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.


  • smiliegirl15

    I am not sure what exactly MacT sees in hockey players. He over valued Liam Reddox, Marty Reasoner back in the day and now Justin Schultz and Nikita Nikitin. Is he just so shortsighted or are the rest of us missing something? Moving him to scout would be a big mistake I think.

    • DonovanMD

      I’d argue Reasoner was a very solid 4th line guy. And getting Schultz was the right move AT THE TIME.

      This comment like Robins article is full of hindsight, but overall the MacT tenure has been full of blunders from the GMs office down to the ice. And he paid the price for that. Praise be to McJesus.

    • ATL Oiler

      Don’t forget Zach Stortini, Rem Murray, Shawn Horcoff, Cory Cross etc. All overvalued as well as the one’s you mentioned. MacT was an effective player and won cups but running a team is not exactly in his skill set.

      • Toby Peterson, Patrick “The Norwegian Nightmare” Thoreson, Robert Nilson, And of course the latest mis judged talent Nikita Nikitin. Seriously Howson should be skidded just for that alone.Katz is not going to let K Lowe go anywhere ,but at least he has been neutered .Howson and Mac-T, please just go away, I would like to keep what little respect I have for Mac-T as a player and Coach, Howson did nothing to earn my respect.

  • 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…

  • A-Mc

    Time is moving so slow for me. each day seems like a month. At this pace i’ll be dead before we reach the draft.

    The Edmonton Oilers are Proud to select.. *Croak* /EndScene

  • Petrolero

    Now let’s grab Matt o’connor,Justin willams,martin for defense/from Pittsburgh or have a long hard push for dougie Hamilton out of Boston,Boston can’t afford him a peter drafted him, mcqaid could be another way better up grade over shulz,stands up for his team mates(mcqaid is old but strong and could play the gaztic role)sharp maybe??I can’t wait to see what peter has up his sleeve

  • Smuckers

    If I were Chiarelli I wouldn’t trust MacT’s opinion on anything other than where to go for lunch. His lack of player evaluation skills is mind boggling.

    At best he could be given a title of Senior Tickle buddy for Kevin Lowe (Howson being Junior Tickle buddy – taking over when MacT’s hands get tired)… anything carrying more weight then that would be a travesty.

  • 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.

    Because MacTavish was a terrible GM?

      • Mike IA

        Fair game for sure. I don’t see how he stays now and I’m glad Pete’s in charge.
        Having said that MacT was a terrific coach though,(save for a few net minding decisions) and his players went through the wall for him. I was ok when he took over from Tambo, but he’s done little bit step in “it” since.
        Lowe’s long ago ruined his legacy talk and I hope he never gets any credit for the moves made by Nicholson last week. Sounds like he had some input …

      • One of the things that I always come back to with respect to MacTavish and Eakins, is the quote from his presser announcing the firing “I had no real good reason to do this, outside of performance”.

        To me, this shows a total lack of awareness.

        From the outside it was clear how disconnected Eakins was from his team, just in watching the 25 minute daily media availabilities where Dallas talked about how awesome he was at teaching the players the basics about hockey. This speaks nothing of former players talking about lack of intensity in practice, total chaos and collapse in the defensive zone & special teams, and bizarre moves like dressing room redecorating & media donuts that suggest taking on too much.

        How is MacTavish, with his level of access to the team, unable to identify one other good reason for firing Eakins than the standings? It is baffling, but no more baffling than a myriad of other MacT decisions.

        • Ready to Win

          Its not so baffling if you take it in the context of the press conference he held a week earlier where he expressed his complete confidence in Eakins and the events of the past 10 days.

          MacT couldn’t give a better reason for firing Eakins because MacT didn’t want to fire Eakins.

          What we probably witnessed there was Bob’s first act in cleaning up this team. I would guess that after MacT came out and told the world how much he loved Eakins coaching, despite a second horrific start, Bob probably talked either Kevin or Daryl into doing something about it.

          That would also explain why Nelson never lost the interim from his title; MacT was told to lose Eakins and get someone to fill in till the end of the season when the real changes would start.

          • Your explanation makes complete sense and it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s how it went down.

            It still demonstrates a lack of awareness for a seemingly smart guy. Blows my mind a bit.

            Even if, in his heart, MacT thought Eakins was the saviour you’d think he’d phrase it differently.

            Even if he took 5 minutes to come up with the “coaching is about timing” schtick he was using at the end of the season. Something like this may work: “Dallas is an excellent coach with a bright future but there are a number of considerations that factored in to this decision. We won’t be discussing them all publicly in fairness to him and the team.”

            Something other than “I dunno, we suck still”

  • Mason Storm

    I never works with the “old” manager hanging around in a lesser role.

    Just move on professionally… In two years everyone include MacT and Howson will be happy with that decision.

  • To add to things that do not make sense, what was the reasoning for moving Kevin Lowe to the business operations, and MacT up in limbo….

    I am not sure if the play is to allow this guys an opportunity to stick around or force their pride hand and have them resign?

