The idea that Craig MacTavish and Scott Howson were huge parts of getting the Oilers into the mess that Steve Tambellini proved unable to extricate the team from is one that has a certain amount of resonance with Oilers fans. After all, MacTavish was the head coach of the team for many years, and Howson was the assistant general manager, so doesn’t handing the reins over to that duo just guarantee more of the same?

To answer that question, two things need to be known: exactly which Oilers’ teams MacTavish and Howson had a hand in, and their exact role in the decision making process with those teams. The first is easy to find, the second a little more difficult.

The Kevin Lowe Oilers

The blue bars show the Oilers’ games over/under 0.500 in each season since Kevin Lowe was named general manager of the team, with the 2012-13 number projected over an 82-game season (overtime/shootout losses are counted as straight losses here). Win alone is an imperfect metric – for example, the 2005-06 team’s subpar goaltending makes them look far worse than they were – but it’s a quick and easy way to show basic team performance over these years, and ultimately it’s what the people involved were being judged on.

We see two big drop-offs. The first was a result of the exodus of talent and failure to replace it in the summer of 2006; Chris Pronger headlined a departing group that also included names like Jaroslav Spacek, Sergei Samsonov, and Mike Peca. The loss of Pronger for futures and Spacek for nothing was particularly devastating; the Oilers average ice-time leader the next season was the forgettable Daniel Tjarnqvist.

The club would improve dramatically in 2007-08, thanks to some big-name additions and an influx of young talent, but the bottom would fall out again in 2009-10 and while the Oilers are improving they are far from out of the woods yet.

Both Scott Howson and Craig MacTavish were around for that first big dip; both were gone when the team as a whole did its best Jason Bonsignore impression in 2009-10.


With the early-Lowe Oilers a pretty successful team – despite operating on a shoe-string budget – the concern with both Howson and MacTavish is how involved they were in the 2006-07 collapse that took place during their time with the Oilers, and how much responsibility they bear for the debacle of 2009-10.

We’ll start with 2006-07. The primary catalyst for that fall was the famous “Pronger for five assets” trade that stocked the cupboards with futures but devastated the team in the present. Kevin Lowe was the general manager and must have been the primary decision maker on the trade – to what extent do Scott Howson (then the assistant general manager) and Craig MacTavish (then the head coach) deserve the blame there? Also, to what extent was it a bad deal? There’s certainly an argument to be made that the Oilers received fair value and that the mistake was in not conducting an abbreviated rebuild at that time rather than trying to compete immediately.

It’s difficult to get all that worked up about all the evil Scott Howson did during his time with the Oilers – the team was mostly successful, with the exception of 2006-07. In this case, the ‘why are you hiring a guy who helped get the team into this mess?’ narrative is wrong. That’s not to say Howson is a good or bad hire – his work in Columbus is probably the best place to decide if he’s a useful member of the management team – just that hanging the Oilers’ struggles in recent years on him requires a deliberate blindness to fact.

That takes us to Craig MacTavish. In his primary role, that of head coach, MacTavish seems vindicated by what has happened over the past few years. It wasn’t all that long ago that the comments section here and elsewhere rang out with predictions that Pat Quinn would reclaim the room that MacTavish lost and spur the roster to greater heights; suffice to say, that didn’t happen. Coaching was not the problem during the MacTavish era.

What part did MacTavish play in roster decisions? As head coach, it seems probable that his focus was internal: more identifying needs and problems with the roster he had than going out and identifying the pieces needed to fill them. It’s hard to imagine that he was the guy deciding how much to sign people for, or deciding on offer sheets and scouting trade targets. I just don’t see a case for putting the failings of this team under Lowe and then Tambellini at his feet; if anything, I tend to agree with what MacTavish said at his introductory press conference in response to a question very similar to that posed in the opening paragraph:

Maybe you guys have a different opinion, but I don’t know that I’ve failed this organization in any of those regards before in any of the decisions or the jobs I’ve taken with this organization in the past. Again, I get back to what we say today has very little bearing on how I’m going to be evaluated as I go forward. I look forward to the challenge of the job and I’m going to help turn this team around, and that’s all I can tell you.

