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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Who will walk the plank? One for all, and all for one...

Assessment of the Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish Era


(1) The Oilers are struggling mightily despite officially arriving at the “Big Market” stage with the purchase by Daryl Katz

(2) The Oilers lack of chemistry or team identity has been blamed on Craig MacTavish

(3) Dustin Penner is not really as bad as MacT says he is, but the rest of the team is not as good as everyone says they are (with the exception of Hemsky, Souray, and Moreau) and certainly not as good as MacT said they were.


Kevin Lowe and to some degree Steve Tambellini share some of the blame that has been heaped on Craig MacTavish.

The explanation…

Before I get started, let’s get the facts straight:

1) The average tenure for an NHL coach in the modern day is 3.4 years or 2.0 years depending on your source (I have two different sources below that give these two numbers).

2) GMs are always safer than coaches in the firing game.

3) Lindy Ruff has the longest current tenure with a single NHL team entering his 11th year (1997), and Barry Trotz enters his 10th season, for the Buffalo Sabres and Nashville Predators, respectively.

4) Buffalo made the playoffs 6 out of 10 seasons (not counting 2008-2009) with 1 cup final in 1999 and 3 conference final appearences; Nashville made the playoffs 4 out of 10 seasons (not counting 2008-2009).

5) When Kevin Lowe became GM in 2001, Craig MacTavish has been head coach and is entering his 8th season with the Edmonton Oilers and made the playoffs 3 out of 7 seasons (not counting 2008-2009) with 1 cup final in 2006.

6) Ruff, Trotz, and MacTavish averaged 91.7, 83.78, and 88.57 points in the standings (not counting 2008-2009), respectively.

7) 2007-08 Off-Season: Craig MacTavish says "I want Reasoner back for sure" and Kevin Lowe says "we have a lot of bodies right now so we have to see what unfolds."

8) Both Jarret Stoll and Lubomir Visnovsky have big point shots on the PP; Stoll is right-handed, and Visnovsky is left-handed; Stoll can play center – Visnovsky cannot.

9) According to Behind the Net statistics, Penner is best suited for 1st line and PP duty, so any extra skills will have to be learned (pointed out by Bruce on Lowetide’s comment section).

10) Tambellini has been in office since July 31, 2008 and so far he’s acquired 2 tough guys in 3 months of work.

Implications that the facts have:

1) Most coaches are hired for immediate success, unless you are starting with a blank slate (expansion Nashville) or you are new to the game (Lowe-MacTavish 2000-2002). That being said, sometimes it's time for the coach to pack the bags - and sometimes, it's not.

2) If anyone gets fired, it’s Craig MacTavish and not Kevin Lowe. Not entirely fair, but that’s how the business works.

3) Lindy Ruff and Barry Trotz, in terms of coaching tenure, are the closest comparables to Craig MacTavish.

4) Statistically, MacTavish fits in somehere between Ruff and Trotz, though both of them have had more playoff success than him.

5) Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish are from the “Old Boys Club” that won the cup together in Edmonton and in New York. They played together, and now they work together.

6) MacTavish has generally been able to put together competitive teams in the both the pre-lockout and post-lockout eras. However, he has never done poorly enough to get a top 5 draft pick and has never done better than 8th place in the standings. So basically, he’s only proven so far that he has an 8th place ceiling in terms of regular season performance (we’ll ignore the 2005-06 playoff run take for granted that all playoff teams have roughly equal chances to win, though they generally don’t).

7) Kevin Lowe is not always willing to do what’s best for his good buddy.

8) Jarret Stoll is a double-edged sword: kills penalties, plays the point on the PP, and is a reliable defensive center on the 2nd or 3rd lines. Visnovsky may be all that and a bag of chips on the point during the man advantage, but he has performed poorly without Sheldon Souray so far this season.

