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.


  • Generally speaking you are only as good as the people that surround you……..the question I have is why was MacT interviewing for an assistant coach in the first place?

    This task should have been done by Ralph Krueger in the first place. You don’t get your boss to do your hiring……..unless there is something to hide here?

    Both Ralph and Mac T deserve what they got. I personally liked RK but something smells funny and it’s more than MacT!

  • Oilcounty88

    DO people honestly believe that Babcock is going to leave Detroit who have made the playoffs for the past 23 years consecutively to come to Edmonton who has missed for the last 9? I get that its fair to dream but this just is not going to happen. If for some bizarre reason he did decide to leave Detroit, wouldn’t the St. Louis Blues or another contender be a whole lot higher on his list.

    To the argument that the Oilers should spend a pile of money to lure him over. I’m pretty confident the Leafs would be the one to shell out a ridiculous amount to get him.

    Mclellan is the obvious choice, because he’s actually unemployed.

    • furious_tiberius

      most, if not all of us, felt the same way about us getting the Connor McDavid pick. most of us are aware that realistically it wont happen. but hell, we did just win another draft lottery, so i think anything is possible

  • In Connor We Trust

    Let’s call a spade a spade here. Mac-T is currently under contract making 7 figures is he not? I would be very surprised if he walked away from that considering he will never work in the league again, not in any meaningful capacity. I know I would swallow my pride for that kind of dough. He could maybe land some kind on TV analyst gig down the road but that’s all I can see him doing. I sincerely wish him all the best but he’s behind the 8 ball.

  • hagar

    Still very excited and nervous to see what Chirelli will do with this team. Which coach will he hire? Will Nelson stay on? What happens to the current remaining management group? What happens to the scouting department – who, by the way, have done a decent job, but have been let down by development? Will and of the wonder kids get traded, and if so what will that return be? Which free agents will he be able to land? Which young talents like Nurse and Draisaitl will have a spot on the team next year?

    And all this in a time when some pretty significant first round exits and missed playoffs could mean a lot more on the market than originally thought. Just what would it take to get a guy like Shattenkirk, or Petriangilo, or McDounagh, or Jossi, or Seabrook?

    Personally I think Seabrook will stay, and Sharp and Crawford will be moved for cap relief.

  • paul wodehouse

    Chiarelli’s gotta cover his butt…my guess is Nelson goes away with a fat-ish cheque and is considered collateral damage…he can’t go back to OKC and no new coach will want an unproven anything on staff.

    …shame that’s the way things work

    • Joe Mamma

      In all seriousness, why can’t he go back to OKC/Bakersfield? Because he got a cup of coffee on an interim basis in the NHL, he’s now too good to be the head coach of an AHL team?

      I think Nelson going back to his old gig is an ideal situation for the club, and I’m pretty confident he’d rather be a head coach in the AHL than an assistant. Maybe a nice bump in pay for the reasonable job he did for the latter half of the season would be enough to keep him in the fold. The man has clearly shown an affinity for working with developing players. Let him do what he does best.

  • MacT. Oilers concussion protocol guy.

    Listen carefully. I am going to formulate my take on an intelligent statement. If it sounds completely ridiculous you are correct and thus fine to return to the ice.

    Ok then?

    Good

    Here we go.

  • 916oiler

    “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 gotta throw it out there – how long has there been tons of criticism aimed at ‘the boys on the bus’, why don’t we look for help outside the organization, etc.

    I remember at the time of the hiring/firing, my sentiment was ‘finally someone outside the organization with a fresh perspective’.

  • Joe Mamma

    Mactavish is in his mid 50’s. I doubt there will be much interest in him as a GM or HC around the NHL. If he leaves for an NHL assistants job elsewhere or a TV gig, the oilers will have to continue paying his contract out. Or he could opt for the security of a cushy high-paying job within the OEG.

    Any way you look at it, MacT is a multi millionaire and won’t have to dumpster dive for empty bottles to get by.

    • paul wodehouse

      …for sure no dumpster diving for MacT

      There is one more year left to play at Rexall…once the festivities and glory-days back slapping is done at the opening ceremonies of Rogers Place ALL these cronies and hangers-on will be asked to leave the building…all those Katz hangin’ out with me contracts with all these Hall of Famers will have expired and it’ll be the Nicholson Chiarelli show moving forward going DEEP into the playoffs and maybe just maybe winning the YOU-KNOW-WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    He passed on Nelson because of his own ego in my opinion. It had to be his guy that wasn’t already in the organization. He had to put his mark on the team. Too bad his mark ended up being a gash that cut our jugular vein.

