Craig MacTavish has always been a smart guy. So, while today’s announcement he’s signed on to coach in the KHL just a couple of weeks into the tenure of new POHO and GM Ken Holland wasn’t expected in terms of timing, it’s no surprise he read the writing on the wall and left on his own terms rather than be pushed out.
It’s also no surprise, given the all the failure and ineptitude fans have witnessed for more than a decade, that plenty of people have been applauding his exit as VP of hockey operations today. Some of it, of course, has been over the top by those feeling the need to provide a swift kick in the ass on MacTavish’s way out the door to HC Lokomotiv, but, again, that comes with the territory when the bottom line is all about winning or losing.
The Oilers haven’t won nearly enough since reaching the 2006 Stanley Cup final with MacTavish behind the bench and they’ve been downright dreadful during stretches in which he has held various positions in the front office, including GM. After 701 regular season games, 113 more in playoffs and three Stanley Cups as a player, then 656 games as head coach before moving into the front office, it was time to go. Of that there is no question.
That said, and having known MacTavish for 30 years, I’d like to think I can add a little perspective. That doesn’t change the bottom line in a business where results are everything – there are those of you who don’t give a damn about context or back-stories and that’s OK — but after all these years, I wish MacT nothing but good luck with what comes next. There are many reasons for that, and most of them have nothing to do with winning or losing.
What I’ve always seen when I look at MacTavish is a guy who turned his life around when he arrived in Edmonton from the Boston Bruins for the 1985-86 season after serving one year in prison for vehicular homicide in the death of Kim Radley in 1984 – that’s always been the elephant in the room for MacTavish and I touched on it here. There’s a link in the story to a full account of what happened.
That chapter in MacTavish’s life happened before I arrived in Edmonton and it will always be a part of his. What I saw came in the aftermath, in trips to Boston when MacTavish would meet with Radley’s parents, Ron and Hazel Foote, to sit and talk. He never once turned away from being responsible for her death. He never once offered any excuses. Instead, he took their forgiveness and made the most of it – not in words, but in actions.
What happened is more than a “mistake.” I would never characterize the death of Radley as that, but we are all flawed in one way or another. We all make bad choices. How do we respond after that? What comes next? How do we choose to conduct ourselves and live our lives? I know how I saw MacTavish respond after I arrived in Edmonton. The on-ice accomplishments we know about. Away from the rink, MacT is one of the most compassionate and loyal men I’ve ever met. He’s a good man. An honest man.
When my wife and I were struggling to cope during the three months our son Sam spent in NICU after being born three months premature, MacTavish would always find time once the scrum had broken up to ask how he was doing, how we were doing. In later years, he’d make a point of saying hello to Sam and my wife Analyn on the rare occasions I’d bring them to the rink. He always nagged me to quit smoking, especially after Sam was born.
When the Edmonton Sun fired me in January of 2007, one of the first calls I got was from MacTavish. At a time when it seemed like the world had come crashing down around me, he provided words of encouragement and comfort. It’s a call I didn’t expect, but one he thought to make. When you get knocked off your perch in a job like that, a lot of people forget your phone number. He never did.
A year ago, MacTavish joined me in the studio at 630 CHED to help promote Hockey Helps the Homeless in Edmonton – he quietly took part in a lot of charitable initiative around the city without any fanfare. It had been a while since we talked, but we got a chance to catch up. I wondered then, given how badly things had been going with the Oilers for years upon years, how much longer he’d be here. We got our answer today.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Your perspective of MacTavish doesn’t have to align with mine. I don’t expect it to. None of what I’ve mentioned changes the fact the Oilers haven’t been close to good enough all these years and MacTavish has to wear some of that. So do others in hockey ops, and we will see more people out the door in the coming weeks. That, under the circumstances, is as it should be. That’s the gig. That’s how it works, or is supposed to work.
I can tell you with some certainty that those who called for the dismantling of what’s become known as the Old Boys Club since MacTavish and Kevin Lowe transitioned from players to coaches to management here, are going to get their way. MacTavish won’t be the last to walk out the door. That, again, is how it should be. I take no joy in that.