It’s important to know where the accountability needs to stop

Dallas Eakins 19

As anyone reading this almost certainly knows, on Monday the Oilers dismissed head coach Dallas Eakins. It’s the most significant change to the team in quite a while, and it’s a very good bet that the changes don’t stop with the head coach.

However, it’s also a very good bet that the changes stop somewhere well below Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe.


Khaira and Draisaitl

Darren Dreger was on TSN 1050 on Monday afternoon, and he laid out what he expects to see from the team over the next few months.

This is the first of many changes I see coming in Edmonton – I mean the firing of Dallas Eakins. Organizationally there is going to be a lot more change coming here in the near future. That scouting department is going to implode, I believe. It has to. When you look beyond picking in the top 10 of the first round, when you look at the players they haven’t found in other rounds and things like that, that comes back to scouting… Change isn’t going to happen at the general manager’s level, it’s not going to happen at Kevin Lowe’s level and it’s not going to happen at Bob Nicholson’s level. It’s going to happen within scouting and maybe some additional assistant coach changes.

There have been plenty of indications that anyone currently employed as a scout by the Edmonton Oilers had better be sure his resume is up to date; this is only the latest. 2009 and 2010 drafts weren’t good, 2011 has some weak points and as we considered the other day the 2012 group is trending sideways. On a lot of teams, that kind of record might not result in dismissal, but the Oilers are a very bad team and because of that there is no margin for error. It also wouldn’t be surprising if at some point the professional scouting group starts getting changed over, too.

Upper Management

Craig MacTavish10

The really strange thing here is that Dreger feels confident in saying that change isn’t going to happen in the general manager’s office or above.

No man is more responsible for the current roster than general manager Craig MacTavish, as he admitted in his press conference announcing Dallas Eakins’ firing.

“There’s blood all over my hands,” MacTavish said on Monday. “I put together the line-up and the roster; I’m not here to absolve myself of accountability for the situation we’re in.”

Maybe MacTavish should be fired; he’s made a number of mistakes in his brief tenure at the helm of the team. Maybe he shouldn’t be fired; he’s done some good things, too, and was starting from a position of weakness. Either way, if the Oilers are looking to conduct a comprehensive top-to-bottom analysis of what’s wrong with the team it only makes sense that they’d start at the top with the man making the primary decisions. If the powers above MacTavish in the Oilers organization have already decided that the scope of this summer’s assessment shouldn’t include him that would be extremely disappointing.

Lowe, Kevin2

One of those powers above MacTavish is Kevin Lowe.

Lowe’s track record as general manager is decidedly mixed, and his last bit of work involved trading away Chris Pronger in the summer of 2006 and rebuilding the team around younger players. He turned that group over to Steve Tambellini and it promptly flopped; he retained Tambellini as general manager and allowed him to administer a rebuild which also ultimately failed. He then turned to MacTavish, and the team is now where we see it today.

How much power and influence Lowe has had in the making of this Oilers’ team is unclear. What is clear is that the group he assembled in his final years as G.M. ultimately failed, his hand-picked successor (and his group) also failed and his hand-picked successor to his last hand-picked successor is now facing some very difficult questions. Is there anything in that track record that suggests he should be at the helm of Daryl Katz’s hockey empire?

Since the Pronger trade, the Oilers have missed the playoffs eight times and will almost certainly increase that count to nine this spring. In that span, the team has employed 143 players. It has burned through five head coaches and canned multiple executives, including two assistant general managers. One of those departed AGM’s was the team’s former amateur scouting director; it’s likely his successor will be following him out of the organization shortly.

I suspect I have a lot more respect for Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe as hockey men than a lot of people reading this do. But any organizational review that starts lower than Lowe isn’t worthy of the name.