Edmonton Oilers fire Steve Tambellini, Craig MacTavish to replace him

As broken by TSN’s Ryan Rishaug, general manager Steve Tambellini has been fired by the Edmonton Oilers.

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Who replaces Tambellini? Both TSN’s Bob McKenzie and CBC’s Elliotte Friedman report that Craig MacTavish will be the Oilers’ new general manager and that former Columbus G.M. Scott Howson will be taking over MacTavish’s role with the team.

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Club president Kevin Lowe will hold a press conference at 9:30 MT, at which point it is expected the team will officially confirm the reported changes. Update: Oilers confirm all of the above.

Initial Reaction

  • The decision to replace Tambellini was necessary and long overdue. For that alone, this was a positive move.
  • The Oilers are being pilloried on Twitter for the decision to replace Tambellini with an internal candidate, but while Craig MacTavish is seen by some as more of the same, that’s likely not entirely fair. He was a strong head coach, and he only returned to the Oilers last summer. His CV is pretty strong and while nobody knows how well he’ll do in the top job he’s a bright hockey man and a legitimate candidate.
  • Also worth noting: the last time the Oilers went outside the organization, they ended up with Steve Tambellini. Sometimes the grass isn’t greener.
  • Scott Howson previously worked as the assistant general manager in Edmonton before taking the top job in Columbus, and was obviously fairly successful in the role. The perception of him has changed markedly since then, but like other former G.M.’s – Don Waddell in Pittsburgh, John Ferguson, Jr. in San Jose – he may be better suited to a depth role. Certainly the Oilers wouldn’t be expanding his role if they weren’t impressed with his work in a similar role previously. 
  • Why not wait until summer? The obvious answer is that the team felt they had their guy in MacTavish. With that said, I’d have preferred seeing a full search in the summer that included external candidates. It’s not like the Oilers have a bunch of trades and moves to make over the next few weeks.
  • This is a plum job. Is there a team in the league – outside of the current Stanley Cup contenders – that has more raw material to work with than the Oilers over the next few seasons? 
  • The perception that Steve Tambellini was just a puppet and that nothing will change until Kevin Lowe goes is not one that I buy into. The Oilers were a better team under Lowe than they were Tambellini, and when Tambellini came in there were significant changes in how the team was run – most notably in the head coaching department, where a pair of ex-Vancouver bench bosses were hired. 

To sum up: replacing Tambellini was a necessary move, and while I would have preferred a full search over the summer for a new general manager, MacTavish would have been a legitimate candidate in such a search. This isn’t an ideal decision, but the Oilers are better in the hockey operations department today than they were yesterday.  

