Craig MacTavish and the Assistant Coaches

Jonathan Willis
April 17 2014 04:17PM

Craig MacTavish6

One of the most controversial items in Craig MacTavish’s press conference earlier this week was the treatment he gave a question regarding the assistant coaches. It’s understandable that the general manager's comments rubbed a few people the wrong way, because while he came out strongly in support of Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger he didn’t give critics of the team a reason to change their own opinions.

On Who Picked the Coaches

Dallas Eakins 11

Last year it was Dallas’ decision [to bring back the incumbent assistant coaches]. I think the head coach should decide on what his staff is, especially a coach that’s getting his first NHL job. It’s important that he has the absolute right mix of coaches for him. Dallas from the start said that he would interview; we explored other coaches, we brought in Keith Acton as an associate coach last year.

There’s been a suspicion at times that Dallas Eakins was pressured into retaining the staff members he inherited from Ralph Krueger. MacTavish denies this, and there isn’t really any reason to doubt his word, but that also comes with a caveat.

Given MacTavish’s positive view of those coaches (which we’ll get to in a moment), it’s hard to believe there wasn’t at the very least indirect pressure. For any head coach, but especially one getting his first job at the NHL level, that recommendation of the G.M. has to carry a lot of weight. Add in that Eakins wouldn’t personally have been familiar with many of the players under his charge, and there were some compelling reasons to keep the current staff as long as they didn’t come across as ridiculously incompetent during the decision-making process (side point: Eakins and Steve Smith must have at least been acquainted beforehand; both were part of the Calgary Flames organization in 2000-01).

Now, after a year of dealing with the assistants, Eakins will certainly have a better idea of whether they’re assets or not. With that familiarity and the knowledge he now has of players in the Oilers’ system, he’s in a different position to make the decision than he was a year ago (regardless of whether that decision changes or not).

On Smith and Buchberger

Steve Smith

Dallas spoke with Steve Smith, who I feel is developing into an exceptional coach; he’s got great rapport. Kelly Buchberger, for all the things that he does and the cultural piece that he adds, that gives us a little bit of a tie to a much more successful era. You listen to Ryan Smyth and some of the things he said about Kelly Buchberger, Kelly Buchberger has a lot of great traits in my mind that he adds to this hockey club.

We can split the commendation by recipient in this way:

  • Steve Smith is a promising coach who has a good relationship with his players
  • Kelly Buchberger is a great character guy and a link to better times

Those arguments don’t give us the complete picture of what those two men bring to the organization, but they were the ones MacTavish used to answer the question as to why those guys have survived while the head coaching position has been a revolving door. The argument in favour of Smith – that he relates well to his players and is showing good things as a coach – is pretty strong, particularly since MacTavish was a pretty good coach himself and should be able to judge these things.

Buchberger, Kelly

Which brings us to Buchberger. It’s nice that he’s a great guy, and having a positive personality is certainly an asset, but it isn’t the raison d’etre for a coach – if it were, Ralph Krueger would have a shelf full of Jack Adams awards. And the fact that he used to be an Oiler makes its way into this conversation is ridiculous. Nobody should be dragging up the events of a quarter-century ago into a discussion of why a certain piece of an organization deserves his job today.

Presumably, the Oilers aren’t paying Buchberger’s salary because he’s a great guy who played for them back when they won hockey games. But MacTavish and the organization shouldn’t be at all surprised if the reaction is negative when that’s the rationale they trot out for the press – particularly since the most damning thing about it is that it’s believable on a club that employs so many great guys who used to play for it.

The Final Analysis

Defensive mess

I don’t know if Smith and Buchberger are good coaches or not. I do know that the Oilers’ performance slid when Tom Renney handed the reins over to Ralph Krueger, and then slid again when Dallas Eakins took over.

I know too that Dallas Eakins repeatedly slammed the state of the team he found. “My bad. I assumed that we knew what traditional d-zone coverage was and it was clear that we didn’t,” and “I believe in [communication] and it’s a habit — it’s another habit — that our team doesn’t have,” are not the comments of someone who thinks the last coaches did a bang-up job.