Both MacTavish and Howson deserve to be judged on their own merits, not on the failings of a team that suffered its worst years after they were already in the rearview mirror.


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  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    i dunno, now that MacT has his MBA, is very well spoken, moreso than Mr. “I Know Something About Winning, I Have 6 Cup Rings” Kevin Lowe, maybe he’s a little more worldly now, he’s still fairly popular here, and yes, he’s part of the “old boys club”…so what? Tambo wasn’t part of the old boys club and how did that work out for us? neither is Ralph Kruger, the same coach most fans seem to want fired. i’d still like to see him get a chance to get this team into the playoffs and ultimately, the Cup finals again.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      All the adv. stats we have of NHL players is generated from the raw data the NHL provides.

      A constant complaint of LT and other analysts is that we don’t know, for example TOI, player usage, etc. in a lot of the other leagues.

      The AHL doesn’t record and offer nearly the same amount of data that the NHL does… and there isn’t the same interest in crunching the numbers that are available.

      However, based on all the reporting I’ve read it looks like Rajala is good enough now to earn a consideration for NHL work. Unfortunately for him, he is blocked by other wingers already on the Oil and is undersized at a time when the team places a premium on size.

      Fedun and Marincin are probably both ready for extremely limited call-up duty and ought to stew in OKC for at least another year.

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        I gotya.

        Your comment about Rajala is interesting, because it seemed that the guy deserved a call-up, and unfortunately for him he is not 6’1” 200 I am sure he would of gotten a call up if it was not for size, cause he deserved one. This bottom 6 is so weak, but the organization was not willing to bring these players from within who could of made a difference cause the common denominator is these guys are small.

        Even with MacT’s comments that they need to replace 8 players for next year, I personally would like to see Rajala or Arco given a legitimate shot hence I’d like to know how they drove the play and against what competition. I’m fearful the organizations is going to augment this line-up with overpays and underachieving players and still employ Horcoff when the argument he’s a legitate 3rd line center can barely be made anymore. I’m hoping MacT will not have the same bad approach to building a team. People will argue MacT is not Tambo, but as articulate and intellectual as some feel he is, he did not earn his stars with a competent organization, and he has no history with other GM’s to draw on.

        • Romulus' Apotheosis

          Three players to watch in this regard are: Rajala, Omark and Miller

          all small, all potential NHL players, all within the organization.

          what we do with them in the offseason and/or next year will be very interesting to watch.

  • Lexi

    While I wish they had gone through a more thorough management search, I am somewhat hopeful for Howson. I’m thinking maybe his failings as a GM were “Peter principle”, and he is better suited to being an assistant. He has been an integral part of orgs that have done two great goalie trades (Rollie and Bobrovsky), hiring Richards looks like a good move and it looks like Columbus’s strengths and weaknesses are almost the opposite of the Oilers, in that he at least put together an effective D and has had success with finding hard working, effective forward depth (picks like Jenner look really good).

    That said I still wish they would hire someone, even at a lower level from a winning org like Detroit or Ottawa just to have that winning perspective.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Exactly JW.

    There is a lot to criticize in the hirings, but this particular piece isn’t one of them. A short list of areas of concern:

    1) The timing. The decisions to bring back MacT and Howson in the last year in minor roles had all the earmarks of putting a replacement team in place. The decision to put them in power suddenly seemed like a bad marriage of planning and caprice. Moreover, the failure to pull the trigger earlier, i.e., before the deadline when an effect could have been felt, or later, i.e., after the season, is baffling.

    2) Lack of due diligence. The failure to hold a proper job search for this position is baffling. Nil was available we now know. Even if he didn’t get the job in the end, him and others should have been given the opportunity to fight for the position.

    3) Old boys club. While MacT and Howson aren’t in themselves poor candidates for their jobs, the error lies with sticking with what you know rather than exploring alternatives.

    4) Performance (actual that is). Howson with CBJ and MacT with no experience are the real question marks here, not some illusory failure as Oilers.

    • MarcusBillius

      Great points, especially about due diligence, IMO.

      Maloney out of Phoenix is on his last year of his contract. Wouldn’t that be worth investigating if you’re a team searching for a GM?

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        The tell was the MacT and Howson hires last year.

