WEEKEND WRAP: MACTAVISH IS BACK AS GM

Jason Gregor
April 15 2013 01:20PM

What a weekend. So many big stories in sports. Some great races in the NHL, the Masters, Kobe Bryant injury, a great comeback by the Edmonton Rush and the Edmonton Oilers final implosion vs. the Calgary Flames, and the subsequent calling for change.

There is no doubt change is needed, but it can't just be changes to fringe players.

That was my intro to my story early this morning, but then the Oilers went out and actually made some changes. General Manager Steve Tambellini was fired and replaced by Craig MacTavish while Scott Howson returns to the Oilers this time as Vice President of Hockey Operations.

I said last September that the Oilers needed to show significant improvement this season or management needed to be held accountable. And in our pre-season predictions in January I wrote the same. And by change I didn't mean a playoff berth. A playoff appearance would have been a massive improvement, but an unrealistic one, however, if the Oilers didn't improve overall then the architect of the team needed to be looked at.

With seven games remaining I haven't seen a significant improvement. I wrote, prior to losses vs. Phoenix and Calgary, that I hadn't seen any real improvement and many disagreed. It looks like the Oilers agreed that this team hadn't made enough improvements, and today they fired Tambellini with one year remaining on his contract.

Saturday's abyssmal performance against Calgary got everyone in Oilersnation angry, frustrated and disappointed. Many of you have remained patient the past few years, believing the rebuild was working, but a 4-1 loss to a depleted Calgary team was unacceptable.

It is clear the Oilers aren't built to be a contender.

They have very good young players, led by Taylor Hall, but you can't win with just young, skilled forwards in today's NHL. Your team can't be one-dimensional, and that is what the Oilers are. They can beat you with speed and skilll, but if the opposition slows down the game the Oilers can't adapt.

WHAT I SEE....

Many have written and said that the Oilers biggest weakness is their bottom-six forwards. If they improve there the Oilers will be a contender. I agree their 3rd and 4th lines need to improve, but so does the mix within their top-six, and on their blueline.

The Oilers have many areas of weakness, not just the 7th-13th forwards.

The young kids have loads of potential, some of it already proven, but the Oilers won't win with the same top-six next season. They need some size and toughness sprinkled in amongst the skilled forwards.

Please don't suggest that the Oilers have enough size with Hall and Magnus Paajarvi. To me size isn't just your height and weight. Being over six feet and 200 pounds doesn't mean you are big on the ice. It means you are big on the scale.

For me it is how you play the game. The Oilers have no robust forwards who can compliment the skill of Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov or Sam Gagner. I don't doubt the skill or drive of those five, but they don't have the strength or size to beat teams in the trenches.

Hockey in March is much tighter and more difficult than it is between October and February. And then April and May hockey is even more grittier, disciplined and more confined than March. The Oilers do not have the right combination within their top-six to compete.

Look at the forwards during the 2006 Cup run.

They had pure skill in Hemsky and Samsanov. They had gritty, productive skill in Torres, Peca, Stoll and Smyth. They had smarts, skill and determination in Horcoff and Pisani. Of course it helped having a Hall of Fame defenceman in Chris Pronger, but the Oilers top-nine forwards had a great mix of skill, smarts, toughness and grit.

Stop suggesting that the height and weight of the Oilers is a solid defence to the argument that they are big enough. The most physical forward amongst their top-nine is Nail Yakupov, and while that is great for him, it is also a clear sign of what they lack amongst the forwards who play the most minutes.

The Oilers need a young Ryan Smyth. A guy who went to all the tough areas and played his guts out every night. He didn't wow you with tremendous speed, pinpoint shooting, pression passing or much size, but his determination and skill six to ten feet from the net was top-notch.

Torres and Peca weren't big, but they could change the momentum of the game with a big hit as often as a big goal. They played big. Horcoff in 2006 led them in playoff scoring, while shutting down the opposition's top line. Was he as skilled as RNH, no chance, but he never backed down from a battle.

I suspect Nugent-Hopkins will become a very good two-way centreman, mainly because he is trying to mirror Pavel Datsyuk's style of play. The fact RNH takes that much pride in his two-way game, suggests to me that he will become an elite two-way player. He might not be as good as Datsyuk, who is top-three centres in the game, but he likely will be a top-ten centre in the future. I'm not suggesting they alter their 1st line centre, but today RNH's game is not as complete  as Horcoff was in 2006.