Those last coaches were Krueger and Smith and Buchberger. Kruger – who Team Canada’s coaches at this year's Olympics seemingly never tired of praising – came from a different background but spent two years under Renney (a very solid coach) and certainly was no dunce. It’s hard to believe that these deep-rooted problems Eakins found rest entirely on his shoulders.

As I said, I don’t know if Smith and Buchberger are good coaches or not. But the public trail of evidence really doesn’t square with MacTavish’s unabashed support for the former and particularly the latter.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
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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#51 RexHolez
April 17 2014, 08:59PM
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It's sad and pathetic that after 8 years of misery KLowe and company are still incharge of running this organization. What makes Katz think these guys can not only turn this thing into a competetitive team, but into a championship team when their version of a rebuild can't even dig their way out of the basement 5 years later??

Not only are they incompetent in putting together a competitive team but the arrogance and fan censorship alone should be enough to remove these clowns. It's a sad state of affairs in oil country and I for one am emberassed to call myself an oiler fan

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#52 Walter Sobchak
April 17 2014, 09:12PM
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Question JW.

What is your opinion on Eakins safe start for the start of next year?

Out of the first 20 games is 10 wins acceptable or unacceptable?

if your MacTavish does it matter?

IMO if the Oilers are below 500 I'm not sure anyone should be safe.

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#53 Mason Storm
April 17 2014, 09:18PM
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What's the explanation from Hall, Ebs and Nuge for not going to the worlds?

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#54 RexHolez
April 17 2014, 09:20PM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

Question JW.

What is your opinion on Eakins safe start for the start of next year?

Out of the first 20 games is 10 wins acceptable or unacceptable?

if your MacTavish does it matter?

IMO if the Oilers are below 500 I'm not sure anyone should be safe.

.500 hockey would be the best this teams played in 8 Years. I think if Eakins gets 10 wins in the first 20 a statue will be out up of him infront of the new arena

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#55 Oil4brains
April 17 2014, 09:37PM
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Year 5on5GF/GA PP% PK% Total 2014 0.71 17.0 82.1 99.1 2013 0.90 20.1 83.4 103.4 2012 0.91 20.6 82.4 103.0 2011 0.74 14.5 77.0 91.5 2010 0.75 17.3 78.0 95.3

Numbers don't lie, the Silver Fox made a big mistake when he fired Kruger. Kruger had a huge impact on the power play, it's too bad the Oilers can't bring him back as an assistant coach.

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#56 flyfish1168
April 17 2014, 09:54PM
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Mason Storm wrote:

What's the explanation from Hall, Ebs and Nuge for not going to the worlds?

I understand all three are fighting nagging injuries and turn down the invite.

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#57 EP
April 17 2014, 10:40PM
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The fact that Bucky and Smith remained as assistant coaches baffles me. How many head coaches have they been there for? 4? 5? I find it hard to believe that they can adapt their own style of coaching to relay the system that the HC wants in place. Eakins needs to rid himself of these two and bring in his own assistant coaches so the coaching staff can deliver a consistent message to the team. Pardon the expression, but Eakins needs his staff to all be "singing from the same song sheet." I don't think Bucky or Smith can carry a tune. (or water, for that matter)

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#58 Dangilitis
April 17 2014, 11:25PM
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Tikkanese wrote:

Bucky was quite possibly my favorite Oiler in the mid 90's until one night at Barry T's I accidently lightly bumped into him, he turned and gave me the meanest look, I said "Sorry" with probably a deer caught in the headlights look on my face thinking (wow Bucky is here?!? Oh no I just bumped into Bucky!) and he just kept staring at me with his mean look for a couple more seconds. Yup, nice guy...

What a stupid comment. I know Bucky, I have been to his house and knocked back a few beers with him. A humble, kind guy who does good for the city and community, as does his sweet wife. So honestly, your drunken interpretation of a facial expression in a bar 20 years ago - sorry if I don't give a flying you know what about it...

Bucky also had some years of experience in the AHL, he wasn't simply handed the job.

