End of Bobby?

We don’t know for sure that Friday marked the beginning of the end of Robert Nilsson’s days as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, but it sure sounded like it to listen to coach Craig MacTavish.

Now, maybe I’m reading between the lines too much, or maybe it was just the frustration of watching Nilsson float again before grabbing some pine in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks at Rexall Place, but it sounded like MacT is done with the Little Magic Man.

You tell me.

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“No competitiveness,” MacTavish said in his post game comments when asked about benching Nilsson in the third period.

“We try and coddle the competitiveness out of him, but he just didn’t have any again tonight. I’ve had enough and seen enough of it.”

Damning words

Might MacTavish be more restrained if asked about Nilsson when the team returns to the ice for practice Sunday? Possibly. But if MacTavish really has “had enough and seen enough of it,” what does that mean? A stint in the press box. Another demotion to the fourth line? A ticket to Springfield?

Having met Nilsson at the 2003 Entry Draft, where the New York Islanders selected him 15th overall, and having watched his progress — or lack of same — with some interest because he’s the son of former Oiler Kent (Magic Man) Nilsson and somebody I thought Edmonton might select, I’d suggest skipping the preliminary stuff and get to brass tacks.

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If I was GM Steve Tambellini, I’d be looking to trade Robert Nilsson while he’s still got a semblance of marketability — albeit greatly diminished — because of the flair and offensive talent he possesses and teases you with.

The problem is, Nilsson only puts that talent on display, and does it within the framework of a game plan, when he  feels like it. That doesn’t happen nearly enough. That isn’t good enough. At 23, Nilsson should know that, but apparently he hasn’t figured it out yet.

Doesn’t get it

With 4-6-10 and a -8 rating through 27 games, Nilsson hasn’t even been the least productive member of the now-dismantled Kid Line. That distinction falls to Sam Gagner, while Andrew Cogliano has easily been the best of the trio.

As much as he’s struggled, though, Gagner is 19 and in his second season. Cogliano is 21 and also a sophomore. Nilsson turns 24 on January 10 and he’s been demoted, chided and traded once already for disappearing for long stretches and being inconsistent.

Sitting Nilsson isn’t the answer. Neither is cutting his minutes and putting him on the fourth line. What will more time in the press box accomplish?

Even before Nilsson’s latest slacking, I talked about a need to weed out some of the Oilers small forwards and use one or two of their skilled little guys as bargaining chips.

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It’s as much about an overlap in skills as it is about lack of size, but I don’t see room for Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Gilbert Brule, Rob Schremp and Jordan Eberle in MacTavish’s top-nine forwards over the next two or three seasons. Do you?

What’s next?

At this point, I’d rather see what Brule and Schremp can do and offer up Nilsson and whatever else it takes to land a veteran forward who can kill penalties and win face-offs or a shutdown defenceman. Given MacTavish’s lament about the lack of a one-shot scorer after the Anaheim loss, maybe there’s a team willing to part with one and gamble on Nilsson’s upside as part of a package.

“We don’t shoot the puck hard enough collectively,” MacTavish said after his outfit made Jonas Hiller look like Georges Vezina.

“We can put ourselves in position to score but we need a lot of shots to score. With the exception of Sheldon (Souray), there aren’t a lot of guys who are first-shot scorers. We need a lot of looks. That’s been real obvious.”

Whether it’s a defensive forward, a triggerman with a nose for the net or a shutdown blueliner, I doubt I’d get much of an argument from MacTavish that Tambellini should pick up the phone and kick some tires.

It’s time.

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  • oilersseasonticketholdersince99

    @ RobinB:
    I said he has lost this team, How many times do they have to come out flat? They have tuned him out,the decisions he makes with the lines changing them every couple of games,playing pouliot like he is the second coming of Gretzky, why he would let him shot on the shot out the other night is carzy! It should of been Cole shoting not Pouliot. It is decisions like this that piss off the players and the fans.blasting someone behind closed doors is fine, out in public is no ones business. give me one other example of a NHL coach doing this? The man is grasping at straws, It is time for a change you know it.The players know it and the fans know it.

  • RobinB

    @ oilersseasonticketholdersince99:
    Did you read anything Souray said or is your mind made up?

