Craig MacTavish returns to the Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers have hired Craig MacTavish as the team’s new Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations.

According to the team’s official website, the Oilers will hold a press conference at 4:30 MT to discuss the return of MacTavish to the organization.

MacTavish had been working in the Vancouver Canucks organization as the head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.  Earlier today the team announced that MacTavish was leaving to "pursue other opportunities," with general manager Mike Gillis making a short statement:

Craig brought a tremendous amount of experience and expertise as Head Coach of the Wolves this past season. We were pleased to have him as a member of our organization and wish him continued success in the future.

The return of MacTavish has been hinted at previously in the media, with the Edmonton Journal‘s Jim Matheson reporting the rumour yesterday.  Matheson was not only ahead of the news, but he seems to have gotten things exactly right:

The Oilers won’t comment yea or nay on whether MacTavish, who left the Oilers in 2009 after coaching them for eight years, could return in some capacity. Maybe I’m being led astray by the background chatter, but would it be a stretch to have MacTavish, who got his master’s degree in business from Queen’s University after leaving the coaching gig here, return to assist Kevin Lowe, the team’s president of hockey operations? An extra set of eyes and ears, a sounding board for evaluations? A smart hockey man. Even after leaving the Oilers in 2009, and before he got a coaching gig with the Chicago Wolves last summer, MacTavish was quietly doing some behind the scenes scouting for the Oilers.

Back in April, our own Robin Brownlee also suggested a return could be in the cards, though the expectation at that time was that MacTavish would want to stay behind the bench:

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.’

MacTavish is an interesting hire, particularly because he’s entering the Oilers’ front office rather than stepping behind the bench.  The fact that MacTavish went back to school and got a business degree separates him to some extent from the other ex-NHL players populating hockey operations positions around the NHL; that education only adds to the qualifications of a man with a long record of experience as a coach and a player.

My initital reaction is mostly positive; MacTavish is obviously intelligent, and the idea of adding him to the Oilers’ management group appeals.  Fresh out of a year coaching in the AHL, MacTavish will also add some first-hand knowledge to the Oilers’ professional scouting department, an area that has been weak judging by their acquisitions of the last few seasons.   Presumably, he’ll also have an opinion of most of the AHL’s up-and-coming coaches, having just spent the last year contending with them.

The thing I’m most curious about, and something we’ll hopefully get some answers to this afternoon, is how this alters the power structure in the Oilers’ front office.  The addition of MacTavish is going to do nothing to dissuade the notion that Kevin Lowe is still ultimately running the hockey operations department, yet at the same time Steve Tambellini just received an extension as the Oilers’ G.M.  I know I’ll be paying rapt attention to today’s press conference.

  • DSF

    Backwards move. Like Craig just fine, but we don`t need a return to the Old Boys club. How many playoffs has the group of MacT, Lowe, Tambo made. You cut bait with a guy, and then you hire him back 3 years later. Katz can run a drug store, but his Hockey IQ is poor, and we in Oil COuntry continue to pay for this continuance of employing poor hockey men, or at least a group with no success. Its assinine.

    In 09`we were so sick of the loosing, the constant lack of direction, poor decisions, and general lack of change. They can MacT, cause he was at the end of his rope. (out of Lowe, Tambo, MacT he was by far the best) So wait 2-3 years and hire back one of the good ol`boys, and give him a promotion cause the guy has a masters degree, which means he can no integrate his hockey knowledge with business savey cause he`s edmucated. This organization needs to hire people with the right aptitude, skill set, and who have a proven track record. This is so backward. Continuing to do the same thing over and over again is not going to move this organization forward.

    I just hope they hire Sutter soon so I can moan about that move.

  • Acumen

    Interesting article, considering:

    http://www.queensu.ca/news/alumnireview/business-hockey

    This might shed some light onto the structure the Oilers are intending to go for as well:

    “The 16-month EMBA program is designed for working managers, and lets them take part in virtual classes and group work from their home cities. Teamwork is stressed in the program, and Craig found that he really enjoyed the team dynamic. “We had a terrific group of people,” he says, “all very self-motivated. We had an eclectic mix of skill sets. I was really fortunate to have been part of that group.” He learned a lot by collaborating with people with diverse business experiences. ‘The power of the team is obviously in maximizing those skill sets and in reducing and protecting any weaknesses.'”

    • DSF

      That last sentence … “The power of the team is obviously in maximizing those skill sets and in reducing and protecting any weaknesses.” …is what this is really all about.

      Another layer of insulation for Lowe.

  • DSF

    I think this is a great move for the Oilers. I’m sure Mac T will be very useful and influential in suggesting players the team needs as well as players they no longer need. With Mac T in the office, I think that will be encouraging news for Smytty and a contract will get signed . I also think most people are right in thinking he is the next General Manager.

  • Marshall Law

    There is no downside to this move. He’s clearly intelligent, educated, and his vast experience in the game shows that he knows the ingredients that are required in assembling a winning team.