  • paul wodehouse

    The fact we are still talking about Mact pisses me off. He. is and was a loser gm period. Given his muddled thinking, his pathetic lack of ability in assessing hockey flesh I am astonished he has lasted this long. It may have been the players Lowe assembled in 2006 but I thought that with that team Mact did an outstanding job coaching that playoff run.

    Katz seems to make decisions solidly based on the Peter Principle. This has been abundantly demonstrated since he backed the big armoured car up and started throwing money at the Oilers without adequate assessment of who he was trusting the team to.

    This is akin to divorcing your spouse and living with her and expecting her to exercise good judgement and loyalty in your best interests. This whole chummy relationship with demoted employees is …well … an abomination. There needs to be more hate than that…dammit anyway.

  • Derian Hatcher

    “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.”

    If I were to hazard a guess.

    who am I describing?

    – loves to hear himself talk
    – uses big, fancy words when plain language would do
    – drastically over emphasizes the few positives while ignoring the obvious gaps in player and team performance
    – has a jaded and skewed view of talent or lack thereof.
    – tosses the previous regime under the bus to make himself look better “that happened before I got here”
    – acts like he is smarter than everyone, even though the hard results say otherwise.

    Who does this sound like…Eakins or Mac T???

    Exactly, they are one in the same. That’s why Mac T hired Eakins

  • Ready to Win

    Every person in management has potential to make some errors, and those who have been in it long enough inevitably will not exit the position unscathed, including Peter, Craig, etc etc.

    In hindsight there were some hard-to-swallow circumstances and scenarios over the past couple of years of the MacT era (not the least of which was the Oiler’s standings); But given the picture and the direction when CM came on, most of the moves made sense at the time; The direction was to shore up the defence and improve goaltending without cashing in the “core” chips – not an easy task given the poor availability of top D and proven goalies, along with the status of Edmonton as a less than desirable destination for FA’s. ANY improvement in Net and D would have netted returns in W/L column, but the calculated bets made at the time didn’t exactly come to fruition.

    Eakin’s apparent philosophical strengths, as a competitive D-first possession guy who highly values fitness and accountability, obviously spoke to MacT; I don’t disagree with much of Eakin’s take on various parts of the game, but as it happened he had a tough time connecting with the particular group of players in the dressing room. As well, he was handed a roster of guys who previously had very little defensive accountability – making positive changes in this area, particularly with young players, is a massive undertaking, and you can bet that there will be some growing pains including a drop-off in offensive license and confidence to start. Not sure I agree with how he came into the position either, but hard to say what holes MacT saw in RK’s approach that he thought could be rectified by bringing in Dallas (Keeping in mind MacT had some fair experience in the position himself) – perhaps file this one under an attempt at a “bold move” that doesn’t include trading off the “core”.

    So here we sit with similar needs (Goal, one or two D), and a much greater chance of landing the needed pieces. We have some non-core assets to leverage (Pick for Perron was a good move IMO – wouldn’t have acquired a useful D or Goalie for him at the time, and the pick in such a deep draft now holds great value), we all but have CMcD (Helps shore up Centre and is attractive to all lifeforms that might not otherwise consider Edmonton as a destination), and we have some good stability and connections in the form of new management.

    So while I agree with the notion that we were due for an admin/managerial/office change, even if just from an optics perspective, we’re on the same path to success – just a little farther up the road and with a faster set of wheels.

  • vetinari

    I was so happy at first to see Tambellini go and MacT come in that I thought that it could only be an improvement.

    Fast forward two years later and we had: MacT turfing Krueger in favour of Eakins for no justifiable reason; MacT sticking with Eakins for far too long when he should have been fired by Christmas of his first season when it was obvious that he was in over his head; MacT trying to sign non-eligible players out of training camp (Tkachev) showing no understanding of the CBA; MacT providing his coach with substandard goaltending for two years in a row (albeit this problem looks worse in hindsight given how well Fasth/Scrivens initially started and how Dubnyk has bounced back); MacT trading assets and then overpaying for Nikitin, the human perogy; MacT “challenging” Petry with a one year contract making him a UFA and watching the trade market evaporate out from under him; MacT giving “Mr. Norris Potential” Schultz a stupid contract when he had the leverage to bring him down to a lower qualifying level; MacT starting the season with two NHL centres and then burning a year of Draisatl’s ELC for no good reason; and MacT implementing a “build from the wings and from the fourth line approach” to roster management.

    I liked MacT but the longer that he was in control, the more that you had to question his judgement on evaluating goaltending, defence, roster management, coaching, and cap management. Basically, everything.

