WEEKEND WRAP: MACTAVISH IS BACK AS GM

What a weekend. So many big stories in sports. Some great races in the NHL, the Masters, Kobe Bryant injury, a great comeback by the Edmonton Rush and the Edmonton Oilers final implosion vs. the Calgary Flames, and the subsequent calling for change.

There is no doubt change is needed, but it can’t just be changes to fringe players.

That was my intro to my story early this morning, but then the Oilers went out and actually made some changes. General Manager Steve Tambellini was fired and replaced by Craig MacTavish while Scott Howson returns to the Oilers this time as Vice President of Hockey Operations.

I said last September that the Oilers needed to show significant improvement this season or management needed to be held accountable. And in our pre-season predictions in January I wrote the same. And by change I didn’t mean a playoff berth. A playoff appearance would have been a massive improvement, but an unrealistic one, however, if the Oilers didn’t improve overall then the architect of the team needed to be looked at.

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With seven games remaining I haven’t seen a significant improvement. I wrote, prior to losses vs. Phoenix and Calgary, that I hadn’t seen any real improvement and many disagreed. It looks like the Oilers agreed that this team hadn’t made enough improvements, and today they fired Tambellini with one year remaining on his contract.

Saturday’s abyssmal performance against Calgary got everyone in Oilersnation angry, frustrated and disappointed. Many of you have remained patient the past few years, believing the rebuild was working, but a 4-1 loss to a depleted Calgary team was unacceptable.

It is clear the Oilers aren’t built to be a contender.

They have very good young players, led by Taylor Hall, but you can’t win with just young, skilled forwards in today’s NHL. Your team can’t be one-dimensional, and that is what the Oilers are. They can beat you with speed and skilll, but if the opposition slows down the game the Oilers can’t adapt.

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WHAT I SEE….

Many have written and said that the Oilers biggest weakness is their bottom-six forwards. If they improve there the Oilers will be a contender. I agree their 3rd and 4th lines need to improve, but so does the mix within their top-six, and on their blueline.

The Oilers have many areas of weakness, not just the 7th-13th forwards.

The young kids have loads of potential, some of it already proven, but the Oilers won’t win with the same top-six next season. They need some size and toughness sprinkled in amongst the skilled forwards.

Please don’t suggest that the Oilers have enough size with Hall and Magnus Paajarvi. To me size isn’t just your height and weight. Being over six feet and 200 pounds doesn’t mean you are big on the ice. It means you are big on the scale.

For me it is how you play the game. The Oilers have no robust forwards who can compliment the skill of Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov or Sam Gagner. I don’t doubt the skill or drive of those five, but they don’t have the strength or size to beat teams in the trenches.

Hockey in March is much tighter and more difficult than it is between October and February. And then April and May hockey is even more grittier, disciplined and more confined than March. The Oilers do not have the right combination within their top-six to compete.

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Look at the forwards during the 2006 Cup run.

They had pure skill in Hemsky and Samsanov. They had gritty, productive skill in Torres, Peca, Stoll and Smyth. They had smarts, skill and determination in Horcoff and Pisani. Of course it helped having a Hall of Fame defenceman in Chris Pronger, but the Oilers top-nine forwards had a great mix of skill, smarts, toughness and grit.

Stop suggesting that the height and weight of the Oilers is a solid defence to the argument that they are big enough. The most physical forward amongst their top-nine is Nail Yakupov, and while that is great for him, it is also a clear sign of what they lack amongst the forwards who play the most minutes.

The Oilers need a young Ryan Smyth. A guy who went to all the tough areas and played his guts out every night. He didn’t wow you with tremendous speed, pinpoint shooting, pression passing or much size, but his determination and skill six to ten feet from the net was top-notch.

Torres and Peca weren’t big, but they could change the momentum of the game with a big hit as often as a big goal. They played big. Horcoff in 2006 led them in playoff scoring, while shutting down the opposition’s top line. Was he as skilled as RNH, no chance, but he never backed down from a battle.