    Clearly there was management issues and my fear prior to Friday was that the rest of the league was going to stone wall us for trades.

    In Bob we trust and I beilve we are making the first steps to achieving a properly run NHL organization…. unfortunately there needs to be many steps before we realize Oiler’s greatness.

  • smiliegirl15

    Marty Reasoner was good in his role, I concur. Was he as good as Joe Sakic, as MacT said?
    I also agree getting Justin Schultz was the right move at the time. Then MacT opens his big mouth and says Norris Trophy winner.
    These are my issues and I believe I am well founded in my assessment of MacT’s (lack of) ability to see good hockey players for what they are. The evidence on the ice supports it.

  • Randaman

    GM’s make mistakes and that is human nature it is part of the process hopefully they can learn and move on. MacT is a smart guy and has bled orange and blue and could learn from PC and still make contributions as an oiler. I will trust PC’s decision here but Howson needs to be accountable for obviously having input for Nikitin to sign here what a waste of a third rounder for allowing the Oilers to talk to him.

    • MGD

      I think what sank MacT and Howson is when MacT said that Howson is one of the best evaluators of skill in the game. Right then, EVERYONE thought of Nikitin and knew that neither of these guys have a clue.

  • Nicholson is building a dream team here. With McDavid coming our way he wants to establish the best possible management team. Great start with PC. I would not be surprised to see Babcock coming over if he decides to leave Detroit.

    • Peoples personal investment in Canadian market teams is borderline psychosis and Babcocks wife wants no part of that junk for herself and her kids.
      I don’t think a boatload of Katz bucks would change that stance but who knows, boatloads of cash do hold sway over caregivers.

  • paul wodehouse

    “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.”

    Just my guess, but Nelson was never MacT’s “guy”, since Nelson was a Tambellini hire. It probably also didn’t help that Nelson’s more of a guy who coaches by gut instinct and intuition, someone who puts trust in his players to find a solution. That probably didn’t feel like the right way to go about things for MacT

    MacT was gullible enough to get suckered in by a candidate in Eakins who knew how to sell himself and had similar coaching philosophies as MacT…and if there’s one sure path to MacT’s heart, it’s to cater to his ego.

    All I can say is thank God that the Lowe/MacTavish mutual admiration society/frat party has pretty much run its course. Should’ve happened years ago, but better late than never I guess.

  • Mike IA

    MacT was inexperiencedand loyal to his friends.He will learn and he seems to want to learn. He made a mistake firing Kruger, look at the difference in career trajectories. He made a mistake with Nelson. That part is now over, though the effects will remain.
    Now let’s see how Chiarelli does, and if the problems are rooted out. as for scouting, isn’t Bob Green involved in that? That should be interesting.

  • Oilers Coffey

    MacT was a great player, and a decent head coach; but his managerial skills were lacking. I agree his first order of business of firing Krueger was a disaster, and should have been a huge red flag for his style as a manager.
    MacT was terrible at evaluating NHL talent, and this should ripple through the pro scouting staff. I can’t wait for Chiarelli to bring in his own pro scouting staff and overhaul the scouting and procurement of real NHL players, and not marginalized players. If I were PC, I’d right out let MacT go, no point in keeping him around. I do not see a fit anywhere in the organization. Just my thoughts.

  • Rob...

    Whatever the position. MacT needs to be kept away from microphones. Though his comments are often witty, and great fodder for MSM, they are detrimental to the organization.

    He also needs to be kept away from anything to do with pro-scouting, current player evaluations and accountability or coaching evaluations and accountability.

    MacT has shown himself as decent at recruiting people other teams covet and may be able to help there as a team cheerleader/recruiter when told who to pursue.

  • hagar

    I think MacT probably had a good hockey mind. That doesn’t make him a good manager e.g. firing Kruger via skype and hiring a rookie, saying/believing Jultz is Norris material – really? The problem with the Oil is we had rookie everything. Rookie GM, coaches, players (young and inexperienced). Katz brings in Bob N. who then brings in Chiarelli who will then bring in a new coach. The stars are aligning as there are a # of experienced coaches currently on the market. With 1) experienced and respected management 2) new arena and 3) Connor M the Oil become a place others are willing to waive No Trade C’s to go to. It feeds on itself. Players wan’t to win more than anything. If they think Edmonton has that culture and capability – they will come. I think Todd N. will be a top notch NHL coach in the future but he is inexperienced at this level and we can’t afford to train players, coaches, GM’s or POHO’s anymore. I think he will stay as assistant (if wanted) when the new coach is hired as he will want to learn from an experienced mentor (not like Dallas E.)

    Craig M. made a fundamental mgmt error (more inexperience) when saying some players were untouchable. They aren’t and should never be. Peter C. undid that comment on day one. Perhaps the fear of uprooting their lives via trade will promote…”I’d like to see them play a little harder and that will be the challenge”. Jultz is very talented but he is a floater. Each player has to be better. Proper experienced management at all levels is the key. After the Coach comes the scouts who have been unable to draft beyond the top 7 competently.

    Its a new day. Cup within 5 years.

  • 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.