Comments from the Press Conference

  • Kevin Lowe thanks Tambellini and his family for their service to the Oilers, says he released him of his duties yesterday,
  • Lowe: "Despite showing areas of improvement… the fact of the matter is we are not where we want to be right now nore where we should be."
  • Lowe says that Craig MacTavish "played the lead role" in acquiring Justin Schultz last summer.
  • Lowe has lots of praise for other areas of the organization – the AHL, the WHL – but sharply critical of where the Oilers are now.
  • MacTavish: "I have great faith in Scott [Howson]."
  • MacTavish: "I’m an impatient guy, and I bring that impatience to this situation, and I think we’re at the stage… where we have to do some bold things. We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk."
  • MacTavish: "I know every time I turn my alarm off there are 29 teams trying to beat my brains in."
  • MacTavish is on fire, hammering away on the need for the team to make immediate changes, to take some risks to get to the next level, to add depth to the organization. 
  • MacTavish: "It makes very little difference what I say today. What really, truly matters is.. what we do tomorrow."
  • Lowe, asked by Mark Spector how this represents meaningful change, says the team has much more ammunition now if what he means is that they aren’t capable as a group. 
  • Lowe: "The timing didn’t have anything to do with an article that was written."
  • Steve Tambellini had one year left on his deal.
  • Lowe on the 8-2 win over Calgary: "Even our biggest critics thought that we had arrived." Uh, no. 
  • MacTavish references the Oilers’ five Stanley Cups when asked about how the group that made the mess that Tambellini couldn’t clean up is going to do a better job than Tambellini did. That was a long time ago.
  • MacTavish says he doesn’t know that he’s ever failed the organization in any of his previous positions. 
  • Lowe: "You’re talking about the team that came within one period of winning the Stanley Cup. Someone in the crowd: "Seven years ago."
  • Lowe: "Are you saying to me you’re getting impatient after three years?"
  • Lowe says there’s only one general manager in hockey who has won more Stanley cups than him, so he knows al ittle bit about winning.
  • Lowe: "The general manager makes the decisions in hockey, my position… is similar to the chairman… I’m a liaison to our owner Daryl Katz."
  • Lowe: I don’t think there was ever a time when Tambellini wasn’t able to do something he wanted to do, or I asked him to do something he didn’t want to do.
  • MacTavish, asked about grit in the top-six: "Grit without skill, as I mentioned, is not something that’s going to move the dial of our team forward."
  • MacTavish talks about acquiring "Milan Lucic-type" players, told "I don’t know if you’re allowed to say that." 
  • MacTavish, smiling, "Just happy times" when asked about this being the anniversary of his departure from the Oilers.
  • MacTavish: ‘If you can’t do the difficult things that this job requires, how can you ask your players to do them.’ 
  • Lowe: "For the record, Craig stepped down four years ago… Tambi didn’t fire him."
  • MacTavish: "If you’re referring to the young core that we paid an exceptionally high price to acquire, we would part with those assets very begrudgingly."
  • Good news for Ralph Krueger; MacTavish says that the team’s burned through four coaches and that it’s very remote that coaching is the problem. "I give Ralph a lot of credit."
  • MacTavish: "My physical health is good," jokes that his mental health is open to discussion.

MacTavish came across pretty well, though as he says he’s going to be judged on actions, not words. He repeatedly tossed Steve Tambellini under the bus during the press conference without mentioning his name, alluding to his impatience with the slow process of the rebuild, and talking about the need to take action, to take some risks to get ahead. The "if you can’t do the difficult things line" was particularly noteworthy in that regard.

The low point was both Lowe and MacTavish referencing the Oilers’ glory days victories at the press conference today. A Stanley Cup ring as a player (or five, for that matter) is a lot different than a Stanley Cup ring as a general manager – not that there isn’t cross-over, but the skillset to build a team is completely different than the skillset to score a goal or block a shot. Neither man is doing a job on the ice today, and they shouldn’t expect any forgiveness for a poor record in the front office based on their work on the ice. It’s a different job. 

  • TDSM31

    Nice Kevin – you made me and my family feel like second
    rate fans because we cannot afford season tickets, yet many have
    said buy Jerseys- Hats- you name it, literally thousands of dollars
    of Oilers gear, but we don’t really count. Kiss my arse Kevin Lowe
    I hope you sink. And so i am sure does every other hard working
    joe here who cannot afford your seasons tickets.

    Classy all the way Lowe.

  • Spydyr

    JW writes: Good news for Ralph Krueger; MacTavish says that the team’s burned through four coaches and that it’s very remote that coaching is the problem. “I give Ralph a lot of credit.”

    Will Krueger be back next year? He might. But, there was more in that dialogue then a hardcore endorsement. I’d call it a more of a run around answer then anything. It just sounded like it was hard to endorse Krueger. JMO. The words almost didn’t come out. A tell? Maybe. With 7 games to go there is no need to fire him now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he is given his walking papers next.

    For arguments sake: Was Mac-T going to throw the coach under the bus?

    Off-season looks ripe for movement. Just my word, yo.

  • Spydyr

    Today Lowe said the coach is not the problem. Let us fast forward a year in time as the team looks at its 8th year outside the playoff.

