Craig MacTavish and the Assistant Coaches

Craig MacTavish6

One of the most controversial items in Craig MacTavish’s press conference earlier this week was the treatment he gave a question regarding the assistant coaches. It’s understandable that the general manager’s comments rubbed a few people the wrong way, because while he came out strongly in support of Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger he didn’t give critics of the team a reason to change their own opinions.

On Who Picked the Coaches

Dallas Eakins 11

Last year it was Dallas’ decision [to bring back the incumbent assistant coaches]. I think the head coach should decide on what his staff is, especially a coach that’s getting his first NHL job. It’s important that he has the absolute right mix of coaches for him. Dallas from the start said that he would interview; we explored other coaches, we brought in Keith Acton as an associate coach last year.

There’s been a suspicion at times that Dallas Eakins was pressured into retaining the staff members he inherited from Ralph Krueger. MacTavish denies this, and there isn’t really any reason to doubt his word, but that also comes with a caveat.

Given MacTavish’s positive view of those coaches (which we’ll get to in a moment), it’s hard to believe there wasn’t at the very least indirect pressure. For any head coach, but especially one getting his first job at the NHL level, that recommendation of the G.M. has to carry a lot of weight. Add in that Eakins wouldn’t personally have been familiar with many of the players under his charge, and there were some compelling reasons to keep the current staff as long as they didn’t come across as ridiculously incompetent during the decision-making process (side point: Eakins and Steve Smith must have at least been acquainted beforehand; both were part of the Calgary Flames organization in 2000-01).

Now, after a year of dealing with the assistants, Eakins will certainly have a better idea of whether they’re assets or not. With that familiarity and the knowledge he now has of players in the Oilers’ system, he’s in a different position to make the decision than he was a year ago (regardless of whether that decision changes or not).

On Smith and Buchberger

Steve Smith

Dallas spoke with Steve Smith, who I feel is developing into an exceptional coach; he’s got great rapport. Kelly Buchberger, for all the things that he does and the cultural piece that he adds, that gives us a little bit of a tie to a much more successful era. You listen to Ryan Smyth and some of the things he said about Kelly Buchberger, Kelly Buchberger has a lot of great traits in my mind that he adds to this hockey club.

We can split the commendation by recipient in this way:

  • Steve Smith is a promising coach who has a good relationship with his players
  • Kelly Buchberger is a great character guy and a link to better times

Those arguments don’t give us the complete picture of what those two men bring to the organization, but they were the ones MacTavish used to answer the question as to why those guys have survived while the head coaching position has been a revolving door. The argument in favour of Smith – that he relates well to his players and is showing good things as a coach – is pretty strong, particularly since MacTavish was a pretty good coach himself and should be able to judge these things.

Buchberger, Kelly

Which brings us to Buchberger. It’s nice that he’s a great guy, and having a positive personality is certainly an asset, but it isn’t the raison d’etre for a coach – if it were, Ralph Krueger would have a shelf full of Jack Adams awards. And the fact that he used to be an Oiler makes its way into this conversation is ridiculous. Nobody should be dragging up the events of a quarter-century ago into a discussion of why a certain piece of an organization deserves his job today.

Presumably, the Oilers aren’t paying Buchberger’s salary because he’s a great guy who played for them back when they won hockey games. But MacTavish and the organization shouldn’t be at all surprised if the reaction is negative when that’s the rationale they trot out for the press – particularly since the most damning thing about it is that it’s believable on a club that employs so many great guys who used to play for it.

The Final Analysis

Defensive mess

I don’t know if Smith and Buchberger are good coaches or not. I do know that the Oilers’ performance slid when Tom Renney handed the reins over to Ralph Krueger, and then slid again when Dallas Eakins took over.

I know too that Dallas Eakins repeatedly slammed the state of the team he found. “My bad. I assumed that we knew what traditional d-zone coverage was and it was clear that we didn’t,” and “I believe in [communication] and it’s a habit — it’s another habit — that our team doesn’t have,” are not the comments of someone who thinks the last coaches did a bang-up job.

Those last coaches were Krueger and Smith and Buchberger. Kruger – who Team Canada’s coaches at this year’s Olympics seemingly never tired of praising – came from a different background but spent two years under Renney (a very solid coach) and certainly was no dunce. It’s hard to believe that these deep-rooted problems Eakins found rest entirely on his shoulders.

As I said, I don’t know if Smith and Buchberger are good coaches or not. But the public trail of evidence really doesn’t square with MacTavish’s unabashed support for the former and particularly the latter.



    That is brutal. There really is little hope for this organization. Where is the accountability Katz blathered about?

    I agree with the poster above, MacT just made it really hard for Eakins to fire these guys with that endorsement. MacT just doesn’t know when to shut up.

    Ask he had to say was, “that will be
    Dallas’ decision”. Full stop. Talk no more.

    See tim Murray in Buffalo.

  • What I don’t understand is both MacTavish and Eakins want the Oilers to have their own identity.

    Eakins gets a new sign in the locker room and pulls down the old photo’s of the team.

    Yet the biggest messengers and identity to the old club have the biggest voices in the room?

    If you want an identity and new culture you need new people to make that happen.

