The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

Craig MacTavish2

Two years into his tenure as general manager, Craig MacTavish has an uninspiring record. He’s had some good moves, some bad moves, and overall failed to significantly improve the team he inherited from fired predecessor Steve Tambellini.

On Saturday he was handed a lifeline in the form of Connor McDavid, the finest amateur prospect the NHL has seen since at least Sidney Crosby a decade ago. The stagnant team and the errors along the way aren’t going to matter, as long as he can get it right from here on out.

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Timing and Opportunity

It’s fair to say that things have changed in the week since MacTavish uttered the following projection for 2015-16:

Next year I would forecast is another developmental year. There’s going to be modest growth, largely depending on what we’re going to be able to do going forward. I don’t expect our draft choices to come in and move the dial for us. A lot of that growth will be internal growth and maybe a few pieces that we can add. Who knows who or what can ignite it. To forecast a point total would be useless for me at this point.

Quite reasonably, the general manager didn’t expect that the Oilers’ draft pick was going to come in and move the dial; he didn’t know that one of those picks was going to be (barely short of a certainty) McDavid. McDavid changes things; he’ll come in and push immediately, filling the No. 2 (or potentially even the No. 1) centre position as a rookie. In the years that follow he’ll be a tent-pole player but even in early days he’s likely to move the dial.

But that also puts some pressure on the general manager to show improvement. He’s had a franchise player fall into his lap, but that’s not all of it. He’s also had a player arrive who gives reason to believe the Oilers can turn things around. When he talks to potential coaches, he can ask how they’d like to coach McDavid. When he talks to free agents, he can ask how they’d like to sign on with the team that has the NHL’s next superstar. The lottery has lent optimism and credibility to a team that was running short on both.

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MacTavish, of course, knows this.

“Somebody’s going to get a whole lot smarter after the first period of that game on Saturday,” he said when asked about the draft lottery during that same press conference. “Some organization will get a whole lot smarter.”

MacTavish just got a whole lot smarter, and Edmonton just got a whole lot more attractive as a destination.

Priorities

86-Nikitin-4

The Oilers still have a lot of positional needs, but McDavid goes a long way to solving them.

Trading the pick could solve them all, of course. The Quebec Nordiques were forced to move Eric Lindros and they made out all right; the modern equivalent of that package would basically end the Oilers rebuild here and now. Edmonton could legitimately land its starting goalie, two defencemen and No. 2 pivot in trade for that pick, along with setting itself up for ages on the futures front.

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The craziest thing is that it would probably be a mistake.

Keeping McDavid solves basically all of the Oilers’ forward problems. If they sign Derek Roy, they have all the forwards they need to start the year (though the idea of allowing Roy to walk and signing someone like Shawn Matthias for the third line has to be awfully tempting). Suddenly a middling prospect pool looks a lot better; Leon Draisaitl might even be forced to move to left wing.

But with the forward group pretty much fixed, there’s more pressure to fix everything else as soon as possible. That means finding a No. 1 goalie, either through free agency or trade. It means finding a top-pairing and a second-pairing defenceman. It’s not going to be enough to calmly hope that Nikita Nikitin can find his form or, failing that, calmly wait for his contract to expire. It’s not going to be enough to shrug and then stick Oscar Klefbom and Justin Schultz in top-pairing minutes.

The Oilers have salary cap flexibility and, thanks in large part to McDavid’s arrival, the ability to make trades today that they couldn’t make last week. They’ll need to use the former for sure and possibly the latter as well.

MacTavish has been handed a wonderful opportunity, but he needs to show himself equal to it almost immediately. If he can’t, it’s a smart bet that there is no shortage of smart hockey men who would love the opportunity to show that they can build a contender out of the raw parts that Edmonton now has.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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  • Andy7190

    Bruce Arthur ‏@bruce_arthur 38s39 seconds ago

    Four days ago: Bob Nicholson Not Finished Forensic Audit of Oilers. Today: Bob Nicholson Named CEO, Takes Control Of Hockey Ops. Good timing

    —————

    So, something is up…

    • M22

      Something IS up! First day of business after the draft, and sh!t’s gettin’ real. Hopefully, we are witnessing the beginning of the dismantling of the circus that is the K Lowe regime.

      * THE CONNOR EFFECT *

      • Zarny

        Mmm…take off your tin-foil hat.

        Nothing is “up” because of winning the lottery. Katz isn’t going to suddenly name Nicholson CEO and give him control over hockey ops in the span of two days as a knee jerk reaction to some ping pong balls.

        More realistic is that handing control over hockey ops to Nicholson has been the plan all along or developed from the “forensic audit” conducted this year.

        At best, the timing of the announcement was impacted by the lottery win but certainly not the decision itself. If that were the case the Oilers are completely f*cked.

