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.

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.

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. 

  • Eddie Shore

    Also, I’m interested to see if MacT states a specific type of team he envisions the Oilers being moving forward and how he intends to make his mark on this team.

  • Pharmboy

    Wow!Here we go. lol Lose five in a row after winning five and you don’t need to fall on your own sword. They’ll do it for you.

    Didn’t see that coming at this time. But, what can you say? It IS a results oriented business.

    Are there more dominos to fall?

    Mac-T should pick his own coach. Sutter, Ruff and possibly Tippet are FAs this summer. Experience.

    On a positive note for the former GM: I’ll give Tambellini credit for the draft, OKC Barons and for not doing anything stupid to the point where this thing got F’d up real good.

    The pieces are in place. Mac-T, you have my attention.

  • DSF

    P.S – anyone catch the Oil Change this weekend? I was shaking my head in disbelief when they showed Tambo on the phone trying to make trades and he didn’t seem to have a clue on his own assets. Then he called over Stu and said he traded a pick for Smithson and asked Stu if that was OK and Stu said something like…”yeah, I already told you a couple times that a 3rd round, 4th round pick is nothing so get what you can for them..” It seemed like Tambo was just lost.

  • Mike Krushelnyski

    the old boys club is still alive and intact, too bad, hopefully the results are better but i doubt it

    with Klowe still around, hard to expect anything truly to be different

    at least Jasmine will be happy LOL

  • DSF

    I dunno. When I watched oilchange, it didn’t look like Tambo made any moves by himself yet he is taking the fall. Such is life.

    My real dissapointment still lies in the effort of the players. Wether it is Horcoff, Hemsky or Smyth’s fault or not – they need to go for next year.

    p.s. if anyone suggests we hire Burke one more time I am going to throw up.

  • Mike Krushelnyski

    Wow, it looks like Lowe was reading Gregor’s ON blog yesterday, the first point on my list was FIRE Tambo and replace him with MacT.

    Keep going Lowe and MacT…more changes needed!!

  • The Soup Fascist

    This just in ….. Oilers have given up their 1st round pick in 2013 in order to ammend the NHL trade / acquisition deadline and have acquired Toby Pederson, Marty “Don’t call me Harry” Reasoner and Liam Reddox.

    Now we are getting somewhere!

  • 719

    Well, if we were wondering if Katz was an idiot, this move at this time confirms it completely.

    A competent owner would have waited to end of season and at least thought about cleaning house.

    Instead, the old boys club continues to rule. Can’t find the words to say how disappointed I am.

  • 719

    The right move in firing Tambellini. Still I feel bad for the guy, didn’t seem like he was ever actually given a chance to do what he wanted to with the team. He always had Lowe approving or denying all his decisions.

    I am excited to see what MacTavish can do, hopefully he can shore up the 3rd and 4th lines.

    Tambo did a lot of good for this team at the draft and with the minor league system. I wish him luck!

  • MarcusBillius

    The descisions he made at the deadline killed him. He did nothing to address the long term needs of this team. Keeping Whitney,Jones,Hemsky and not cashing those assets for players that this team needs desperately to compete long term. I am in with the rebuild.He took a short term view on a long term plan.Needed to step up.Dithered and did nothing ti improve this team. Need absolutely need someone who has the balls to move this team forward.

  • MarcusBillius

    This is absurd! The cancer starts with Lowe. He was GM when we started sucking. He hired Tambellini. He meddled with management behind tambo’s back. How is Lowe not gone?!

  • Quicksilver ballet

    MacTavish in as GM and Howson to take over MacT’s duties. Now we’ll find out how long Tambellinis contract was for. He’ll probably be on the payroll for two more years i’m sure. Contract length was to be determined upon his firing.

    Not enough changes made upstairs. Hope we aren’t doomed to much of the same with Kevin Lowe still in charge.