Excited and Defensive

Craig MacTavish is an articulate man who has always been
great in front of a TV camera. His brief stint on TSN as an analyst was
educating and his scrums as a coach were always interesting, plus you could
count on a great quote. It’s hurt him from time to time, though. Sometimes he
gives away too much of what he thinks privately about players and that can hurt
expectations and maybe even damage relationships. Perhaps he’s just too
comfortable speaking in front of the camera for his own good, because sometimes
he tips his hand and other times he can talk himself right into danger.

EXCITED MACT

I don’t doubt for a second that there’s a real rush of
adrenaline when there’s a camera pointed in your face and you are expected to
say something. For some people that sounds like a fate worse than death. For
others it’s a chance to take the spotlight and run with it. I’m pretty sure I
know which camp MacTavish belongs to. And that isn’t a knock. Some were born
for the stage. If MacTavish finished his hockey career and joined the TSN panel
fulltime I think we would be treated to excellent coverage. He’s a natural.
Still, there are times when some things are best left unsaid. Maybe it
was the excitement, the heat of the moment, but here are occasions where MacTavish
hurt himself (mainly just his credibility) by saying ridiculous things for no
reason.

One of the first signs there wasn’t something quite right
with then Oilers Coach Craig MacTavish was when he likened NHL depth Center
Marty Reasoner to All-Star Joe Sakic. Check this piece for the whole context
but the money line is “If Marty had more speed, he’d be Joe Sakic.”
It’s actually impossible to be further apart than Marty Reasoner and Joe Sakic.
Marty Reasoner was basically playing the role of Boyd Gordon for the Oilers the
year of that quote. It would be effectively saying that a less physical Boyd
Gordon was a better stride away from being Malkin. I guess it probably made Reasoner
feel nice for a second, but in the long run it just makes both parties the punch
line of a joke. 

Not every comment born of excitement is a positive one and
MacT has a wicked dark streak when it comes to his “honest assessment”. Here he
is ripping into Dustin Penner, a player who never looked like he was skating at
full speed. “When we signed Dustin we thought he’d be a top-two-line player. We
thought the contract ($4.25 million average for five years) was a starting
point for him, but he views it as a finish line. I can’t watch it, certainly
not for another 2 1/2 years.” Well then. That season Craig MacTavish had cut
down Penner’s minutes by two per game and there was no getting it back. Naturally
his overall offensive output dropped as a result but the fancies still liked
him. MacT ripped the player AND his contract despite the fact that Penner lead
the Oilers in Goals For percentage with a 60.3% that year (25th
highest in the NHL with 750 mins played). He was also second on the
team in raw Corsi percentage at 53.1% and Relative to his Teammates he was an
insane +7.5. And even though his scoring totals dropped that year, he was fourth
on the team in points/60 at Even Strength. He was outclassing the competition
and scoring well for his minutes but his coach refused to play him more while he
was doing it AND didn’t just rip the player but also spoke about his contract
too. Not his best moment. 

This one classifies as a major gaffe too, even though the
player he was talking about would not go on to have a stellar NHL career. Sick
and tired of answering questions about why the team wasn’t calling up Rob
Schremp he unloaded a tirade about one of the organization’s top prospects
(at the time). “I guess every time we call somebody up we’ve got to
explain why it’s not Robbie, but the bottom line is it’s up to Robbie to be a
decent player down there. We all know what he can do, he’s got decent hands, he
can work a power play okay, but he’s slow, he’s not a physical player, he’s
soft at this level. There are a lot of things in his game he needs to address
before he becomes that player who gets called up. It’s getting to the point
where you’ve gotta be honest: he’s not helping them particularly down there
right now and there’s no reason to think he’ll be able to come up here and help
us.”

These are things you just can’t say to the media as a had
coach. Even the ones that aren’t under your direct mentorship are still your
responsibility. The kid he was talking about was still an Oiler when the head
coach of the NHL club went on record saying he was slow and soft. As great as
that quote was, there’s no telling what it did to Rob Schremp’s development. Along
those lines you also have to wonder what it did to the confidence of Devan
Dubnyk when MacT questioned openly his ability to be a number one goalie in this
league.   

The most obvious over-excited moment to happen recently was
the proclamation that Justin Schultz had Norris potential. “I really believe
that he’s going to be a player that is going to be counted on at both ends and
will be equally effective in the defensive zone. I think the potential there is
absolute, I think Justin has Norris Trophy potential. I don’t think there are
too many people that would disagree with me in that regard.” That statement is so wrong that it takes time to digest just how incorrect it
really is. And just to get a clear understanding of context, you also have to
remember that Justin Schultz was just coming off of a very disappointing full
season in the NHL when MacT said it.

There was absolutely no reason to say those words in any
combination. Justin Schultz needs more time learning how to play the NHL game.
He is, very slowly, learning how not to be a complete trainwreck in his own
zone. MacTavish very unfairly set this kid up to be the butt-end of jokes about
ineptitude for a generation. It’s also clear from the ice time doled out at the
beginning of the year that the mandate was to give minutes to Justin Schultz.
The Oilers were going to prove just how good Schultz was by making sure he was
seeing as much ice as the league’s all-stars. They doubled down on this insane statement
instead of putting their inexperienced defender in a position to succeed.