9) Penner is a complementary player that fits on the top 2 lines. Penner’s closest comparable in terms of position, salary, point production, and playing style is Scott Hartnell. Hartnell though, is a bit edgier, consistent, and contributes on any line he plays. Now Penner scored 2 goals on the 3rd line to start the season but with him playing a checking role the team has consistently been outplayed. I think it’s fair to say that defensive awareness must be taught – and Penner may be okay on the +/- but there’s nothing to suggest he’s a better fit at 3rd line than Erik Cole – who awoke the moment he was placed on the 3rd line against the Vancouver Canucks.
Bottom line: Penner needs to learn to play edgier, and the Oilers need to play him (for now) on the top 2 lines. Surprisingly, this is a common criticism of Rob Schremp in that he can’t fill the checking role that a Liam Reddox, for example, can fill.

10) Steve Tambellini picks up where Kevin Lowe left off – a team of more holes than the off-season hype allowed people to see and more hype than can be helped in 3 months. So that much I can agree with: Tambellini needs some time to leave his mark on the team. But 3 months is a lot of time considering what Lowe did in the 1st 20 minutes of sitting in his GM chair.

List of Major Lowe/Tambellini Transactions By Year:

• 1999-00 Off-Season: Roman Hamrlik for Eric Brewer, Josh Green, 2nd rnd pick (Brad Winchester); Alexei Mikhnov; Brad Winchester; Matthew Lombardi; Scott Ferguson; Domenic Pittis;
• 2000-01 Season: Bill Guerin for Anson Carter, 1st rnd pick, 2nd rnd pick; Chad Kilger for Sergei Zholtok; Dan Lacouture for Sven Butenschon
• 2000-01 Off-Season: Doug Weight, Michel Riesen for Hecht, Reasoner, Horacek; Steve Staios; Ales Hemsky; Doug Lynch; Jussi Markkanen; Ales Pisa; Kari Haakana
• 2001-02 Season: Brown for Allen; Murray, Poti for York, 4th rnd pick (Koltsov)
• 2001-02 Off-Season: Jochen Hecht for 2nd rnd pick (Jeff DesLauriers), 2nd rnd pick (Jarret Stoll); 3rd rnd pick (Potulny) for Dopita; 1st rnd pick (Christopher Higgins) for 1st rnd pick (Jesse Niinimaki), 8th rnd pick (Tomas Micka); Jesse Niinimaki; Jeff DesLauriers; Jarret Stoll; Matt Greene; Mikko Luoma; Glenn Fisher; Dwight Helminen
• 2002-03 Season: Mike Grier for 2nd rnd pick (Tunik), 3rd rnd pick (Zack Stortini); Josh Green for (a bag of pucks)?; Janne Niinimaa, 2nd rnd pick (Tunik) for Brad Isbister, Raffi Torres; Anson Carter, Ales Pisa for Radek Dvorak, Cory Cross
