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.


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.


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.

  • JDP

    This behaviour reminds me of Pres Clinton when he was having sex with interns, he could never get around fact that he did anything wrong. He was so use to getting his way , it never occurred to him he did anything wrong.

    Lowe has this ego, that has been fed for years. He is truly a little man whose family I’m sure knows the real Kevin.

  • JDP

    I for one am okay with MacT making mistakes………not necessairly the same one over and over again mind you.

    Watching Tamby do what Tamby does……..nothing, will be a very refreshing change. It seems to me all the hockey pundits, fans, commentators, were all asking for the same thing. That being something, anything that resembles a change in direction. It’s too bad Tamby was frozen, like a deer in the headlights.

    I do believe that an organization with all the talent in the world, could benefit from a Tamby type……maintainer. What we need here in Oile country is a builder, someone who has a vision, and for me today, Mac T reflected more of a vision in twenty minutes that Tamby did in six years.

    As a fan, we all know what was coming, and now it’s here……….let’s all rejoice!

  • T__Bone88

    To have an attitude like Lowe has he must have gotten his way all the time. He obviously has an enormous ego. He probably thinks he did nothing wrong. I truly feel sorry for his family. This guy is a bully.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    You gotta wonder if Tambo reluctance to make a decent move or the right move at the trade line was due to him being a lame due to him being a lame duck GM.

  • JohnnySkidmarks

    Bringing in MacT has everyone reeling….part of the good ole boys from the glory days. I say give it time, but my patience has slowly ran out. Changes need to be made NOW.

    I dunno what to think anymore. Golf anyone?

  • positivebrontefan

    I for one hope K-Lowe made the right decision here today. What scares me is how good a friends him and Katz are and how much of a slide or sharp downward turn(if that’s even possible) they will have to take before Lowe gets the trigger pulled on him. This team needed patience to get where it is. From the GM from the Owner and from the fans. The time for patience is over and while I thought Tambo was in a tough spot at the deadline because the Oilers went and put themselves in contention for a game or two, it was he who ultimately made the choice to sit on his hands. Trading away Whitney at that point may have been a sign that he didn’t have faith in this group and might have sent the wrong message. What the team then did is seal his fate by going ahead and losing five in a row. Tough spot to be.
    Good luck MacT.
    At least he has some passion.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Tambellini’s fatal flaw was the “stand pat” approach. In retrospect, that may end up being a good thing for the organization versus him making dumb moves, but sitting on the fence cannot be tolerated going forward.

    I realize I am restating the obvious, but fans tired of the dithering “paralysis by analysis” approach Tambellini employed in putting a team on the ice. MacT will make a few errors, certainly – but at this point the fans (season ticket holders and non-season ticket holders alike) would rather see mistakes of comission rather than mistakes of omission.

  • T__Bone88

    I like some of the aggressive moves Howson made in Columbus recently, and I also think Mac T will bring in the exact players needed to build around the talented core. He also understands the defense first side of things.

    But he also lost the room the last time, and now he’s running the team? And look at the turn around in Columbus when Howson left?

    These things make me worry one of these two guys is going to screw it all up (not that screwing up isn’t already happening). I’m worried about a brash move, like in the old days, that will see a player be traded, then blossom somewhere else, for a player that becomes ineffective when brought into the Oilers. Then, much like Greene, Glencross, and Brodziak, we will whine and complain and the brass will talk abut the exact type of player needed, is the one they just sent away, but didn’t give enough time or circumstance to develop.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    Well, at least MacT has fire in his gut and he ain’t afraid to say it. And of course he will have more power and say than Tambellini ever did. Time will tell but with Howson doing the metrics and MacT doing the wheeling and dealing this just may work. Time will tell..