One of the intermission features on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday was an interview with Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish. He answered a few questions for reporter Cassie Campbell-Pascall and gave fans a foregleam of what they can expect in his full end-of-year press conference and then on into the summer.
MacTavish touched on four key areas: the state of the team, interim head coach Todd Nelson, his core players and the goaltending.
State of the Team
Asked about a comment he had made in mid-March that the Oilers were playing better hockey, MacTavish doubled down and restated his hopes for the future.
I thought the team was playing much better at the time and I still feel that way. We’ll deconstruct our team and debrief at the end of the year but there has been quite a few positive signs recently. I’m an optimist; I think there are good things ahead. The rearview mirror isn’t too pretty over the last number of years for all our Oiler fans but we really believe that there are much better things ahead.
It’s an interesting quote, coming as it did a short time before the Oilers set an 82-game record for fewest wins and matched the same points total as they posted in 2009-10, the year the rebuild started.
We can give MacTavish a little leeway on the word “better” in that the team’s record has certainly improved in the last half of the season, but given what the first half looked like that’s the very definition of faint praise.
We’re all in agreement that Todd’s done a good job since he’s taken over the hockey club. I’ve been really consistent in what I’ve said about coaching right from the outset, is that I am going to wait for a period of time after the conclusion of the season. We’ll see what the landscape is going forward, but the critical thing for me is that Todd has done a good job.
No surprises on the coaching front. It does seem that Nelson has put himself solidly in the running for the Oilers’ head coaching job next season, but waiting a bit (say until the end of the first round, when it’s possible one or two more coaches will be let go) and getting the lay of the land is a prudent approach.
Interestingly, during the game Campbell-Pascall mentioned that she had asked Nelson earlier whether he would consider staying on if offered the associate coaching position. He told her it would be something he needed to think about, and that it might depend on his chemistry with the incoming head coach.
Asked whether he wanted to keep his core forwards together – Campbell-Pascall listed the big three and Nail Yakupov – MacTavish agreed wholeheartedly.
Well absolutely. I think those players that you mentioned, including Yak, are players that are very deserving of our organizational support and I certainly appreciate their commitment to our organization over this lengthy rebuild that we’ve been all enduring. Those players are going to be very well supported by the organization and that’s my job.
Within reason, MacTavish is of course correct. The difficulty arises from the need to make significant improvements in the supporting cast; in two years on the job he has not shown an ability to fill the positions that really need to be filled by sending away second-tier assets.
That’s not to say that trading away, for example, Jordan Eberle would necessarily solve those problems either. As a rule, top-end defencemen only become available when the team has soured on them for some reason, and the most common reason is the financial side of things. It’s hard to see how one of the Oilers’ $6.0 million players would appeal to a team moving quality out due to the necessity of cost-cutting.
It is the most important position and going into this season we felt that with Ben [Scrivens] and with Viktor [Fasth] we had really stabilized our goaltending. But we have to make some improvement there, there’s no question about that, and I think it’s being addressed organizationally right through in terms of our drafting and how we’re developing our goalies. We saw Laurent Brossoit play very well for us the other night against San Jose; he got another shutout tonight in the American Hockey League. He’s a guy that we feel is not too far away. It won’t possibly be next year but I think organizationally we’re going to be much stronger in the net.
The first half of the answer implies that adding a No. 1 goaltender via trade or free agency is going to be a priority for the team, but MacTavish also left himself some wiggle room there so it’s going to be interesting to see exactly what action that translates to.
The praise of the team’s drafting and development is interesting. Brossoit has certainly been excellent and established himself as a bona fide person of interest in net, but he wasn’t drafted by the Oilers, either (and the guy traded the other way, who was, hasn’t turned out that well). The two goalies Edmonton chose in last year’s draft both had down years and one has to go back to the first round of 2004 to find the last Oilers drafted-and-developed goalie to make it to the NHL. And I’m not at all sure that Devan Dubnyk is an example that MacTavish is particularly eager to revisit.
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