        When those decisions were made, KL was basically telling us: ST is close to finished; we’ve already hired who is next.

  • MarcusBillius

    You can say that MacT knows a thing or two about that Oiler lockerroom, pre-lockout. The reason those Oiler teams on a $30 million budget were successful was because of character. Not the most skilled guys, but they leave all out on the ice. Pascal Dupuis comes to mind. He’s UFA this summer. Came from nothing, but he’s a Cup winner, doesn’t get the notoreity of the other forwards for obvious reasons, but he’s probably one of the hardest workers in the Pens lineup.

  • MarcusBillius

    I don’t think the narrative around Howson focuses on his time with the Oilers, I think it focuses on mediocre results as an Oiler followed by a whole lot of embarrassment in Columbus. He walked into a disaster there and the best you can say about his tenure was he wasn’t worse than MacLean. You sure can’t say he has a stellar record at cleaning up a mess.

    As for MacTavish, for the seven year under review, the team made the playoffs 3 of 7 years. I don’t think its reasonable to absorb him of responsibility for mis-reading the team in 2006-07. It’s possible Lowe ignored his input, but do we really have any evidence that’s what happened? Do we believe Lowe would ignore MacT’s input based on their history together? Even if you do, the team had a pretty mediocre record during his tenure as Head Coach, one fluky spring not withstanding.

    When you average the track record of the two together (MacT 3 for 7 and Howson 4 for 13 if I am not mistaken) you get a pretty damn pathetic record coming in at a lovely 35% for just making the playoffs.

    Yet for this, these two deserve benefit of the doubt? No, they do not.

    • 1) The 2006 run wasn’t a fluke. That Oilers team was dominant in a territorial sense but had terrible goaltending and suspect d-zone coverage early in the year. Once those problems were addressed, that was a quality team.

      2) Does it really make sense to hang ‘player acquisition’ on MacTavish during the poverty years? I don’t think it does.

      3) Do you think a different coach – say Pat Quinn or Tom Renney – would have got more out of those early 2000’s teams than MacTavish did? I don’t.

      4) Insofar as I have a problem with the hiring, it’s that it was made without a proper search, and that he had only a year in an executive role. I’ve got no problem with MacTavish’s record as an NHL head coach.

      • 1) I think it was a quality team that got on a hot streak. The number of players that carried their performances forward was few. See Pisani, F. probably a little from column A and a little from column B, to be fair.

        2) Then why show it at all? Why not just say, “He was the coach, not the GM, it’s irrelevant.”? Besides that though, I would be surprised if coaches aren’t having dialogues with their GMs about their player needs. I have conversations with my bosses about what kind of talent I need on my teams. Happens in every walk of life. I don’t control it, but I am not completely absolved of it either if I don’t articulate what I need properly or accurately.

        3) Not Renney. Maybe a early 2000s Quinn would have. His record back then was pretty good. My observation on MacT was that he seemed pretty quick to judge players and often didn’t give players he didn’t like a fair shake. Mikhinov would be an example. They brought the guy over and MacT player him in something like 1 exhibition game, iirc. Crazy.

        4) I agree that his day to day coaching is not the issue. And he shouldn’t wear the personnel decisions of the day sole, or in the majority. But at best that makes it neutral. Howson, on the other hand, reeks of disaster.

        • Agreed on the 2006 team – every playoff team needs somebody to get hot, and the Oilers had that in Pisani. I’d also concede that they needed a lot of help to get by Detroit in the first round – the Red Wings were *good* that year.

  • I have no issue with bringing Mact back. He was a respected coach and hockey mind that did not have the players to win in his last few years as coach. I liked him as a coach, but supported the decision to replace him as he was no longer getting the effort out of the vets that the team needed in order to be competitive. An isue that was never fixed with any of the coaches since.

    Since being in the role he has said the right things. He will be judged on what changes he makes in the next 2 years and the success of the club.

    We all knew ST’s days were numbered when they announced MacT’s hiring. The fact that ST was not the one negotiating contracts and was not brought to try to woo J Schultz spoke volumes about who was actually in control. In my opinion we was kept as a buffer to keep Lowe and MacT safe. Now that they feel the club is ready to take the next step and make some trades it can be orchestraded by Lowe and MacT and if it is succesful they will get the credit.