        • Joe Mamma

          While I agree wholeheartedly with your points Zarny, is the confrontational and demeaning delivery really necessary to get it across?

          The man may be a little over-excited and not necessarily looking at it rationally. But the folks here at ON haven’t had anything to be excited about for a long, long time. Give em a break.

        • Quicksilver ballet

          Nicholson has been here for 8 months “observing”

          As of today, everyone answers to Bob. He’s free to act on the knowledge he’s acquired in that time. I’m sure in that time span he’s become aware of the real Kevin Lowe.

          The winds of change have arrived. That’s what I take out of today.

        • M22

          Tinfoil hat? Don’t even try it.

          – “…control over hockey ops in the span of two days as a knee jerk reaction to some ping pong balls.”

          Do you actually think that I believe that? Give me a break, Zarny. Maybe I was over-zealous in my excitement, given what’s gone on with this team in the last couple of days, but not blind.

          You’re right about the Nicholson plan, though, and the timing of the announcement. At least, I believe it to be the case.

          In fact, I addressed this very matter in Willis’ 2nd article today….before you replied above.

      • Andy7190

        You have to wonder if the McDavid camp isn’t back channelling with Katz.

        Sending messages to the effect of – “you’ve got to clean up that gong show!- you’ve got to get a handle on the circus”.

        I wonder what else is in store.

        • Zarny

          Again…take off the tin-foil hat. The lottery was less than 48 hrs ago.

          McDavid and Orr haven’t had time to “back-channel” Katz let alone influence him into taking action.

        • freelancer

          Andy, interesting you made the comment, the taught crossed my mind several times as I am reading all the commentary on here !

          Its possible Bobby Orr picked up the phone and reminded Katz that they do yet have McDavids name on a contract and may not!

          Unless there are some changes made in the Circus Tent on Kingsway.

          • Seriously....Gord?

            And Bobby Orr wouldn’t do that for his other star oiler player Taylor Hall? Bobby orr has a stong relationship and connection to the oilers already. I don’t see him doing such a thing at this time.

          • Seriously....Gord?

            Who is going to protect Mcdavid? Currently when one of our stars gets run over, nobody does anything about it. Trade Taylor Hall for Milan Lucic. Lucic will waive his no trade to be Mcdavid’s winger in a heartbeat. If we can get Lucic for less than Hall, great, but I doubt it.

      • 5 Cups

        I can only hope today is the day. If in fact it is what a few days to be an oiler fan. The last 9 years has not provided much in the way of happiness, but what a few days.

    • McDaddy

      Lowe is in the most non embarrassing way possible being moved farther away from on ice decisions for the team while remaining katz’ lap dog. Sounds good!

  • McRib

    Flames fans fan here just want to congratulate you all on landing McJesus, Oilers fans deserve him, your management does not!!!

    I would be bitter, but it looks like there is a very good possibility that we nabbed the best player in each of the past two drafts so I am alright. The Battle of Alberta appears to be headed back to it’s glory years in due time!!! Also as a fan of Hockey I’m excited to get a chance to watch a talent like McDavid for years to come up close.

    Anyway regardless of all that I would recommend against trading away the Pittsburgh first rounder this season, considering your scouting staffs inability to find talent outside of the first round. It’s a great draft, you could land another very legitimate prospect.

  • Gooilgo

    lowe gotta go , for sure now!

    Bring in new coach, kept Nellie as an assistant, fire the entire brain trust and get us a goalie….then we plan the parade route

  • BlazingSaitls

    “Nicholson will take over an expanded set of responsibilities, including authority over all aspects of Oilers business and hockey ops.”

    Just when you think it can’t possibly get any better, it does.

  • WTF2

    Im sorry but whats so great about McLellan? He couldnt even get one of the best lineups in the league past the first round. Year after year his teams have underperformed and dissapponted.

    • A-Mc

      The San Jose sharks have been one of the most successful regular season teams for a very long time. The issues they have in the playoffs defy logic, and at the end of the day it is the players that play the game. I’m not sure you can hang their playoff blunders on the coach.

  • Andy7190

    Hey KATZ! Another fantastic opportunity!

    Hire Todd MacLellan! He has parted ways with the Sharks!

    Get this good veteran coach for your young core. This guy has gravitas.

    And this isn’t just about McDavid.

    Todd MacLellan would finally give Taylor Hall & Co the veteran, strong bench boss they need. Excellent communicator, good results.

    McDavid is coachable. He’d be the alpha in mere moments, it would be his room.

    The others would fall in line.

  • Andy7190

    This is going to be a fun few years –

    McDavid, Hall, Nuge, Nurse et all against

    Monahan, Bennett, Brodie & Johnny Hockey.

