Fire Craig MacTavish

Craig MacTavish: you're fired

I’ve been a fan of Craig MacTavish for a long time. I defended him last season, and I defended him at the start of this season. He’s a smart guy, and has done a good job getting unheralded players to perform beyond what one would reasonably expect to be their level of ability. People look back at the early days of Lowe/MacTavish and say “mediocrity”, but maybe they don’t remember the budget this team was run on pre-lockout; there was a certain joy to watching players like Smyth, Smith, Marchant, Grier, Niinimaa, etc. put their nose to the grindstone and grit out a playoff spot while team with a higher payroll and greater individual talent swung and missed. Then there was the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals run, and great things seemed to be in the making.

The two seasons following the Cup Run weren’t great. The team was brutally unbalanced entering 2006-07, and Kevin Lowe seemed determined to undo every good decision he made the previous year. The defensive corps was dismantled, and entered the year with a top three of Daniel Tjarnqvist, Jason Smith, and Steve Staios. It was so bad at one point that Danny Syvret, Bryan Young, and Sebastien Bisaillon were all on the active roster. I gave MacTavish a pass that year, as the team had been so obviously mismanaged that expecting a playoff spot was folly.

2007-08 was a great building year; the team rode Mathieu Garon’s stellar play (especially in the shootout) and dressed a truckload of rookies, most of who impressed. They missed the playoffs by a hair, but seemed to be clearly a team on the rise, and MacTavish probably deserved some credit for it.

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Enter 2008-09. Kevin Lowe, despite an apparent aversion to having more than one veteran centre on the team, had an excellent summer before being promoted. The Oilers had a young group of forwards, but that was balanced somewhat by an excellent top-four on the back end, and a legitimate tandem in Garon and Roloson. It wasn’t a perfect roster, but it was a vast improvement over what Craig MacTavish had been given in previous seasons.

Unfortunately, Craig MacTavish has been coaching like a man unhinged for much of the season. For example:

1. Ladislav Smid: Left Wing

So, when developing a 22-year old defenceman with 132 NHL games who is finally starting to emerge after looking like he was in over his head for the past two seasons, what’s the best place to use said defenceman? On left wing, of course! Or in the press box — because those are the two places where promising defencemen blossom.

2. Fernando Pisani: Centre

Looking down the roster, I see five natural centres (Horcoff, Gagner, Cogliano, Pouliot and Brodziak). Only one of them is a veteran, and my preferred choice for third-line centre (a good one choice: Marty Reasoner) was dealt away by the GM. Still, I have a) a speedster with some size issues b) a former first-round pick who’s shown well defensively in parts of two previous seasons and c) a face-off ace and regular penalty-killer to chose from. My solution? Convert Fernando Pisani, a stalwart defensive presence to centre, moving two centres to the wing and dropping Brodziak to the fourth line. Of course, Pisani can’t win a face-off, and struggles against tough opposition, so I respond by leaving the line together, and playing them against lesser players, until Pisani’s injured.

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3. Dustin Penner: Fat and Lazy

I have a player who was my second-best power-play point producer (behind only Ales Hemsky) and best power-play goal scorer last season returning again. Logically, it makes sense to bump him to the second unit, because I have another player coming in (Cole) who is a) historically a poor power-play option and b) playing out of his normal position to replace him. Makes good sense, right? And since this guy has only once played tough minutes (last season, with Horcoff and Hemsky), it makes sense to toss him on his off-wing with Pisani as his centre and run him against tough opposition.

In any case, he responds by posting great scoring numbers for his icetime (2.00 PTS/60, behind only to Ales Hemsky) and one of the best +/- numbers on the club. That needs to stop, so I call him out not once but twice in the media as being lazy/inconsistent/etc. Then I healthy scratch him for a couple of games, to be sure he got the message.

4. Staios and Strudwick: It’s like having Stevens and Langway on the same pairing

Since I’ve decided that both the team and Ladislav Smid are best served by him playing LW on the fourth line, or serving as the number seven defenceman, my default third pairing is Staios and Strudwick. I make it easy for them — lots of minutes against softer opposition and lots of offensive zone draws (despite the fact that I have four offensive defencemen who could make use of those draws to, you know, score), yet they’re still getting out-shot by an awful amount. I decide that the best course of action is to praise the pairing in the media.

5. Kyle Brodziak: who needs linemates to succeed anyway?

After my centre juggling earlier, I needed to find somewhere to use Kyle Brodziak. Brodziak was great last year, catching fire along with Stortini and some guy who wasn’t quite good enough to be brought back in the summer. I decide to use him with a rotation of Moreau, Stortini, MacIntyre and Jason Strudwick. As an added bonus, I think he can probably handle starting in his own end for every single shift (Brodziak has 205 defensive zone faceoffs and only 91 offensive zone faceoffs, for a difference of 114. The next closest Oiler is Horcoff, who has 66 more defensive than offensive zone draws).