    We feel that we, the three amigos ,gave the coach the right players to make this team a playoff team. That did not happen so may we present Kelly Buchberger as the new coach of the Edmonton Oilers.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Lowe will retract what he said and say what I really meant was ……

    I find it funny when public figures shy away from what they said the first time.
    Rule of thumb what they say the first time is the truth.

  • Spydyr

    I didn’t sense that Craig felt that coaching was the issue -maybe after Christmas next year.

    Kevin came off really bad … he should have foreseen the questions that would be asked.

    He said that they talk with the fans – that attend the games. Where ? How ? not to me at any rate.

  • Light, Sweet, Crude

    Competitiveness. We discussed this on a recent review of Kevin’s tenure as coach and GM of the Oilers. And those of you promoting Brian Burke for the job definitely understand it. I didn’t feel that from Tambi, granted that tanking to collect 1st overall picks means being patient, but this was the year where we could have used a little more competitiveness from the front office and maybe that would have translated onto the ice. Organizations are run from the top-down.

  • outdoorzguy

    We had an opportunity to put a new face on this organization.

    Instead, the “Wizard of Oil” just pulled the curtain tighter around the controls.

    All of pro sports and hockey fans everywhere realized today just what a true disgrace the Edmonton Oilers are and have been for some time.

  • Light, Sweet, Crude

    A new era being bought forth with MacT.. Should be a huge upgrade from slow underachieving Tams . Get over it ON we have lots to look forward to , as Mact. revamps lineup for next season . I’m looking forward to this .

    Going outside the boys club bought us nothing but pain and anguish in the tenure of castawys such as Quinn and Tams . Wonder if Quinn will comment on this move ? Souray is probably having a good laugh .

    MacT. will probably surprise most of us as hye transform team nto a contender in short order . Timing was right i might add – should shock the players into performing well the last 7 games !

  • bazmagoo

    The bottom line here is that MacT knows what a winning lineup looks like, a Cup winning lineup! Some teams have had success but not Cup winning success! I have all the faith in the world that MacT will get the appropriate talent to surround Hall, Hopkins, Eberle, Yakupov & Schultz! Good times are just around the corner!

    • bazmagoo

      Why in the world wasn’t he doing his job over the last year painting Tambellini a picture of just what that line up should look like? Why, why, why?

      Where’s the integrity?

    • The Soup Fascist

      Totally agree . The one thing McT knows is players who contribute on the ice . I don’t expect any Habby ; O’Sullivan, Belanger moves .Lets not forget he had 1 year as coach in the AHL and the guy reads the game well . Also will not be surprised to see any of Gags , Hemsky, Eberle( or 1 of top 6 ) trades. Expect interesting closing remarks with the players at season end .

  • bazmagoo

    Khabibulin – 4 years @ 3.75 per year

    Smyth – 2 years @ 2.25 per year (why 2 years?)

    Belanger – 3 years @1.75 per year

    Trading picks for Smithson and Fistric, both of whom are not exactly lighting it up

    Not trading Whitney, Jones, Fistric, Peckham, Khabby for picks when they will all probably walk at the end of the season for nothing

    Resigning Peckham

    Over paying for Devan Dubnyk when he still hasn’t proven he’s a #1 goalie (I think he will prove to be, but he shouldn’t be paid accordingly until he HAS proven it)

    That’s why Sleepilini got fired, never had the balls to make any big moves and didn’t have the hockey IQ to avoid making small bad moves. It’s can’t get any worse, even with Lowe still at the helm.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Good afternoon, Mr. MacTavish.

    Your first mission Craig, should you choose to accept it, is to surgically remove an Oiler’s legend who is long past his due date and threatens the short-term success of the organization over the next year. We have dubbed it “Operation Ditch Smytty”. This individual is God-like in the eyes of the fans (yes, even those of you who don’t buy seasons tickets) so the matter must be handled delicately and efficiently. Should you fail in this regard, as always, the President of Hockey Operations will disavow ALL knowledge of you and the mission. This message will self-destruct in 10 seconds. Good Luck, Mr. Phelps, er … MacTavish.

