ARMCHAIR GM XVI: BLOWING SMOKE

Craig MAcTavish5

Having known Craig MacTavish as a player, coach and manager in the NHL these past 25 years, many of them spent travelling around the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers until 2007, I have a lot of respect for him.

Of MacTavish’s many virtues, gamesmanship – on and off the ice – sits high on my list of his attributes. It was no surprise, then, to hear him spin The World According to MacT the other day when he met with local media, specifically as it pertained to head coach Dallas Eakins and how he’ll handle his coaching staff. Will Eakins retain Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger? Will he add another coach?

MacTavish insisted the call on the coaching staff moving forward – as it was to keep Smith and Buchberger in the first place — belongs to Eakins, but with the following caveat: “But my sense is we have the right people. We have the right coaches in place.”

I characterized what MacTavish had to say about the coaching situation as “spin” and “blowing smoke” and “ass-covering” on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 Wednesday. The more I think about it, I was likely selling MacT short. Yes, it was spin, but my take today is it was far more calculated than that. Gamesmanship at its finest.

In simple terms, over to you, Dallas.

BETWEEN THE LINES

Buchberger, KellyBuchberger, Kelly

Added to the coaching staff in 2008-09 by MacTavish in his final season as head coach, Buchberger is now on his fifth coach – MacTavish, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger and Eakins. It’s unheard of that an assistant coach in the NHL survive that much changeover. Smith, by the way, is on his third head coach, having arrived in 2010-11.

My take on the situation is straightforward: Buchberger remains employed today because president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe is his friend and has his back. The same can be said on both counts for MacTavish. The ties that bind them are strong and go back many years. Loyalty, cronyism, the Old Boys Club – call it what you will.

Owner Daryl Katz, who grew up cheering for the Oilers, is happy to defer to Lowe and MacTavish. He damn sure isn’t going to fire Lowe, at or near the top of hockey ops as GM or POHO since 2000. He’s not going to insist Lowe or MacTavish fire Buchberger or Smith. So, here were are, with the Oilers eight straight years out of the playoffs and fans demanding changes at every level of hockey ops. Rightfully so.

Dallas Eakins 13

Like others who’ve been moved along – coaches Quinn, Renney, Krueger, Bill Moores and Rob Daum and former GM Steve Tambellini – Eakins isn’t a former Oiler. Now, we’re told Eakins will make the call on the coaching staff. He gets to be the heavy, if there is to be one.

Does Eakins value Buchberger as an assistant coach? Are they on the same page philosophically? Will he keep Bucky on? I don’t know for sure. Might Eakins move Buchberger or Smith along despite MacTavish’s suggestion the right people are in place? That would take some brass, no?

I think it’s time for Buchberger to go. You think it’s time for Buchberger to go. MacTavish is an intelligent and perceptive man. Is it a reach, given the discontent of the fan base, to wonder if the GM has reluctantly come to the same conclusion but that he doesn’t want to be the person to pull the trigger, loyalty being what it is?

Over to you, Dallas.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Young Oil

    Great article. Completely on point. One thing that always surprised me is how Dallas was allowed to switch up the Oilers dressing room and the Boys on the Bus culture that permeates from the top (Katz) all the way down (Buchberger and Steve Smith). Let’s hope Eakins fires those 2 bums that he was handcuffed with and brings in some guys that can actually help him.

    • paul wodehouse

      …Keith Acton as a Marlies assistant coach begets his spawn Will, a former Marlboro, because the later couldn’t have played in the NHL for one game without his Dad on staff…I have said this before but Smith and Buchberger need to be given the heave-hoski BY Eakins…leaving Kevin and MacT off the hook for giving their life long buddies the hook…the head coach should hire his own two more assistants and leave Acton at one end of the bench to open and close the gate…

      EDIT …and Bucky should stay outta the tanning beds

  • Good read RB.

    So, Oklahoma City Barons have been in the playoffs despite some serous difficanceys with the Oilers stripping the team all season long.

    Nelson, has something ALL the coach’s don’t……..success, plan and simple.

    You can argue Eakins took a glorified NHL club to the finals. After that his team dropped like an anvil.