Sadly, Brodziak can’t seem to handle even this dream scenario, in a contract year no less. I decide that the solution is to call him out in the media and healthy scratch him as well.

The Final Straw

There are other things that stand out: the love for Liam Reddox, the complete lack of tolerance for any error by Mathieu Garon, using three defencemen on the same power-play unit, running other players out of position, icing a miserable penalty kill and a mediocre power-play, but I only have so much time. Besides, it’s all secondary to the cardinal sin that MacTavish committed today.

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Days after a 10-2 loss (with no bag skate) and in the same season as a 9-2 loss (with no bag skate), Craig MacTavish decided today following a listless 2-1 loss to Nashville to bag skate the Edmonton Oilers.

He didn’t decide to bag skate the whole team, though. Instead, he ran practice, and then picked out his favourite whipping boys — Dustin Penner, Kyle Brodziak, and Marc Pouliot — and bag skated the three of them by themselves.

I’m a numbers guy, so I have a certain level of skepticism when somebody floats the chemistry/momentum/gut-check card by me. But the idea of picking out three players who have already been harped on all season, and skating them alone when they were far from the only culprits in this lukewarm season, or even in that last loss, is so repugnant to me that I can’t even fathom what made him do it.

You win as a team, you lose as a team, and if need be you bag skate as a team. Craig MacTavish should know better.

It’s time for a new coach.


  • Hippy

    @ oilerdago:
    Every team has holes. A good coach gets the most out of his lineup/players.

    How many players this year are having below average years? That should answer you question.

    We always have a excuse for this team. Holes in the lineup is the latest excuse.

  • Hippy

    To follow up on what Robin said, I never got the impression that those three guys were "bag skated" today. I seem to recall that MacT said he and the coaching staff would do whatever it took to help guys who needed help. Seems like MacT was living up to his words as those players (Penner especially) seem to acknowledge that they're not at the top of their games right now. That sounds an awful lot like a coach doing his job.

    The rest? Well I'm only a fan so I can't say why MacT does what he does. Sometimes he hints at things though. He's said before that when he plays guys out of position he's trying to get them untracked. Or if we look at this year as a teaching season as much as a "get into the playoffs" season (with so many young guys I could believe that), I can easily see how getting a young D to play offense once in a while might expand his skillset. Again, I'm only guessing here.

  • Hippy

    @ Pokie Reddik:
    Not Wanye's post; Wanye was converted to a MacT-hater some time ago. This is Jon, one of the last MacT guys in existence. Much more significant . . .

  • Hippy

    @ Curtis

    You're right, every team has holes at the start of the season, even Detroit right now has one. But how many games has this team lost because it can't kill a penalty? And yes, it's more than just winning a face off, it's all things that go into a transition from the kind of team MacT can coach to one that he's not figured out yet.

    And I think that could also be why Lowe won't let him be fired (as well as the fact that he's his friend).

  • Hippy

    @ CurtisS:

    Agreed. Look at Florida. I challenge you to name 5 guys on that team other than Jbow and McCabe.
    They have one certifiable superstar in Jbow, but other than that it's a long list of guys who would be lucky to be third liners on a lot of other teams. But as of right now they are one point out of a playoff spot and have won 6 of their last 10.
    Whoever their coach is, he's doing a pretty damn good job with very little resources to work with.

  • Hippy

    jeanshorts wrote:

    . . . Firing MacT isn’t the quick fix solution this team needs. There are still some glaring holes that need to be filled with on ice personnel. But really how long can you continue, year after year to get the exact same results, no matter which players we have on the ice? How long before you finally realize it’s time to take a chance on trying something new? . . .I think people are being a bit hasty in thinking that our only problem is MacT and that getting rid of him will answer all our prayers and lead us straight to the cup. There is a lot of other areas we need to look at for sure. But I think it’s been long coming for the team to look at other options behind the bench. If it doesn’t work out, that’s fine, at least they tried something new rather then being complacent with mediocrity.

    JS, are you sure that's you? Very nicely stated.

    One minor point I submit to you; Are you sure that 50 games in and hanging onto 8th place by a thread is the time to do it? MacT may not be the best coach in the NHL right now, I'll give you, but he's certainly working his ass off every day to try and get this group of guys he's been given into the playoffs. He may just pull it off. Traditionally, coaching change at this time of year does not a playoff team create. Are you willing to sacrifice a possible playoff berth (and with the race in the West being what it is, it might not even be against the Sharks; Calgary, anyone?) for an immediate new face to hate, or could that change not be accomplished just as well in the off season, just maybe giving a few extra days of hockey than Canucks fans to cheer during? Nothing is guarenteed, of course, but this 'Fire MacT immediately at all costs' mentality that some guys are spewing on here seems to me to be cuting off your nose to spite your face. Over to you, JS . . .