    • bazmagoo

      First order of business is buying out Horcoff, he just doesn’t have it anymore and we can’t have 5.5 million in cap space tied up in a player who is an above average 4th line centre. Captain or not, he needs to go.

      • The Soup Fascist

        No chance. While Horcoff’s contract stinks, it won’t affect the Oilers ability to sign people during it’s tenure and Horcoff’s play is not the biggest problem the Oilers have – not even close.

          • The Soup Fascist

            Certainly, I am nowhere near a capologist, but you have to think Hemsky is gone (assuming a buyer can be found) and Belanger / Eager are bought out. That leaves 19 million next year in capspace (roughly) with 8 guys to sign. If they sign Gagner next year that will be $4.5. Paajarvi will be cheap. Lots of room for UFAs, although the crop is poor and I am not sure I would go crazy next year on UFAs.

            Maybe, it becomes an issue in 14-15 as RNH, Petry and Schultz are due, but they are still RFAs and we are not sure what the cap is going to be.

            If you have concerns, let me know what they are. If you are saying we are getting a Weber – zero chance by the way -, then yeah we might need to look at buying out Horcoff. Otherwise, I dont think letting the bad contract play out, ties your hands. What player do you want to sign next year that the Oilers cannot afford?

          • bazmagoo

            My concern is simply that we need the following:

            – 2 bigger and better forwards
            – 2 bigger and better defencemen
            – 1 UFA goalie to push Dubnyk

            That is if we want to compete. Let’s say we were able to sign David Clarkson from New Jersey and Viktor Stalberg from Chicago as UFA’s this summer. That would likely cost about 7.5 – 8 for the two of them. And that’s IF they wanted to sign in Edmonton.

            Then we need 2 solid defencemen, likely at around 7 million for two players of any significance.

            Plus 1.5 million for a solid UFA backup that can push Dubby.

            That puts us close to $70 million next season, or about 5.7 million over the cap which coincidentially is close to Horcoff’s cap number.

            One suggestion that I’ve read is trading Horcoff for another contract with the intention of buying out who you trade for, then resigning Horcoff to a smaller amount. I would be in favour of this, as I think Horcoff is a solid 3rd line centre. But you can’t be paying your 3rd line centre $5.5 million against the cap if you intend to compete in today’s NHL.

            Just my opinion

          • The Soup Fascist

            No concern with improving the team. If you can get those guys great. I think Hemsky’s contract gets dealt and that gives you all the room you need. If you need to whack Horcoff and his contract to improve the team – go ahead. My point is there are other more pressing issues.

          • GVBlackhawk

            I can definitely see Belanger getting one of the compliance buyouts. Eager can be buried in the minors next year and only $200K of his $1.1M will count towards the cap.

            They will likely save one compliance buyout for the following summer to use on Horcoff, if they can’t trade him.

          • Spydyr

            I think there’s some merit there. I’ve thought the same about Horcoff. Not sure they would need to buy out Belanger. If Hemsky stays then maybe they do.

            I think Gagner will be the big question mark going into the off-season. He’s a tough player to like or dislike and the money may play a big factor in his status going forward.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Is there a team in the league – outside of the current Stanley Cup contenders – that has more raw material to work with than the Oilers over the next few seasons?

    Yes, Ottawa

  • DSF

    Jouni Nieminen ‏@OnsideWithJouni 5m

    Last 4 Stanley Cup-winning GMs: Lombardi, lawyer, Chiarelli, lawyer, Bowman, lawyer, Shero, lawyer. None had their name on Cup as a player.

  • Spydyr

    jason wrote:shut up you chirpy little boy, if i want any lip from you i’ll unzip my fly! i stand by my statement because it’s true, and would have problem saying it to lowe’s face or yours. piss off.