    Roster and line-up decisions about Pouliot etc are fair game for criticism. Like I said, I question some (many) of the moves I've seen this season. But you're talking two different issues with strategy/line combinations and "losing the room."

    And, by the way, if I "knew it," I'd write it.

  • oilersseasonticketholdersince99

    @ RobinB:
    Lets get serious, Which player would blast the coach on or off the record? Come on,that is commiting career suicide,Actions speak louder than words,to many players that where traded played under Mac T played poorly, Then went on to bigger and better things without him that says alot.

  • RobinB

    @ Smokin' Ray:
    Good point (although it's one that people like oilersseasonticketholdersince99) aren't willing to entertain right now.

    To be fair, if you suck at work and everybody else working under that manager sucks at work, then maybe it's time to look at the manager, too.
    That's the cry of the Fire MacTavish Contingent right now. It's not without merit.

    That said, in the specific case of Nilsson, he's picked a bad time to revert to his inconsistent ways. When the team is in the tank like it is, nobody gets much rope. He picked a bad time to slack off. My point is that with the Oilers looking and needing to make a move to shake things up, Nilsson may have played himself right onto the trading block. It's timing as much as anything.

  • @ everyone

    Carefull what you wish for. Want MacT gone? Who's his replacement? Torterella? Crawford? Nolan?

    ROFL. How many of them WANT to come to Edmonton? I am willing to bet that it is an in house hiring then. Moores/Huddy/Bucky

    Or they reach back into the vault and bring back Craig Simpson. Do you guys really want that?

  • ramped up

    @ Smokin' Ray:
    Unfortunatly you are right, the likelyhood of them hiring within is a strong possibility. Even if they go outside the box and bring in torterella, they can make him interim head coach,see how he does and decide to sign him long term in the summer. Right now he's my vote but like you said would he come??

  • Mr. Brightside


    Gregor made a comment on air the other day that he had heard rumblings that the leaders in the dressing room weren't doing their job. He didn't care to expand on the comment. Wondering Robin whether you had maybe been given the impression that there might be a division in the room? Seems to me the vets (Horcoff, Souray, Moreau, Staios) wanted to make it pretty clear early in the year that this was their team & the "kids" would be back to a supporting role.

    Gregors comment has been bugging me ever since he made it. One thing the Oilers could always boast was a tight dressing room. Maybe the boys just aren't as willing to jump on a the grenade for one another as the were in the past?

  • TV

    "Lets get serious, Which player would blast the coach on or off the record?"

    To think this types of comments have not been made before is even more myopic than the rest of your replies to R.B. on this issue.

    1 would hedge to guess he has just a tad more background to fall back on than you in this case..?


  • Mr. Brightside

    @ TV:

    Just typical anit-MacT rhetoric from the band wagon jumping crowd. These are the same people who are actually dissapointed when the Oilers win because it is just "more rope" for the coach.

  • oilersseasonticketholdersince99

    @ TV:

    Name me one other player that has gone on record here or anywhere else and had negative things to say about there coach? look what they did to Ted Nolan when he blasted his GM in buffalo, what has Mac T done for this team with the exception of the cup run? If you are content with this team great! you are intitled to your opinion as am I,all I know is talking to the other season ticket holders and listing to the fans leaving the game, we have had enough of this, every year it is the same old storey!!!

  • oilersseasonticketholdersince99

    @ Mr. Brightside:
    If you look at my tag, Im not on or off the band wagon I have been going to the games since 1979. And became a season ticket holder in 1999 and been one ever since,I go to the games win or lose!!! maybe we should do a poll of the season ticket holders and oiler fans and see if they want Mac T in or out? There are more people who have had enough of him and want him gone,than want him to stay.

  • RobinB

    @ Mr. Brightside:
    Jason mentioned leadership in the dressing room after we had a conversation last week. We're both at the rink a fair amount and you hear snippets of things.

    Whenever things are going badly, leadership and a "split in the room" are things you have to take a look at — like the much-debated question about MacTavish "losing the room" and decisions about lines and personnel.

    Obviously, it's not a happy room right now. And you have to wonder about how Dustin Penner and, now, Robert Nilsson feel about the coach.

