If coaching is the only problem, everything will be just fine when Craig MacTavish hands Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz his resignation in coming days.
But it isn’t so it won’t be, and that’s why there had better be some people following MacTavish out the door if the Oilers are serious about exiting the express lane to mediocrity the Boys on the Bus have been stuck on with the pedal to the metal for far too long.
With the Oilers packing up the dressing room Monday without a playoff date to keep for the third straight season, I expect it won’t take long until we see GM Steve Tambellini handing out walking papers on a team that hit the ditch in the stretch on the way to an 11th-place finish.
Out of the playoffs five of the last seven seasons — with the second-lowest point total in the eight seasons since Kevin Lowe took over from Glen Sather as GM in the summer of 2000 — I can’t see a reason why Tambellini would want to maintain the status quo.
It’s time to take a different route.
Express to nowhere
While there’s been a perception Tambellini hasn’t been calling the shots this season without Lowe, in his new position as president of hockey operations, and Katz pulling the strings, that’s not necessarily so. Rest assured, we’ll see Tambellini make his mark on the organization in coming months.
A lot of fans, with reason, would look like to see changes start at the top with Lowe, but people wanting that pound of flesh likely won’t get it because Lowe has already taken a step back with his new position.
Yes, Lowe is the architect of what fans see now. He built this team, and assembled the hockey operations staff. The failures and mediocrity — as well as the unlikely run to the 2006 Stanley Cup final — come back to him.
That said, Lowe isn’t going anywhere. Piss and moan if you’d like, but that’s the way I see the cards playing out. What fans can expect is to see Lowe further removed from hockey decisions and Tambellini given the latitude he needs to hire and fire as he sees fit.
Make no mistake, Tambellini will be steering this thing from now on. I wouldn’t be surprised if Katz steps forward at Rexall Place Monday to make that clear — just a hunch.
The Middle Men
Unless I’ve got the wrong read on things, the most significant changes will come in middle-management and the coaching staff.
MacTavish’s decision to step aside will have the greatest impact, as that’ll not only open up position to a list of candidates Tambellini had relationships with before he joined the Oilers, but prompt changes to the rest of the coaching staff.
No matter who takes over from MacTavish — discussing candidates now is guess-work and nothing more — it’ll obviously impact the future of assistants Charlie Huddy, Bill Moores and Kelly Buchberger.
I’m told Buchberger will survive any purge, although he won’t necessarily be back behind the bench. I expect Rob Daum, who took over the mess in Springfield this season, to be in the mix, but that’ll be up to the new man. Moores? Huddy? That’s less clear to me.
What is obvious is Tambellini has to take a look at Kevin Prendergast, the assistant GM and vice-president of hockey operations, which makes him the point man for the Cal Clutterbuck that’s been the AHL farm.
Prendergast also oversees the professional and amateur scouting staff, a group that, from where I sit, needs a significant overhaul.
As for player moves, we’ll be slicing and dicing that one to no end in coming days, and that’s a whole other column or six.
I’m telling you
- Rod Phillips is going to take some time at his off-season home in Arizona to decide whether he’s going to retire after 36 seasons as the Oilers radio voice and he’ll make an announcement in May.
While Phillips, 67, isn’t saying which way he’s leaning, I suspect The Skipper, one of the best ever to pick up a microphone in the NHL, will decide it’s time to kick back, leave the white-knuckle flying to somebody else and retire.
After so many years travelling with Phillips, I can yell you this much: there isn’t anybody on the face of the planet who loves this organization more than he does or who has been prouder to be a part of it.
- If the Oilers are serious about overhauling the front office, they should make room in the mix for Ritch Winter, who is best known as a player agent and founder of the Sports Corporation in Edmonton, but has one of the sharper minds in the game.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.