    Man, I think the Battle of Alberta is almost back.

    Vancouver’s looking a little old…

  • For all those people that say we need another coach……..really? Exactly how will a new coach be better than Nelson, who had a AHL roster to work with?

    Nelson should be given every opportunity to continue, based on his ability to work with a young core and move the dial in the right direction.

    A better question is do we trust MacT to find us another coach that is better than Nelson?

    I can’t believe after all the coaching issues we have had……we are still talking about another coach!

    Now that is insane!

      • A-Mc

        I’m hoping that the Oilers do land an experienced head coach, but the prospect of helping to coach McDavid is enough to tip the scale to keep Nelson as Assistant coach.

        We need Nelson because of his history and ties to our developing players that are coming into the league now. Nelson gives the new kids a good boost, if for no other reason than he is a familiar face during their stressful development. I hope we can keep nelson around.

      • Andy7190

        Nelson was put in perhaps the most difficult position possible as far as coaching goes.

        He inherited a broken team with emotions running at an all time high, from a coach that had everyone pulling in opposite directions. The fact that he was able to bring everyone into the fold and have them all pulling in the same direction, IMHO deserves serious consideration……..he should be rewarded NOT punished for what he managed to do under very difficult circumstances.

        He is young, energetic and respected by the players, fans, and management……..why would we want to take another risk on coaching.

        Experience is over rated. Look around the league, there are many experienced coaches out of work.

      • Andy7190

        Nelson is a good coach, a young learning coach.

        The Oilers need to move forward now. Their young guys need an established coach.

        Nelson may not wish to be an assistant. He may want to run his own show in the AHL again rather than step aside.

        It is irrelevant, really. This Oilers team needs an established coach.

        Todd McLellan would be an excellent fit. So would obviously Babcock or one or two other guys.

        For instance, there is no way Calgary is in the playoffs without the experienced Hartley.

        Oilers can take steps forward with an established experienced coach.

    • YFC Prez

      I think Nelson has shown enough to have the interim tag removed. But I also understand the camp that’s seeing McLellan available and possibly Hitch and Bowman. Those are 3 elite level coaches with experience on winning NHL teams. But the job Nelson did with a AHL team shouldn’t be ignored.

      Nelson should get the bench next season. If he doesn’t and its any other than the three big hitters available coaching the oilers I will be miffed.

      Mac T’s job just got a little easier with McDavid coming over. The FA’s that wouldn’t look twice at edmonton might be willing to come over with the next saviour on board. Nelson should have a complete roster to work with next season. I want to see what he does with a real NHL team.

      Mac T has little excuses left. This is his roster now and he’s been gift wrapped a golden goose. Next year HAS to see significant results or I don’t see how Katz, friendship aside , could possibly keep him employed here.

  • ubermiguel

    McDavid coming here is exciting but this Nicholson announcement gives me more hope. Nicholson’s experience and contact list is second to none in this country. His tenure with hockey Canada was excellent and he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy that is afraid to piss off Katz to make the right hockey decision.

  • SLYWINKER

    I’d be looking at Seabrook with Pitts pick and marincin, and a couple other pieces.

    I’d also like to see something similar to what you NYI did, get rid of next years 1st round pick so management can’t sit and wait, they will have to get out there and find some real players instead of picks. Go out and make the team better now!

  • ubermiguel

    If Nikitin and Schultz could figure out this NHL defence thing problems would be much smaller. Anyone know a defenceman whisperer? Was that supposed to be Ramsay?

  • Hemmercules

    I wonder if Mact’s list of untouchables got cut down when they landed that pick? I’m curious too see if he stays the course and sticks with most of the team for another “development” year or gets bold this summer and actually makes hockey trade.

  • positivebrontefan

    So who will be protecting McDavid, as the current band of lads in Edmonton are more apt to turn their back on a teammate being pummelled and skating off shamefully than to get involved.
    Completely not what Calgary is doing…that’s how you make the playoffs.

  • freelancer

    Nuge, McDavid, Roy, Gordon Lander, Drasaitl. Our centre depth has suddenly become unreal. I am definitely still big on signing a guy like Roy but Matthias might be a better fit for a third line role. Guys like Lander and Drasaitl could be shifted to the wing and moved depending on injuries. The forward core has been set. For the love of all things holy, now fix the back end.

  • A-Mc

    I just posted in another thread earlier today that i’m hesitant to get excited about all things Oilers.

    EFF THAT.

    I’m getting excited!