    You unzip your fly for little boys. Gross.There is a special place in hell for people like you.

    And yes Kevin Lowe can bend time and space. I reply to what you’ve said jason before you say it. I am in your head right now. There’s more than enough room for me and my knuckle dusters made from 5 of my stanley cup rings. And the last one on a special finger on my opposite hand. May you and I should take a walk to this barn Burke rented. We can discuss your little boy fetish, and your opinions of me.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Tambo made MANY mistakes. But signing Dubnyk WAS NOT one of them. He is top 10 in SV% on a bottom 10 team. Its that simple.

    If you dont think he has proven he is a starting NHL goalie then you are watching the wrong sport.

  • Spydyr

    Everyone jumps on Tambi now, but the truth is he didn’t do anything that we didn’t cheer for at the time.

    We wanted Smytty back, We thought Belanger EAger and Hordi were good 4th line acquisitions, we didn’t want him to trade Whitney, etc. Did we want him to trade Gags and MP last year before they had a good season?

    I liked his patience. I think it was appropriate for the early stages of a rebuild. Just like slightly more major moves are appropriate for now.


    • Speak for yourself. I think there was, at the very least, a vocal minority that was sharply critical of many of his moves when they were made – starting with Khabibulin and carrying on down to his poor work on deadline day.

      • GVBlackhawk

        Guess I should have read your response first before I basically said the exact same thing.

        I particularly detest how he says “We” thought Hordichuk and Eager were good 4th line acquistions (although Eager was supposed to be a 3rd line acquistion).

        We didn’t like those moves at all, did we precious? gollum, gollum

    • GVBlackhawk

      I’ll bookend Tambi’s moves for you that we did not cheer for:

      First: 4 year deal to a 35 year old goalie with an injury history and stats on the decline.

      Last: 4th round pick for a 4th line ‘faceoff specialist’ who is not very good at any other aspect of the game. A player that could have been taken off the waiver wire for nothing (eg. Jussi Jokinen…oh sorry, he can actually play hockey).

  • paul wodehouse

    on this momentous day…always liked Howson, MacT IS the solution @ GM…Kevin’ll win all the time…it’s his team “vicious forever”

    …our resident elite troll is wrong
    …Katz can’t do this without Kevin…

    don’t be so bitter sir…

    maybe even wait and see what happens

    Good Luck&Congratulations

    Craig MacTavish

    p.s. God Bless those at the Boston Marathon

  • positivebrontefan

    Well it is just in the last couple of years that I can actually say that I have been able to afford tickets. Had Kevin Lowe said that to the Oilers fans that can’t afford tickets I would have never bought them in the first place. What an arrogant ass. What about the thousands that are on a waiting list for tickets you dickhead.
    I have no use for him after this.

  • The Worrier

    Check this out:

    Ed Hervey former EDMONTON Eskimos now EDMONTON Eskimos GM.

    Craig MacTavish former EDMONTON Oiler now EDMONTON Oilers GM.

    Guys if you look really really closely you can see a pattern.

  • To all the season tickets holder who are angry at Lowe please give up your seats. Don’t renew. It will help me move up on the list and I’ll be laughing my ass off when I am sitting in my seat in new Rexall and watching Hall et al rip this league to shreds. Stay home please. Keep playing the KLOWE quote over and over till you give up your seats. Because you all know that its his fault. Everything. He is the puppet master. He is the Dark Lord. He influences how the players play on the ice with his mind manipulation. It his fault that HALL,Nuge and Ebs have not scored in 5 games. It his fault that the gold price going down 148 bucks today is a KLOWE plot. Gregor’s hair style is KLOWE plot to get everyone to use more Rogaine. Its all his fault. Where are the conspiracy theorist today when we need a good laugh.

  • I just go back to what Burke said years ago.

    I’m paraphrasing here.

    A panic move made by a GM who’s run his team into the ground.

    This is what happened today, a panic move by a paniced guy. Yet on all the interviews you hear the same rhetoric spewing from Tambellin as you do Howson.

