While there’s debate, and should be, about whether the Edmonton Oilers have improved their roster sufficiently in preparation for the 2013-14 season, it looks from where I sit like they’ll enter the next campaign with a significantly stronger hockey-ops staff than they ended last season with.
Since last April 15, we’ve seen no less than six changes in the coaching and front office staff, and in positions that matter. Steve Tambellini out as GM and Craig MacTavish in. Ralph Krueger out as head coach and Dallas Eakins in. A return to the fold by former assistant GM Scott Howson.
Keith Acton signed on as an associate coach with Eakins, a former running mate in Toronto with the Maple Leafs and Marlies. Bill Moores has a new job title. The latest move, today, saw Edmonton Oil Kings GM Bob Green added to the scouting staff.
It’s a combination of familiar faces in new places (MacTavish, Howson and Moores) and some fresh blood (Eakins, Acton and Green) in an off-season of change that won’t provide all the answers, but that certainly signals (at long last) a recognition that status quo isn’t cutting it.
Yes, for those ho-hummers shrugging their shoulders, the game is still played and decided out on the ice. I get that. A Howson here or an Acton there isn’t going to mean a lot until the team is good enough on the ice, but getting the right people calling the shots and making the personnel decisions is a part of that process, to borrow a term I don’t care for much. It’s nonetheless true.
THE HOCKEY-OPS MOVES
AUG. 14 – Green named director of amateur free agent scouting. Green, a two-time WHL executive of the year (2011-12 and 2012-13), was GM of the Oil Kings for six seasons. In 2012-13, Green and the Oil Kings reached the WHL final for a second straight year.
JULY 31 – Moores named director of coaching development. Moores served as senior director of player development 2010-2012 after spending 2000-09 as an assistant coach under MacTavish.
JUNE 28 – Acton named associate coach. Acton, 55, spent this the 2012 season as an assistant coach with Columbus. Prior to that, he spent 10 seasons as an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs (2001-11). Acton had previous tenures with the New York Rangers 1998-2000 and Philadelphia 1994-98.
JUNE 10 – Eakins named head coach. Eakins, 46, joined the Oilers after eight seasons with the Maple Leafs, a tenure including two seasons as an assistant coach (2006-08) before he was named head coach of the AHL Marlies in 2009. As head coach, Eakins had a record of 157-114-4. He took the Marlies to the 2012 Calder Cup final, losing to the Norfolk Admirals.
APRIL 15 – MacTavish named GM. MacTavish spent eight seasons as head coach (2001-09), was relieved of his duties and then returned as senior vice-president of hockey operations in the summer of 2012.
APRIL 15 – Howson named senior vice-president of hockey operations. Howson, who served as assistant GM under Kevin Lowe from 2002-07, returned to the Oilers after leaving to become the GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2007.
I said this today on the Jason Gregor Show and I’ll say it again – the trait I admire most in confident, intelligent people like MacTavish is that they see the benefits of surrounding themselves with other confident, intelligent people, rather than trying to stand alone or ensure they’ll always look like the smartest guy in the room by gathering dullards and yes-men as associates.
The latest hire, Green, is an astute assessor of talent and will be an asset to scouting boss man Stu MacGregor. Moores experience as a teacher and coach will be an asset to every coach in the organization. Howson, who did a lot of the contract work in his stint here as assistant GM, is well-suited to his new role – a go-between with Lowe and MacTavish.
As for Eakins and Acton, we’ll see. They have history together. The question is how they’ll mesh with incumbents Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger and, it goes without saying, what they do with the roster they have to work with.
That, of course, brings us back to MacTavish. The roster, the player personnel, still needs some work – a top-four defenseman and a top-three centre still has to be on MacT’s list of things to do, no? That said, while front office and coaching moves are, bottom line, less important than the talent assembled out on the ice, it looks to me like MacTavish has done some good work so far.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.