  • Hippy

    @ oilerdago:

    Penalty kill didnt get any attention from the coaching staff till what game?? 30 games in and Mact said we as coaches have to do a better job. Now that PK since than would be good for the middle of the pack and alot better than what is was. So is it holes in the lineup or is coaching taking to long to figure things out this year.

    I pick the latter. Since we have the same lineup as the first 30 games.

  • Hippy

    the reason for the success and promise from last season is Glencross,what he did for the fourth line and to get the team going,along with some superb leadship of Staios(not his fan but respect him) look at the stats for the last 25 games and see how many wins that line helped with. Gagner and the "kids" didn't win every game for them.
    but the 3 G's (Gagner, Garon, Glencross) were a big part of it.

  • Hippy

    jeanshorts wrote:

    Whoever their coach is, he’s doing a pretty damn good job with very little resources to work with.

    Funny, we used to say that about MacT.

    ha

  • Hippy

    @ Ender the Dragon:

    We're already in this spot with him, so we might as well ride it out till the end of the season and see what happens. Like I said I don't think firing him immediately is going to turn us into the San Jose sharks. But I do feel it could be better in the long run for the team to get a new system in place ASAP.
    The only downside to that is, that if we do make the playoffs, that pretty much guarantee's MacT a free pass for at least another season, regardless of how early our exit is. So for us anti-MacT guys it's kind of a dammed if you do, dammed if you don't scenario really.

    I just really think it's time for a changing of the guard. Like I said earlier, it's not the worst thing in the world to try something different when you keep getting less than stellar results on a regular basis.

  • Hippy

    I fell asleep watching the last game. I've fallen asleep on my couch at least five or six times this year during Oiler games. I have been an absolute Oiler nutcase my entire life…but I'm beginning to lose interst. What is being a fan? You cheer for a team. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose. You should always be engaged; either thrilled or enraged but always entertained. These guys bore me. I never ever slept through games played by the terrible teams of the mid 90's…

  • Hippy

    WOW! Those are some strong arguments! I'm more torn than ever. But no matter how everyone feels, Mac T isn't going ANYWHERE this season. Management has repeated throughout the year and who could move in and guarantee the team will play better? I'm just as upset about the Nashville performance as the rest of you, but had we won the game I'm not so sure we'd be reading a "FIRE CRAIG MACTAVISH" headline…not today anyways…

  • Hippy

    Sorry. This is about MacT. The fact that we could lose 15-2 tomarrow and MacT will definately keep his job also bores me. It still angers many… but I'm becoming apathetic to the pathetic.

  • Hippy

    I've got no problems with MacT singling out 3 players to have a long talk with and then extra practice. My first thoughts were why the hell wasn't Gilbert included in this group. But then I thought that Gilbert may actually be upset and taking it hard that he f'd up yesterday. Basically he manned up on his mistakes. Something the other 3 and especially Penner didn't do. That's my guess anyhow.

  • Hippy

    All I'm trying to get people to accept is the the possibility that KLowe (and yes, Tambo too, if you think his opinion matters) realize that a coaching change might be good for the team but are waiting for a better time than right now. Now is bad, never is also probably bad. I'm sure they get that. But any time without a better alternative is definitely bad, and they get that too.

    Don't you think KLowe understands that if he replaces the coach after another first-round exit, he probably gets to try again next season, but if he pulls the trigger now and the Oilers go from 8th place to 12th, he's looking for a job in the off-season too? OK, so there's self-interest to factor in. But I don't want to see 12th place any worse than Lowe does, so a coaching change tomorrow makes no sense to me either.

  • Hippy

    Jack "slacking off at work" Bauer wrote:

    I dont see how anybody can make the arguement that MacTavish should still be coaching this team.

    I'll hold judgement until we either make or break the playoffs. Till then he ain't goin nowheres. Simple as that.

  • Hippy

    Rob wrote:

    Fartboy. Not many people are willing to see this season flushed down the can just to see if MakeTea is going to get his act together.

    So why not write them out of the playoffs right now like your doing boRe? Cuz right now we are actually IN the playoffs. Thanks for coming out though.

  • Hippy

    @ Jack "slacking off at work" Bauer:

    OK, Jack, so who's your answer to step in tomorrow and take us to the promised land? I hear Hartsburg's available . . . how loud will you cheer when we announce that name at a press conference tomorrow?

