WHEN THE OTHER SHOE DROPS

Edmonton Oilers’ big boss Bob Nicholson already made a splash most of us weren’t expecting when he bounced Kevin Lowe out of hockey operations and demoted Craig MacTavish in favor of Pete Chiarelli, who signed on as POHO and GM Friday. My sense is there are more changes coming in the front office. Likely sooner than later.

Lowe is out, moved to the business side to the delight of fans who’ve been calling for his head for what seems like forever. Not so, at least not yet, MacTavish, whose new title and job description is unknown. And what of assistant GM Scott Howson, MacTavish’s right-hand man these past two seasons? How will that play out? 

Chiarelli was gracious and vague on the subject of MacTavish when asked about him last Friday. Outside indications the parties are looking for a fit, we have no idea as of today where, and if, MacTavish slots in moving forward. What position will Chiarelli offer MacTavish? Will he accept it?

“I’ve always respected (MacTavish), enjoyed my talks with him in his time as GM when I was a counterpart GM,” Chiarelli said. “Listen, it’s probably real tough for him right now. I got fired, it was awful. So I can’t really comment on that other than he’s a very good professional. He’s got a good mind.”

I’ve long considered MacTavish a sharp guy, so the “good mind” take by Chiarelli isn’t out of left field, as I see it. That said, MacTavish’s two-year tenure was marked by miss-steps and bad decisions. The most significant of which for me was the firing of Ralph Krueger and hiring of Dallas Eakins. I still can’t get my mind around that decision — to the point where it’s difficult to figure out what role MacT might play with the Oilers from now on.

WRONG FROM TOP TO BOTTOM

We’ve been over what happened to Krueger. To me, it was wrong from top to bottom in why it was done and how it was done. MacTavish set out to hire an associate coach for Krueger, who guided the Oilers to a record of 19-22-7 for 45 points (.469) in 2012-13 in a 48-game schedule against Western Conference opponents. Numbers aside, the players respected and, from what I’ve been told, liked playing for Krueger.

In the span of a few conversations, MacTavish was so impressed by Eakins he hired him as his new head coach, firing Krueger, via Skype. Feeling philosophically aligned with Eakins, MacTavish also said at the time he felt the need to hire Eakins before somebody else did: “He had too much polish and pedigree not to land one of the NHL jobs available.”

We know how that turned out. The Oilers were 36-63-13 (.381) in parts of two seasons under Eakins. They went from finishing 24th under Krueger to 28th in 2013-14 and 28th this season with Eakins (31 games), MacTavish and Todd Nelson behind the bench. Numbers aside, I’m told the vast majority of players found Eakins overbearing and didn’t like playing for him. I’d say that showed more than a time or two.

These past two seasons are on MacTavish. He did the hiring. He did the firing. Questions about player personnel decisions – including but not limited to throwing a stack of dough at Nikita Nikitin, failing to start this season with adequate depth at centre and getting it wrong on the goaltending – aside, the Eakins era, one orchestrated from top to bottom by MacTavish, is what I could never get around from the get-go.

Will Chiarelli be able to get around it, if and when he digs into it? I don’t know. Even if MacTavish is offered a meaningful position, will he accept a job as an underling to Chiarelli two years after being hired as GM? What part will pride – arrogance, if you will – play in that? If MacTavish goes, so does Howson, guaranteed. 

Nicholson and Chiarelli aren’t finished with the front office yet.

WHILE I’M AT IT

Gavel

  • We know the Oilers have reached out to Todd McLellan. There are other coaches available and more are likely to come open, including Edmonton native Ken Hitchcock after the St. Louis Blues got bounced in the first round. There’s been ongoing pie-in-the-sky talk about Mike Babcock. The sentiment among many before Nicholson cleaned house and the lottery balls fell Edmonton’s way was that Nelson had done enough to get the job. I don’t think that happens. While I’d like to see Nelson at least stay on as an associate, a new GM and a new head coach have to be able to pick their own staff.
  • Still with Nelson, I’ve never been able to figure out why MacTavish, if he was willing to fire Krueger and bring in an AHL coach who was unproven at the NHL level, bypassed his own guy in the minors and went outside the organization to get Eakins in the first place.   

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

  • Zarny

    I won’t miss MacT (and Howson) for a second.

    Hiring Eakins = strike one

    Signing Nikitin = strike two

    Letting Petry walk = strike three

    3 strikes MacT = see you later

  • Joy S. Lee

    Kudos, I think this is a great article, and appreciate it because you’ve done a great job summarizing my feelings as well.

    MacTavish is a sharp guy, I agree, but he is a sharp guy who made some glaring mistakes in his new role. Too bad, but I actually still think he has the makings of a good GM, mostly because of his attitude and desire. Met him once, and he absolutely struck me as a great guy in real life. He’s also a guy who’s path hasn’t always been easy, so I’m sure he’ll figure it out, but if he’s like most of us, he will learn from those mistakes.

    One thing is for sure: he remains a smart, astute fellow nonetheless, and contrary to many on here, I kind of hope and expect that he ends up back on his feet.