I suspect Nugent-Hopkins will become a very good two-way centreman, mainly because he is trying to mirror Pavel Datsyuk’s style of play. The fact RNH takes that much pride in his two-way game, suggests to me that he will become an elite two-way player. He might not be as good as Datsyuk, who is top-three centres in the game, but he likely will be a top-ten centre in the future. I’m not suggesting they alter their 1st line centre, but today RNH’s game is not as complete  as Horcoff was in 2006.

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The Oilers in 2006 had strength down the middle. None of them were elite scorers, but Horcoff, Peca and Stoll were all very good two-way players and exceptional in the faceoff dot. The Oilers need one of their top-two centres to win at least 50% of their faceoffs.

The reality is that the Oilers need to change the combination on their top-two lines. And it isn’t just about experience, or in the Oilers case, a lack of it. Do you believe that in two or three years Gagner, Eberle, RNH, Hall, Yakupov and Paajarvi will be the right mix? Who is going to alter their game enough to add that much grit?

ON THE HOT SEAT

Tambellini was on the hot seat, but now the focus shifts to Craig MacTavish.

MacTavish sat at the podium today, and as usual he was incredibly well-spoken. He said what many media and fans have been saying for months. The time is now to make some bold moves.

While MacTavish was eloguent, Kevin Lowe was his usual fiery and emotional self. Lowe is extemely passionate, but at times he let his emotions get the best of him today. Even though it is true from a business sense saying, "There are two types of fans, those that buy tickets and those who watch at home," wasn’t his best choice of words.

SAY WHAT…

Here are some of the quotes that stood out for me. These are all from MacTavish: 

I’m an impatient guy. I bring that impatience to this situation. We are at a phase where we have to do some bold things. 

We have to add some depth to help these young players. We have to add competitiveness. We lack the undestanding of what it takes to win.

We are the point in the cycle where we can expose ourselves to some risk.

Talk is cheap in this game. I can talk about what I want, but it is in the action and execution.

We will improve our pro scouting, but more we need to improve player acquisitions.

The fact is, it is not about yesterday. I’m not looking at what has happened in the past. I’m looking forward. 

My thoughts on those quotes…

MacTavish admitted that he feels the time for being cautious, the biggest criticism of Tambellini, is gone. The Oilers need to make some bold trades and signings, and they have to get more players on the roster who understand what it takes to win. You can’t expect the kids to lead this team, they need some quality support.

The Oilers also need some grit, but according to MacTavish it has to be grit that can score. That isn’t a new thought. I think most of us have stated for months, years, the Oilers need some skilled grit. It is easy to say, but as MacTavish said his actions will speak louder than words.

The off-season just got much more interesting.

The Oilers will try to be bold, which means we can expect some trades, signings and likely some buyouts.

We can agree that Tambellini’s trades and free agent signings involving forwards didn’t work out, but the Oilers and their fans shouldn’t be fooled into believing a simple re-vamping of the 3rd and 4th lines will push this team to the promised land.

They need to do more than just fix those lines. It is time the Oilers got realistic about the expectations of their players. They have lots of skill, but they need more strength and size throughout their lineup. MacTavish is well aware that this team can’t just expect to be one-year older and automatically better next season. He will adjust his top-six forwards.

If they don’t surround their skilled, young players with some strong, skilled veterans the Oilers will be hard-pressed to be a serious contender for at least another three or four years. The time has come to re-shape this team, and it will be very interesting to watch how MacTavish molds the team.

KRUEGER?

Ralph Krueger isn’t perfect, but I don’t blame him for the Oilers 23rd place ranking and neither does MacTavish. "We need to give our coach better tools to compete. For me to say it is Krueger’s fault would be short-sighted," said MacT when asked about Krueger’s future.