  • "Frank the dog"

    MacT hired Bucky in his last year as HC of the Oilers. Bucky and Gags are the only two constants of that period outside of Katz and Lowe.

    Gags could not possibly have got rid of all those coaches. Bucky has the ear of MacT, Lowe and Katz. Now it all fits together. Unfireable coach killer, he’ll keep picking them off behind their back until he’s the only one left to take over the position.

    If Bucky’s not a coach killer, who is? This team needs a clean slate of assistants, but unless they move Bucky elsewhere then no HC has any chance of succeeding with this team.

  • Anton CP

    Eakins will not hire new, qualified, experienced assistants because he’d soon realize how in over his head he is.

    His ego could not take it, so having Bucky and Smith is an easy decision as they are non-threating (in the largest sense of the word).

    Honestly, could you ever see either Bucky or Smith as a head coach? Not in my lifetime. This is exactly why Eakins will keep them.

    I have been a MacT supporter all year (other than his decision to hire Eakins), but after that presser, I am beginning to wonder if he hasn’t lost his marbles.

    No one in their right mind could say that this team is further ahead now than they were last year. The .500 hockey down the stretch, was 90% a result of out of this world goaltending. They had no business winning several of the games they did.

    Kudos for bringing Fasth and Scrivens in, but to suggest the TEAM has progressed over last year in anyway is ridiculous.

    That said, I really don’t think he believes it either, but when you make the decision to keep the HC that you hired, what else are you going to say?

    Eakins has 15 games, and if the team isn’t performing, he’s gone.

    I for one am counting the days until this happens.

  • It’s sad and pathetic that after 8 years of misery KLowe and company are still incharge of running this organization. What makes Katz think these guys can not only turn this thing into a competetitive team, but into a championship team when their version of a rebuild can’t even dig their way out of the basement 5 years later??

    Not only are they incompetent in putting together a competitive team but the arrogance and fan censorship alone should be enough to remove these clowns. It’s a sad state of affairs in oil country and I for one am emberassed to call myself an oiler fan

  • Question JW.

    What is your opinion on Eakins safe start for the start of next year?

    Out of the first 20 games is 10 wins acceptable or unacceptable?

    if your MacTavish does it matter?

    IMO if the Oilers are below 500 I’m not sure anyone should be safe.

      • elgruntus

        Well lets hope at least they are locked into the NHL Stanley Cup play offs, and get the picture as to how “REAl MEN” play the game.

        The current top six and D men would get run out of the building in 4 games so fast , they wouldn’t know what it them. This team has a long way to go to be in a playoff series… Very sad situation.

        Can you spell ” NO CHARACTER”.

      • Tikkanese

        If they were injuried thats fine, but only Eberle had a recent injury that kept him out of the lineup near end of season. Sounds like it was a group decision by the 3. When you are use to playing golf in april , why change that policy now.

    • dougtheslug

      “What’s the explanation from Hall, Ebs and Nuge for not going to the worlds?”

      Interesting listening to Reid Wilkins interviewing Jason Chimera (who was invited to go the worlds) on Inside Sports last night. Wilkins threw Chimera a puffball leading question about Hall and Eberle refusing to go to the Worlds because of “nagging bumps and bruises”, and Chimera batted it away.

      ” I guess I’m old school”, he said. “Everyone has bumps and bruises this time of year. I figure you don’t turn down an invitation to play for your country unless you have a broken leg.”

      Character seems to be an issue with this team, from the lack of accountability in the management, right down to the players. I felt a little twinge of embarrassment hearing a blue collar player like Chimera calling out our “stars”.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        I believe Hall & Ebs have tail to chase this summer, they got some serious coin flowing thru those jean pockets nowadays, why waste the summer playing more hockey?

  • Mason Storm

    Year 5on5GF/GA PP% PK% Total
    2014 0.71 17.0 82.1 99.1
    2013 0.90 20.1 83.4 103.4
    2012 0.91 20.6 82.4 103.0
    2011 0.74 14.5 77.0 91.5
    2010 0.75 17.3 78.0 95.3

    Numbers don’t lie, the Silver Fox made a big mistake when he fired Kruger. Kruger had a huge impact on the power play, it’s too bad the Oilers can’t bring him back as an assistant coach.

  • The fact that Bucky and Smith remained as assistant coaches baffles me. How many head coaches have they been there for? 4? 5? I find it hard to believe that they can adapt their own style of coaching to relay the system that the HC wants in place. Eakins needs to rid himself of these two and bring in his own assistant coaches so the coaching staff can deliver a consistent message to the team. Pardon the expression, but Eakins needs his staff to all be “singing from the same song sheet.” I don’t think Bucky or Smith can carry a tune. (or water, for that matter)

  • Anton CP

    I can’t recall the talking head who said this but it sure rings true. ‘ I can’t believe the degree of disconnect between (Mact/Oilers management and the fans’). Mact seemed to imply making roster changes over the summer such as a #⃣1 D and if he can’t fill that need he’ll go with the kids. He certainly made it clear to the fans and especially Eakins he wants the assistant coaches to stay on board.