But, and there's a big but here... he doesn't belong on the team anymore, nor does Smith. This team needs new coaches that have experience in developing players, and more specifically, are the opposite of what MacT covets, e.g. NOT linked to the past. MacT is a smart man in many ways but then he says stupid things like this - does he not get that fans are concerned about nepotism and he is saying Bucky deserves a job because he was a former Oiler? How ridiculously foolish.

Todd Nelson has paid his dues way more than Bucky did, and has earned his stripes. Eakins, if he was smart, would bring him up as assistant. Then, Eakins would hire Trotz as associate coach to replace Acton. Then, after arriving to Edmonton, Trotz would wow Eakins and MacT so much that they would both realize that Trotz is the best choice, and would name him as the next coach.

That would be too crazy though.

And Jonathan, if you think that upgrading Bucky and Smith will make this team better, without upgrading Acton and Eakins, you have no clue as to the relative influences of head/associate coaches and assistant coaches.

This infatuation with removing links to the old past is missing the point and detracting attention from the things Oilers need: competent/EXPERIENCED head coaching, #2 C, 3 middle 6 forwards, a top D line, and a GM who, with Lowe's influence or not, knows how to fix a badly damaged team. I am all for getting rid of these links, but let's not forget that these are not going to be the major additions by subtraction that everyone is touting.

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#61 Knobby
April 18 2014, 01:23AM
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I can't recall the talking head who said this but it sure rings true. ' I can't believe the degree of disconnect between (Mact/Oilers management and the fans'). Mact seemed to imply making roster changes over the summer such as a #⃣1 D and if he can't fill that need he'll go with the kids. He certainly made it clear to the fans and especially Eakins he wants the assistant coaches to stay on board.

Mact must be very confident that he is fireproof or he wouldn't have painted himself into a corner like that. With half the roster changing again I think the Oil will have a real shot at McDavid. I wonder who will be on stage to make that 1st overall pick?

Ray Ferraro said at one of the Oil's last games he thinks it could get worse next season. Even though that's not what I want to hear, I tend to trust his observations much more than Mact's happy-talk BS.

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#62 Anton (still waiting for playoffs)
April 18 2014, 01:47AM
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I'm seriously tired about all these BSs...it won't be long until everyone on the roster want out of Edmonton to get as far away from this train wreck.

Southampton was a great football club, but they have series of mishaps and relegated all the way down to tier 3. However their late owner's commitment to rebuild the broken franchise has this club climb all the way back to Premier League. If Krueger can help Southampton return to European competition that he may have his statue build in St. Mary.

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#63 mlcselli
April 18 2014, 02:19AM
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Once upon a time I believed that MacT had his own agenda in making the Oilers better by getting them into a position of at least contending. Now after his latest presser, and his talk of how his view of behind the bench is all sunshine and lollipops, I believe I watched MacT turn into a Katz puppet right in front of my eyes. He is managing a developing team that has been in a constant rebuild for God knows how many years. The coaches need to be masters of the game, and the veterans need to have a winning mentality and experience in 200' of the ice. Instead of making a" bold" move, maybe he made a bold statement. Something along the lines of "eff the fans". Improvement everywhere is imperative

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#64 oilcanz
April 18 2014, 02:39AM
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This is your scapegoat? Your keyboard should be impounded. The list of the unqualified certainly does not reside solely at the feet of Mr. Buchberger. This sort of bush-leaguery deserves employzment by the Oilers themselves!

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#65 Romulus' Apotheosis
April 18 2014, 07:49AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

1. Let's be honest about Buchberger paying his dues. He had one year as a coach in the AHL before getting promoted to Edmonton, where he's now been for six seasons and five head coaches. I'm okay with the quick move up (MacT, for example, didn't even spend time in the 'A' as a coach) but it's not like he toiled in the minors for ages.

2. I'm not calling for their replacement because I don't know to what degree they contribute to the problem. What I do know is that things really aren't adding up and it's getting awfully hard to explain why they're the parts of the coaching staff that don't change. MacT's a bright, eloquent guy and he couldn't do it in anything resembling a satisfactory way.

