Why the hate to Brownlee, why don't just stop reading it. Hockeybuzz misses ya.

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#140 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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#141 outdoorzguy
April 15 2013, 11:57AM
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Did Lowe even read the script before he went to the podium? He could barely read it.

So, Lowe plays the "I've got 6 Stanley Cups" card and thinks that qualifies him to lead a team.

McTavish plays the "I've got an MBA now so that makes me qualified to run a team".

What a bunch of arrogant asses!!

These are the same idiots who put the team in this position in the first place. Loser Lowe just walked down the hall and said "hey guys, new jobs for everyone". There is zero creativity in this organization. Zero leadership. And I really think there is a zero plan.

Like I said before "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss". This organization has no integrity (we've seen that from the owner and arena negotiations), their arrogance is symptomatic and all they do is give the fans lip service.

How did Loser Lowe ever keep his job in all this??

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#142 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 15 2013, 11:58AM
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John Chambers wrote:

This will make for an interesting draft + summer.

Let the trade rumors fly and the good times roll!

I agree. I haven't been this excited for the off-season in ever! lol

Should be a busy one. I like it.

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#143 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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#144 Scary Gary
April 15 2013, 11:59AM
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MacTavish is blaming their present position on the 80's!?

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#145 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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#146 Jeffff
April 15 2013, 12:00PM
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Oilers have been a team that plays prevent defense in all of there decisions.

They will be a a team in perpetual rebuild.

Oiler fan better get use to disappointment. Much more to come

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#147 Smokey
April 15 2013, 12:00PM
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Rocket wrote:

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."

Hmmmm...risky.

Probably working on a Carteresk trade with Howsen where they trade our first for a bad contract and a guy who won't probably return their phone calls.

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#148 Fresh Mess
April 15 2013, 12:00PM
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Disgraceful performance from Lowe. Absolutely refuses to accept any responsibility for his lousy performance. He is truly delusional.

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#149 Romulus' Apotheosis
April 15 2013, 12:01PM
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Scary Gary wrote:

MacTavish is blaming their present position on the 80's!?

The reason they've been good to middling to terrible since the early 90s is because of winning all those cups...

makes terrible sense...

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#150 Gerald R. Ford
April 15 2013, 12:01PM
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Milhouse: "Bob, respond to the 'Old Boys' Club Accusation."

Stauffer: "Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah... Game 7...blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah... Pronger trade... blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah....Hossa... blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah... Heatley... blah, blah... bitumen bubble."

What? What?

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