If there’s anybody who is actually surprised Craig MacTavish was named the new GM of the Edmonton Oilers today after Steve Tambellini was fired and made the fall guy, they haven’t been paying attention.
That doesn’t make Kevin Lowe’s end-around of anything remotely resembling due diligence and process in terms of scouring the NHL for other candidates – a fact that’s been bemoaned at great length in the aftermath, and a criticism that certainly has merit – right, and it doesn’t mean critics shouldn’t be hacked off about it, but it should surprise nobody.
This is a shot that could have been called, and was, the second MacTavish returned to the organization as vice-president of hockey operations under Lowe. The only real question about when – not if – what happened today would come was tied to the health of MacTavish, who has had non-Hodgkins Lymphoma for a couple of years now.
No matter what happened with the Oilers this season, Lowe was not going to be blown out by owner Daryl Katz because they’re friends. Again, you don’t have to like it, but that doesn’t make it less true. That remains so today and it isn’t going to change. That’s a pound of flesh fans aren’t going to get.
Likewise, if things went sideways, as they have, Tambellini was positioned as the fall guy. The first guy who’d be offered the job was MacTavish because he and Lowe go back more than 25 years – hell, they were teammates in New York with the Rangers in 1994 when they first discussed what it might be like one day to jump into coaching and the front office as a tandem. They like each other. They respect each other. They have history. Ties that bind.
No surprise. None.
SETS UP NICELY
Process (no small matter for debate) or lack of same aside, the bottom line for long-suffering Oilers fans facing a seventh straight season out of the playoffs has to be this: will the organization be more competently guided and better built for success under MacTavish than under Tambellini?
My best guess is the answer is yes, and there’s plenty of reasons for that – not the least of which is that I believe, lack of experience aside, MacTavish has a better grasp of what it takes to build a team than Tambellini does (or at least a better grasp than the often indecisive Tambellini displayed).
I could be mistaken, of course, but my opinion of MacTavish was formed over many years of picking his brain about hockey – from the time he was captain here to his brief tenure as an assistant coach in New York to his return to Edmonton. We spent a lot of time in airports, hotels and hockey rinks across the continent.
Fact is, I think MacTavish’s approach to the game and team building will see him more successful as the GM of this team than he was as head coach. And, as he said today (and I’ve seen first-hand), MacT’s got an impatient streak – that in itself is a welcome change for fans frustrated by Tambellini’s guarded approach to getting things done.
ALL IN THE TIMING
MacTavish is sharp. He’s aggressive. He has very strong opinions about the kind of players he wants and what it takes to build a team. Those traits aside, MacTavish is taking over the big chair at the perfect time and it would take a face-plant of biblical proportions for him not to be more successful than was Tambellini, who, like departed coach Tom Renney, stepped into the breach with the team at its lowest point.
As disappointing as the last five games have been and as much as the weaknesses in the roster have been exposed during that stretch, this isn’t a team that is hopelessly far off returning to contention in terms of the number of players needed and how much the mix must be tweaked. The core is going to continue to get better – no matter who is GM.
The trick, one Tambellini never did grasp or at least never did act on, is to plug in the right forward here, a defenseman or two there and veterans in support positions who can bring the kids along. MacTavish, rest assured, will move on that. Will he make the right moves? We’ll see soon, which was never the case with Tambellini.
Bottom line is MacTavish, like returning Scott Howson, is stepping back into the Oilers fold at exactly the right time. From where I sit, they’re set up to enjoy infinitely more success than Tambellini ever was. That, of course, has yet to be played out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a year or two from now the Oilers are right where fans want them to be.
If that happens, I’m guessing results will trump process, no?
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.