Fans who’ve insisted for years Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish had lost the dressing room weren’t wrong, they were just more premature with their guesswork than a pimply-faced freshman with a hot date at the junior prom.
With MacTavish having one foot out the door and GM Steve Tambellini expected to face the media as early as Wednesday, what I was told by somebody I trust, in concert with on-the-record comments by players at Rexall Place Monday, has me convinced the lost-the-room argument holds water.
While MacTavish got most of the ink by voicing frustration with the make-up of the team, the willingness of his players to consistently compete and the inability of the coaching staff to fashion a game plan to suit a roster that’s in transition, the telling stuff came from captain Ethan Moreau.
Moreau, long a MacTavish favourite and one of his staunchest backers, didn’t exactly stand by his man when discussing his MacTavish’s comments in pre-season that the Oilers would contend for a Northwest Division title.
Under the bus went MacT.
What was said
“Hopefully, we learned a bit of a lesson,” Moreau said, answering a question by Dan Tencer from 630 CHED. “I think you just come to training camp and, if you have confidence, you have quiet confidence.
“You talk about your goals amongst your group. I don’t think you need to predict you’re going to win the Stanley Cup or win your division. You just go about your business. I don’t think you need to have those expectations. Those are good conversations to have within your team.”
Of course, Moreau talked about there being plenty of blame to go around and characterized the season as “a failure right from the top to the bottom,” but that’s captain-speak.
When I pressed Steve Staios, asking if he wanted MacTavish back, he said all the right things. Still, as somebody who has known Staios since before he arrived in Edmonton, I didn’t find him convincing in the least.
“Yes, I would,” Staios said. “I think we can have success with him. We’ve done it in the past. I don’t think that a change, just one change, like that is the answer.
“I think that, overall as a group, I think everybody has to look at themselves and, you know, ask themselves if they gave everything they had and were committed. If you have that, you have a better chance of winning and making the playoffs.”
What wasn’t said
I found it telling Sheldon Souray, the most-quoted Oiler player during the regular season, opted not to make himself available for interviews Monday. With MacTavish clearly under siege since the team was eliminated from post-season contention, I would have thought he’d be front and centre to defend his coach, watch his back, tell us everything was rosy.
Then again, maybe Souray didn’t want to lie — that would fit with what I was told earlier in the day, when it was suggested MacTavish didn’t have many allies in the dressing room and that he’d lost the support of the leadership core. That would be Moreau, Staios, Souray and Shawn Horcoff, who were solidly in MacTavish’s corner — largely because they’d been given the run of the room — when the season began.
Add that to the obvious bad feelings between MacTavish and frequent doghouse resident Dustin Penner, not to mention MacT’s obvious frustration with Robert Nilsson, and nobody, as MacTavish put it, was skipping out of Rexall Place yesterday. And nobody, at least players I talked to, sounded overly distraught at the thought of MacTavish resigning.
So, unless Tambellini is willing to turn the roster upside down, he has little choice but to accept MacTavish’s resignation, then sell us tomorrow or the next day on the new direction the team will be embarking on.
That’s not to say Tambellini shouldn’t be making significant players moves this summer to improve the team and find the right mix, because it’s obvious to anybody with a functioning brain stem he should, but the motivation for doing so shouldn’t be placating MacTavish. That won’t happen here.
And it shouldn’t.
Perhaps one of the reasons Souray didn’t make himself available to reporters Monday is he didn’t want to address speculation that he’s asked Tambellini for a trade.
Rumours Souray has asked to be dealt began several weeks ago and they’ve persisted since. To this point, neither Souray or anybody in the Oilers front office has gone on the record to put the talk to rest. Until that happens, and there’s a flat-out denial from one of the parties, this has legs.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.