Craig MacTavish and his Centres

Craig MacTavish6

It’s a lot of fun watching Craig MacTavish behind the Oilers’ bench. The man can flat-out coach and honestly this would probably be a better organization if he were in that role full-time and somebody else were pulling the strings from the general manager’s office.

But it’s also interesting to watch the general manager behind the bench, because every assignment he makes says something about how the Oilers’ top decision maker sees his team. What he did with his centres against San Jose on Thursday is fascinating.

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Time on Ice & Matchups


One thing about the Sharks as currently constructed is they are ridiculously top-heavy. Exactly six forwards on the team have more than 10 points; all six of those guys were clustered on one of two lines against Edmonton (Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl all played together; Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Tommy Wingels was the other unit). The third line is James Sheppard and a bunch of unknowns; the fourth line is John Scott and some lesser unknowns. The team has been hit with a string of injuries, and as a result there’s a chasm in performance difference between the top two lines and the bottom two lines.

Via Natural Stattrick, here’s how MacTavish deployed his troops:

  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins played 17:33 at even-strength against San Jose. For 10:49 of that he was on the ice against Couture; for a further 5:47 he was on against Thornton; assuming no overlap that means that a little less than one of his 17-odd minutes came against the Sharks’ depth guys. He also played 2:42 on the penalty kill.
  • Boyd Gordon played 13:45 at evens, with 5:31 of that coming against Thornton and 3:26 against Couture. He also played a fair bit (5:13) against the James Sheppard-centered third line. As was true with Nugent-Hopkins, Gordon got a bunch of time on the penalty kill, playing 2:48.
  • Mark Arcobello played 10:37 at evens. He saw the ice for less than a minute against Couture and just a hair over a minute against Thornton. He played nearly six minutes against rookie Chris Tierney (the Sharks’ fourth-line centre) and saw 2:39 against Sheppard.
  • Leon Draisaitl played 9:42 at evens. He saw a bit of everyone, but played a surprising amount against Couture’s line (3:02), seeing him for two long shifts in the back half of the game which accounted for two-thirds of that time.

Nugent-Hopkins is tossed into the lion’s den, Gordon is asked to do a bit of everything, and both Arcobello and Draisaitl are given rookie treatment. At the start of the year, Dallas Eakins caused a stir when he talked about having two NHL centres; MacTavish didn’t say that in words on Thursday night but his actions said it emphatically and insistently.

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How Much Does Quality of Competition Matter?


Quality of Competition matters a ton. Don’t believe me? Here’s what the on-ice shot numbers for each of the Oilers’ centres looks like against each of their Sharks’ counterparts. Grey indicates San Jose won the battle; orange that Edmonton did:

12.19.14 Oil Sharks

Edmonton’s pivots out-shot San Jose’s bottom-six by a total of 13, but San Jose’s top-six out-shot Edmonton by a total of seven. This is why having good depth matters – look at the drubbing that Arcobello’s unit gave to John Scott and the slugs, a drubbing which resulted in this:

That should be a safe moment for San Jose; it’s a neutral zone faceoff against Arcobello Matt Hendricks and Steve Pinizzotto. Todd McLellan opted to run his fourth line (Scott, Tierney and Andrew Desjardins) and his third defence pairing (Matt Tennyson, Scott Hannan) in this safe situation. But Arcobello won the draw, Hendricks boxed out Scott (because hockey ability > 6’8”) to allow Justin Schultz the easy zone entry and five of the worst Sharks couldn’t handle Pinizzotto and Hendricks crashing the net.

Pini goal

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But not everyone gets to play against John Scott. And the problem is that when Arcobello and Draisaitl are both in the lineup, the Oilers have two centres that really ought to be getting sheltered. It’s been a problem all season, and obviously it’s a problem that MacTavish recognizes exists. The question is why he hasn’t done anything about it.


  • WTF2

    I just kinda compared the whole trailer park boys thing about nelson and mactavish looking like ricky and conky that some ppl brought up side by side…the resemblance is eerily creepy..but if nelson is as laid back as everyone says he is he will have a drink in his hand soon enough.. coaching this team anyway …and we already know mactavish is a puppet

  • vetinari

    Hard to consistently shelter two centres on the same team at the NHL level. Wish that they’d return Draisatl to PA and call up Lander for an extended look. Lander could at least contribute to special teams and is used to playing against men. He may not produce many points at the NHL level but neither is Draisatl and he needs the development time in the minors more than Lander.