    As for leadership, it's got to be lacking to some degree — isn't every aspect of a team when things are going this badly?

  • Fiveandagame

    @ RobinB:
    It's good to hear the consensus among the players is that MacT hasn't lost the room. If you look at Mike Keenan it's not like the coach needs to be your friend, he's your coach. Just because he's saying things the players might not like doesn't mean they aren't listening.

    There is just something funky about this team though. Their inability to put 60mins together is beyond me. And from statements from MacT it seems beyond him too, why this group isn't playing hard from the drop of the puck. MacT says it's the coaches job to have the players ready to play. They clearly aren't the majority of the time. Just as he's asking Eric Cole to change something about the way he gets ready for the game, I think MacT has to learn a new song to get these guys moving and playing for each other.

    Something has to change, something has to give.

  • Mr. Brightside

    @ oilersseasonticketholdersince99:

    Why is it always okay to just discount the "cup run"? We talk about 8-years of mediocrity but if you want to be fair it has only been three years since the new CBA and the establishment of a level playing field. Mac T seems to be pretty honorable guy, who clearly wants what is best for the team, the players and the fans. I'd bet a lot of money that he will step down without being asked if the team misses the playoffs this year. He's been with this team for a lot of really crappy years when they simply couldn't afford to ice a competitve team. Doesn't anybody want to see him get rewarded for that perseverance now that we are a "have" market? I do. Not that the fans really have a say, but lets give the guy this year at least…. if they don't have success then I'm sure he'll step away, without having to endure the humiliation of being fired.

  • Mr. Brightside

    oilersseasonticketholdersince99 wrote:

    @ Mr. Brightside:
    If you look at my tag, Im not on or off the band wagon I have been going to the games since 1979. And became a season ticket holder in 1999 and been one ever since,I go to the games win or lose!!! maybe we should do a poll of the season ticket holders and oiler fans and see if they want Mac T in or out? There are more people who have had enough of him and want him gone,than want him to stay.

    Duly noted. "bandwagonjumper" accusation withdrawn. As you note from my tag I am the eternal optimist. I still think this is a good team, with a chance to win. I'm also a bit of a bleeding heart who doesn't like to see somebody skewered in the media.

  • oilersseasonticketholdersince99

    @ Mr. Brightside:
    I am not questioning his commitment all I am saying is that we keep going down this same road, year after year, It came from mangement and the coachs that this was the best team we have iced in years, yet the result is the same, something has to give we cannot fire all the players, Mac T is not the only one to blame but lets face it, He is getting frustrated, to blast two players in a month in public wether they deserve it or not is not acceptable.That is why i said he is losing the room, he is taking this out in public when it should be behind closed doors,If i am a player on this team I question when I am next for one of the coaches blasts. The players are sticking together on this, its not just penner and neilson that are pissed at the coach they also have teammates in the room that are on there side. didnt coach Pete Peters also blast the players this month at an optional skate? Does this sound like the players are listening to the coachs?

  • Mr. Brightside

    @ oilersseasonticketholdersince99:

    Maybe they aren't listening. Doesn't mean that they would listen to anybody else though. Firing the coach is too easy in my opinion. It's just making him the scapegoat. (anybody else read Dilbert?…funny scapegoat thread the past couple of days….) I think RB has it right. Tweak the roster, out with the small, in with the big. NYI could use some help, maybe they would part with Trent Hunter?

  • rindog

    I have a question?

    Can anyone give me the name of a single NHL player that has been publicly quoted saying that his coach has "lost the room/team"?

    Did any of the Blackhawks harp about Savard?

    Where the players crying for Barry's head in TB?

    Did the Hurricanes throw Laviolette under the bus?

    While I appreciate the insight of all of the local media – it is hard for the average fan to believe that any player on the Oilers will publicly (on record) tell you that they don't like the coach, etc…

    Maybe Robin or Gregs can explain how we as outsiders are to know whether or not the coach has "lost the room"? The only thing we can go by is to watch the players play the game.

    If the players say that the coach DOES prepare them and the team then comes out and is not prepared – what conclusion can we draw?

    Maybe the players just aren't listening (which would be a reason to try a diiferent coach) or maybe the coach's instructions don't work (again, another reason to say good-bye).

