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.