With no word yet on a new contract for coach Tom Renney, there’s going to be plenty of speculation in coming days and weeks about his future, or lack of same, behind the bench with the Edmonton Oilers. I’d like to add a bit of a twist to that.

Given the uncertainty of Renney’s status, it’s not surprising that Oilers president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe was spotted in Oklahoma City Saturday. After all, Todd Nelson, who has done a fine job coaching the Oilers AHL affiliate, is considered a strong candidate to end up behind the bench in Edmonton, should a change be made. Perhaps Lowe and Nelson had a chat, a little lunch, did some catching up.

What I do find a bit curious, assuming the Lowe sighting in OKC is accurate, is that Nelson and the Barons were playing the Chicago Wolves, who just happen to be coached by Craig MacTavish. Hmm. It makes one at least ponder the same possibilities about two old teammates and friends like Lowe and MacT – a little chat, a bite to eat, some catching up?

I’m wondering if MacTavish, 53, who is now three seasons removed from stepping away as coach of the Oilers following the 2008-09 season, might be a candidate to step back behind the bench here, if Renney isn’t retained. Is an encore a possibility Lowe and owner Daryl Katz, both close friends of MacTavish, are willing to consider? Something they have considered?


When MacTavish departed after the Oilers went 38-35-9 for 85 points in 2008-09, it seemed the right time to go. After eight years running the bench, MacT wasn’t sure if his message to the players on the roster then was getting through any more. The relationship had grown stale. It was time.

Now, three years later, MacTavish looks and sounds rejuvenated despite an ongoing battle with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. MacTavish says he feels good. Signed by the Vancouver Canucks to coach the Wolves, he’s got his team sitting atop the Midwest Division of the Western Conference.

At the same time, the Oilers are almost a completely different team than the one MacTavish left, the one that, critics insisted, was tuning him out. Only Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner and Ladislav Smid remain from that team. It’s a new group. So, is there a possibility that MacTavish is the right coach for this group? Is this the right group for MacTavish?

While MacTavish is considered to be a bit of an old-schooler, defense-first and all that, which doesn’t sound like a fit with this young bunch, it should be noted coaches, smart coaches, evolve in their approach. A tweak here and there. Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis comes to mind, to name one.

MacTavish wants to be back in the NHL. He was in the running for a couple of jobs he didn’t get before he signed on with Vancouver for the Chicago gig. I’m guessing the Canucks wanted a commitment of at least one season from MacT before any out clauses to move up with another team kick in.

I’m just thinking out loud, but, given MacTavish’s longstanding relationship with Lowe and Katz, his ties to Edmonton and his desire to return to the NHL, I think it would be foolish to dismiss the notion that MacTavish could return, should the team decide Renney has run his course. Just sayin.’

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Also, I don’t buy the Todd Nelson hype. The notion that he has some kind of connection to the youth of this organization – beyond a handful of games from Paajarvi & Lander, and the majority of a season from Hartikainen & Teubert – seems like a silly thing to base his promotion on. He has no more connection to the young core than Marc Crawford or Geoff Ward. And he comes off as a dullard in his interviews.

  • Wax Man Riley

    always a big MacTavish fan. For anyone who doesn’t like his defense first approach I guess you must have yawned your way through the Oilers playoff run in 2006 because we trapped and trapped and trapped. The one year he had a group that could compete, we were competitive. He wasn’t wrong about Penner, he wasn’t wrong about Schremp. Many fans felt we were going to improve with him out of the picture. We did not. There was a lot of talk about “culture change” once he was fired, implying MacT had allowed a tumour to grow in the dressing room under his watch. How do you like your culture change now? Apparently it takes 20 years to implement properly.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Ugggg…Why not just trade Hall for Marty Reasoner and Eberle for tony Peterson while were at it.

    This team needs fresh management, enough of these deadbeats.

  • Never had a problem with MacT as a player or coach. But we have already tried MacT as a coach, time for some new blood. I would prefer a younger coach with some experience at the NHL level, a young promising assitant coach thats learned the game from a well run organization. On the other hand if Tippet becomes available and he is willing to come up North than its a no brainer…Also I am done with Tambo, time to shift to the next phase of the rebuild, obviously the new GM would have to choose the new coach. And hopefully we finish bringing in Ex Oilers that are friends with Katz.

  • Wax Man Riley

    I wouldn’t mind seeing MacTavish coming in as GM and Nelson coming in as coach. Maybe Kevin killed two birds with one stone. I can’t imagine the Oilers keeping Tambie around if MacT returns as the coach.

  • MacT can come back as an assistant coach no problem because that’s what he has always been at the NHL level. He just happen to be fortunate enough that this organization hires assistants to be head coaches for decades. If you are going the route of former coaches removed from the NHL game and ready for another try then interview: Pierre McGuire, Marc Crawford, mike Keenan, don hay too

  • I’ve always liked Craig; thought he was a good player making the most of his limited physical talents, thought he was a good coach, perhaps a bit too defensively minded. Then again, looking at the talent he had to work with, he knew the firewagon route was out of the question.