    That bob Nicholson announcement is VERY interesting!
    The fact that Crawford is having some brain farts this playoffs, combined with Chicago Cap issues – He might be available for a very good price.
    McDavid makes another forward expendable if need be, to land a Defenseman. INTERESTING
    Nurse will likely be an Oiler next season. Can’t wait!
    MCDAVID
    What can that 1st round Pit pick + prospect, land you? Interested to see!
    Chiarelli available? oh reeaalllyyyyy? Interesting. Forensic audit, what? hmmm

    I hope to mother F#k’n God the Oilers make huge changes this year because if you’re getting mcdavid, you can’t continue to be a bust..

  • McDavid for PM

    If anyone wants a good laugh head over to the Sportsnet website and look at Jeff Bailey’s article on how the NHL should have rigged the draft lottery for Toronto to win. Love how butthurt those clowns are about not getting McDavid!

    • ubermiguel

      Great read, thanks for the tip. And T.O. wonders why the rest of the country doesn’t like them when their media says crap like that. Good news though, there are more former Torontonians in Edmonton than I’ve ever seen in my life; they’ll get to enjoy McDavid up close.

  • The Oilers Shot Clock

    Trade our other first rounder this year and next years first as well as as many second and third rounders as needed to shore up the defense. We need two. MacT needs to find a way to get two more.

  • McDaddy

    The craziest/best thing is, is that coaches and valuable UFA’s might actually want to come to Edmonton now. I can’t beleive I just wrote that. The coaching decision for me is tough because I don’t feel nelly would come back as an associate, but it never hurts to have a McLennan type coach. And I love nelly. Nikitin needs to be bought out yesterday. We might actually get Oconnor now and he can start in Bakersfield. Goalie market is interesting with the likes of Howard, Lehtonen possibly available. This is a better route then say Martin Jones IMO. I’ve had a sinking feeling for a while that we will “land” phaneuf. Put up or shut up time for Mac T. It will be an interesting summer but it’s fun to be an oilers fan again.

    • Krusher

      Means a recognition they do not have that organizationally or players . Changes are coming shortly to fix that with Katz’s blessing by the sounds of it . Current builders of team in serious jeopardy of being replaced for countless failures to make our club a winner/better . Wonder if he will Skype any of them ?

      • Andy7190

        Doesn’t sound like Scype is on the agenda. Perhaps waiting for certain people to return from Switzerland is on the agenda.

        Probably we’ll know something in a week – 10 days.

      • Hemmercules

        The way Nicholson was talking about the new building it sounds like Katz might finally be fed up and is pushing for a competitive team for the first puck drop in that building. This summer went from “meh” to “!” in a hurry the last few days.

  • Craig1981

    Everyone thinking they HAVE to trade the 16(ish) overall pick, 33 overall, and/or Drisatal is foolish

    Look at Washington and Pitts. They have top elite players, can sign players, but no youth……We need to look ahead to 2-5 years from now. We can’t possibly keep all 5 players, so we can’t mortgage everything now.

    If the right deal comes along make it. But lets not toss out the 16th pick and take whoever bid the most.

  • YFC Prez

    Look at all the trade suggestions and FA targets popping up at the nation lately! Most of these would be met with snide remarks about players never wanting to come here. McDavid has already restored hope from the fan base. I love it!

  • positivebrontefan

    This is the first time I have posted since the golden card.
    I’ve been speechless.
    This talk of Nicholsons promotion has me intrigued.
    Would Katz be getting him to fire his buddies so he won’t have to?
    Nicholson turfing those two would get the stink of the last nine seasons off of us and make this place even more attractive to free agent players and coaches.
    Go after Chiarelli and he could maybe sign one Mr. Lucic?
    Sign Niemi for two years, bring in Green and Martin.
    Not sure if this makes any sense but it sounds good to me.
    Oh, and resign Roy, keep him with the Yak, and leave Draistl where he belongs for some more development.

    • Joe Mamma

      I think there would be some cap issues there if you signed Martin and Green, plus Niemi, plus Lucic. Might be possible with buyouts for Nikitin and Ference, but I don’t know.

      But man, Chiarelli would be the icing on the cake that this week has been. And a Lucic type would be perfect for this team. Literally if this fantasy became reality…. instant playoff contender.

  • Andy7190

    I think promotion day is almost upon us…

    Lowe is promoted to vice president of Katz Inc. It’s a titular position somewhere outside of hockey ops.

    MacTavish is promoted to President of Hockey Ops. It is a titular position that allows Katz to be loyal to his buddy.

    Nicholson hires a new GM. Someone non Boys on the Bus related.

    They go after a name coach. Everyone wins. Eventually, even the Oilers win on the ice!

    • Hemmercules

      I hope he isn’t referring to the old boys. The Oilers org has been loyal to a fault with Mact and Lowe, any other team in the world would have replaced them a long time ago.

      I hope his “right people in place” comment holds true.