  • D'oh-ilers

    A 40-50 point season by a veteran center would be great, right about now. It’s almost as if the Oilers had one of those, and wouldn’t have had to give up anything to keep him. Weird.

  • WTF2

    You know it is difficult to imagine how MacT looks in the mirror each day and doesn’t start to plead for forgiveness. If he only had admitted to his mistakes he may have been cut some slack. Now there is no alternative he has to go.

  • Igor Ulanov 55

    Not sure why Nelson and Mac T have not tried Pitlick at centre? He has looked far better than I would have expected………this would allow Arcobello to play a wing position and use his speed a little more.

    JW how do you feel about Pitlick being given a chance to play centre?

  • cmandev77

    Jonathan Willis have you ever heard of Justin Azevedo? Why do the Oilers not try and pick this kid up from the KHL. With the way the Ruble is falling I don’t think he would mind coming back the North America. While he is small, he is a fierce competitor, wins tons of face-offs, has amazing vision and can score. I’m sure the Kings would be happy if we give them a 7th round pick for his rights.

    • Yeah, I semi-regularly scroll through the scoring leaders of the various top European leagues.

      Azevedo though is below the point-per-game mark in the KHL two years running after four years of sub-PPG production in the AHL. I can’t remember having seen him play in that stretch but a 5’7″ guy who can’t kill the minors/Europe at age 26 seems like a long shot for NHL employment.

      • cmandev77

        He is leading his team in scoring this year in the KHL. His team plays a very defensive system so there are no high scorers on his team. That being said he is in the top 20 in KHL scoring.

        His first year in the KHL he was playing on the 3rd line before being promoted to the 1st line in the second half of the season.

        Look at how well he competes in the playoffs. He is above a point per game and always increases his intensity. He was voted most valuable forward in the KHL Cup finals last year and was a 1st team all-star. To say he is not killing it in the KHL is a false statement.

        In SMLiiga he led the league in scoring in his rookie year. These leagues are considered slightly higher then the AHL.

        Again, look at his production in the AHL during the play-offs.

        This kid has the makings of a Martin St.Louis type player if given the chance. I just think we look strictly at size and being Oilers fans and not having enough of it we write off smaller players.

        In the Gregarian Cup final last year he scored 8 goals and had 3 assists in the 7 games. Scored in 8 games straight and set a KHL record.

        Does this resume not sound like a low risk, high reward player to take a chance on? He has a career 60% face-off winning percentage too. Not that the Oilers need centers….

        • Salty

          “This kid has the makings of a Martin St.Louis type player if given the chance”

          Ha ha ha no. Compare St. Louis’ production at that age (that was CONSISTENT production might I add), and remember that he was playing in the clutch and grab era. Not even close to the same potential, don’t kid yourself. I mean listen to yourself here; if he actually had that kind of potential do you really think the Kings wouldn’t notice it, it’s just you with special talent detecting glasses or something? They’d still be willing to let him go for nothing?

          Also keep in mind you’re heaping praise on a guy who’s getting out-scored in the KHL by Linus Omark. Do I need to remind you how unimpressive Omark was in the NHL?

          • cmandev77

            The Kings must of seen something in the kid because the tendered him a contact offer in 2013 even though they knew he wasn’t coming back to North America. They still have him on their 50 man roster…

            The Kings know he has talent, anyone who has watched him knows. Do you know who outscored John Tavares in the OHL? Yep, Azevedo. In fact he outscored the entire CHL.

            To say he does not have St.Louis potential is to not know what you are talking about. Martin St.Louis did not break out until he was 28.

            Azevedo led SMLiiga in scoring in the LOCKOUT year. There were tons of NHL players playing in Europe at this time and he was a rookie.

            At worst he is a depth player and at best a 2nd/3rd line player with upside. Not that we need those…

          • Salty

            I got to watch St. Louis play when he was in Calgary more than a few times way before he broke out; you could see he had the potential to be a special player even back then when it was that much harder for small skilled guys. Don’t kid yourself that this is the same thing.