Unless I've read you wrong, part of this is incorrect.

MacTavish spent a year as head coach of the Chicago Wolves (AHL, Nucks) 2011-12

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#66 -30-
April 18 2014, 07:59AM
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So Ryan Smyth says that Buchberger is a great coach. Duh?

What do you think he is going to say? It's kind of like not talking bad about your wife to other people.

The statement about Bucky being a great character guy is kind of like when MacT said if you gotta ask if someone is your number one goaltender you already have the answer.

-30-

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#67 Andrew
April 18 2014, 08:19AM
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Mact's entire presser amounted to nothing more than old-fashioned dissembling. Words aplenty...truth... not so much. His stuttering and stammering were obvious 'tells'. I am mot convinced HE believed one word he said. Epic fail to pull that one off Mact. If you want to become a truly expert dissembler you are going to have to get elected to public office. I understand there is a nice juicy job just opened up in the Alberta gov't.

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#68 Randaman
April 18 2014, 08:30AM
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Mason Storm wrote:

What's the explanation from Hall, Ebs and Nuge for not going to the worlds?

What makes you think we warrant any type of explanation. Personal decisions are just that, PERSONAL! They owe nothing

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#69 dougtheslug
April 18 2014, 09:02AM
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Romulus' Apotheosis wrote:

Unless I've read you wrong, part of this is incorrect.

MacTavish spent a year as head coach of the Chicago Wolves (AHL, Nucks) 2011-12

He was promoted to head coach of the Oilers, after zero head coaching experience anywhere. He started as an assistant with the Rangers, and went to the Oilers a couple of years later as an assistant under Lowe, and promoted to head coach after Lowe took over as GM.

His tour in the AHL came after he with the Oilers.

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#70 dougtheslug
April 18 2014, 09:12AM
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@Mason Storm

"What's the explanation from Hall, Ebs and Nuge for not going to the worlds?"

Interesting listening to Reid Wilkins interviewing Jason Chimera (who was invited to go the worlds) on Inside Sports last night. Wilkins threw Chimera a puffball leading question about Hall and Eberle refusing to go to the Worlds because of "nagging bumps and bruises", and Chimera batted it away. " I guess I'm old school", he said. "Everyone has bumps and bruises this time of year. I figure you don't turn down an invitation to play for your country unless you have a broken leg."

Character seems to be an issue with this team, from the lack of accountability in the management, right down to the players. I felt a little twinge of embarrassment hearing a blue collar player like Chimera calling out our "stars".

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#71 dougtheslug
April 18 2014, 09:16AM
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Randaman wrote:

What makes you think we warrant any type of explanation. Personal decisions are just that, PERSONAL! They owe nothing

I'm not sure they owe nothing. But they think they owe nothing.

That's the problem.

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#72 elgruntus
April 18 2014, 09:24AM
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@dougtheslug

"Kelly Buchberger, for all the things that he does and the cultural piece that he adds, that gives us a little bit of a tie to a much more successful era."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Steve Smith part of that same era? By Mac-T's own reasoning, Bucky is redundant.

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#73 Oiler Al
April 18 2014, 09:24AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

1. Let's be honest about Buchberger paying his dues. He had one year as a coach in the AHL before getting promoted to Edmonton, where he's now been for six seasons and five head coaches. I'm okay with the quick move up (MacT, for example, didn't even spend time in the 'A' as a coach) but it's not like he toiled in the minors for ages.

2. I'm not calling for their replacement because I don't know to what degree they contribute to the problem. What I do know is that things really aren't adding up and it's getting awfully hard to explain why they're the parts of the coaching staff that don't change. MacT's a bright, eloquent guy and he couldn't do it in anything resembling a satisfactory way.

"what degree they contribute to the problem", then the next question has to be what degree do they contribute to the solution? Judging by the results , not very much it would appear.

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#74 Oiler Al
April 18 2014, 09:39AM
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flyfish1168 wrote:

I understand all three are fighting nagging injuries and turn down the invite.