I suspect MacTavish is well aware how difficult it is to coach when you don’t have enough quality NHL players. He ultimately wasn’t MacTavish’s hire, but he’ll get another season to prove he is a good coach.

QUICK HITS

  • I’m not a fan of Tiger Woods. No doubt he is one of the greatest golfers we’ve ever seen, but I’m not a fan. That being said, I didn’t expect him to disqualify himself from the Masters after his illegal drop on the 15th hole on Friday. That would have been a very tough decision. He was assessed a two-stroke penalty and played the final two days. Had he won the tournament some suggested it would be tainted, because he should have disqualified himself because he knew he broke the rules. Other have done it. Bobby Jones called a penalty on himself at the US Open in 1925, and many golf fans remember when Jack Nicklaus conceded a putt to Tony Jacklin which allowed Great Britain to halve the 1969 Ryder Cup. Those were great acts of golf etiquette. I get that, but I also understand why Tiger played. I don’t know if his decision was right or wrong, but it sure has the golf world talking.
     
  • Kevin Lowe got fired up when John MacKinnon asked him why fans should believe that this regime, which made the mess the prior to Tambellini’s appearance in Edmonton, will be able to make better decisions this time. Lowe answered diplomatically the first time, but when MacKinnon asked a follow up question you could see Lowe’s blood starting to boil. "There is only one other person currently working in hockey who has more Cups than me. I think I know something about winning,"said Lowe. Many are going to rip Lowe for this statement because sports is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and while he has six Cups, none of them have come since 1994.
     
  • While the Oilers play out the string, the Edmonton Rush have their biggest home game in franchise history this Saturday night. With one game remaining, the Rush sit in first place in the NLL west division at 9-6, but they haven’t secured home floor advantage yet. The Rush play 2nd place Calgary on Saturday. A win would secure them first place in the entire league, but a loss could drop them to 3rd in the west, if Washington wins. It is a crazy scenario, but it makes for one hell of an entertaining final weekend in the NLL.
     
  • It is a completely different sport, but Edmonton Eskimos GM Ed Hervey has some interesting answers when I asked him about how his first four months on the job have been. Read here.
     
  • What do you think will be the first bold move MacTavish makes? I’m not talking about moves involving Belanger, Eager, Petrell or other low minute guys. I’m thinking along the lines of Hemsky, Smyth, and one or two young players?

  • I would like to thank Shane Jones and Global TV for letting me be a part of their Sunday show the past 18 months. It was a lot of fun, but I’ve decided to take a break from that show. I want to have at least one day off and I’ve got some other opportunities I’m looking at. Thanks again Jonesy, and I look forward to doing guest appearances on your show in the future. 

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR

 


  • Phixieus666

    I’m thrilled that Tambellini is gone but like most people I am concerned that this doesn’t really represent the culture shift this team needs.

    That said, I think Mact is a solid hockey man and knows what a well rounded team looks like.

    I will give him until opening puck drop next October before forming any serious opinions on him. It’s in his hands to enact the change and between the draft, early free agency and training camp there is ample opportunity to prove if he he is capable.

    The first real litmus test is who he returns out of Hemsky, Smyth, Gagner and Horcoff. The first two should be a foregone conclusion, the second two perhaps more telling of how he sees this group.

  • OilersBrass

    I always kind of respected Sather for taking the coaching reigns after he canned his head coach, saying “I created this mess. I have to dig us out” or some version of that.

    And then there is Kevin Lowe.

    The Media should unofficially change Lowe’s title to King’s Hand.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    Lowe can’t even take some of the blame, that’s messed up as for his 5 rings he won them as a PLAYER, KLowe had his chance 2006 great year for him now its time let someone else take over

    • Bucknuck

      FYI he has six cup rings. He won one with the Rangers in 2006. I have to say I like his fire, but talking about his cup rings when it’s been twenty years does make him look a little silly.

      Of all the Ex-Oilers I can think of, MacT is the one with the big brain. I am pretty optimistic that he might be able to do something.