    Nelson players come up and are at the very least prepared, Marincin has done well, Petry has done well, Klefbom has been a pleasent surprise.

    None of Nelson players seem lost?

    MacTavish has this coach, it’s time to bring him up as associate coach and get him working with those kids.

    If you can’t apoligize and take the hire back then get a coach in here you can take that pressure off Eakins.

    After 20 games and the Oilers sit 6-8 it’s time to gut the whole staff.

  • Dan 1919

    I don’t know if MacT realizes it or not, but his statements in the media conference firmly put his job on the line, or should anywhere else in the world of professional sports.

    As others have remarked, some of MacT’s comments sounded delusional. The SCP have started and once again we witness what real hockey is all about. The Oilers are still so far removed from being a Stanley Cup contender it’s ridiculous.

    It is sad when one thinks that the Oilers could have had a veteran GM and veteran head coach at the start of this past season, but selected rookies for both positions! Priceless. Next season they won’t be rookies, but will they be better? If you think so, I’ve got a bridge for sale that you would really like.

  • MacTastic

    This is perhaps the most clearly articulated counter-argument I have ever read to the notion that Lowe’s continued presence as POHO is irrelevant to the day-to-day goings-on of the Oilers hockey operations. To those who would argue that Lowe’s dismissal would be purely symbolic and have no real impact upon organizational mechanics, we have exhibit A.

    We have a GM who, by all accounts, is or seems to be a pretty sharp guy. However, for him to state in public that the head coach’s decision about coaching staff is his alone while simultaneously praising the same staff’s sacred link to past glories seems, to me at least, unprecedented in professional sports. Like Buchberger’s tenure itself: survival of 5 head coach turnovers while remaining in place throughout.

    Mr Lowe’s friendship with Mr Katz is the foundation upon which the Oilers culture of clinging to past glory and stale loyalties is playing itself out in a tangible way on the ice and behind the scenes.

    The fish rots from the head. Well done Mr Bronte.

    *Sheepishly steps off soapbox*

  • No need to blame it all on a few guys..but maybe management..or Eakins need to bring in a defensive specialist..especially now with so many potential good defencemen coming up through the system..maybe Nelson is that guy..but then u need to replace him on the farm..maybe Bucky and Smith take care of the farm? Maybe bring in an experienced defensive coach/assistant coach to help assist Eakins?
    Either way it’s an Oil Change..it’s called that for a reason..it’s taken a few years to change the Oil..you never know the difference until u rev up the engine with the new Oil.

    Time to rev it up boys..next seasons gonna be a blast. Mark my words. Hall is sick of watching Seguin in the playoffs..he’ll lead this young group to more promising lands very soon..

  • We are the worst run team in all of professional sports starting from the owner Katz. What do you expect to happen. MacT was passed over by every organization in the league already at head coach so he goes back to school and gets his degree so the old boys could hire him as gm. What a pathetic franchise. Eakins has to fire his own staff with a loaded gun to his head. I took my name off of the season seat registry. The 5 grand I spent in 2013/14 in mini packs will go to better use.

  • Chainsawz

    If Buchberger and Smith are so darned good why have they not been given a kick at the can to be head coach. Because Katz/Lowe/Mact are hiding these two chunks of deadwood in plain sight.

    They hire people like Quinn, Renney etc to be the cannon fodder for an incompetent organization. What happens if there is a massive fail in the first 30 games next season? I can tell you Eakins will be fired and Smith and Buchberger will emerge from the smoke.

    Mact’s nose will grow from this debacle and he will look like a freaking elephant.

  • MacTastic

    Question—Does Eakins have the brass to do Macs dirty work ?

    Answer—Anyone new to the organization that walks into the dressing room on his first day and takes down, (and removes from the room permanently), pictures of all the greats has balls. I think anyone as arrogant and oblivious to the treasured past as Eakins is will have no problem letting his 2 ass coaches bite the dust. This could potentially be the start of the Oil being competitive.

  • Dan 1919

    Common sense suggests they move on from the two coaches who have been engulfed in failure, but they won’t.