  • StHenriOilBomb

    No free ride for Howson and MacT. – produce results expediently or face the rathe of the fans .

    The System – apparently Krueger runs a system of which no one else in league is doing/copying . Is this a problem ? Thus , is Kreuger the man to coach this newer team ? Coppernblue site runs a good article on that theme . Worth checking it out and very informative and indepth on other hockey related talk . Also appears to have much less childish banter ,character attacks, etc. – more mature .

    Good article by the way .

    • Rocket

      Yeah I agree Coppernblue is an excellent site for Oilers info. & good comment discussion.

      I think fans over here are just really frustrated with the lack of Oilers success & are taking it out on each other.

      Once the team starts to win more consistently fans will lighten up.

      (Good call on the Coppernblue article)

    • Ducey

      Oh no! Not the “rathe” of the fans! That sounds terrible.

      Reminds me of that great Steinbeck novel the “Grapes of Rathe”.
      Oh, I and I think the word you were looking for was ‘expeditiously’

      BTW, does “Coppernblue” have better spellin’ and gramma ?

  • StHenriOilBomb


    Didn’t K-lowe give MacT some credit for the Pronger acquisition? Do you know of any other influence he had on moves made around that time? Knowing which ones he was in on could give us some valuable insight in to his ability to assess and acquire effective players.

  • Word to the Bird

    Surely MacT didn’t have too much influence on players brought in, but he definitely had a large effect on players’ on ice performance.

    Also, about the Lindy Ruff benching, I could be the biggest Hall fan alive, but when he gives the puck away like he tends to in the neutral zone I lose my mind. Things like this will make Hall an even better player next year.

  • moetown

    All rebuilds go through that moment where management change, even internal, needs to be made. for example, when Denis Savard got sacked in Chi-town, Quennville slipped quietly from the back of the room to right up front. We all know how that ended.

    MacT is a not only a smart hockey guy, he’s just a smart guy in general. He understands whats missing, he talks about advanced stats and I’m sure he’ll be thinking out of the box. Most importantly, he’ll take risks. All winning teams need to be formed with some degree of risk and we need a guy that can calculate which are the best bets. My bet is that MacT can deliver.

  • Ducey

    People forget that up until the lockout in 04 the playing field was not level for the so called small market teams! It was an up hill battle for those guys to retain the top notch talent let alone add?? Cut these guys some slack! I’m probably one of the few that actually appreciate what Lowe TRIED to do for the Edmonton Oilers & the city in those trying times! Obviously they didn’t work but that’s when the ‘build from within’ mentality kicked in. Ease up, I’m betting we’re see a totally different product starting this year! MacT, Lowe etc. know how to win & what it takes!

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        I find that whenever there is a series of valid, or strong arguments to made and that many of those arguments are being made in any case whatsoever…

        it is always best to follow a simple three-step logic.

        1) find an invalid, or exceptionally weak argument, which no credible person is making (for obvious reasons).

        2) set up the straw man that because no one is addressing this invalid or weak argument, everyone must be deluded.

        3) pursue this argument for the sake of anything but a coherent, interesting or informative conversation.

  • vetinari

    Darn you JW and your facts! I want to be outraged, not enlightened!

    Seriously– sure, I would have preferred that they had an open competition for GM before hiring MacT but until I see evidence that he is a lousy GM, he gets the benefit of the doubt.

    Compared to Tambi, I like MacT better because: 1.) he’s coached in this league and in this market so knows what players are really needed in our organization to get results at ice level; 2.) he went outside of the organization for a bit (Vancouver’s AHL affiliate) for a different viewpoint and worked his way back; 3.) he’s got that MBA thing going for him (should help with cap management and roster moves); and 4.) he once ripped out Harvey the Dog’s tongue, proving that he had more passion in him in 2003 than Tambi did over the last five years combined.

    As for Howson, the team certainly did fine for the most part when he was here. He inherited a difficult situation in Columbus and for all his faults, sitting by doing nothing wasn’t one of them. Some guys are better in support roles and I suspect that Howson may be one of them and I feel better that he’s an Assistant to the GM and not the actual GM.