            Junior numbers mean jack, how many guys have put up huge numbers in junior and never been able to take the next step to the NHL? Ditto Euro league numbers. By all means, I don’t care if you want to say “he could be an NHLer”, that’s fine and I can’t argue that. That said don’t talk the guy up like he could totally score 40 goals next year if only someone’s icy heart would melt enough for them to give the little guy a chance. Especially don’t imply he could be just the thing the Oilers need to solve their woes at center when more realistically you’re looking at Arcobello 2.0. I mean hell, even if Azevedo was the second coming of Martin St. Louis there’s a huge difference between “I’m 5’8″ and play on the wing in the Eastern conference” and “I’m 5’8″ and play center in the Western conference”.

          • cmandev77

            I do agree with a lot of what you said. But I have watched this kid play numerous times during his entire career. He is a much better player now then he ever was, as is to be expected.

            Will he dominate the NHL, most likely not. Would he provide a team with a player who could possible get 40 assists in a season while being responsible in his own end and winning 50+% of his face-offs, yes I believe he can.

            He is better then anything Edmonton has at Centre right now not named Nugent-Hopkins. We can keep him until Drai develops.

            Like I said before, at worst he is a depth player. He will not be expensive to get and was one of the biggest signing in the KHL at the beginning of the season.

          • Salty

            Ignoring the part where I very highly doubt he’s a better player in the NHL today than Boyd Gordon, that’s still a ridiculous gamble if all you want for Edmonton is a stop-gap when they’ve already passed on much safer options. If LA like him for a reason a 7th round pick isn’t gonna fly (nevermind he has to clear waivers to play in the NHL if I recall correctly), and ultimately you’re still rolling the dice on a KHLer being better than the AHLer you’ve kept buried in your system up until today and the NHLer you could have claimed on waivers no problem (Chipchura). It’s ok for the Kings to keep him around because ultimately it’s very low risk but high reward if he pans out for them; they don’t need him and they can take their time seeing if the investment is worth it. For the Oilers it would make zero sense, as you’re just throwing another maybe saviour into the fire while waiting on the results of the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.

  • Salty

    Yaay Lander being called up, boo it’s not because Draisatl is gonna go play at in the world juniors. I wonder where they’re gonna slot Lander in exactly.

  • Coppperhead

    Well thank goodness for the Lander recall. Maybe they’ll even sit Draisaitl for a for a couple of games to rest and get a look at the game.

    Arco-Hendricks-Pinizotto is fine for me as a fourth line and let Lander run with Eberle and Perron or some such.

  • pkam

    Drisaitl is +3 against Conture and he is the only Oilers centre who is positive against Conture?

    We should play him more against Conture when we host the Sharks. What are we going to do with Conture if we send him away?

  • Salty

    Well at least Leon is getting immersed into that Oiler’s rich history of epic failure right off the bat. Always good to get right into your team’s culture and history. Besides its not like rushing a top pick right into the lineup has ever hurt anyone playing in E-town or anything

    Wait till OilersNation realizes the colossal mistake that was Edmonton taking Draisaitl ahead of Bennett! DOH!!!

    • SSB1963

      Really we have enough smallish centers already! Besides all we would have heard from people like you when he got hurt was bow we constantly draft smallish players who can’t stand up to the riggers of the NHL

  • YFC Prez

    Finally lander recalled. Next step should be to send Draisaitl to his home country for the worlds. This tournament is so good for a young players experience and development. I have no understanding why he isn’t going. Should be a total no brainer.

    Then he should go back to junior.

    I’m hoping lander is playing somewhat competent hockey while he’s up. Draisaitl’s development is almost dependent on it at this point. That being said just watch Mac T send Arco down instead.

    Mac T is so much better at coaching than GMing.

      • The team that made it to the finals was well balanced and had arguable the best player in the NHL at that time.

        They only made the playoffs by 2 points…. Yet, his highest winning percentage ever was also that year and that was a shade above average at 579 %

        If you think that’s ok, then I’m sure you have your man in MacTavish, I aim for the day where a coach and leader can be tad better then mediocre….

