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Monday, April 6, 2009

The Poor Man's Leafs and the MacTavish Stick Call

Okay. So we all know the story.

The Oilers are within one of Anaheim with only a little bit of the third left to play but they fall short, and take a penalty for checking a Teemu Selanne stick that wasn't illegal - or was it? Whether or not it was is not central to the outcome of the season, since it already happened. But the question should be, does MacTavish deserve the bad rap for making this call? Is it really the straw that broke the camel's back as some MacTavish headhunters have been calling it?

Let's review the information and see what checks out:
  • Bobby Ryan thinks that Selanne's stick was indeed illegal - source
  • Referee Fraser disagrees (same source as above)
  • Selanne has been caught with illegal sticks before - source
  • Craig MacTavish and other intelligence provided to him showed that the stick was likely illegal - he risked the call to get a two man advantage
  • Suneil from Addicted-to-Oil was at the game, sitting behind the penalty box. According to Suneil, the measurement was right up against the edge and a few more rounds of tape and it would've been clearly illegal.
We've all been really hard on MacBlender all season long for what we deem to be "boneheaded decisions." Some of these include:
  • Smid on LW
  • Penner at RW
  • Cole at LW
  • Pisani at C
  • starting Roloson in ... straight games
  • publically deriding Penner and Nilsson
But even some of these can be fairly countered:
  • Smid showed board presence and injuries opened up a spot for him to play rather than sit in the PB
  • Cole was a big off-season acquisition - they wanted him on the 1st line
  • Pisani at C and playing Roloson to the point of exhaustion is completely due to a lack of depth - a problem attributable to the GM and not to the coach
  • Publically deriding his players may or may not have paid off, depending on who you ask
But given the grey area around some of his other decisions, I think it is crystal clear that he has taken a disproportionately bad rap for the stick call against Anaheim. Some bandwagon hoppers consider this the "smoking gun" of all evidences in favour of a "Fire MacTavish solves all" approach to fixing "what's wrong" with the Edmonton Oilers.

What a load of bull.

Why this is not a smoking gun:
  • The winning goal was not scored as a result of the stick penalty
  • There are varying accounts of whether or not Selanne's stick was illegal - some was even expressed by his own teammates!
  • Selanne has a history of playing with illegal sticks and visual confirmation from MacTavish and fans in attendance also cast doubt on Fraser's account
  • MacTavish admitted his mistake, publically
MacTavish took the fall for this play, he admitted it, and he did so in front of the media. Of all the people in the Oilers administration, MacTavish, at the very least, has the balls to be brutally honest. He admitted his mistake and showed a transparency (one that has been consistent in all his years in Edmonton) that is not a common trait of all NHL coaches.

Plus, why fire a guy with 3 games to go? Oil Country is schizophrenic right now, with people calling for Katz to rip up the team, calls for MacTavish's head, and some lonely hockey fans holding out hope for the playoffs. Yeah, even I expressed a desire for a better draft pick by losing games. But is that realistic? Is it more desirable than the post-season?


The team cannot make evryone happy, and the pragmatic hockey ideology is to keep playing hard until being mathematically eliminated. But then, not all Oilers fans are hockey fans - which explains a lot about the foolishness of a team actually throwing games to get good draft picks. The Oilers administration, at least, is more honest than the Pittsburgh Penguins, who threw games for a few seasons to get Crosby and Malkin and are still having trouble keeping the core of the organization together.

Oilers fans are naturally demanding due to the small market size but some people have taken it too far this time. Bloodthirsty, MacTavish's head no longer satisfies anyone - they want to take the whole team. The standoffishness of the Jen Sharpe's and the Joe Blow's who have gathered around a general negativity brewing in Oil Country have left a bitter taste in everyone's mouth. If the players don't like what's being written on the internet, they shouldn't read it. It is inevitable that no matter what a team does well or poorly, their will still be criticism abound on the internet. Conversely, a blogger can voice all the negativity he wants on the internet - and it doesn't count for anything and it sure as hell won't provoke the Oilers to do anything to the team.

Sure. The Boys on the Bus are pseudo-communist in their approach to the team, the MSM, and the fanbase. A lot of people have suggested that the Oilers are now becoming the "Poor Man's Leafs," accepting mediocrity year after year with the pretense that the fan base is unshakably loyal and that promotion within the organization is not due to merit.

But wait a second, what does this have to do with Craig MacTavish?

When teams pull their goalie they make the conscious decision to risk being scored on in order to tie the game. When MacTavish acted on information that the Selanne stick was illegal, he was doing exactly the same thing - taking a risk to maybe, just maybe, give his team a boost. Was the fact that it backfired the straw that broke the camel's back - or the timing? Teams don't usually take big gambles when they are leading in a game and that is exactly why it's always the losing team that does. To suggest that someone not gamble when they are trying to catch another team is just silly considering how often the goalie is pulled. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose by trying to score that tying goal against Anaheim - and I'm glad that they pulled out all the stops to try to do it. I'm pissed that it took them 58 minutes to try and score, but better late than never, I guess.

The bottom line is, the winning goal was not scored on the play, and losing teams always take risks. Is firing MacTavish the solution to a bad Oilers team? Maybe. Is making a stick call that backfired the smoking gun that proves that he should be fired? Hardly.

I've taken part in "FMNF" chants in the past but sometimes you have to say "enough is enough," douchebags.

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