    As for Kevin Lowe, it’s all about the timing and optics of his decisions. I think everyone right now is reacting (and overreacting) to all things Kevin Lowe because he was suppose to be the guy monitoring Tambi’s reign of error and he only did something once ownership/fan outrage made him finally act. Obviously, a 30th place finish couldn’t get him to do something. And neither did another 30th place finish. And neither did another 29th place finish.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Lowe coached in the NHL too… same club.

      Not sure about the correlation of coaching to managing… same question as playing vs. coaching vs. managing.

      • vetinari

        I know but I was talking about comparing MacT’s credentials to Tambi’s, not Lowe’s. I just note it because MacT has more on his resume than what Tambi does and an additional perspective from that experience. I don’t think winning a cup as a player equals winning a cup as a coach equals winning a cup as a GM, but I would argue that the last two are (a bit) closer to each other.

        • Romulus' Apotheosis

          for sure.

          All experiences are going to round out your perspective. I wouldn’t discount any of it. MacT is someone who was bound to manage somewhere in some capacity, his resume is quite compelling.

          I just wondered at your line about MacT having coached vs. Tambi.

          I doubt this is what separates the two. And, Tambi had a management resume when he was given the job.

          at any rate, we agree!

  • The MAC T coaching era had to come to an end – it was clear both players and coach had grown tired of eachother… Remember that some had thought if they did ever remove MACT from coaching it was going to be because he would become assistant GM or GM.

    I could almost see that offer placed in front of MAC T but the emotional/passionate guy he is – he probably thought Head Coach is what he wanted to be and waited for the next opportunity which never came.. AHL doesn’t count

    Once that soul searching was complete – he began the transistion process on his own to get ready for the executive level. Something his personality and his coaching style allowed him to do.

    On Howson, yes the team was mostly lousy but if Tambo is slammed for doing nothing to help the roster – man did Howson try… failed experiments sure but he tried. No one in their right mind thought Jeff Carter would be traded to Columbus – somehow he snuck that trade in there. Then perhaps learning from the Pronger fiasco – He made Rick Nash sit tight and wait until the right deal came along – he didn’t rush it to get it over with – he dealt with all the drama that unfolded and waited until he got the right deal.

    Everybody laughed at the Brobovsky deal – and its still early but look at that run by Columbus which put Brobovsky in Hart Trophy and Vezina conversation.

    Should the Oilers deserve heat for not even considering outside sources ? sure but its not like they are grabbing guys out of nowhere… and they are not even fast tracking guys just because they are well known to the organization (see Nieuwendyk or Hull or Snow).

    We don’t even have the old Mac T and Howson versions. We have new and improved versions that are very capable and qualified to operate an NHL team.

  • Canada wins 7-2 over Norway , and Hall has two goals ! Does not look like Hall and Eberle is the first line on that club . Seems to be Stamkos and Giroux getting a lot of play . Canada deep in forwards but not great on defence . Schultz played okay as well as Dubnyk . Hall and Eberle forced to earn their time with such a strong bunch of forwards and roll players . Not Ruffs fault they have not performed better than others .

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Think MacT should rattle Garth Snows cage and see if he’s interested in swapping impending UFA’s. Maybe we could swap problem childs Whitney and Streit and have a 2 week head start on signing these guys before July 5th.

    Wonder what it would cost to have the Ilanders part with Travis Hamonic? Kid always has that ill will look to his game. Something the Oilers are desperately missing.

  • A thing to remember with advanced stats is that teams take and value their own set of statistics based on their desired style of play and teams are very secretive about this. For example, it is obvious that Jersey plays a system that results in players with a very good Corsi as we could see with so many of their guys in the top 20. At the end of the day though, wins is the only stat that matters. I think you have a couple of good hockey guys in Howson and MacT and if Lowe stays out of it( he won’t) and you get a coach who teaches and holds players accountable, you could see some pretty rapid improvement but also some significant changes to the team if guys who won’t buy in.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Wonder of something could be done with Holmgren. Taking Briere and his 6.5 cap hit for 2 seasons off their hands.

    Edmonton sends the 7th, along with N.Schultz to the Flyers for Briere and Sean Couturier. Briere is only due 5 million over those last seasons combined. Buy him out?