Well lets hope at least they are locked into the NHL Stanley Cup play offs, and get the picture as to how "REAl MEN" play the game.

The current top six and D men would get run out of the building in 4 games so fast , they wouldn't know what it them. This team has a long way to go to be in a playoff series... Very sad situation.

Can you spell " NO CHARACTER".

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#75 Brian
April 18 2014, 09:57AM
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Nice gig Bucky has. Stand around looking bewildered , chew gum like a cow pounding cud, and be a link to the past.

I was disappointed with MacT's comments about the two assistants. I seriously believe Eakins job offer included retaining the two Bus Riders.

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#76 Spydyr
April 18 2014, 11:13AM
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At last years World's Ruff benched Hall for his defensive play.

I'm thinking that perhaps Hall did not appreciate that much.

The three Kids invited should have taken the opportunity to play Hockey in May and too represent their country.

Like Chimera said unless you have a broken leg you go.

Character get some.

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#77 toprightcorner
April 18 2014, 11:41AM
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By MacT giving the impression to everyone that he likes the current assistants makes look like Eakins would defy his GM if he brought in a new staff. MacT and Eakins may have already decided to make some staffing changes but want to ensure everyone knows it was Eakins making the decision. No other time have I ever heard a GM have to defend his assistants in this manner so seems strange that MacT would do that now.

Seems like posturing to have the fans understand once and for all that upper management does not make all of the decisionsby having Eakins seemly go against the thoughts of his GM.

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#78 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
April 18 2014, 11:58AM
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Only a loser doubles down on a coaching staff that just piloted your team to a 28th place finish. Nothing else matters when losing is an acceptable outcome.

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#79 Oil4brains
April 18 2014, 12:50PM
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Year 5on5GF/GA PP% PK% Total - 2014 0.71 17.0 82.1 99.1 - 2013 0.90 20.1 83.4 103.4 - 2012 0.91 20.6 82.4 103.0 - 2011 0.74 14.5 77.0 91.5 - 2010 0.75 17.3 78.0 95.3

Numbers don't lie, the Silver Fox made a big mistake when he fired Kruger. Kruger had a huge impact on the power play, it's too bad the Oilers can't bring him back as an assistant coach.

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#80 Nick
April 18 2014, 12:59PM
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With all the issues surrounding our head coaches over the last 5-6 years, and all the backlash over our assistant coaches being a constant over those same years, why don't the Oilers start grooming coaches thru coaching development like they train their players thru player development? My example would be, Todd Nelson should be given an opportunity to come up to the NHL as an assistant coach and work his way to getting an NHL head coaching job like a McLellan, McLean, etc who went from assistants to Head Coaches. There is no reason to say Nelson has to be our next Head Coach, but if we're developing players and coaches thru the ECHL and AHL affiliate teams, wouldn't that help our NHL head coach knowing that his top coaches in the system are grooming the next wave of youthful players and may end up being his next assistants when his top notch assistant may want a promotion to a head coach within another organization? Seems like a simple concept to me, not sure why the Oilers don't look at developing coaches as hard as they develop players.

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#81 Nick
April 18 2014, 01:03PM
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dougtheslug wrote:

"What's the explanation from Hall, Ebs and Nuge for not going to the worlds?"

Interesting listening to Reid Wilkins interviewing Jason Chimera (who was invited to go the worlds) on Inside Sports last night. Wilkins threw Chimera a puffball leading question about Hall and Eberle refusing to go to the Worlds because of "nagging bumps and bruises", and Chimera batted it away. " I guess I'm old school", he said. "Everyone has bumps and bruises this time of year. I figure you don't turn down an invitation to play for your country unless you have a broken leg."

Character seems to be an issue with this team, from the lack of accountability in the management, right down to the players. I felt a little twinge of embarrassment hearing a blue collar player like Chimera calling out our "stars".

I believe Hall & Ebs have tail to chase this summer, they got some serious coin flowing thru those jean pockets nowadays, why waste the summer playing more hockey?