    MacT has this summer to put a contender together, otherwise even though Katz writes pretty letters, he will can the management group (maybe keeping MacT and letting the nee PHO decide his fait). Or the other option, they tank again and players will start wanting out. Eventually something will have to happen, whether Katz wants to make the tough calls or not.

    Let’s hope for the fans sake that they start winning next year and everything is fine. I don’t see it though, MacT already appears brainwashed when he even suggests that they can, “go young,” or says Buck and Steve are good at their jobs.

  • CMG30

    People have hopped on board the ‘Klowe nepotism bus’ hard here because one of the assistants has survived 5 head coaches…

    Allow me to throw an alternate explanation out:

    5 head coaches in 5 years. Those 5 years contained events like lockouts, shortened seasons, and rookie head coaches. Ask yourselves if it’s reasonable for a brand new head coach to want to keep some key people around to help in the transition? Remember the coach can only tell so much from an interview and needs time to evaluate how well they actually do their jobs. Also, mid season is not really a great time to fire your assistants and conduct a replacement search.

    In this case I think that there is an argument to be made that having these guys stick around for so long is actually another symptom of the head coaching circus in Edmonton.

    *Note, I’m not defending the job the assistants have done and I’m firmly of the opinion that they need to move on. That time is now and if Eakins doesn’t tackle this in the off season then that would be strong evidence to me that they are ‘protected’.

    I think Eakins has had some growing pains this season but the key word is growing. Still he needs to recognize his limitations and bring in assistants with experience and abilities in areas where he’s lacking, such as running a PP.

  • 2004Z06

    Fire the POHO, and hire one that has won as the head of the MGT, not as a player.

    Give the new POHO the keys to the kingdom and let them fire whoever they sense is a crony rather than a true pro.

  • Dan 1919

    There is no objective defense for the job the coaches did this year. I have supported MacT through a lot this year but that press conference left me depressed. To paraphrase “he is more impressed with Eakins than ever”. I assume that means he was hoping for coaching room “chaos and dysfunction early in the year and systemic confusion the entire year. Eakins hit it out of the park on those metrics. MacT lost a lot of personal cred with those statements.

    • Dan 1919

      I am begining to think that MacT is a bit of a
      Snake Oiler Salesman!. Theres more smoke here than fire, and he just keeps blowing that smoke you know where.

      If it aint a banger or a fourth liner, MacT seems to be lost. [ Perron fell into his lap, as ST Louis were dumping salary. Didnèt see Oshie coming this way, but I give him credit for Perron deal.

      Lets, all remember one thing, who is driving the
      Boys on the Bus, bus… its Mr, Katz.

      When an owner has his paws on the hockey operations big time…. you have CHAOS!!!.

      • NJ

        Did Scrivens and Fasth fall in his lap as well. Hendricks? I suppose Dubnyk also “fell off his lap”? Horcoff gone? Gordon?

        I understand MacT has made mistakes, and some moves haven’t worked out… but the ones that matter, have been good. We await the summer.

          • NJ

            By record only. If Dubnyk had that save % through Tambo’s reign as GM I would suggest that we’d have finished dead last every year. If you look at the D Tambo started and finished with you’ll recognize Tambo’s “brilliance”.

            I’m assuming you’re suggesting then that the team hasn’t improved since MacT began his tenure here?

            Do I seriously have to defend MacT vs Tambo? I would humbly suggest we wait until the mid point of next season before we throw Mac under the bus.

        • NJ

          I understand the situation with Sal.Caps, NTC, wanting to play at beach city etc.. but MacT made a huge mistake by selling the .. Bold Moves .. slogan. All he was doing was pumping the Tier one ticket buyers… this is the year, folks.

          Scrivens and Fasth, hopefully will workout, but lets be honest they were on the shelf as backup goalies. Its not like he brought in Price or Miller.

          Hendricks good addition, again this is a fourth line player on other teams.You know what hes worth the money.

          Gordon doing a good job, but he paid $3. million bucks for basically taking face offs.PK is a help, but other can do it at one third the cost. Arcobello could play third line ctr. for $1.million.