    We have changed our team completely over the last few years. The thing we have yet to see is consistency. Atleast if we were consistently bad – that would be something. Playing like heroes one night and then like zeros then next night speaks volumes about leadership/direction/preparation.

    Our coach picks our captains. Our coach instructs our players how to he wants the game played. Our coach is responsible for getting HIS team prepared game in and game out.

    I guess my real question is: Is this really HIS team???

  • RobinB

    @ rindog:
    Fair points about players talking publicly, but, like I've said before, reporters who've been around awhile get a lot of information in off-record discussions that steer them to the truth.

    Let's take Joni Pitkanen for example. Reporters don't start writing things like "Pitkanen is an odd duck, doesn't fit in and should really be traded" if they haven't been tipped off that's the feeling in the room. No way a teammate is going to publicly say something like that, but you can bet before an item like that gets written the reporter has been given the lay of the land off the record. That's why there's often no quotes in such things.

    Only the dimmest reporter would write something like that without knowing it to be true because painting a picture of a player as a bit of an outcast when he was actually well thought of in the room would get you shut out pretty fast.

    Having a dressing room full of players fed up with a coach and wanting him gone is a big story, and you can bet that if we were getting that message off the record about MacT, it would be getting into print and on the air in a hurry. I'd damn sure be writing it.

    In my mind, MacT has made a lot of questionable moves this season. I know there's some frustration within the room about some of the calls he's made. Likewise, there's no question he needs to pay the price by being fired if this team continues to under-achieve.

    But, speaking specifically to the "he's lost the room" aspect, I'm not hearing that in any private discussions and, believe me or not, I would have by now if it was the case.

  • topshelf

    How much longer does Mac T or anyone else get to try and rectify the situation? It's not like it's still the beginning of the year. I believe if a change is to be made then make it before the goal set (By Tambellini/Lowe) of winning the division is out of reach.

  • RobinB

    @ topshelf:

    If you've been following what's been written and said around town, you're going to be disappointed if you're among the people who want MacTavish fired now.

    MacTavish has still got, last I checked, Daryl Katz in his corner. Tambellini is on the record as saying he'll make a trade before he looks elsewhere to turn things around. So, until there's a player move or two and the team still doesn't respond, don't be expecting to see MacT fired or resigning. There's a case to be made that it should happen now, but it won't.

  • TIM S

    @ RobinB:

    That explains it a lot better, in some of the previous comments it seemed as though it was implied that since no player had come out and ripped MacT publicly then all was good.

  • topshelf

    I am not expecting the coach to be fired but like i read above..somethings gotta give. The status quo is NOT working if the goal of this year is to win the division.

  • David S

    OK. This is getting ridiculous. Welcome to HF boards II.

    Lets be clear. This whole "lost the room" thing s something that a small group of vocal fans (and by small I mean twenty or so) are posting on a bunch of blogs, most of which didn't exist 5 years ago. It sounds kinda interesting and makes everybody who stands behind this ridiculous statement semi-believable because the way the team is playing fits the opinion.

    Yes, its MacT's job to prepare the team. I think (my opinion) this means getting the tactics set and making sure everybody in the room knows what to expect. I don't believe his job is to motivate extremely well paid athletes because, well, that's why they're extremely well paid athletes. If this were a peewee team, you might have a point. From what we've seen in Robin's posts above, the team to a man believes they are prepared for the games.

    I know it makes you feel kinda cool to belong to an internet club that has "Fire MacT" as its secret handshake, but at some point I think you should have some real evidence to back your claims up.

    Posting on an internet blog does NOT make you an authority – no matter how cool your sig name is. It makes you a guy with an opinion. And like something else, everybody's got one. But how about thinking twice before you rip into the guys who actually know what's going on. This is the only place on the net I know of where two credible MSM people are taking it on the chin every time they say something. You may not agree with what they say and that's cool. But try not coming off as total posers by inferring that your opinion is anything more than that.

  • Chris

    When Nilsson goes so goes the last value we got for Smyth. When Cole goes so goes the last value we got for Pronger…unless you consider Smid for Pronger a good deal. MacT isn't the problem…