  • Hippy

    Brownlee: maybe I made a mistake insinuating that you never have anything critical to write towards MacTavish – if you're one of the good guys then I apologize.

    I think the media as a whole in Edmonton is a complete joke and maybe I unfairly grouped you with the others.

    All I really have at my disposal is the pre and post game scrums and it's always the same softball questions thrown at MacTavish. If MacTavish coached in any other city he would have been fired years ago and you and I and everyone else knows this.

    To be honest I don't follow you enough to know one way or the other how you feel about certain situations so when I come to O.N and see how you've taking the easy route of throwing Penner under the bus obviously I'm going to feel you're just another MacTavish lackey.

    Like I said before, it's not what you say, it's when you say it, and as a fan I find it extremely disappointing that not one reporter stood up when it mattered the most.

    It's so easy to say Penner has been crap this year but if you look hard enough you'll find that he's having a positive impact on the team rather than the scapegoating MacTavish and the media portray him to be.

    He has the best GFON/60 on the team.

    He has the 2nd best Points per 60 on the team.

    Not that anything from behindthenet should be taken as gospel but he clearly isn't as bad as the coach indicates and it's disappointing that the media chooses to take the easy route and jump on the flavor of the week.

  • Hippy

    @ RobinB:

    Fair enough, Robin – I was going by TSN's story, where yours made it sound like less of a big deal. If it wasn't a bag skate, but something as simple as extra practice, then it isn't as big a deal.

    On the other hand, calling out Penner yet again would seem to be an act of desparation, and letting MacTavish publicly complain about the lack of a LW makes me wonder if he's getting a little too much latitude from the GM.

    As for Brodziak, he was HS'd along with Penner and then singled out again today, so I'd assumed that he was one of the targets as well.

    I don't claim to know what's going on in the room; I do wonder why MacTavish has been so brutal in his public comments toward certain players (Penner in particular, though there are others) and I'm increasingly inclined to think that he's getting desperate. Is that accurate?

  • Hippy

    @ Jonathan Willis:
    His comments sound like a man at the end of his rope.
    In my opinion, MacTavish is running out of cards to play to motivate this group of players. You can only crack the whip and play the call-out card so often.
    I think MacTavish overestimated the strength of this team in pre-season and set himself up for failure by speaking so boldly about a NW Division title, etc. Now, he's scrambling.

  • Hippy

    I hate to say it because I have firmly been on the Fire MacT Bandwagon since 03' but if they make the playoffs I think he is one guy I want coaching. He is finished pissing around with the line up and sticking his boy toys in roles they don't fit and just coaches to win. If we could only get him to figure out how to coach games 0-60.

  • Hippy

    @ RobinB:

    Question for you???

    If a coach sets goals at the beginning of the season and doesn't reach those goals is it considered a failure?

    And let's say that the goal wasn't to contend for the division title – but to just make the playoffs instead?

    Does it matter at all how we reach (or don't reach)those goals?

    Would any coach be satisified one bit with the way our team as performed this season (regardless of where we sit in the standings)?

    Or is having 1 more point than 7 other teams after 82 games the bottom line?

    I am far less concerned with where we finish in the standings and am much more concerned with the overall picture?

    Maybe I am the one being naive???

    I have this funny feeling that organization believes that if we can sneak into the 8th spot again, we will automatically have another Cinderalla run? I also get the same kind of feeling when I hear the comments about how the Oilers always put a late season push together (like it is a fore gone conclusion)??

    Is the organization not at all concerned with they way the team is actually developing (longer term)?

  • Hippy

    RobinB wrote:

    I think MacTavish overestimated the strength of this team in pre-season and set himself up for failure by speaking so boldly about a NW Division title, etc. Now, he’s scrambling.

    Exactly. The only thing he's really guilty of is some pre-season over-enthusiasm. And to be honest, after last spring's run I bet most of us were in the same boat. But if you look at the points squandered from games we've poofed this year, those points would have us pretty much with Calgary – so MacT's premonition wasn't very far off the mark. If you think you're frustrated with the inconsistency of this team, imagine how the guy running it must feel. Mrs. MacT must be a wreck right about now.

    We're in the hunt. Let's wait until the end of the season before we bring in the lynching squad shall we?. Quite frankly, I wouldn't be surprised to see MacT step down if we didn't make the show.

  • Hippy

    I suppose that Gagner's sophomore jinx is all MacT's fault too right?

    Funny that the blogger didn't point out that Smid's play improved after the trial at LW.

    He also claims that Cole was a historically poor power play performer when coming into this season, 25% of Cole's career goals were on the PP and was coming off a season of a career high 10 PP goals.

    Nice try Jonathan. Maybe someday you'll have a legitimate point.