WHEN THE OTHER SHOE DROPS

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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?

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“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

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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.

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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.

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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.   

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


  • Oilcounty88

    I know it will never happen, but I seriously wouldn’t hate having MacT be the coach again. Like I said, won’t happen, but he’s a better coach than he was a GM by far.

    I’d take a few other guys over him, but I’d take him over Nelson.

    • lucky

      Not. Enough recycling projects. I really hope Nelson can stay on to apprentice under an experienced NHL guy, Landing Babcock would be like winning the lottery again, but McLellan or Hichcock would be pretty spectacular mentors. Nelson will have a career in the NHL, but it’s time the Oilers stopped gifting positions and roster spots.

  • Serious Gord

    Test

    To whoever runs this blog my usual internet node from which I post has been blocked. Please unblock it.

    (I would note that there is no way to direct message the site operator – except via Twitter – which i did a few days ago, which hardly seems appropriate for these kinds of issues)

  • Cletus Spuckler

    Typical Edmonton media, focus on all the negative. While I do agree that the mistakes made by Mac-T were deplorable it would behoove us to acknowledge the intelligent and correct moves made in his short tenure. For example David P, to the Oil and also David P to Pitt after he had obviously started to become a cancer in the room.

    • Mason Storm

      What evidence was there that he was becoming a cancer? The fact that a top 6 forward felt that the top6 should play more? When your team is as terrible as they were, your best players have to step up and he wanted the chance, the Oil felt it was better to ship him out

      • Cletus Spuckler

        You don’t need a slide ruler to see how he was negatively effecting the rest of the team. Shortly after he was traded it was like there was a weight lifted off the team’s shoulders. His comments about ice time were out of frustration, and I would give him credit for walking as close to the line as possible maybe a little over it, without completely throwing the organization/team under the bus. That being said it was obvious that this was a major issue to him and he was letting it effect his on ice play and others around him. In return Mac-T respectfully traded him with out making a big deal about it.

      • Randaman

        Yes, Perron was traded for what turned out to be the 16th overall pick this upcoming draft plus a very useful 4th liner in Klink.

        Hindsight is 20/20 of course but I really feel that was good asset management for once.

        Perron had one good season but did not seem to fit here. Everybody can’t have the puck and Perron was and still try’s to keep the puck when he should use his line mates more.

        I was happy with the return we got.

        That pick will be very valuable this June.

        My two cents…

    • CMG30

      No one denies that MacTavish made a few good moves, nor will anyone deny that MacTavish was a good Oiler in his time with the club. I don’t even think that anyone would deny that MacTavish tried his hardest as GM and did what he thought was best.

      However, when the Perron trade is all you have to point to after a 2 year tenure where he rolled over 80% of the roster on the ice and burned through 3 coaches…. well I’ve always believed that with GM’s, if you have to ask the question…