    Craig for GM is interesting. No way he’d ever do worse than Uncle Steve, just don’t know if; i) He wants to be a GM, and; ii) Whether his first year he’d suffer from the ‘deer in the headlights,’ syndrome.

  • OilerLand

    I don’t trust MacT. Bringing people back is not moving forward. At best it’s moving sideways. MacT did a great job in the playoffs in 2006. He was given an Oiler roster with numerous vets like Pronger etc. Some cherubic ink-stained wretches could have coached that team.

    But he left a sour taste in alot of people’s mouths in his last incarnation here and I don’t see it working this time.

    At the same time I’m not sure about Nelson as a head coach right of the hop at the NHL level. Wouldn’t he be better off as an assistant for at least a couple of years before moving to the big chair?

  • Stack Pad Save

    The problem all of you can’t see through your rosy 2006 glasses, is that as soon as Mac T starts with his line blender 1 time, everyone will go crazy, as soon as he puts Belenger on the PP everyone will scream TOBY, and as soon as someone like Paajarvi doesn’t make the team everyone will cry ROBBIE. Too soon for Mac T to be back in Edmonton.

  • Stack Pad Save

    It would be a show of just how incestuous the Oilers organization has become, and how completely lacking of vision or creativity the leadership of the Oilers is, if the Oilers re-cycled Mactavish as coach.

    Why the MSM and bloggers are stumping for MacT when there are lots of lots of other options out there (as Willis is showing) is beyond me.

    One more example of looking back instead of looking forward. Pathetic.

    This organization is doomed to flounder until it stops living in the past and charts a new course.

    How desperate are you people to annoint him as a saviour when all he ever delivered was one play-off run?

    Have you all forgotten his post season record? Let’s have a look, shall we:

    Starting in 2000/2001

    – Lost in round 1
    – Out of playoffs
    – Lost in round 1
    – Out of playoffs
    – Lost in finals
    – Out of playoffs
    – Out of playoffs
    – Out of playoffs

    Thats 5 misses and 2 1st round exits. Sounds like the perfect coach for this team, if you want to keep missing the play-offs.

    In fact, based on his long term record, you could argue the 2006 SCF run happened in spite of MacT, not because of him. As much as we hate Pronger, this team’s only playoff success happened with him. Without Pronger, MacT’s record as a coach looks pretty damn dismal.

    • And without Pronger, the talent level of those Oiler teams were pretty dismal.

      05-06 was the first year in the last 20 where you could legitimately argue that the team had a true balance everywhere in the lineup.

      At both F and D there were good veteran players, good young players who could contribute. And when the Oilers finally got good goaltending they went on an incredible playoff run.

      Sure, if you strip away a lot of the quality players on a team, they are going to struggle… I don’t think that’s on the coach though.

      I mean MacT’s last year here was significantly better than anything we’ve gotten since then, including the first year of Quinn when it was a similar team that finished dead last.

      • Neilio

        If you went to any other team in the league and said, would you like a coach that had a 37.5% success rate on even making the play-offs, and on a 12.5% success rate in making it out of the first round, to lead you out of hockey purgatory they would laugh themselves silly.

        It should also be noted that a whole bunch of those players you mention bolted as soon as the season was over. Spacek, Samsonov, Peca and others ran as soon as they could, Pronger aside. I don’t know how you can absolve the Coach of some responsibilty in that. It is at least an indicatation that they didn’t like playing for MacT.

        MacT’s years were all about mediocrity. Others have been worse is a pretty poor arguement for why someone should be coach.

        If you want to set winning aside, which is crazy if you ask me, did he develop any star players? Can’t think of any, except maybe Hemsky. Guerin, Smyth, Weight were already performing near thier career averages when MacT got them. Everyone else was kinda mediocre. Was that because they didn’t have the talent or because he is a mediocre teacher?

        other than being one of the best quotes in hockey, I don’t see compelling evidence that MacT is the BEST coach available. And why in heck should the Oilers be shooting for anything less than the BEST is beyond me.

        • Is it your opinion that those Oiler teams would have been better with other coaches and that better star players would have emerged?

          Here’s the fun thing about winning hockey games: It takes good players, and the Oilers haven’t really had that, with the exception of 05-06.

          And you can only develop star players out of quality young players which the Oilers also lacked. I don’t think any coach was going to turn Stoll or Torres into PPG players, so why hold that against Mac-T?

          Is Mac-T the best coach available? I don’t know to be honest, I think there’s a pretty good argument that he is (until the inevitable playoff firings come at least).

          • So, what has he done that makes him best coach available?

            Willis’ series over a Cult of Hockey, which doesn’t appear to be over yet, points to some coaches who are argueably better:

            Coach NHL W% Career W% Playoff Adv Past 1st Champ (any level)

            Mact .537 .537 3/8 1/8 0
            Crawford .549 .540 11/18 6/18 1
            hartley .581 .575 11/14 10/14 3
            Cooper N/A .721 8/8 6/8 3
            Nelson N/A .644 4/4 3/4 2

            All have a better career win percentage. Hartley and Crawford have better NHL win percentages. All have won championships at different levels, including two Stanley Cups. MacT isn’t even the best of the re-treads out there, let alone the best coaching option when you consider up and comers.