• 2002-03 Off-Season: 1st rnd pick (Zach Parise) for 1st rnd pick (Marc Pouliot), 2nd rnd pick (Jean-Francois Jacques); Jussi Markkanen, 4th rnd pick (Kukumberg) for Brian Leetch (so basically a bag of pucks…); Marc Pouliot; Colin McDonald; Jean-Francois Jacques; Zack Stortini; David Rohlfs; Dragan Umicevic; Kyle Brodziak; Mathieu Roy; Josef Hrabal; Stephen Valiquette; Jamie Wright; Igor Ulanov; Adam Oates
• 2003-04 Season: Mike Comrie for Jeff Woywitka, 1st rnd pick (Rob Schremp), 3rd rnd pick (Danny Syvret); Peter Sarno for Tyler Moss; Stephen Valiquette, Dwight Helminen, 2nd rnd pick (Byers) for Petr Nedved, Jussi Markkanen; Tommy Salo for Tom Gilbert
• 2003-04 Off-Season: Toby Petersen; Todd Harvey; Devan Dubnyk; Rob Schremp; Liam Reddox; Bryan Young; Tyler Spurgeon
• 2004-05 Season (Lockout Season): Jason Chimera, 3rd rnd pick (Ryan) for 2nd rnd pick (Geoff Paukovich), 4th rnd pick (Liam Reddox)
• 2004-05 Off-Season: Eric Brewer, Doug Lynch, Jeff Woywitka for Chris Pronger; Mike York, 4th rnd pick (Montgomery) for Mike Peca; Brad Isbister for 4th rnd pick (Delory); 4th rnd pick (Delory) for Yan Stastny; Andrew Cogliano; Taylor Chorney; Danny Syvret; Robby Dee; Chris Vande Velde; Vyachslav Trukhno
• 2005-06 Season: Alexei Semenov for 5th rnd pick (Bryan Pitton); Jani Rita, Cory Cross for Dick Tarnstrom; Tony Salmelainen for Jaroslav Spacek; 1st rnd pick (Lewis), 3rd rnd pick (Machachek) for Dwayne Roloson; Marty Reasoner, Yan Stastny, 2nd rnd pick (Milan Lucic) for Sergei Samsonov; Rem Murray
• 2005-06 Off-Season: Chris Pronger for Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, 1st rnd pick (Ross), 1st rnd pick (Jordan Eberle); 4th rnd pick (Forney), 7th rnd pick (Kulda) for 3rd rnd pick (Theo Peckham); 7th rnd pick (Eno) for Jan Hejda; Marty Reasoner; Daniel Tjarnqvist; Petr Sykora; Jeff Petry; Theo Peckham; Bryan Pitton; Cody Wild; Alexander Bumagin
• 2006-07 Season: Ryan Smyth for Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Marra, 1st rnd pick (Alex Plante); Marc-Andre Bergeron, 3rd rnd pick (Kirill Petrov) for Denis Grebeshkov; Petr Nedved
• 2006-07 Off-Season: Jason Smith, Joffrey Lupul for Geoff Sanderson, Joni Pitkanen, 3rd rnd pick (2009); 1st rnd pick (Ross), 2nd rnd pick (Gistedt) for 1st rnd pick (Riley Nash); Sam Gagner; Alex Plante; Riley Nash; Linus Omark; Milan Kytnar; William Quist; Mathieu Garon; Sheldon Souray; Dustin Penner
• 2007-08 Season: Dick Tarnstrom for Curtis Glencross
• 2007-08 Off-Season: Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene for Lubomir Visnovsky; Joni Pitkanen for Erik Cole; Danny Syvret for Ryan Potulny; Raffi Torres for Gilbert Brule; Jason Strudwick; Carl Corazzini; Andrew Perugini; Jordan Eberle; Johan Motin; Philippe Cornet; Teemu Hartikainen; Jordan Bendfeld
• 2008-09 Season: Steve MacIntyre; Jesse Boulerice