DEFENSIVE MACT

Excited MacT gives the best quotes, no question, but
Defensive MacT is the one that really makes you scratch your head. This year
more than any people have fairly questioned his erratic decision making and his
role in building one of the worst teams in the NHL despite preaching how they
would be competitive before the season began.

In the summer you, me, and anybody who could count to two
had a problem with the center depth the Oilers were going into the year
with. The best case scenario was the rookie would contribute like a veteran 2C,
which would unquestionably put him in the Calder conversation. When pressed
about that depth and Leon specifically, MacT said this: “Anybody, whether fan,
coach, manager, media, anybody that says that they can tell you definitively
whether Leon Draisaitl is ready or is not ready before getting the information
at training camp is naïve. That would reveal a very superficial understanding
of the game of hockey. Fortunately, we don’t have to make that decision right
now. In my mind, I feel he’s going to make a strong case.”

Just to be clear, it was naïve of you to question the merits
of keeping the 2C spot of an NHL team open for an 18 year old to earn against
minimal competition. Only those with a superficial understanding of the game
would have a problem with this scenario. Also, despite having secured no other
options at center, he apparently believed that he didn’t have to make the
decision to keep Draisaitl or not in August. The reality was (if I may be so naïve)
that the decision was already made. There were no other options.

Naturally with that setup the team did terribly and in early
December the knives were coming out. When asked why the fans should trust the same management team that built this mess to get them out of the weeds, MacT
was quick to deflect blame. “I’ve been on the job for 18 months. I coached the
team here for (eight seasons, from 2000-09), but I had nothing to do with
management. Don’t (lump) me in with a situation of power and influence in the
management level in this organization. I’ve been on the job for 20 months.” 18
months, 20 months, if I’m performing as terribly at my job as MacTavish has
been at his then I would have been lucky to make it three months. There was
absolutely no acknowledgement of culpability on the part of the Oilers General
Manager. His coach, his players, his philosophy, his mandate to be bold all
tattered and in pieces around him and we got the “Hey, I’m just new here!”
defense from the man in charge. 

credit

Contrast his denial of guilt with the quickness he has been
ready to claim praise belonging to others. He can’t even give Todd Nelson
credit without making sure he says that he was also responsible for the turnaround. “The easy conclusion for me to come to would be that it’s strictly
a coaching change. And Todd certainly deserves to a lion’s share of the credit
for that, but there’s been personnel moves in my mind that have really helped.
So I don’t want to lay this at the feet of a Dallas or a Todd issue. It’s more
complicated than that.” The Oilers that Nelson inherited had David Perron
removed, and Hall, Nikitin, and Pouliot (on and off) injured. The only real
positive additions were the additions of Roy and Klinkhammer, a center on his way
out of the NHL and a journeyman winger! 

These are the moments that good management don’t try to take
credit for. It doesn’t look good when you say, “This team competes better now
that I added something that we should have had four months ago but I didn’t think
was necessary.” And it definitely doesn’t look good when you try to hijack the
credit that your employees deserve. Craig MacTavish, it seems, is not very good
at handling criticism or accepting blame, and there also appears to be an issue
assigning credit.

DOES THIS MATTER?

These last two years have been a series of disasters and we’re
looking to find out if the structure is in place to correct the wrongs. MacT is
the man leading the charge for the Oilers. The failures of the team fall at his
feet when everything is said and done, and yet despite being responsible for
the lion’s share of the blame he has deflected it all towards others.

The Oilers only started to turn around when the coach Craig
MacTavish supported vehemently was let go. The culture of the room only started
when the man MacT passed over once before and refuses to give full credit to
took over behind the bench. Table Tennis, harder practices, Nail Yakupov,
Jordan Eberle, ill-fitting suits, Pontiac Firebirds, and a relaxed attitude don’t come back into
the Oilers’ world if MacTavish isn’t forced to abandon his plan with the head
coach.

The roster is about to take a severe hit because Craig MacTavish
effectively chose Nikitin and Schultz last summer over Jeff Petry. David Perron
was vocal about not getting enough ice time and he was moved along for it. We
can only wonder how his statements about Dubnyk affected the goalie’s
confidence before entering into an unimaginable tailspin. He has a history of making inflammatory statements about his own players
that serve no other purpose than breaking down their confidence or setting unrealistic expectations upon them.

So mistakes were made, but the opportunity to learn from
them only happens when those mistakes are recognized and acknowledged. My issue
is that we haven’t seen him do anything like that. We’ve seen him chortle at
the thought that he should be lumped in with the group responsible for
decimating the franchise. We’ve seen him accuse others of being unsophisticated
for questioning the readiness of Leon Draisaitl for the position of 2C in the
NHL. We’ve seen him dodge the suggestion that his preferred coach was the wrong
choice and that the new one is a better fit.

So is Craig MacTavish the right person to lead Edmonton back
to respectability? Well if you have to ask the question…

  • M22

    Brilliant, thorough, and well-deserved evisceration of MacTavish, who is the perfect symbol of this organization: delusional, egomaniacal, arrogant. All of which would be just fine to most fans, if they were also competent.