    • outdoorzguy

      Ok lets clear this up. I have 6 rings. I have been to the stanley cup final a total of 9 times in my 33 year career.

      So suck it up princess I am here until Mark OR Wayne want my job.

      Peace Klowe out.

  • Phixieus666

    I wish people would get their facts straight, MacT didn’t get fired. He felt the team wasn’t listening to him any more so he resigned. Ownership and Management was more than comfortable with him moving forward.

    • Ogie Oilthorpe

      Thank you.. I am biased because I have always loved MacT, player, coach, etc. But I think he definitely has the sac to make the tough moves this team neads.

      Fans have been ripping this all day, I don’t see that as fair. Let’s see the offseason before they put him up on a cross.

  • First off, I’m not saying this because I support Kevin Lowe.. I think he should be let go too..

    But, people are really tearing into the cup rings comment by Lowe, and I think it’s a little unfair in a way. I will say he shouldn’t have said it, and he’d probably like a do-over. But I think MacKinnon really caught him off guard. Most of the time the media underhand lobs questions in to the Oilers brass. I applaud MacKinnon for having the balls to ask a question like that. Clearly Lowe wasn’t expecting it, took it really personally (even MacTavish did, as he felt the need to defend his previous stint here too), and instantly got defensive.

    He was pretty agitated by the comment, and I guess in a way you can see why (although I thought it was a great question) since MacKinnon basically implied “how will things be different if Lowe and company are still here?”.

    Anyways, this won’t be the popular post of the day, and I suspect someone will swoop in and mention how Lowe has screwed up as a GM.. that would be missing my point. I fully agree he should be gone. I’ve just heard some stupid stuff today, like from how Lowe is an egomaniac to how he rode the coat tails of Gretzky and Messier (as though he wasn’t a very solid defensive defenseman). Stick to the facts and forget the silly mudslinging stuff.

  • I too… have no use for Tiger Woods. The arguments that were deemed necessary in discussing his “integrity” were awesome in there ironic content and disconnect from who the heck we talkin bout anyways.

    A more puzzling point of contention for me was how on earth did the mensas at Augusta deem that the slow play penalty in a 6 hour round belonged to a 14 year old kid. Simply….. mind….. boggling.

    As for the young-skilled thing in regards to the Oilers…. well…. I have stated my view on that usage with some frequency. For reference on how loose that usage is…. see saturday night….. WOW!!

  • Ogie Oilthorpe

    @Gregor

    You make it sound like we should be prepared for one of the kids to leave this summer. If you were/are a betting man, which one of the kids would you put your money on leaving?

    Based on what I currently see, I would guess Eb’s, but I think it would be a mistake. I know Hall would still play tough without him, but the two of them seem to have alot of chemistry that create those magical plays. I’m not saying they are the same, but they kind of remind me of how the sedin twins always seem to know where the other one is without looking.

    • Jason Gregor

      If I had to choose amongst kids then Paajarvi would be best bet to get moved…then Gagner…

      Hemsky will be moved I suspect, but I’m not sure that is a bold move…

  • Rob...

    Hey Jason, I’d love to hear from Pat Quinn on Lowe’s insinuation that a successful past should be insulation from being fired, or even being scrutinized. What a hypocrite.

  • Ducey

    So the braintrust is now MacHowson.

    I think Gagner’s days are numbered. He isn’t the kind of guy those guys like. Besides his numbers are big so its the time to move him.

    They should really be putting Hall at C for the rest of the season with the intention of him playing there next year. Get rid of Gagner and then revamp the bottom 6 so they have two punishing checking lines who can socre a little and they should be in decent shape next year.

  • outdoorzguy

    I just watched the press conference on the Oilers website. I’m truly amazed, well maybe not considering this bunch, that the conference is on their site at all. Loser Lowe looks like an absolute buffoon. He can’t read from the script, has trouble with names and just stammers through it. I love how he gets angry when confronted or doesn’t get the question (I did). This video should be taken off the site because it really shows the world how incompetent this organization is.