Many have pinned the bad Oilers start (though in actuality, we stumbled into a miraculous 4-0 start) to the season on Craig MacTavish.

But I wonder if the fault is entirely his.

We’ve heard the old adages: the coach needs to get the most out of his players. The coach needs to find a way to find chemistry. The coach needs to figure out his goaltenders and give them confidence and make sure they can play up to the competition. They say the team’s identity is the coach’s identity. The team and the coach are one, some say. So, if the team has no identity and no chemistry, the fault is all the coach's to bear.

Bullocks to that, I say.

Whose fault is it that the Oilers are rotating 3 goalies?

Whose fault is it that Pisani was our best option at center because nobody else could prove to win a faceoff better than a 2.5 million dollar checking line RW?

Craig MacTavish only had 3 other options other than Fernando Pisani: Andrew Cogliano, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, and Kyle Brodziak. All 3 are young centerman and none of them are cut out of the same cloth as a Mike Peca, Todd Marchant, Sami Pahlsson, Kris Draper – seasoned veterans who know how to annoy the other team and keep the puck out of their own zone. The Oilers lost both Stoll and Reasoner over the off-season and replaced them with – nothing.

To this day we still have no 3rd line centerman.

To this day we still have 3 goaltenders.

To this day Ladislav Smid and Mathieu Roy are kicking around with semi-concussions and both Steve Staios and Jason Strudwick have come back from very short and shady injury breaks (which may suggest they are playing hurt). One of Smid or Roy have to be traded and another veteran D-man must be brought in (not that the Oilers blogosphere needs more armchair GMs like me anyway).

Theo Peckham played admirably when called up, but he showed what can happen when he’s put on the ice with Crosby and Satan. Simply put, he’s ready to be groomed for duty – not to fill in the veteran D who are supposed to be pulling their weight on the back end.

Consider this – Souray and Visnovsky are our top D pairing. Souray has unquestionably been the more solid of the two, and along with Strudwick and Staios, are the defensive cornerstones of this team. Strudwick was brought in to supplement this team.

Where’s the reinforcements? Has Kevin Lowe or Steve Tambellini addressed the team’s most dire needs?


Oh I forgot… we have near to 50 contracts (mostly on the farm teams, some committed to guys like Andrew Perugini who could’ve played for us without a contract, as per Glenn Fisher) and can’t afford to sign any free agents without dealing away some roster spots first. How unfortunate.

Now some may argue that Steve Tambellini has already proved more active than Kevin Lowe was in the 2007-08 season but consider also that I never included any transactions that included “tough guys” until 2008-09. I skipped over Rocky Thompson and Ryan Flinn, among others. Why? As much as everyone loves Steve “Big Mac” MacIntyre, the ability to acquire Boulerice to fill his roll has shown how easy his role can be filled. Not that doing his job is easy by any means, but he is definitely not a major cog in the machine. So can Lowe and Tambellini be fairly blamed for not making any moves or acquisitions thus far in his short GM career?


Kevin Lowe acquired another left-handed PP point specialist for some phantom reason (no offense to Lubomir Visnovsky but he hasn’t exactly lifted our PP out of the basement and our PK stats ventured into the basement without Matt Greene around). He also acquired RW Erik Cole when we already had Hemsky, Gagner (C playing RW) and Fernando Pisani.

Why, have you people all forgotten how you were calling for Craig MacTavish to play Erik Cole on the 1st line to start the season – neglecting the fact that the 1st line RW spot belonged to Ales Hemsky and not to Erik Cole? Craig MacTavish presumably folded under the pressure of his superiors (Katz, Lowe) and to us, the fans – and put Penner on the RW and Cole on the LW. How else could he fit him on the 1st line? How come he could only move these two around?

Because everyone was wetting their pants over the “Kid Line” and how badly they wanted to keep them together to start the season – that’s why. Some pundits called for the “Kid Line” to get split up – I was one of them and many others did too. Going back to the interviews by the Oilers admin and of course this includes Craig MacTavish – the general attitude was that they expected that the “Kid Line” would keep up their production from the previous year and all would be fine and dandy.

That was not the case and the team is in dire straits. Kevin Lowe has left his coach out to dry by not acquiring a 3rd line centerman and by not dealing with the goaltender and defense situations. Better yet, why didn’t he make an attempt to keep the assets he already had in Curtis Glencross and Marty Reasoner? Whatever, bygones are bygones.

But this team is no longer Kevin Lowe’s (or is it?) and it is Steve Tambellini’s. Barring the scenario where this whole Tambellini-is-GM-but-Lowe-yanks-my-chain turns out to being Steve Tambellini acting as the puppet GM running errands at the whim of Kevin Lowe – it is his job to acquire all the right pieces for Craig MacTavish.

The arguments against Craig MacTavish include his:

1) Inability to find consistent regular season success in order to make the playoffs

2) Inability to succeed in both the PK and PP during the same season

3) Tendency to hurt goaltender confidence with his goaltender rotation debacles (Salo, Conklin, Morrison, Garon…)

4) Inability to keep successful offensive coaches long-term (Craig Simpson, Rob Daum) and has instead seen Kelly Buchberger promoted. Whether this is Lowe or MacTavish who recommended this is still questionable.

5) His MacBlender style is infamous.