The Oilers in 2006 had strength down the middle. None of them were elite scorers, but Horcoff, Peca and Stoll were all very good two-way players and exceptional in the faceoff dot. The Oilers need one of their top-two centres to win at least 50% of their faceoffs.

The reality is that the Oilers need to change the combination on their top-two lines. And it isn't just about experience, or in the Oilers case, a lack of it. Do you believe that in two or three years Gagner, Eberle, RNH, Hall, Yakupov and Paajarvi will be the right mix? Who is going to alter their game enough to add that much grit?

ON THE HOT SEAT

Tambellini was on the hot seat, but now the focus shifts to Craig MacTavish.

MacTavish sat at the podium today, and as usual he was incredibly well-spoken. He said what many media and fans have been saying for months. The time is now to make some bold moves.

While MacTavish was eloguent, Kevin Lowe was his usual fiery and emotional self. Lowe is extemely passionate, but at times he let his emotions get the best of him today. Even though it is true from a business sense saying, "There are two types of fans, those that buy tickets and those who watch at home," wasn't his best choice of words.

SAY WHAT...

Here are some of the quotes that stood out for me. These are all from MacTavish: 

I'm an impatient guy. I bring that impatience to this situation. We are at a phase where we have to do some bold things. 

We have to add some depth to help these young players. We have to add competitiveness. We lack the undestanding of what it takes to win.

We are the point in the cycle where we can expose ourselves to some risk.

Talk is cheap in this game. I can talk about what I want, but it is in the action and execution.

We will improve our pro scouting, but more we need to improve player acquisitions.

The fact is, it is not about yesterday. I'm not looking at what has happened in the past. I'm looking forward. 

My thoughts on those quotes...

MacTavish admitted that he feels the time for being cautious, the biggest criticism of Tambellini, is gone. The Oilers need to make some bold trades and signings, and they have to get more players on the roster who understand what it takes to win. You can't expect the kids to lead this team, they need some quality support.

The Oilers also need some grit, but according to MacTavish it has to be grit that can score. That isn't a new thought. I think most of us have stated for months, years, the Oilers need some skilled grit. It is easy to say, but as MacTavish said his actions will speak louder than words.

The off-season just got much more interesting.

The Oilers will try to be bold, which means we can expect some trades, signings and likely some buyouts.

We can agree that Tambellini's trades and free agent signings involving forwards didn't work out, but the Oilers and their fans shouldn't be fooled into believing a simple re-vamping of the 3rd and 4th lines will push this team to the promised land.

They need to do more than just fix those lines. It is time the Oilers got realistic about the expectations of their players. They have lots of skill, but they need more strength and size throughout their lineup. MacTavish is well aware that this team can't just expect to be one-year older and automatically better next season. He will adjust his top-six forwards.

If they don't surround their skilled, young players with some strong, skilled veterans the Oilers will be hard-pressed to be a serious contender for at least another three or four years. The time has come to re-shape this team, and it will be very interesting to watch how MacTavish molds the team.

KRUEGER?

Ralph Krueger isn't perfect, but I don't blame him for the Oilers 23rd place ranking and neither does MacTavish. "We need to give our coach better tools to compete. For me to say it is Krueger's fault would be short-sighted," said MacT when asked about Krueger's future.

I suspect MacTavish is well aware how difficult it is to coach when you don't have enough quality NHL players. He ultimately wasn't MacTavish's hire, but he'll get another season to prove he is a good coach.

QUICK HITS

  • I'm not a fan of Tiger Woods. No doubt he is one of the greatest golfers we've ever seen, but I'm not a fan. That being said, I didn't expect him to disqualify himself from the Masters after his illegal drop on the 15th hole on Friday. That would have been a very tough decision. He was assessed a two-stroke penalty and played the final two days. Had he won the tournament some suggested it would be tainted, because he should have disqualified himself because he knew he broke the rules. Other have done it. Bobby Jones called a penalty on himself at the US Open in 1925, and many golf fans remember when Jack Nicklaus conceded a putt to Tony Jacklin which allowed Great Britain to halve the 1969 Ryder Cup. Those were great acts of golf etiquette. I get that, but I also understand why Tiger played. I don't know if his decision was right or wrong, but it sure has the golf world talking.
     
  • Kevin Lowe got fired up when John MacKinnon asked him why fans should believe that this regime, which made the mess the prior to Tambellini's appearance in Edmonton, will be able to make better decisions this time. Lowe answered diplomatically the first time, but when MacKinnon asked a follow up question you could see Lowe's blood starting to boil. "There is only one other person currently working in hockey who has more Cups than me. I think I know something about winning,"said Lowe. Many are going to rip Lowe for this statement because sports is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and while he has six Cups, none of them have come since 1994.
     
