Every time Edmonton Oilers’ GM Craig MacTavish opens his mouth to preach patience to a fan base that’s already been squeezed of every drop it has to give, I think of the “Patience, my ass, I’m gonna kill something” T-shirt I had as a teenager.
I thought it was funny back then. Fans of the Oilers these days, not so much, and with good reason. Even before the Oilers wrapped up yet another abysmal season with a 6-5 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks Saturday to finish 28th with a 24-44-14 record and 62 points, MacTavish took time during a first-intermission interview to voice his optimism and touch on patience again.
I suspect we’ll hear much the same message this week. The only way that won’t happen is if it’s Bob Nicholson or owner Daryl Katz who step to the podium instead of MacTavish to apply the toe tag. Given what we know about how the Oilers conduct their business, what, really, are the chances of seeing significant changes, like what happened in Toronto today?
Despite well-worn sound bites about “being patient” and “bold moves” and the team being “visually better” and being “pissed off,” the crux of MacTavish’s messaging during his two-year tenure has been patience. News flash: fans, having just seen the Oilers set a franchise-low for wins in a full season with 24, are fresh out of patience. They want, and deserve, progress.
The failure to show any – this is the third time the Oilers have managed just 62 points in the nine years since reaching the 2006 Stanley Cup final – might not fully be MacTavish’s fault, but it’s damn sure his problem. I doubt that will prompt him to deviate from the script.
TIME FOR A NEW SCRIPT
What will we hear from MacTavish this week? I’d be willing to bet it’ll be more of what we heard last December, just a week before MacTavish fired Dallas Eakins – with some foreshadowing of what’s to come in the opening sentence to that address. To review:
“This availability is not going to satisfy anybody, and that’s not the intention of it,” MacTavish said Dec. 5. “There’s no satisfaction in the situation we find ourselves in currently. That situation, visually to me, we’re a better hockey team.
“When I sit in the press box and watch our team play, visually, we’re a better a better hockey team and I think our most ardent detractors would have to admit that we are a better hockey team visually, but there isn’t any tangible evidence of any of that improvement.
“That’s what so difficult for everybody to swallow, particularly the fans, the faithful fans that flock to Rexall night in and night out to see some material evidence of improvement. There just hasn’t been that level of improvement.”
The last line of what MacTavish said then should be full-stop and nothing less in dictating what should happen in the coming weeks, given the results and the “forensic analysis” fans were promised. I don’t have any faith at all that will be the case. Do you?
I tweeted the following sentiment last night after the loss to the Canucks and I’ll repeat it again: most teams would clean house after nine straight years of missing the playoffs. The Oilers are satisfied to simply move the dirt around and call it progress.
HERE WE ARE
We’ve dissected, and will continue to do so, all the shortcomings with the way this team has been drafted, developed and coached. We know what the deficiencies in the roster are. We know, after watching the Oilers finish 35 points behind the eighth-place Calgary Flames, how far there is to go, how much work remains to do. It will take years, not weeks or months.
We – as in every writer on this website and all but the most over-the-top optimists in the fan base – also know that real and meaningful change has to begin right at the top with the people who manage the team and trickle down to those who scout the talent and those who develop and coach it. That will involve Katz firing his friends.
Until Katz (or Nicholson with the hammer the boss provides) is willing to do that – taking centre stage in place of MacTavish this week would be a start – the outcome fans have endured the past nine seasons will not significantly change. Firing a scout or two, setting up some hockey ops underling as the fall guy and more rhetoric about optimism and patience won’t be enough.
Sadly, history suggests the Friends of Katz group will stay largely intact and a mind-boggling determination to stick with the status quo at the top is what we’ll get. The Oilers will sell hope and preach patience. Sorry. No sale here. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.