    This is the phrase that reminds me of Oiler management from the last few years: “if you have dug yourself into a hole, the first thing that you should do is STOP DIGGING.” Chiarelli has done nothing in his first week and he is still the best GM that we’ve had in seven years because he has yet to make a bad situation worse.

  • hagar

    The hiring of Eakins, and all of MacT’s other blunders, were a result of He himself being given his job with no qualification for it.

    We often talk about the culture of losing and entitlement the oilers are stuck in, and it starts right at the top.

    Klowe gets fired from being a zero experience nhl coach, then gets promoted to zero experience GM, then gets promoted to zero experience POHO.

    MacT gets hired as zero experience nhl coach, gets fired, then comes back as zero experience nhl GM. It’s no wonder MacT hired zero nhl experience Eakins.. as far as his experiences go, that is perfectly normal hiring practice.

    When the management is handed their jobs with no qualifications beyond their last names, I don’t think it should be any surprise the oilers are in this mess after 9 years.

  • Zarny

    I wouldn’t have been surprised if nothing happened, but with reports that Oilers business was heading for the ditch I wasn’t convinced changes weren’t coming. Money talks.

    I think the Krueger/Eakins/MacT situation is fairly obvious. Most GMs like to pick their own guy. Krueger is a Euro-style coach and Eakins preaches a high-pressure puck possession game which is what MacT likes and wanted.

    That doesn’t mean MacT didn’t make the wrong call but I think it’s easy to get.

    Unfortunately for everyone Lowe, Tambo, MacT, Howson etc simply weren’t very good at their jobs. Bad at drafting and developing prior to 2010. Bad at drafting and developing after 2010. A couple of serious misses on the UFA front and ineffectual at making the bigger trades required.

    Chiarelli has already done this job well in Boston. I’m looking forward to what he can do in Edmonton.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    I picture to myself Krueger laughing at the news of MacT getting sacked , But I think Krueger is too classy for that. I think he knew a day like this was going to happen.

  • MacTastic

    I’m still reeling over the events of this week. I never thought the boys on the bus would ever step off it as long as Katz owns the team.

    Color me shocked and pleased that he gave Nicholson the hammer.

    It seems now that my ON handle is suddenly obsolete. How embarrassing…

  • WTF2

    Get rid of MacT, please. Stop with the let’s be nice to the guy when he is down approach. MacT brought it on himself, he has failed miserably as a manager. His best before date has long since past. Make it a clean slate, don’t dick around with another made-up job description. I for one do not want to see his face again.

  • Congo Powerarm

    On Mact specifically, I don’t mean to kick the guy when he’s down but he thoroughly deserved to be fired. His period of management was a disaster, his firing of Ralph was unfair and showed a level of ignorance and immaturity as to decision making processes and how a hockey team should be run. Then after 1.5 seasons with nothing at all to for his hire and having been forced to fire Dallas because of this, he refused to take ownership of the situation effectively suggesting that the lack of results had more to do with his predecessor than they did him.

  • Congo Powerarm

    On Mact specifically, I don’t mean to kick the guy when he’s down but he thoroughly deserved to be fired. His period of management was a disaster, his firing of Ralph was unfair and showed a level of ignorance and immaturity as to decision making processes and how a hockey team should be run. Then after 1.5 seasons with nothing at all to for his hire and having been forced to fire Dallas because of this, he refused to take ownership of the situation effectively suggesting that the lack of results had more to do with his predecessor than they did him.

  • Borbs

    Why is everyone so over the moon with Todd McLellan? He had much better players in San Jose than the Oilers have had, but who’s done less with more besides him? Has everyone forgotten the flameout against the Kings last year? It’s not all on the coach, but after awhile it makes a guy wonder. Same thing with Hitchcock. Less with more. The Blues won diddly since he got there. Another first round exit this year? People shouldn’t be so quick to hire EITHER of these guys methinks!!

  • Borbs

    I think it’s a foregone conclusion that pencil-neck Howson gets turfed. Since we have all witnessed how stubborn MacT can be, I don’t think he will accept anything less than GM with the Oilers. He might stay with the Katz group if offered, but his pride will not allow him to take a step back. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back with TSN or Sportsnet giving opinions of the game in general. The new bosses will do it right and give the team a great chance to contend in the upcoming season. The brooms are out and I all areas in the personnel are in for a good cleaning.

  • Borbs

    If MacT stays it just shows the hockey community that nobody else values him at all and if he leaves everyone will be happy thay one of the OBC actually left the organization.