    Could help solve some of Holmgrens cap concerns heading into next season.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      I have been hoping the Flames would do something with teams like that as well but not at the expense of the very high 1st round pick. You are already giving a team like the Flyers cap relief to help fill their roster with a good free agent plus a 5-7 def and the number 7 pick for a guy who shows promise but still only had 4 goals this year. Monahan or Lindholme may be better on their own.

    • Quick! You never cease to amaze me!! Like this idea……Love this idea!!

      Even if its not Philadelphia, any team in cap trouble, it’s a good play and outside the box.

      I don’t think you need to throw in N.Schultz, maybe a high prospect like Gernat, Musil or even Hartkainen

      I would do this but how about young Schenn over Couturier?

      Plus, I would just buy Briere out, that way he can resign with Philly if he chooses too.

  • @madjam

    No free ride for Howson and MacT. – produce results expediently or face the rathe of the fans .

    The System – apparently Krueger runs a system of which no one else in league is doing/copying . Is this a problem ? Thus , is Kreuger the man to coach this newer team ? Coppernblue site runs a good article on that theme . Worth checking it out and very informative and indepth on other hockey related talk . Also appears to have much less childish banter ,character attacks, etc. – more mature .

    Good article by the way .

    If you would like the entire story on the NewAge Hockey System that the Oilers are trying to utilise,then just ask me or rather ask the blog owners if I can post an explanation long enough to dial you in.

    I created the NHS online,they are trying to duplicate it ,and are trying to represent Darkhorse as the source of the data they are acessing and utilising from online,no kidding.They even go so far as to cover their arses by admitting repeatedly in the media that Darkhorse “scrapes”their data from online sources.They just forget to mention that they were offered the entire NewAge Hockey System 3 years ago when it was first created,they rejected,then recognised,then suppressed and now are attempting to launder this same NHS data from online where I posted it.Darkhorse scalps data from online and sells it to the Oilers who get a bill of sale and are in the clear from any implications of suppression and or collusion surrounding the sourcing of the data itself.

    The fact of the matter is that the Oilers,could easily have acess to the entire NHS database and the consulting services of its creator and the sporadic offensive explosions that shatter Oilers Team Records we have seen in the last 3 years will become consistant results every night.If they keep trying to input tiny bits and pieces of data they get second hand they are doomed.

    Coppernblue has a nice article that provides some professional league insight into the systemic influences other teams are seeing come out of Edmonton,this influence has a name and it is the NewAge Hockey System,and I post a lot of it right here in context of my replies.Some teams have actually taken some of the NHS adjustments they have identified the Oilers utilising in the last 3 years and implemented them directly into their own systems.You might say that the Oilers systemic influences were exposed quite thoroughly once teams started looking closer than usual.I guess there was some attention that drew the closer looks.

    The Oilers have another story completely,a shaky tale at best.But my guess is that at the end of the day all the attention will spur the organisation to seek a new systemic catalyst.They have a disinformation program in place and are in a state of denial that the NewAge Hockey System even exists and are maintaining that as they try to pick the systemic lock to figure it out on their own without me or the NHS database being validated or recognised.

    They cant make the NHS work for them beyond the few NHS adjustments to their current system I gave them a few years ago,they cant find the next foothold to take the systemic philosophy or tactics further.And they are to cheap-arse to pay for the NHS systemic database they require to get that traction they need now.I posted many of the NHS concepts all over online as I was creating it,but I NEVER posted the entire NewAge Hockey System database anywhere,just non-critical bits and pieces,enough data to improve current systemic influences consistantly and spice up teams current systems.I kept the full and complete NHS database for the Oilers who I originally created it for,and it remains unpublished waiting till they embrace it or I lose patience.And sell the dam thing to the Flames just to break the data validation embargo on principal.

    What started out as a random online poster with passion ,natural Intuitive Dynamic Analysis ability and time to burn turned into a NewAge Hockey System that will change the entire NHL before its day is done.The NHS is a new way of seeing and understanding the entire game of hockey,it is 100% based on Intuitive Dynamic Analysis and managment tactics,nothing substantial statisticlly whatsoever.Watch for it