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#82 Oilers101
April 18 2014, 01:29PM
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Nick wrote:

With all the issues surrounding our head coaches over the last 5-6 years, and all the backlash over our assistant coaches being a constant over those same years, why don't the Oilers start grooming coaches thru coaching development like they train their players thru player development? My example would be, Todd Nelson should be given an opportunity to come up to the NHL as an assistant coach and work his way to getting an NHL head coaching job like a McLellan, McLean, etc who went from assistants to Head Coaches. There is no reason to say Nelson has to be our next Head Coach, but if we're developing players and coaches thru the ECHL and AHL affiliate teams, wouldn't that help our NHL head coach knowing that his top coaches in the system are grooming the next wave of youthful players and may end up being his next assistants when his top notch assistant may want a promotion to a head coach within another organization? Seems like a simple concept to me, not sure why the Oilers don't look at developing coaches as hard as they develop players.

YES!!!! .. This guy gets it!!!!.... Sadly six rings will never accept anyone smarter than the inner circle. Bow to the leader!

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#83 Dale
April 18 2014, 01:32PM
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What a travesty the Edmonton Oilers have become. EIG had good intentions, but too little money. Enter Mr. Katz, sadly.

With money, EIG would have dissolved the Old Boys Club many years ago. Kevin Lowe would be a distant memory, along with the sheltered assistant coaches.

We are living the Katz dream world--it lives along 104 Ave. as the new arena rises.

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#84 Dangilitis
April 18 2014, 07:01PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

1. Let's be honest about Buchberger paying his dues. He had one year as a coach in the AHL before getting promoted to Edmonton, where he's now been for six seasons and five head coaches. I'm okay with the quick move up (MacT, for example, didn't even spend time in the 'A' as a coach) but it's not like he toiled in the minors for ages.

2. I'm not calling for their replacement because I don't know to what degree they contribute to the problem. What I do know is that things really aren't adding up and it's getting awfully hard to explain why they're the parts of the coaching staff that don't change. MacT's a bright, eloquent guy and he couldn't do it in anything resembling a satisfactory way.

Maybe you've misread what I said so I'll simplify.

Fire Bucky by all means for exactly the reasons you just said.

But it's extremely naive to think that switching up the assistants this year or next year fixes this team. Bucky and smith enjoyed the same relative success with Krueger last year and renney.

When the oilers started this season so crappy there were several new variables (dubnyk and injuries) but one big one was the coaching of acton and eakins.

And even more foolish to judge Bucky based on an encounter at Barry T's.

And to conclude, if I had to pick one, I would much rather trade Eakins for trotz than Bucky for Todd Nelson. Because Eakins makes the decisions and is ultimately the one who leads the team. Don't understand how you can't see that and why you have devoted a whole article to this while neglecting to mention the elephant in the room.

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#85 Tikkanese
April 21 2014, 10:57AM
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Lofty wrote:

This may have happened. That can happen with any person/player on the wrong day.

I have no idea how good he is as a coach but I can say he was a great person/player when I knew him.

He came and guest coached our peewee hockey team several times. He was always approachable.

If you've ever seen his leg you know he made something of himself on pure desire and girt. He earned respect in the NHL by the fact that he would block punches with his face just to hurt the opposition players hand.

I cant say you're wrong but my personal experiences with him have been much different than yours.

As far as what he brings to the oil as a coach... I have no idea. As a person he's been nothing but a stud.

This MAY have happened?!? It did happen. Did your story happen? What a comment. I'm just glad I didn't have to block his punches with my face that night. Though I suppose that story would have become much more entertaining if I did...

Also, "nice guys" wouldn't do what he did on a "wrong" day. People show their true colors on "wrong" days.

My comment said nothing about what he did as a player, so I don't know why you added all of that.

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#86 jake44
April 21 2014, 01:38PM
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Randaman wrote:

What makes you think we warrant any type of explanation. Personal decisions are just that, PERSONAL! They owe nothing

If they were injuried thats fine, but only Eberle had a recent injury that kept him out of the lineup near end of season. Sounds like it was a group decision by the 3. When you are use to playing golf in april , why change that policy now.

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