            Frankly, looking at Cooper’s bio, I would seriously give him a shot. Younger, innovative, overacheiver and seems to turn everything he touches to gold.

          • Banger

            Also seeing some rumours today that Lindy Ruff may be let go.

            He also has a better winning percentage than Mac T, made the playoffs more often, and made it past the first round more times. He also went to a SCF. if he is cut loose, would he also not be a better choice than MacT?

  • I liked MacT as a coach, right up until he left, but I do question the logic of an organization that has been so bad in recent history to resisting real change.

    Anyways, prior to Tambellini being brought in wasn’t there an unspoken understanding that MacT would be the guy to occupy the GM’s chair when the time was right and he was ready for it?

    That wouldn’t be so bad…

    Or even as an associate GM or something to start.

  • Well when I look at this team and season as a whole a couple of things really stand out to me. The defense was aweful and the vet’s didn’t show up this season and the young guns did. With that said MacT is Defense first and relies and demands a lot from his vets. If he is willing to tweak his style for a little bit more offense I think he would be the perfect kind of guy to bring this team to the next level. Having said that I also feel the same way about Nelson. What he has done in OKC without any real top end offensive talent is very impressive makes you wonder what he could do with a group like the Oilers.

  • I like MacT but frankly, the entire ride horc and belanger thing is one of Renneys undoings.
    MacT is a good coach……… of players who play like he did. Its how he sees the game….. and that is difficult to change.

    Props to him if he has re invented himself but Im a doubter.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I’d give MacTavish another shot. I’d handicap him first though. If the Oilers could remove Shaun Horcoff from MacTavish’s bench i think Craig would be a different coach. We all must agree, MacT was handcuffed with the talent he had at his disposal before he left. He was in defending mode because the Oilers were out talented every night back then.

    If you can remove that 30pt player whom surrenders 70-80 goals a season for the opposition while he’s on the ice, that 20 minutes a night could be used by someone more capable. Next yr it will be Hopkins and Gagner/Grigorenko going up against the other clubs first line. It’s time Edmonton got out of the damage control and into the damaging side of the equasion.

    • Except the Oilers got damaged even further when RNH was on the ice against other teams best lines.

      Hopkins got plastered on the road, even when you factor in the fact that the Oilers did their best to hide him for long stretches of the season.

      RNH is still a couple of years away from being competetive in a PvP matchup.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        The Oilers are a couple yrs away from making the playoffs anyways. Why shelter him, let him compete and try and win some of those battles. RNH was better the second half of the season, if he’s stronger and better next season the Oilers should be fine as far as non playoff teams go. Not sure a grizzled veteran like Horcoff would be much better.

  • Bucknuck

    There is no way Tambellini will swallow his pride enough to bring MacTavish back. I also have doubts that he will find goaltending to complement Dubnyk, since that would also admit to making a mistake signing Khabibulin long term.

    But maybe Tambellini won’t be here next year. I sure hope not.

  • Banger

    I like Mac T, except his defense first approach and his system of play will stifle the ability of the young guys playing a offense game.

    If he can let the young guys play their game, then I say go for it but it seems to me he will not be willing to change his style to accomodate the young guys?

    The old style of play under MacT was boring to watch!

  • Banger

    This would probably be the most talented team that he’s ever coached. That said, let’s not go down that path. If we are going to change, then let’s change. Not run in circles.

  • DieHard

    Two things. The power Play and the Penalty kill. I’m sorry but Mac T couldn’t run a power play or a pk to save his life. You say it was different group of players, and that this one is better. True, but Renny got a bottom place team a top place power play and at lease a decent penalty kill.

    I hope Renny gets one more year with a better D core, a few less injuries, and someone other than Habby to show what he can really do with this group.

  • Oilforlife

    Renney wasn’t perfect, but he has the patience and right attitude for the youth. It’s not his fault that management gives him veterans with no heart, or overpaid under achievers. We don’t need Mac T back coaching, we need new management.

    Any Manager these last few years could have made these draft choices, with this great scouting staff. Great Managers find the odd pieces that work and gel on the team, and that’s the failure.

  • smiliegirl15

    Gregor once wrote an article about not redating the exes. I think the same principal applies here. I wasn’t sad to see MacT go and I certainly don’t want to revisit him again. It’s time for new and fresh in Edmonton!
    I bet there are some good options out there. Send Renney and Tambellini out on the same bus!!!

  • Oilers4ever

    I won’t say much on this other than getting MacT back would be a huge error in judgement… He lost the team in the end the last time he was here… Do you really think guys like RNH, Hall, and Ebs want to be in that situation? Doubtful… I still Todd Nelson is the best bet… Or resign Renney for one more year.