    We would happily overlook their character flaws if they could only ice a winner, but…..

    Daryl, Kevin, Craig – time to stop looking at the roster to find where the REAL problems lie. Start looking inward – all your answers are there. The rest will fall into place.

  • 916oiler

    10 to 1 odds, if Dubnyk ever earns a Vezina, MacT will take credit by saying his “tough love pep talk” is what turned his career around.

    Lowe will then add it to his bio on the Oilers website.

  • Kr55

    Having a huge ego with the need to always feel like the smartest guy in the room, and being poor at evaluating players. Those are 2 terrible qualities for a GM to have.

    Of course MacT has the only quality that matters to be an Oilers GM, having a long friendship with Kevin Lowe.

  • oilerjed

    This article seems to be a rather longwinded way to say you think MacT stinks. I could almost picture you sticking your tongue out while you were typing. If only it could have been done in crayon to convey your true feelings on the matter.

    If PRO players cant take a bit of a scolding and move on how are they supposed to react to the daily questions and taunts from reporters? Are they really as fragile as that?

    Until some of the writers on this blog sit him down and get some straight answers about what really went down between petry and his contract, the lack of being able to sign a ufa center ect………. maybe they should quit speculating. If you have a source then say so and put the proof out there. There is far more then enough opinions to be found in the comments section to want to read articles of the same.

    • You can only ask the questions — sometimes multiple ways, if need be — in search of the “straight answers” you seek.

      If you get a line of BS or an “I’m not going to talk about specifics” etc. and that doesn’t change no matter how many ways or how many times you ask, you’re left with what they tell you.

      If you can find out specifics on your own, which I can tell you is much more difficult now than it was 10 years because teams insist that every interview be routed through their media men, you can skip vague answers from the GM or coach and write what you know.

      For the record, Petry told Gregor he hadn’t received an offer — the same day talk about “discussions” came out. Discussions aren’t an offer.

    • The Last Big Bear

      I take it you’re not a professional at your job so scolding is not allowed and you’re protected by your HR department rep?

      If your boss scolded you then your peers blast you everyday you show up for work questioning you about how come you under perform all the time, you would shake it off everyday and every year, year after year and we’ll expect you to suck it up buttercup and figure out your job?

      What if you’re 18-20 and you just came out of school and thrown into the lead role with 10+yr.season vets and your being called out by your boss and these vets and other peers.. Sure makes it fun to do your job, ya guess these PROS just need to suck it up, they’re paid to be our verbal punching bags, hey if anything, Craig is showing us its acceptable

  • I put my foot (or rather BOTH feet) in my mouth far too often. Sometimes it can’t be helped. Perhaps MacT is the same. However, I do think he shot himself in the foot 1) by hiring Eakins and 2) by doubting Duby and trading him. I am so happy for Duby and I wish him continued success, my hope is that we can find someone as good, with the same work ethic and the same demeanor – Duby is a class act.

  • Oiler Fan 16

    Love it! MacT hasn’t learned how to lead. Maybe something to do with being so smart he was the last person in the NHL to don a helmet.

    I wish I cheered for another team every time this clown steps in front of a microphone to hear himself natter on. I would laugh and laugh and laugh and…

  • Hemmercules

    So, I’ve been critical of certain blogs and comments you have posted. Fair is fair…this one is well thought out, well articulated and well……right on the money. I just wish you were wrong.

  • Hemmercules

    Matt: I know its been said all over here, but this is one of the best and most honest write up of this circus called Oilers/NHL team.I often referred them to an Organization, but no operation can be this poorly constructed .

    It hurts that other media types , bloggers, etc, have now made the Oilers the Joke of the Moment.. Cannot understand how Katz continues to turn a blind eye to this situation. If my named was on the bottom line, I would not put up with this.

    Matt, good on you to have the courage to write this up….

  • Hemmercules

    There’s no helping people that remain MacT supporters. He has done enough damage to be fired at this point but who really knows how much more he will do before Katz will finally cave in on his fandom? As bad as it is, I have complete faith in MacT, Lowe, and Howson to make things even worse.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Great read. I can’t believe that some people still can’t see the light. The performance of the team speaks for itself. MacT is a joke. I am baffled by the arrogance – specially for being so incompetant. There is a reason this management group was ranked worst in pro sports.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Best article written in oilers nation history

    Well done sir, you deserve a wiser slow cap, this article framed and hung at oilers hq for future gm’s to read as part of their on boarding to the company

  • Aitch

    There is a huge difference between humiliation and humility. Craig MacTavish uses shaming or the humiliation of others by calling them out publicly. This was a way that may have worked in the past to motivate players. But with todays media scrutiny it has no positive impact today. Now what MacTavish lacks is humility. He could never admit he is wrong and uses terms like visually better to try and manipulate us fans into thinking we are better than we actually are. His narcissistic tendencies have turned a once great franchise into the laughing stock it is today ie. hiring a guy that reminded him of himself. What a sick way of looking at things. The guy has no business in the chair he is in today. The only way I could ever respect this man again as if he stepped down (but once again that would take humility.)