Seriously. Why is Kelly Buchberger getting promoted for coaching a lackluster Springfield Falcons team and a losing record? Where have we heard something as ridiculous as that before? Oh right, Kevin Lowe getting promoted to President of Hockey Operations for only-God-knows what-the-fuck he did to deserve a raise and promotion. Craig MacTavish is getting a heap of crap for making-do with a team full of holes, and Buchberger and Lowe are getting promoted for things they didn't even do right.

You know what is one of the most telling signs that Steve Tambellini gets no power between Kevin Lowe and Kevin Pendergast? They decided to leave him out of the “Power Triangle” that defines their power sharing. He’s on the “Coaches and Management” page, though. According to the “Power Triangle,” Pendergast is directly accountable to Lowe, who is directly accountable to Patrick LaForge, and then to Katz himself. Steve Tambellini is nowhere in this equation. Could be a simple mistake… but what kind of a hockey team forgets to list its own goddamn GENERAL MANAGER on the management page?

This administrative structure just reeks of inefficiency and I can hardly say I can entirely blame Craig MacTavish.

Kevin Lowe’s most active years on the trade front also coincide with the years that Craig MacTavish has found the most regular season and playoff success, though he only made it past the 1st round that one Cinderella story year.

This also indicates that Lowe’s inability to make changes to the roster has directly coincided with MacTavish’s inability to deliver on the coaching front.

This can mean a few things:

1) Craig MacTavish is the only one who is inept at his job because he can’t work magic with the pieces of the puzzle he’s been given (if you are of the opinion we have all the “right parts” to succeed with the current team) and that the 3-goalie rotation is entirely his fault because he didn’t give Garon the confidence to succeed by playing him in many consecutive games

2) Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini are inept at their jobs (if you find that the acquisition of another RW in Erik Cole problematic in that the problem was never solved… or how about the 3-goalies eating up roster spots… and hovering dangerously near the 50-contract-mark)

3) Both MacTavish and his GM bosses are inept at their jobs

Considering all the evidence I’ve waded through, option #1 is entirely false. This Oilers team in the off-season was all hype and excitement built around Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnosky. Their acquisitions glossed over the fact that Gilbert Brule was not ready to make the team, and the subsequent conclusion that while we received two big name players we didn’t fill the holes for all the other players we lost.

Basically, Craig MacTavish never had a chance.

Unable to keep the fans happy (would the real “Kid Line” please stand up?), unable to keep his bosses happy (turns out Erik Cole can’t play on the LW, who woulda thunkit?), and unable to keep his goalies happy (who wants to share the crease with 2 other guys anyway?). Considering one of DesLauriers and Roloson will have to go eventually, MacTavish might’ve been forced to put them in some games so that the GM could evaluate them or so that other scouts could gauge their usefulness in a potential trade.

If we were to fire Craig MacTavish, I would only agree with it under these circumstances:

1) After Steve Tambellini makes his “first major trade” I would like to see if Craig MacTavish can turn this team around once he has all the “right pieces in play”
2) Take Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini, and the whole shadow administration with you: I’m sick of their shady “Power Triangle” and inability to pull off major trades when this team really needs them to fix something
3) The Oilers hire Pat Quinn and name Don Cherry coach (no, never mind I take it back)

Other than those scenarios, it would not be fair to fire Craig MacTavish for Kevin Lowe’s inadequacies. I’m sorry to say that Brian Burke is looking more and more right about Kevin Lowe every day, and in the world of hockey, it’s the coach that always gets the axe first for someone else’s inadequacies.

Even the legendary Scotty Bowman had a losing record within the first 4 years of coaching. Craig MacTavish is not Scotty Bowman and this Oilers team is nowhere close to the St. Louis Blues 60s expansion team or the Montreal Canadiens of the 1970s in skill, speed, or pluck.

Basically, Craig MacTavish never had a chance.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004-05_Edmonton_Oilers_season (NHL Lockout)
Mean Coach Tenure Link 1
Mean Coach Tenure Link 2
Lowetide Post on Lowe's Trades Here
Lowetide Comments Section Link Here

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