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Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The OBC: MacT

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.

MY TAKE

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.

PEOPLE FIRST

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.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • oiler_head

    Thank you for this article, Robin. You reinforce what I’ve always felt – most people are inherently good and well intentioned. The daily slog of life, pressure and commitments tends to obscure that too often.
    Having been a 10yr old during the Oilers glory years, I had no shortage of idols on the Oilers. However, Craig McTavish has always been the one I’d want to meet as an adult. Maybe it his life story and how he has overcome it. Don’t know…
    Good luck Craig with the next adventure in hockey.

    • percy

      New a guy that drove a bus that had all the oilers and their wives and girl friends with them. Said MacT was the nicest guy on the bus. He would visit with you like he had known you a long time. He said he was a great guy. He also said Kevin was not very friendly and his wife was a royal pain.

  • Rob...

    I wish him the best, and hope his experiences in the KHL are positive. He was good player, a coach that got us within a goal or two of a cup (if not for a goalie injury), and strangely had his subsequent bad decisions help lead us down a path that led to Connor McDavid. It was time for a change.

  • Ratt McNuge

    I will always remember MacT for his assist on Petr Klima’s goal in the marathon OT in the 1990 Finals. I will also remember him as the man who coached the Oilers to the improbable appearance in the 2006 Finals. I’m glad MacT is getting back in to coaching. He’s good at it. Good luck, MacT.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    Always liked MacT.

    When I was a kid, he was that Oiler without a helmet who always took the most important faceoffs.
    His coaching was brilliant during the 06 Cup Run: trapping the superiorly-skilled Red Wings, going toe to toe against the Sharks, and then letting the team run & gun against the Ducks. I’ve never seen a coach successfully and so suddenly switch a team’s entire game from series to series like that (having peak Pronger helped no doubt).

    Anyway, I’m not surprised to hear that he was a class act behind the scenes. I wish him all the best.

    I’m not a fan of his recent work (though he was SO much better as a GM than Chia in hindsight..), but I really admire him continuing his career and going outside his comfort zone. If I were a multi-millionaire that has literally held every position possible in North American hockey (prospect, player, vet, captain, minor league head coach, coach, gm, vp), I’d probably just sail off into retirement or other ventures. Instead, dude is moving to frigging Russia to get back into coaching (for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl no less… RIP).

  • Synthesis

    Binary thinkers don’t do very well with context. The winners are gods and losers are idiots component of sports is a bastion for idiot commentary, heck, it comes from the “expert” panelists.
    Personally, I love context as within those deeper stories we may find moments of reflection and insight. I realize it doesn’t serve the analytics crowd very well but these are the stories that give sports some measure of depth.
    Thanks for sharing Robin.

    Craig sits on the board of the Business of Hockey Institute and I enjoy his insights and commentary on what makes a good hockey executive and what the game needs to improve on. He is a thoughtful dude who puts time into his craft.

    Best of luck in the KHL Craig.

    • Derzie

      Good at being a human and good at your job are 2 different things. Ideally a person has both. Worst case, a person has neither. Mactavish has 1. It’s the right one for society but the wrong one for the Oilers.

  • D

    I know I’m in the minority here. I’m sad to see MacT go. I really wanted everyone, MacT, Lowe, Coffey, Gretzky, to be around if (and hopefully when) the Oilers win the Stanley Cup. These guys are my childhood heroes and nothing will ever change that fact.

  • billsbills

    It’s not personal. He did some good work here. He did some bad work here. It was time to move on and this was certainly a “The writing is on the wall” moment for him. He is smart enough to see it and move on. Hopefully others will take that high road before they are turfed too.

    This is a changing of the guard. Finally.

  • Biomass

    Excellent tribute Robin. I’ve heard others that know MacT say similar things about his personal qualities. Hope he is successful in the KHL. Can’t imagine what the challenges would be for an anglophone coaching players that mainly speak Russian.

  • Oilerproud

    Thanks for sharing your personal experiences with MacT Robin. I’ve always thought of him as one the greatest Edmontonians ever. In another era his skills and knowledge
    would possibly be the difference for the Oilers. Unfortunately we need sweeping changes and his departure was inevitable. Still I am thankful for his contributions to our team and more importantly our city. He likely could have had a job in the NHL. I am not sure he could stomach rooting for another team. Once an Oiler always an Oiler. You will be missed Craig but it is time to turn the page. Best of luck to a great Oiler.

  • BR

    People do get caught up in the Hockey Ops and get such tunnel vision and forget the human person thats behind the role a lot. Good article.

    Wish him the best for the future – can imagine a role like that in the KHL could be tough sledding.

  • wiseguy

    We always have to separate the man from the job. Chris Jones was an ass but he won so you overlook things up to an extent. MacT seems like a nice man but the team under his watch (in management) sucked. He was a good coach, unqualified as a GM and VP POHO. If you’re offered a job you’re unqualified for, that’s the fault of the guy who hired you. Can you imagine what we’d think if Nicholson’s GM search came up an with AHL head coach with no GM experience. That decision would be roasted, we’d think Nicholson was insane and cancel our season tickets. Yet MacT was hired as GM and his resume consisted of head coaching 1 team, and current AHL coach of another.

  • Ken Holland

    Great article Robin. MacT put in many years of work into the Oilers.

    He was a great coach, and I will never forget 06. As GM, yes he made mistakes Petry, Dubnyk, Krueger, but he also made some great moves(Horcoff, stockpiling picks and cap room for Chia).

    I think he gets more blame than hes responsible for, good luck to him in Russia.

  • RJ

    I said this when he was GM, but his biggest fault as GM was his inexperience. He didn’t mentor under a quality GM like Yzerman or Nill did. And it showed. The bold moves comment was pandering to the fans who were tired of the Tambo approach, and it followed him since then.

  • RexHolez

    The first tiny baby step to give hope that maybe things have finally changed. I recognize and appreciate everything MacT has given to the oilers. But the time to move on is long overdue.

  • OilerForLife

    I agree that some change needs to occur MacT knew he needed to move on. I’m not a strong proponent of the term the “OBC”. The term is too broad and implies everybody should be painted in the same brush. Attempts are made to add everybody who was involved in the 5 Stanley Cups. A few more changes are needed in pro scouting, Howson, and people involved bad moves. We shouldn’t erase 5 Stanley cups because Oiler teams in the last decade or longer have done very poorly.

  • Clubhouse

    Good Luck MacT, great article Robin. I wonder if/when Lowe is shown the door would you or anyone be able to write an article about him being a good person or overcoming adversity? From my personal experience with the man I highly doubt it.

  • Derzie

    This is really good piece. We seldom get to hear about the human side of the hockey world. The stories support the statement that he is a “compassionate, good, loyal, honest man”
    Yet, the opening sentence is immediately controversial. “smart man”? How so? Would a smart man be part of a group that is statistically the worst management team in pro sports for a decade and a half? What kind of smart is that? Collecting a paycheck and having a cushy job, with no positive results is not smart, it’s lucky/corrupt.

  • He had the controls at a difficult time. Drafting high offensive talent but not “hockey “ players. I am sure he would of liked to move one of the 6 million club for defence. I think the OBC saying has become a crutch and I am sick of hearing it.

  • Johnny Zylon

    He gave us game 7 of the final in 06 so thanks for that. Mike Peca said he was one of the best for knowing all the technical aspectsof the game: the angles, how to block a shot, the give and go…all that. But he’d bench a player for one mistake then ridicule them in the media afterwards. Liked to blame a lot, had no trouble ripping a rookie