    Mact must be very confident that he is fireproof or he wouldn’t have painted himself into a corner like that. With half the roster changing again I think the Oil will have a real shot at McDavid. I wonder who will be on stage to make that 1st
    overall pick?

    Ray Ferraro said at one of the Oil’s last games he thinks it could get worse next season. Even though that’s not what I want to hear, I tend to trust his observations much more than Mact’s happy-talk BS.

  • Anton CP

    I’m seriously tired about all these BSs…it won’t be long until everyone on the roster want out of Edmonton to get as far away from this train wreck.

    Southampton was a great football club, but they have series of mishaps and relegated all the way down to tier 3. However their late owner’s commitment to rebuild the broken franchise has this club climb all the way back to Premier League. If Krueger can help Southampton return to European competition that he may have his statue build in St. Mary.

  • Anton CP

    Once upon a time I believed that MacT had his own agenda in making the Oilers better by getting them into a position of at least contending. Now after his latest presser, and his talk of how his view of behind the bench is all sunshine and lollipops, I believe I watched MacT turn into a Katz puppet right in front of my eyes. He is managing a developing team that has been in a constant rebuild for God knows how many years. The coaches need to be masters of the game, and the veterans need to have a winning mentality and experience in 200′ of the ice. Instead of making a” bold” move, maybe he made a bold statement. Something along the lines of “eff the fans”. Improvement everywhere is imperative

  • This is your scapegoat? Your keyboard should be impounded. The list of the unqualified certainly does not reside solely at the feet of Mr. Buchberger. This sort of bush-leaguery deserves employzment by the Oilers themselves!

  • Anton CP

    So Ryan Smyth says that Buchberger is a great coach. Duh?

    What do you think he is going to say? It’s kind of like not talking bad about your wife to other people.

    The statement about Bucky being a great character guy is kind of like when MacT said if you gotta ask if someone is your number one goaltender you already have the answer.


  • dougtheslug

    Mact’s entire presser amounted to nothing more than old-fashioned dissembling. Words aplenty…truth… not so much. His stuttering and stammering were obvious ‘tells’. I am mot convinced HE believed one word he said. Epic fail to pull that one off Mact. If you want to become a truly expert dissembler you are going to have to get elected to public office. I understand there is a nice juicy job just opened up in the Alberta gov’t.

  • dougtheslug

    Nice gig Bucky has. Stand around looking bewildered , chew gum like a cow pounding cud, and be a link to the past.

    I was disappointed with MacT’s comments about the two assistants. I seriously believe Eakins job offer included retaining the two Bus Riders.

  • Spydyr

    At last years World’s Ruff benched Hall for his defensive play.

    I’m thinking that perhaps Hall did not appreciate that much.

    The three Kids invited should have taken the opportunity to play Hockey in May and too represent their country.

    Like Chimera said unless you have a broken leg you go.

    Character get some.

  • toprightcorner

    By MacT giving the impression to everyone that he likes the current assistants makes look like Eakins would defy his GM if he brought in a new staff. MacT and Eakins may have already decided to make some staffing changes but want to ensure everyone knows it was Eakins making the decision. No other time have I ever heard a GM have to defend his assistants in this manner so seems strange that MacT would do that now.

    Seems like posturing to have the fans understand once and for all that upper management does not make all of the decisionsby having Eakins seemly go against the thoughts of his GM.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Only a loser doubles down on a coaching staff that just piloted your team to a 28th place finish. Nothing else matters when losing is an acceptable outcome.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Year 5on5GF/GA PP% PK% Total
    – 2014 0.71 17.0 82.1 99.1
    – 2013 0.90 20.1 83.4 103.4
    – 2012 0.91 20.6 82.4 103.0
    – 2011 0.74 14.5 77.0 91.5
    – 2010 0.75 17.3 78.0 95.3

    Numbers don’t lie, the Silver Fox made a big mistake when he fired Kruger. Kruger had a huge impact on the power play, it’s too bad the Oilers can’t bring him back as an assistant coach.

  • Tikkanese

    With all the issues surrounding our head coaches over the last 5-6 years, and all the backlash over our assistant coaches being a constant over those same years, why don’t the Oilers start grooming coaches thru coaching development like they train their players thru player development? My example would be, Todd Nelson should be given an opportunity to come up to the NHL as an assistant coach and work his way to getting an NHL head coaching job like a McLellan, McLean, etc who went from assistants to Head Coaches. There is no reason to say Nelson has to be our next Head Coach, but if we’re developing players and coaches thru the ECHL and AHL affiliate teams, wouldn’t that help our NHL head coach knowing that his top coaches in the system are grooming the next wave of youthful players and may end up being his next assistants when his top notch assistant may want a promotion to a head coach within another organization? Seems like a simple concept to me, not sure why the Oilers don’t look at developing coaches as hard as they develop players.

  • Mason Storm

    What a travesty the Edmonton Oilers have become. EIG had good intentions, but too little money. Enter Mr. Katz, sadly.

    With money, EIG would have dissolved the Old Boys Club many years ago. Kevin Lowe would be a distant memory, along with the sheltered assistant coaches.

    We are living the Katz dream world–it lives along 104 Ave. as the new arena rises.