  • While the Oilers play out the string, the Edmonton Rush have their biggest home game in franchise history this Saturday night. With one game remaining, the Rush sit in first place in the NLL west division at 9-6, but they haven't secured home floor advantage yet. The Rush play 2nd place Calgary on Saturday. A win would secure them first place in the entire league, but a loss could drop them to 3rd in the west, if Washington wins. It is a crazy scenario, but it makes for one hell of an entertaining final weekend in the NLL.
     
  • It is a completely different sport, but Edmonton Eskimos GM Ed Hervey has some interesting answers when I asked him about how his first four months on the job have been. Read here.
     
  • What do you think will be the first bold move MacTavish makes? I'm not talking about moves involving Belanger, Eager, Petrell or other low minute guys. I'm thinking along the lines of Hemsky, Smyth, and one or two young players?

  • I would like to thank Shane Jones and Global TV for letting me be a part of their Sunday show the past 18 months. It was a lot of fun, but I've decided to take a break from that show. I want to have at least one day off and I've got some other opportunities I'm looking at. Thanks again Jonesy, and I look forward to doing guest appearances on your show in the future. 

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR

 

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#51 steven gregson
April 15 2013, 03:46PM
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Jason, as long as 'grit' is code for 'hockey player' I am okay with it. If grit is code for more Mike Brown's, then we have a problem.

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#52 TDSM31
April 15 2013, 03:49PM
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carson wrote:

Lowe was an absolute gong show today.

Yep...he already had minimal fan support in this town...now he has none.

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#53 positivebrontefan
April 15 2013, 03:53PM
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I liked Specs question regarding meaningful change. I saw it as a shuffling of deck chairs.

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#54 smiliegirl15
April 15 2013, 03:56PM
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outdoorzguy wrote:

Glen Sather??

That's it, just keep going back in the past. What is it with you people?

Lowe's still an arrogant prick.

You people? Maybe read the thread so you know what's going on... or is this really Kevin Lowe?

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#55 Dave Lumley
April 15 2013, 03:56PM
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Crispy wrote:

Lowe may have done well building up to the 2006 cup run, but after that some of his attempted moves have scared the hell out of me. The Vanek offer sheet, the crazy offer to Hossa. If either of those deals had gone through we would be screwed right now. Having Lowe as the GM was like playing russian roulette. Fortunately for us there weren't any bullets when he tried to pull the trigger in those two instances.

Luckily the lack of star talent doesn't exist here anymore, so hopefully Mactavish can be a much smarter GM than Lowe. I know everyone seems to hate Tambellini, but I feel for him. He was handed a pretty awful team, and is now paying for a lot of Lowe's mistakes. IMO the wrong guy was fired today.

I agree! The wrong guy was fired and to make matters worse the wrong guy was hired.

As I posted earlier today:

"Nilsson, the 23-year-old son of former Calgary Flames star Kent Nilsson, had an eight-game scoring streak earlier this season and was trying to match that last night. "You can see his skill level," MacTavish said. "He could be the leading scorer on this team one day.""

Along with Marty Reasoner being a poor mans Joe Sakic should make everyone wonder at his ability to judge talent.

Anyone else have a problem with this?

MacTavish should have got impatient at the trade deadline and did his job as Senior VP of Hockey and worked with Tambellini to make some moves. Hypocrite.

Finish this years tank job and then fire Tambellini and the players that you think were responsible. At least you walk away with a descent pick. Watch them go on a run now and instead of Monahan we get Lazar.

Another thing that Lowe should swing for. Poor strategy.

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#56 Dangilitis
April 15 2013, 04:00PM
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Oilfred wrote:

Ryan Whitney has got to go. This is a playoff team with a decent 4 million dollar D man.

That is the most flattering and undeserved praise I have heard about Whitney in some time...

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#57 SuntanOil
April 15 2013, 04:10PM
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I am not sure that I am really against hiring Craig MacTavish per se, although I am entirely against the timing and execution of it.

I just don't know what the big hurry was. We are past the trade deadline, so anything Tambellini could have done after the season could have been prevented by releasing him then. Furthermore, an astute organization would have talked to a few other candidates if for no other reason than to get their opinions on what the best moves would be for the team going forward, and how certain elements of the team are viewed from outside the organization. Instead of doing that, we get a press conference anointing OBC MacTavish as the new king with no other candidates needing apply. It's another wasted opportunity which someone who knows how to win would have taken advantage of.