        • ubermiguel

          You forget that their goal-tending in 05-06 was akin to this year’s goal-tending. They allowed the fewest shots that year. Conklin and Markkanen had a .880 S% and Morrison had a .884 S%. That’s incredibly low and it’s very close to this year’s S%. In fact it was lower in 05-06. If they had Roloson all year they would have been a 100 pt team without a doubt. That’s not a fluky team. In fact in the 25 years I’ve been watching them that team was as dominant as I’ve seen. In 90-91 and 91-92 they had some good squads but they didn’t dominate the possession game and they didn’t have the same kind of sustained zone pressure like they did in 05-06. Unfortunately the toll of playing out west didn’t agree with guys like Peca, Samsonov, and Spacek who both went back to the East and we all know what happened with Pronger.

    • Burnward

      Exactly, if he was such a great coach, why did no NHL team hire him after he was let go by edmonton, all he got was a TSN gig, plus a minor league coaching job,

      jonathan willis is too busy sucking up to the oilers , this Mact comment, and his previous column he wrote in the jouranl, saying how the oilers were a better team than there record showed and that better days were ahead, what have they done since then , absolutley nothing but losing, except for one game against the sharks. What kind of reporting is that, certainly not anything realistic, this is the worst run organization in all sports but according to Willis, its all good. Lowe and Mactavish should have been gone years ago, and the fact they are still running this joke of a team is pathetic.

  • cmandev77

    … “It’s been a problem all season, and obviously it’s a problem that MacTavish recognizes exists. The question is why he hasn’t done anything about it.”

    I think a lot of people assume making a GOOD trade is something that is just out there waiting to be had. Whatever you think about MacT a fool he isn’t. If he has been mandated from above to let things lay, or has the go ahead to make a move for a 2nd centre but can’t find it we don’t know. But there certainly isn’t anyone writing or commenting about this problem with more to offer the position. We are all VERY familiar with the mess MacT inherited. Hard to win many poker hands with your opponents knowing your that low in chips.

  • TKB2677

    When does the Arcobello experiment stop? I know the Oilers lack centers more correctly, NHL centers. But I don’t understand why Arcobello is still playing. It’s pretty clear he’s not an NHL center. What he is, is an very good, point producing AHL center who in a pinch, can fill in from time to time and not kill you. But he is NOT a full time center and I don’t even think he’s a 13th forward. If he plays a full time role or is an 13th forward, it shows your depth is really, really weak.

    There is the debate about Draisatl being sent to junior. That’s fine, do it. But they should also get rid of Arcobello. The season is lost. Use it to find out who going forward is on your team. They finally called up Lander. So tell him “this is it, your last chance” and go with him. Then have Gordon and Hendricks as your 3rd and 4th. Hendricks has shown he can do it on a 4th line. If your centers are Nuge, Lander, Gordon, Hendricks, there isn’t a lot of offense after Nuge but at least there is a lot of compete in the bottom 3 lines because if you tell Lander, it’s now or never, he should be motivated to bring it every night because he is fighting for his NHL life.

    Having Arco does NOTHING for your team. He’s not an NHL center and going into next year, he won’t be on your team, so why waste games on him? He’s 5’8, 172lbs probably only with equipment on. If you are a small guy, you better be built like a fire hydrant, play your ass off and be a miserable person to play against every shift(Marchand, Gallager as examples)or you better be ridiculously skilled like St. Louis. Arco is know of that. He’s a smaller player who is supposed to be offensive but isn’t good enough at the NHL level. He’s not physical, not hard to play against, he’s just there. So if you don’t score and you aren’t hard to play against, what the hell are you good for especially when you are small.

    • ubermiguel

      Did you not even read the article or look at the graphs? They’re even colour-coded so they’re easy to follow. I’ll summarize: Arco’s line out-performed San Jose’s 3rd and 4th lines by a wide margin, end of story. Put the tape measure away and look at what actually happens on the ice. I’m not saying he’s Marchand, Gallager or St Louis, but he’s an NHL player.

  • Deported to Ottawa

    I’ve never doubted MacT as a coach. He definitely has ability.

    It’s in his GM role that I’m left to scratch my head and wonder what the heck he’s thinking.