  • Crispy

    Lowe may have done well building up to the 2006 cup run, but after that some of his attempted moves have scared the hell out of me. The Vanek offer sheet, the crazy offer to Hossa. If either of those deals had gone through we would be screwed right now. Having Lowe as the GM was like playing russian roulette. Fortunately for us there weren’t any bullets when he tried to pull the trigger in those two instances.

    Luckily the lack of star talent doesn’t exist here anymore, so hopefully Mactavish can be a much smarter GM than Lowe. I know everyone seems to hate Tambellini, but I feel for him. He was handed a pretty awful team, and is now paying for a lot of Lowe’s mistakes. IMO the wrong guy was fired today.

    • smiliegirl15

      I agree! The wrong guy was fired and to make matters worse the wrong guy was hired.

      As I posted earlier today:

      “Nilsson, the 23-year-old son of former Calgary Flames star Kent Nilsson, had an eight-game scoring streak earlier this season and was trying to match that last night. “You can see his skill level,” MacTavish said. “He could be the leading scorer on this team one day.””

      Along with Marty Reasoner being a poor mans Joe Sakic should make everyone wonder at his ability to judge talent.

      Anyone else have a problem with this?

      MacTavish should have got impatient at the trade deadline and did his job as Senior VP of Hockey and worked with Tambellini to make some moves. Hypocrite.

      Finish this years tank job and then fire Tambellini and the players that you think were responsible. At least you walk away with a descent pick. Watch them go on a run now and instead of Monahan we get Lazar.

      Another thing that Lowe should swing for. Poor strategy.

  • outdoorzguy

    Well now…one of the most interesting de- velopments today was the degree to which Lowe was exposed and shown to be an utterly ineffective coach, G.M.and team pres. He even stooped to flashing his SC rings. What a boob!

    I just wonder if Lowe has got the picture yet. A sizable number of Oiler fans want the clown prince gone.

  • The Worrier

    Kevin Lowe has
    a)shown his ignorance
    b)arrogance
    c)inability to do the job
    d) be man enough to admit the ride is over.

    Any respect directed his way is now gone. He has shown himself to be a buffoon and corporate bully-boy. He is in my opinion sunk to peter puck’s level.

  • The Worrier

    Oil will trade RFA Gagner, trade Hemsky w the one yr remaining on his $5mil contract, trade assets including 2013 1st round pick. They will try and acquire a top 2/3 dman, gritty top 6 fwd and other 3rd line actual NHL players.

  • Ducey

    I for one am very very happy that Tamby was shown the door………the guy made his own bed and now he can sleep in it. He had a chance to finally do something prior to the trade deadline, and told the hockey world that he was satisified with captain Shawn Horcoff, coming back and that everything now was going to be OK!

    I will give Mac T a chance and pray that he does not surround the youth with defensive pluggers……..the kind he loved so much in the past. Please get rid of all the problem vets like Horcoff, Smyth, Petrell, Belenger, Smithson…….these guys have all performed past their best before date.

    Time to bring up all the youth from the farm team and see what we really have……this is a perfect opportunity to assess talent, and prepare for the draft.

  • SuntanOil

    I am not sure that I am really against hiring Craig MacTavish per se, although I am entirely against the timing and execution of it.

    I just don’t know what the big hurry was. We are past the trade deadline, so anything Tambellini could have done after the season could have been prevented by releasing him then. Furthermore, an astute organization would have talked to a few other candidates if for no other reason than to get their opinions on what the best moves would be for the team going forward, and how certain elements of the team are viewed from outside the organization. Instead of doing that, we get a press conference anointing OBC MacTavish as the new king with no other candidates needing apply. It’s another wasted opportunity which someone who knows how to win would have taken advantage of.

    Besides, it looks like we could have used one more dose of Tambellini lottery luck.

