Calling Out Players In The Media

Dustin Penner

One of the more controversial weapons in Craig MacTavish’s arsenal this past season has been his willingness to call players out in the media. Robert Nilsson, Kyle Brodziak, Marc Pouliot but especially Dustin Penner were criticized in front of reporters by the coach, and for many fans that crossed a line, regardless of how much those players may have earned the criticism.

In fact, it crossed a line that MacTavish himself had rarely crossed in the past. From David Staples brilliant profile of the ex-Oilers coach comes this tidbit on the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals run:

Before the playoffs, MacTavish and his assistants set the stage. First, they made a pact that they would keep things positive with the players, pushing them hard to stick to the game plan, but never criticizing them in public.

That’s one of the big reasons why MacTavish’s public comments, particularly his public comments on Dustin Penner, worried me so much. MacTavish has always seemed to make an effort not to be overly critical of his players to the media, and his departure from that stance early in the season bothered me because it seemed to indicate that MacTavish was reaching a certain level of desperation.

From other coaches, such tactics wouldn’t have been surprising at all. Scotty Bowman, for example, often used the media as a motivational tool. As an example, here are comments that Bowman made on Pete Mahovlich during the 1976/77 season:

“I don’t think he’ll play next year… He says he’s not playing enough, but we’ve got three centres, Jacques Lemaire, Doug Risebrough and Doug Jarvis, all playing well most of the time. His record is the poorest of any forward on the team. Nobody on the team has been on the ice for more goals against than he had. You couldn’t say that he has been having a good year.”

But such an exercise, while not a surprise from a coach like Bowman (or his protégé, Mike Keenan) that exercise was a surprise coming from MacTavish. MacTavish has never been as critical as he was in his November assessment of Penner:

“When we signed Dustin we thought he’d be a top-two-line player. We thought the contract ($4.25 million average for five years) was a starting point for him, but he views it as a finish line. I can’t watch it, certainly not for another 2 1/2 years.”

“You can’t throw gratuitous ice-time at a player that’s inconsistent. It’s his competitiveness. The frustrating thing for me is he has the game but he can’t find it and you have to put the work in. He has a great set of tools but his legs are inconsistent. He needs more horsepower. He has to get his game to a level where he can help us. To this point, it hasn’t gotten there.”

I don’t like using the media to manipulate players, but I can’t agree with the people who have commented here and elsewhere that a good coach never uses that particular tool. I mentioned Bowman and Keenan above, but other successful coaches like Ron Wilson and Andy Murray have also made extensive use of the same tactic. I don’t like the tool, but it can be useful.

But when a coach reaches out to try motivational tools he’s largely abstained from in the past, tools that can be more dangerous to the one using them than the one being criticized, well then it’s like Lowetide said back when these comments first came out: the end times are near.

  • Hippy

    I think the problem was that he called out some players but he never called out his favourites like Moreau Staios or Reddox. Another problem is he played a lot of players out of position. What right did Reddox have to be on the first line. MacT was whining about size yet Stortini, MacIntyre and Jacquest were constantly in the PB while Reddox was in the PB till late in the season after his concussion.

  • Hippy

    c33 wrote:

    Too bad that all of the MacT fans are out AFTER he has been fired…..
    I agree that he did the best he could with what he was given – come on people, look at the rosters he has had to deal with!! And look at 2006 when he has some prime players!
    If Penner had a problem with being called out in public (and this is AFTER MacT tried to motivate and work with him privately), then maybe he should have put just a wee bit more effort into the game. My nine year old skates harder than Penner to get a hot chocolate after the game, let alone getting paid.

    That season showed that MacT didn't/doesn't know how to use players to their strength. Peca was lost out there for most of the season, because MacT was trying to turn him into a first line scorer, reather than use him in a checking role he's been in for most of his career. He even admited that later in the season. The team barley made it into the playoffs that year, so saying that he DID a good job coaching when he had good players to coach is a bit of a strech. That was the last time "OILER hackey" was played in Edmonton. Then he decided he was a TRAP expert.

  • Hippy

    Rob wrote:

    Once the roster started to shrink, and MacT HAD to go with the rookies, he couldn’t tell them to play a grinding defence first style and expect to win games. He had to let them play the way they knew how to play, and it almost worked.

    Nonsense. Do you remember who the Kid Line was playing against down the stretch? Lots and lots of marginal players. The reason for that was because MacTavish threw them all together where they could be sheltered and ran his other lines against the tough opponents, which in turn allowed the kids to succeed.

    DO you honestly think MacTavish was basically reduced to one option so he said "meh" and did the only thing he could do? Because that's not what happened.

  • Hippy

    Death Metal Nightmare wrote:

    post up all the stats you want about them, youre going nowhere with them in the long run.

    That's awesome. Please show one stat that I used in the article. Just one.

    Please confine your anti-statistical raving to articles where statistics are actually used. Thanks for coming out.

  • Hippy

    Rob wrote:

    The team barley made it into the playoffs that year, so saying that he DID a good job coaching when he had good players to coach is a bit of a strech.

    Fine. MacTavish made it to the Stanley Cup Finals with bad coaching. He also made it the playoffs with Conklin/Markkanen as his goaltending tandem with bad coaching. Happy now?

  • Hippy

    @ Jonathan Willis:
    MacT did great job in the playoffs but we backed in to the final spot. If there had been one more win by Vancouver (I think) The Oilers would have been out and MacT would have been gone a long time ago….

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    Rob wrote:
    The team barley made it into the playoffs that year, so saying that he DID a good job coaching when he had good players to coach is a bit of a strech.
    Fine. MacTavish made it to the Stanley Cup Finals with bad coaching. He also made it the playoffs with Conklin/Markkanen as his goaltending tandem with bad coaching. Happy now?

    Great comment Rob, I concur.