          • paul wodehouse

            I agree MacT made a mistake with the “Bold Moves” slogan. He oversold and under delivered, a classic rookie mistake. I’m simply not even close to giving up on him yet… heck… in a few months he got rid of Dubnyk, something Tambo never did. And he got a roster player for him. Doesn’t matter if Hendricks is a 3rd or 4th liner, he’s an NHL player. Arcobello could also play 2nd line centre for the job Gagner is doing.

            All things being equal, we can agree to disagree about the job MacT is doing. I may eat my words, but I have my doubts. 🙂

      • CMG30

        Good thing I read all the posts before making my own. You pretty much summed up what I was thinking.
        The oilers management has so little to hide behind after YEARS of excuses, that they are now resorting to speculation of change to make it sound like they are doing something.

        These guys probably spend more time playing spin doctor than they do trying to build the team.

        Kevin lowe: ” alright guys, we need to call a meeting”
        MacT “awesome! I have some good info from the scouts”
        Kevin Lowe “who cares.. we need to do another presser deflecting blame, and showing our development first.. any ideas”
        Katz: “let’s put it in another coaches lap? Seems to have worked for the last 8 years, and we are still selling out right?”
        Lowe: “awesome idea Darryl!! BTW, I can for sure make your kids birthday party next week, should I make my world famous potato salad?”
        Katz: “hell ya buddy!!”

        Meeting over.

  • NJ

    My Take on the MacT presser: it’s our way with the team we think we improved and we have the right people in place. We need a center for 2nd line and a high end defenceman. We the management see the progress that fans and media don’t. We are past the half way mark of the rebuild and only 3 more years to go until a contender for the playoffs.

  • Bryzarro World

    It’s time for me to finally admit that coaching is not part of our problem. Coach Patrick Roy is an anomaly and so is Ted Nolan, and Paul Maurice.

    Coaching has no relevance on the team ( I have been told this over and over again) so I think it’s logical to look at the trainers.

    I now believe it’s all the trainers fault we suck so bad……..I think Kevin Lowe should fire them all?

    Props if you agree.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Confirming these bozos only confirms Connor McDavid is the goal next season.

    MacTavish is free to do business with 13 other NHL teams right now. Obviously he must still be in that “assessing” mode. Lowe has replaced 2 GM’s, 5 coaches and well over 60 players in his time here. Perhaps it’s time to look in the mirror.

  • paul wodehouse

    “3 years and you are telling me you are impatient?”
    Hell yeah!!! Colorado drafts first, makes the playoffs,Columbus drafts second in 2012, makes playoffs. Tampa drafts 3rd overall, considered a contender, Aneheim, and Montreal draft top 5, both powerhouse teams in their conferences, Edmonton drafts 1st 3 years In a row and 7th pick, 3rd overall pick. Let that sink in

  • paul wodehouse

    How many playoffs appearance for the Oilers since 2000? 3 times I think. F*cking pathetic.

    Now, the Avalanche are giving their fans a great dose of playoff hockey, led by their recent top 5 draft picks. How about our Oilers?

    The comparison to the Avs situation is very relevant to the Oilers, and shows that the Oilers management (KLowe, MacT, Howson) dropped the ball big time on this rebuild. I used to semi-respect MacT but after his BS press conference I realized he is just another crony – a part of the problem not the solution. Next year will disappoint, and the following year etc. etc. This management group are amateurs, who have had some past success, which makes them stubborn and arrogant.

    When the mediocrity ends is anyone’s guess. We are the Kansas City Royals of the NHL.

  • paul wodehouse

    Without a clear objective analysis of what the assistant coaches’ job and role are, and how well they objectively performed to meet those requirements, this article is no more than a gossip column.

  • BillHK

    @RobinBrownlee

    “Without a real name attached to this comment, it’s nothing more than anonymous internet noise spewed by somebody with zero conviction to what they’re saying.”

    Robin. Why spew hate at a fellow fan like that? You’re writing for a blog. Nobody on here uses their full name. If you want to open your opinion on the web like this, be prepared to take some criticism of your opinion. Your post didn’t have any new hard hitting facts. C’mon now.