  • Rocknrolla

    I think this may be Lowe’s exit press conference.

    As a business owner, it’s hard to hide from this type of public embarrassment. I think Katz would likely be smart to strategically announce over the summer that Kevin is overseeing all sports properties and arena project and is no longer involved in the day to day. Give MacT the reigns fully.

    This opportunity based on Kevin’s comments gives Katz the perfect out to tell his friend to step back. Otherwise I feel that he would feel a bit stuck with Lowe in that position.

    Lets see what happens, but what an utter implosion in public by one of your executives!

  • 106 and 106

    “There is only one other person currently working in hockey who has more Cups than me. I think I know something about winning,”said Lowe.

    He was rude to the fans and dated himself with this comment – looks like he’s defending his pedigree rather than answering the question.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    It’s good to see the tanking portion of the rebuild over when the curtains are drawn on this season. Lowe/Katz needed a front man to take most of the flak involved during the few difficult yrs ahead. I’m no Tambellini fan but you have to give the guy some credit, he deliberately steered this team into the face of nearly 4 first overall draft picks. Every rebuilding hockey teams dream.

    Thought Lowe/Katz got off cheap only giving him one yrs severance package for doing this deed. Kinda have a sneaky suspicion he won’t be out of work long with his accomplishments here to fall back on. Give it 3 or 4 yrs and we’ll all look back at these difficult times as one of the finer examples of how to drive things into the ditch quickly and with a purpose. Steven only did exactly what he was brought here to do…..protect Kevin Lowe.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Lots of shallow comments in the thread today.

    Lowe was a solid player, an OK coach and a poor executive. It’s not his strength and the sooner he learns to keep his hands off the team the better.

    MacT was an OK player, a solid coach and, well, we don’t know what he will do as an executive. But he is smart and his eyes have always been wide open (I liked his comment about his mental health being questionable, says a lot about his awareness of what others may think).

    Lowe acted like an idiot today and deserves all the criticism he is getting. But MacT told us to judge him on his work, and that is the only basis to judge him. Today should not be that day.

    Gagner will be traded at the draft for a big LD who is younger than 25 and draft picks will even the scales. Smytty will retire. Hemsky or Eberle will be traded on the second day of Free Agency when the trading partner misses out on Pierre-Marc Bouchard. I bet all remaining UFAs except Petrell and Danis are all allowed to walk.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    The best way to upgrade our bottom 6 would be to upgrade our top six which would subsequently bump a player like Paajarvi down the third line.

    As for the press conference, Lowe came off as a big goof. Mactavish was well-spoken but like he said, actions will speak louder than words. I find myself a little more optimistic that this team will make the moves it needs in the off-season as opposed to how I felt yesterday.

    I am definitely looking forward to the Rush game on Saturday. Nice to see it’s televised but I wish that more NLL games were on TV. It would be nice if Sportsnet West picked up more Rush and Roughnecks games instead of just when they play each other. With many of the games on the weekend, they should be able to avoid some of the conflicts with Oilers and Flames games.

  • Jason Gregor

    Oilers trade Gagner for a young top pairing defenseman (Kulikov or Bogosion). Sign Weiss and if they are successful they will trade Hemsky for another dman, if they dont get weiss Hemsky goes for a centre.

  • Mumbai Max

    Sign Weiss and Horton as UFA’s.

    Trade Hemsky, 2 top D prospects (Klefbom, Musil), and 2013 First round pick for Weber.

    Trade Gagner for a top four young defenceman. (Myers, Bergosian, Asner,you get the idea). This might require throwing in an extra bone.

    Smyth, Jones, Belanger, Eager, Fistric, Potter and Hordichuk get sold for various sizes of bags of pucks. eager and Belanger bought out if necessary.

    Et voila. Bold, effective, and the core is intact.

    The fab 5 + Petry, Harti and Paajarvi stay,
    surrounded by a decent supporting cast.

    Why is this so difficult.