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
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.
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.