If Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings was Craig MacTavish’s last gasp as coach of the Edmonton Oilers, and I suspect it was, don’t count me among those overjoyed with his demise.
But listening to MacTavish in the post-game news conference at Rexall Place last night, with each word dripping with defeat and disappointment, I’m more convinced than ever he will meet with team owner Daryl Katz and offer his resignation face-to-face in the next two weeks. No texts.
I’m convinced it’s for the best.
“It’s kind of a frame on the year we’ve had where we’ve put ourselves in position many times during the year, but we just haven’t been able to capitalize on that opportunity,” MacTavish told reporters.
“You can call it whatever you want. There’s going to be lots of time for analysis now, but that was indicative of a lot of nights where we’ve needed a game and just come up short.
“It’s not just the game tonight I’m going to wrap myself around. It’s a lot of nights like this over the course of the year. Thanks…”
Then, he stepped away.
Having been up-close-and-personal when MacTavish contemplated walking away before, I can tell you he’s a man who doesn’t take defeat easily or duck his share of responsibility when it comes to failure, which this season surely was. I can tell you he’s an honest, honourable guy.
But, after a season in which MacTavish made too many decisions that didn’t make sense or play to the strengths of the personnel on the roster, a season in which he set the bar high in pre-season with talk of a Northwest Division title, it’s time to go.
Last night, MacTavish looked so far removed from the optimism of October and so used up, I can’t come to any other conclusion, even allowing for the disappointment of the moment.
Make no mistake, this is MacTavish’s call to make, and he deserves that much. While we don’t talk as much as we used to, I can assure fans MacTavish will look at the situation and make the right call. He won’t hang on when he knows he should let go, he won’t cling to the spotlight.
No cheering in the press box
Some media types can’t wait to fire the coach — the greatest misnomer in sports because what somebody in the press box writes has absolutely no effect, zero, none, on decisions — but I’ve never had the urge to scream that so-and-so must go. Not Ron Low. Not Kevin Lowe. Not MacTavish.
Fans? That’s different. You pay your dollar, so you get to holler. With the emotional and financial investment Joe Q has in the team, I get the passion, the over-reaction, the negative buzz on the call-in shows. It’s all good.
But, like I said, when MacTavish calls it a day, you won’t find me applauding his exit. He’s a big boy and he knows the rules of the game. So do I. And I also know he was as committed and passionate and driven to succeed as any coach can be. But, in the end, even with 300 wins and the 2006 Stanley Cup final on his resume, MacTavish didn’t succeed enough. He failed.
I find no joy in that, or at what comes next.
There’s no question Shawn Horcoff hasn’t delivered in the stretch drive with just one goal in his last 13 games, and that falls on him, but why has he been used as a shutdown centre of late?
That part falls to MacTavish, who has seen fit to turn his top-line pivot into a checker — at least that’s what he’s said in recent weeks to explain Horcoff’s drop in offensive production. With all the minutes he’s played, I wouldn’t be surprised if Horcoff’s simply out of gas. Looks like it to me.
The second part falls to Kevin Lowe, who was GM when the decision was made to let Marty Reasoner and Jarret Stoll go. The lack of a reliable shutdown and face-off guy has been a glaring need since training camp.
Speaking of gassed, Dwayne Roloson is the dictionary definition of that because a Senior B goaltender wouldn’t have let in the 1-0 goal by Alexander Frolov 55 seconds in.
As gritty as Roloson’s been and as much as he’s battled — the Oilers would’ve been eliminated weeks ago without him — he’s been victimized by bad goals in the last handful of games.
MacTavish hasn’t managed his goaltenders worth a damn since Mathieu Garon was traded. Three times during Roloson’s skein of starts, the Oilers played back-to-back games. Not once did Jeff Deslauriers get a sniff. By the time the crunch came, MacTavish left himself no option but to ride Roloson until the wheels fell off.
— Patrick O’Sullivan might be a first-line talent, but he’s got some work to do before he’s more than a second-line winger. Not much bang for the buck since arriving at the trade deadline.
— There wasn’t room on Edmonton’s coaching staff for Rob Daum this season, but there should be next season. Fact is, Daum should never have been bumped to make room for Kelly Buchberger.
— Don’t hold your breath waiting for the “He’ll look like a bargain during this contract” talk from Lowe kick in when it comes to Dustin Penner because you’ll turn blue before it happens. From 29 goals with Anaheim to 23 here last season to 17 with two games to play, but the tab, $4.25 million per season, remains the same.
— With yet another second assist against the Kings, Tom Gilbert is living proof numbers don’t tell the whole story. I’m doing a running tally on those, but I’m out of fingers and toes. If I’m GM Steve Tambellini, Gilbert is the defenceman I move — before other GMs realize he’s a soft, complimentary player — if I’m dangling one of my blueliners in pursuit of a first-line pivot or left winger.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.