Besides, it looks like we could have used one more dose of Tambellini lottery luck.

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#58 Rocknrolla
April 15 2013, 04:36PM
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I think this may be Lowe's exit press conference.

As a business owner, it's hard to hide from this type of public embarrassment. I think Katz would likely be smart to strategically announce over the summer that Kevin is overseeing all sports properties and arena project and is no longer involved in the day to day. Give MacT the reigns fully.

This opportunity based on Kevin's comments gives Katz the perfect out to tell his friend to step back. Otherwise I feel that he would feel a bit stuck with Lowe in that position.

Lets see what happens, but what an utter implosion in public by one of your executives!

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#59 106 and 106
April 15 2013, 05:06PM
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"There is only one other person currently working in hockey who has more Cups than me. I think I know something about winning,"said Lowe.

He was rude to the fans and dated himself with this comment - looks like he's defending his pedigree rather than answering the question.

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#60 Quicksilver ballet
April 15 2013, 05:14PM
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It's good to see the tanking portion of the rebuild over when the curtains are drawn on this season. Lowe/Katz needed a front man to take most of the flak involved during the few difficult yrs ahead. I'm no Tambellini fan but you have to give the guy some credit, he deliberately steered this team into the face of nearly 4 first overall draft picks. Every rebuilding hockey teams dream.

Thought Lowe/Katz got off cheap only giving him one yrs severance package for doing this deed. Kinda have a sneaky suspicion he won't be out of work long with his accomplishments here to fall back on. Give it 3 or 4 yrs and we'll all look back at these difficult times as one of the finer examples of how to drive things into the ditch quickly and with a purpose. Steven only did exactly what he was brought here to do.....protect Kevin Lowe.

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#61 Halfwise
April 15 2013, 05:26PM
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Lots of shallow comments in the thread today.

Lowe was a solid player, an OK coach and a poor executive. It's not his strength and the sooner he learns to keep his hands off the team the better.

MacT was an OK player, a solid coach and, well, we don't know what he will do as an executive. But he is smart and his eyes have always been wide open (I liked his comment about his mental health being questionable, says a lot about his awareness of what others may think).

Lowe acted like an idiot today and deserves all the criticism he is getting. But MacT told us to judge him on his work, and that is the only basis to judge him. Today should not be that day.

Gagner will be traded at the draft for a big LD who is younger than 25 and draft picks will even the scales. Smytty will retire. Hemsky or Eberle will be traded on the second day of Free Agency when the trading partner misses out on Pierre-Marc Bouchard. I bet all remaining UFAs except Petrell and Danis are all allowed to walk.

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#62 Hunter5
April 15 2013, 07:45PM
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To bad... I looked forward to seeing what you were going to wear on Sundays. I especially like the hat, earing and waiters coat.

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#63 Dog Train
April 15 2013, 07:51PM
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The best way to upgrade our bottom 6 would be to upgrade our top six which would subsequently bump a player like Paajarvi down the third line.

As for the press conference, Lowe came off as a big goof. Mactavish was well-spoken but like he said, actions will speak louder than words. I find myself a little more optimistic that this team will make the moves it needs in the off-season as opposed to how I felt yesterday.

I am definitely looking forward to the Rush game on Saturday. Nice to see it's televised but I wish that more NLL games were on TV. It would be nice if Sportsnet West picked up more Rush and Roughnecks games instead of just when they play each other. With many of the games on the weekend, they should be able to avoid some of the conflicts with Oilers and Flames games.

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#66 Oilcan
April 16 2013, 01:17AM
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Oilers trade Gagner for a young top pairing defenseman (Kulikov or Bogosion). Sign Weiss and if they are successful they will trade Hemsky for another dman, if they dont get weiss Hemsky goes for a centre.

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#67 Mumbai Max
April 16 2013, 07:04AM
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Sign Weiss and Horton as UFA's.

Trade Hemsky, 2 top D prospects (Klefbom, Musil), and 2013 First round pick for Weber.

Trade Gagner for a top four young defenceman. (Myers, Bergosian, Asner,you get the idea). This might require throwing in an extra bone.

Smyth, Jones, Belanger, Eager, Fistric, Potter and Hordichuk get sold for various sizes of bags of pucks. eager and Belanger bought out if necessary.

Et voila. Bold, effective, and the core is intact.

The fab 5 + Petry, Harti and Paajarvi stay, surrounded by a decent supporting cast.

Why is this so difficult.

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