MacTavish would, it seems, love a team who are muckers, who play a very physical style and the trap to perfection. In other words, he wanted to be Jacque Lemaire, the former head coach of the Minnesota Wild. That is not Oilers hockey. The team President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe put together is much more fast and loose, which focuses on attacking and speed, not grabbing a one goal lead and sitting on it.
— Jonathan Williams, Bleacher Report
The thoughts expressed above by Jonathan Williams are not unique to him. In fact, those sorts of comments seem to pop up every time Craig MacTavish’s future is discussed, with prevailing opinion being that MacTavish is too focussed on defense and not enough on offense.
That opinion is wrong.
There have definitely been problems with MacTavish’s coaching this season; rumours of a rift in the room continue to abound, and more players are being quoted as saying things either overtly critical of the coach or running directly counter to statements made by him. But MacTavish’s requirement that players ‘create more than they give up’ is hardly unique to him.
I finished reading Scotty Bowman: A Life In Hockey over the weekend, a rather (occassionally overly) thorough look at Bowman’s decades in the sport. There were many points in the book that stood out to me, but one of them was Scotty Bowman talking about the man who he regarded as the greatest coach in the history of the game, Toe Blake:
“He got a lot out of his teams. He really believed in making it tough on other teams to score. He liked skilled players, but demanded balance from his players. I remember when he got Yvon Cournoyer out of Juniors. He played him on the power play. That’s how he broke him in. He never handed things to players. He believed the young guys had to come in and prove themselves, especially defensively. I think all the players who played for him, they knew how they stood, that they had to play both ways.”
When Bowman took the job of coaching the Canadiens, Blake was on hand to dispense advice. “He told me ‘Just keep stressing keep the puck out of your own end, you’ll score enough goals.’ We had a lot of skill players. He said, ‘Don’t get carried away with the offence.’”
Between the two of them, Blake and Bowman won 13 Stanley Cups in 21 years.
The point though, isn’t that defense is what wins; it’s that defense is what virtually every NHL coach preaches. And the simple fact of the matter is that when Craig MacTavish eventually leaves (be it this year or further down the line) his successor isn’t likely to turn back to the days of Glen Sather (and Gretzky, and Messier, and Kurri, and Coffey…). Instead, his successor is likely to say the same things that MacTavish does. He won’t be a clone, but one thing is all but certain: he’ll still emphasize that at the end of the day it’s all about what a player creates versus what he gives up.
And really, that’s how it should be.