    The fact that his previous tenure here had the team battling for the playoffs each year despite a severe lack of talent on the club is most impressive. However, many Oiler fans dislike the move because it puts the “Old boys club” back together. Who cares? The man is competent.

    The decline of this team coincided with Mac T’s departure. Quinn had essentially the same group the very next year and they finished in the basement. This is a great hockey hire.

    Mac T FTW!

  • Marshall Law

    Some Funny Bastard said

    Even Hutterites bring in fresh blood once in a while. This train has left the station.

    I don`t want to know what happens behind the Oiler curtain…

  • The Soup Fascist

    Interesting yet positive move for the Oiler’s organization. One would have to consider that this will allow Mr Katz the option of moving Mac T in’multiple directions’ on the Org Chart. Kevin Lowe, Tambi and the ‘soon to be named head coach’ I am sure are well aware of that.

    L.

  • RexLibris

    I loved MacTavish as a player and for the first half of his coaching tenure here I was a big fan. He managed to hold together a mediocre roster and make them playoff-contenders every year when the money just wasn’t there.

    His last few years as coach began to eat away at my opinion of him, but in hindsight I can see that this was more the product of a poor roster and very little help from other areas of the organization (scouting).

    All of that being said, though, I like this move. The Oilers are adding management staff with the goal of being, in my opinion, the smartest hockey organization in the NHL. Just as in the Detroit model, I think the organizational strategy is to gather together the best voices in their respective fields and then try to create a strong management team where the result is greater than the sum of its parts.

    Regardless of whether a person either likes or dislikes Tambellini’s management style or some of his decisions, the addition of MacTavish, who always seemed to have a good handle on talent (“Robbie Schremp is not an NHL player”), ought to strengthen this area.

    I’m not entirely confident this whole thing won’t still end up a smoldering wreck, but Alex Delvecchio didn’t have a lot of management pedigree going for him when he was hired.

    Let’s see what happens with this group. If adding MacTavish to the table means not signing another Khabibulin or Barker, then it ought to be money well spent.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Certainly the Detroit Red Wings have, for years, surrounded themselves with upper management. Devellano, Holland, Nill and until a couple of years ago, Steve Yzerman have all been part of the fold in senior management positions. Chris Chelios and Jiri Fischer have recently joined the Front office as well. That model seems to have worked out OK.

    I understand why there are cries of the “old boys club” running rampant, but in my opinion, MacT is a very bright, articulate, credible hockey man. I am pretty sure the comment that no one else would hire him is inaccurate. While there is some merit to the suggestions we could use fresh blood, I think it would be naive to think that MacT did not pick up some ideas in his time away from the Oilers organization. Tambellini was “fresh blood”. Not sure that should be the first consideration.

  • misfit

    “We want Reasoner back. I want Reasoner back”

    I hope he has more pull than he did as HC, because it took the rest of the management staff 3 years to address the need (hell, to even recognize that there was one) for a Dzone/PK centerman who can win a draw which MacT saw immediately.

  • misfit

    Can this hiring be someone to replace Tambi if he fails even more than he has already. Sounds like he will be involved in everything to do with the Oilers and hockey so hopefully Tambi fails so we can hear MacT give under preformers some crap through the media.

    I think MacT as a GM could be good. He was able to turn Pisani and other mediocre players into very good depth players. Should be interesting within the next year involving the front office. Hopefully change happens if we dont finish 23 or higher.

  • To many Chiefs in this band. My thoughts is that as soon as the Oilers don’t make the playoffs Tambellini is fired.

    Meanwhile, I think the main reason Mac was brought back is I think Lowe realizes that his pro scouting department is not very good and neither is Tambellini’s assessment of pro talent.

    Tambellini may not have been able to make a big trade after all.

  • Reg Dunlop

    @TheSoupFascist

    I heard MacT’s return interview and he stated he interviewed for other jobs but basically his heart belonged in Edmonton. Translated, he couldn’t get another NHL gig before this.

    MacT returning=Katzlowe decision=FUBB

    I wonder how Stevie T is taking the news. Actually I don’t care.

    • The Soup Fascist

      Okay. I don’t make that leap but I can’t say for sure what other opportunities he had – so you are certainly welcome to that conclusion. Although, I do know Vancouver and Edmonton were preferred destinations for the MacTavish clan.

      You are correct that MacT likely could be viewed as “plan B” should ST’s latest foray into the task of building a competitive team end as well as Lindsay Lohan taking driving lessons. Time will tell.

  • Acumen

    With MacTavish back in a more dominant role , i expect Oilers to be dealing this year more so than last 2-3 years . Tampa Bay (10,19,37,40,50 th picks) and Buffalo (12,21, 42, 44 th picks) have a lot first and second round picks that they can deal with . Might we strike up a deal with either using present personnel for more draftees ? Or might Vanek , Regher or Lecavallier also be in play for players more so than drafts ?