    I have zero doubt these ass clowns will move a valuable youth for some coke machine JFJ type player.

    This should have been a double fire day.

  • Ducey

    He was a strong head coach, and he only returned to the Oilers last summer. His CV is pretty strong and while nobody knows how well he’ll do in the top job he’s a bright hockey man and a legitimate candidate.

    Strong resume? Compared to who?

    Kekalainen who was also hired as a rookie GM this year had head of Player personal, and assistant Gm experience in two different NHL organizations, as well as almost 10 years as a GM in the Finish Elite league.

    Mactavish had coaching, and a diploma. Zero management experience.

    One of those guys has a strong resume. Mactavish’s resume would be far below average when comparing to other NHL GM’s.

  • Throttlehead

    This is getting about as silly as you can get, no wonder players don’t want to go to Edmonton. The common denominator with failure is Lowe, Horcoff, and Ales Hemsky, and I’m pretty sure Tambi never had a chance to trade Horcoff, thanks to Lowe and MacT. This firing is fail on so many levels that it is actually embarrassing, not that it was Tambi going, but the fact that Lowe still has a job and that MacT is brought back.

    They seem to think they can relive the 80’s just by bringing in ex oilers. It can’t be done! RNH is not Gretzky, Hall is not Messier, Eberle is not Kurri, Schultz is not Coffee, they are all great in their own right. What successful team in the NHL does this nonsense with management, in fact what teams do this period?

    Lowe says it was MacT who was responsible for getting Schultz (bull****) Schultz himself has said MANY times that it was Kreuger and Hall that had the impact on his decision. Why is Lowe lying? Why does he feel the need to sell a line to the fans? The next immediate reason Lowe should be fired is from what he said today about the fans, separating ticket buying, and non ticket buying fans. Has this guy lost his mind? Isn’t every fan and non fan from Edmonton paying for the new arena? When ticket buying fans stop being ticket buying fans, who fills the next seat? This is the most ignorant, arrogant statement I have heard from management in pro sports. In other words, I will say and do what ever I want and you will fill the rink that you bought for us. MIND BOGGLING!

    It is completely obvious who the leader on the Oilers is and its not Horcoff (bless his 7 million dollar soul), its Taylor Hall, the move today should have been switching captains, not hiring retreads. Has Horcoff dominated ONE shift (never mind a game) since he has been captain, I mean ONE shift? The talk is we need more grit (agreed) but our captain is the softest 6’1″ 215lb leader in the league, for the last 3 years he has forced new players to play out of their spots, he is a 3rd line centre and has been for years. Unless we move Horcoff, Hemsky and Lowe, we will have this unremovable weight attached to us. Its time for the kids to own this team, and they will if given the chance.

    Brodziak gone for nothing, Glencross for nothing, Green & Stoll major mistake, Pronger for Smid and a “home town boy” when we could have had Getzlaf. Where did the grit go? ENOUGH of the home town crap! Thank goodness players didn’t want to come to Edmonton when Lowe was offering 7-9 million dollar contracts over long contract terms, we would be Horcoffed forever.

    All I see is a cover up by Lowe for HIS failures, now his top supporter is hired into the GM position, Katz won’t speak up unless he is asking for public money. This franchise became a joke and was on the road of healing, today just set it back to being the biggest joke in the league again, I’m sure players around the league are trying their best to sign no trade contracts so they don’t have to go to Edmonton (the worst managed team in the NHL).

    Lowe, MacT, Smith, Buchberger, seriously folks enough is enough. I fully expect Kreuger to be fired one day after last game, which ex Oiler is available? Waiting for that one.

    Remember MacT on TSN “Horcoff should be considered for Team Canada”, that exudes GM qualities.

  • Throttlehead

    Mr. Willis, step up the debate, the city deserves it, nobody seems willing to really question what the root of the problems have been and demand answers to the hard questions.