This in from KHL Lokmotiv, a tweet announcing it has hired Edmonton Oilers hockey executive Craig MacTavish as coach on a two-year deal.
- Craig MacTavish was never fired as Edmonton Oilers coach. He resigned when the time was right. And now, with Ken Holland coming in as hockey boss and fans howling for change, MacTavish again has the good sense to leave when the time is right.
- For the last two years, MacTavish has been in charge of Edmonton’s AHL affiliate in Bakersfield. In that time, the team shot to the top of the AHL’s Western division standings and brought in Jay Woodcroft as coach. It’s hard to know how much of the credit for this goes to MacTavish, or to former Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli and amateur talent scouts Keith Gretzky and Bob Green. Let’s just say they all deserve credit, though the influx of new talent has been marked, and that’s due to Gretzky and Green.
- I wonder if Gretzky now takes over MacTavish’s role running Bakersfield.
- MacTavish is a hockey lifer, beloved in Edmonton as a creative and hard-working third-line centre on the Glory Oilers of the 1980s, and as the coach who took his 2005-06 team to within one game of winning the Stanley Cup. But MacT is also reviled in Edmonton as the hockey executive who took the team to nowhere but more losing and misery in his stint as GM from 2013-15.
- MacTavish is famous in that time as GM for his promise to make bold moves, and this certainly qualifies as that. He hasn’t coached since December 2014 when he fired Dallas Eakins and moved in as interim coach with Todd Nelson, MacTavish losing all five games at the helm. Now he moves to Russia, a foreign country where he doesn’t know the language, the hockey culture, the culture itself. This will be one helluva adventure for the 60-year-old.
- As GM, MacTavish made a number of good moves, such as: bringing in David Perron in a trade for Magnus Paajarvi; trading away David Perron for a first round pick (which Peter Chiarelli would later squander on the Griffin Reinhart trade); signing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a long-term deal at a decent price; bringing in veteran centre Derek Roy in 2015, who boosted the play of Nail Yakupov for a time; signing college free agent Jordan Oesterle; trading for Matt Hendricks; trading away Ales Hemsky for picks, even as some so-called analytics gurus clamoured for the slowing-down winger to be signed long-term for big dollars; realizing that the Oilers needed some skilled AND powerful players, so using first round picks on Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl; trading away Ladislav Smid just before he reached his best-before date; trading for Ben Scrivens, who had a brief but strong spell with the team; promoting Bob Green in scouting, as Green would take Tyler Benson and Caleb Jones in the 2015 draft.
- At the same time, there were so bad moves, such as: moving out starting goalie Devan Dubnyk; seeing Swedish d-man Erik Gustafsson go unsigned; firing Ralph Krueger when he deserved one more year as head coach; hiring Dallas Eakins, a huge presence and force, but one who wasn’t ready for the big job of NHL coach; making a huge offer to sign free agent David Clarkson, which was thankfully rejected; signing Benoit Pouliot, Mark Fayne and Nikita Nikitin to big contracts; failing to properly evaluate and sign up long-term Jeff Petry; mishandling Nail Yakupov; over-hyping Justin Schultz and putting him a spot in the line-up where it was difficult for him to succeed; not getting things in order with the Oil’s pro scouting.
- Of course, MacTavish is now most famously known as being part of the Oilers Old Boys Club, along with Wayne Gretzky, Kevin Lowe and Paul Coffey. In a November 2013 interview, I asked him about the poor performance of the team and about my critique of the Oil’s upper management structure, the interview coming as the Oilers got off to their first terrible start under new coach Eakins. Staples: “I want to ask you about some structural things with the team, the management system. Under the old EIG (Edmonton Investors Group), Kevin would report to Patrick (LaForge, team president), who would report to Cal (Nichols, team chairman). So that changed under Katz in that Kevin was promoted to president of hockey operations. Now, some successful teams in the NHL, the GM is also the team president, the top guy, Lou Lamoriello in New Jersey, they’ve had a lot of success over the years, and he’s also the team president. But in most of the teams, the top hockey guy is the VP, and he’s reporting to the team president who is a business guy. So one of the critiques I’ve heard of the team is that the Oilers, it’s too chummy, too clubby, and it’s not business-like, the hockey operations is run like it’s Daryl and Kevin and Craig, and it’s not run like a business. It doesn’t have that discipline like you saw under the EIG. What would you say to that critique?”MacTavish: “I don’t know what the critique would be. How would that affect? Does that say it’s an unprofessional relationship between Kevn and I? It’s a difficult relationship as it always has been between Kevin and I. When I was coaching and he was the manager, it’s a difficult relationship. But to me it’s a very professional relationship.”Staples: “You look at the (Oilers) organization, and you look at other NHL organizations that have had this level of not success, and most NHL organizations change their leader at this point. My assessment would be that you should probably change the leader (Kevin Lowe, putting him a position as a senior advisor to Katz and MacTavish, who would become VP hockey ops) as well. What would you say to that?” MacTavish: “Well, I would say it would be a big mistake for us. I appreciate Kevin Lowe’s leadership. I think we’re currently right on track to where we want to go. Like I really feel like we’ve got limitless upside with this group. If you’re evaluating businesses, the key thing is growth potential. And we have a tremendous amount of growth potential. Could we sell for less right now because we’ve hit our choke point? Could we sell some of these assets that we’ve paid so dearly to get to try and get ourselves more competitive now, and it’s going to be at the expense of how good we’re going to have the potential to be. Could we do that now? Could I make some calls right now and sell some of these great assets that we have to try and get more competitive now? Absolutely. There would be a line-up of teams that would love to take some of these assets and I get calls regularly on these guys. But I’m not going to settle for that. Nobody here is going to settle for that. We’re going to endure what we have to endure, which has been painful for everybody, this year more than any other year. But we’re going to endure that and we’re going to continue to get better. It’s a lot easier for me to sell the potential of this group of people to people outside of this market place. When I go to sell free agents on the future of the Edmonton Oilers, it’s a very easy sell.”