Craig MacTavish’s press conference on Friday pleased very few people; he promised off the top that nobody was going to be satisfied by it and he delivered.
One of the prickliest moments came when the general manager was lumped in by a reporter with Kevin Lowe and Scott Howson as part of the management team that has run the Oilers into the ground. MacTavish argued that he’d been on the job less than two years; in the aftermath a number of writers have since doubled down on the claim that he’s been one of those primarily responsible for destroying the team.
Who is right?
What Was Said
Reporter: “You and Kevin [Lowe] and Scott Howson have been off and on and in and out running this organization for most of a decade…”
MacTavish: (cutting in) “I’ve been on the job for 18 months. So you want to lop me in – I coached the team here for a long time but I had nothing to do with management. So don’t lop me into a situation of power and influence in the management level of this organization. I’ve been on the job for 20 months, 18-20 months. I’m going to get to the bottom of it, and this is part of the process of getting to the bottom of it.”
Craig MacTavish Work History
- 1997-99: Assistant coach, New York Rangers
- 1999-00: Assistant coach, Edmonton Oilers
- 2000-09: Head coach, Edmonton Oilers
- 2011-12: Head coach, Chicago Wolves
- 2012-13: Senior VP of Hockey Operations, Edmonton Oilers
- 2013-present: General manager, Edmonton Oilers
I don’t think many people have issues with MacTavish’s record as head coach prior to 2006; the Oilers were a budget team that was always competitive despite a pretty questionable roster and of course there was the lovely run in 2005-06.
Personally, I find it hard to fault his work after 2006, either. In 2008-09 the Oilers finished with 85 points and a minus-14 rating; it was considered a major disappointment and MacTavish left after the season ended. The next year the team finished minus-70 and with 62 points; no subsequent edition of the Oilers has finished within even 10 points of the 2008-09 MacTavish-coached squad.
The Edmonton Oilers didn’t decide to rebuild while MacTavish was coaching because even with a mediocre roster the club was pretty consistently competitive. The rebuild came the year MacTavish left, when Pat Quinn came in to usher in a new era of accountability and the club fell flat on its face.
MacTavish returned in 2012-13 after a year of coaching in the minors (his Chicago Wolves were a plus-20 team and made the playoffs; in the years before and after his stint at the helm the team was a minus club and missed the playoffs). Was he responsible for the failures of the 2012-13 team? Given the bloody purge that followed after a full year in which not even one player was dealt away it’s awfully hard to make an argument that he had much power under Steve Tambellini.
That leaves 2013-14 and this year, which has seen the Oilers take a markedly different tack than they did under Tambellini.
There’s simply no logical argument that places any of the blame for the 2009-13 disaster at MacTavish’s feet. Pre-2009? Sure, but it’s awfully hard to judge given that his departure helped spark Edmonton’s collapse. Post-2013? Sure, he deserves responsibility for what has happened under his watch as general manager. But those who want to blame the botched rebuild on MacTavish are out of sync with the reality of the situation.
(All of the above applies to Scott Howson, incidentally, only more so. Howson left earlier, in the summer of 2007; he returned as a pro scout late in 2012-13 and was elevated to his current position at the same time MacTavish was promoted.)
So You’re Saying He’s Bullet Proof?
No. There are all kinds of logical arguments that can be leveled against MacTavish and Howson. Want to complain about his decision not to sign Mike Ribeiro? Dislike the Nikita Nikitin addition? Worried about the David Clarkson stories? By all means, lay those decisions and the responsibility for them at the feet of the current regime. That’s fair, logical, realistic.
We could go even further. There are those who would suggest that MacTavish’s background doesn’t make him the best candidate for the job because he didn’t have much front office experience. That’s a fair critique. There are others who don’t like the fact that the Oilers have hired yet another man with ties to the organization, and that the team should have gone and recruited an outsider (as it did with Tambellini). That too is a legitimate perspective.
But to write that MacTavish and Howson have been influencing decisions all down the line (as one local writer did) or that MacTavish was passing the buck for things that were really his fault (as was suggested by one prominent national voice) is to fundamentally misrepresent the situation.
There’s plenty to criticize about MacTavish and the Oilers without drifting into the realm of make believe.
(Edit: Originally, this article’s second-last paragraph said “At best it’s misguided, at worst it’s dishonest.” Re-reading it, that was a dumb thing to say, because it went from arguing fact to imputing motivation. Facts are fair game, but motives aren’t. That’s my mistake, one I apologize for and will endeavor not to repeat. – JW)