Edmonton Oilers: Promoting Mediocrity and Failing Upwards, Part Two

Welcome to part two of my series on the Edmonton Oilers management team.

I was so undecided about who to write about for part two. See in hindsight I should have finished off with Howson instead of starting with him. While I think Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish should no longer be with the team, they have had success in the Edmonton Oilers organization. Howson on the other hand was a very questionable re-hire by the team as a pro scout. He’s even more questionable and down right indefensible as a VP of Player development.

So instead of writing a whole article being extremely (and justifiably) critical of the management member in question, I’m going to list the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. That way all you people wanting to write off anything I say as “overly critical team bashing” won’t have a leg to stand on.

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The Good

Well as a player, MacTavish was a great asset to the Edmonton Oilers. While I’m not going to go too into detail about that as I’m more focused on his management career I’d be remiss not to mention his importance to the Oilers dynasty of 80’s. When he did retire from playing he very quickly jumped into coaching and had a pretty successful career. Starting in 1997-1998 as an assistant coach for the Rangers, MacTavish joined the Oilers organization in 1999-2000 as an assistant to Kevin Lowe. Following Kevin Lowe’s promotion to general manager in 2000-2001 Craig MacTavish found himself as the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers.

From 2000 to 2009 Craig MacTavish’s teams were always sniffing around the playoffs. He coached the Edmonton Oilers to the playoffs three times over his tenure. Unfortunately they lost twice to Dallas in the first round and once in the finals to Carolina Hurricanes, close but no championship. MacTavish’s teams finished 12th, 15th, 14th, 17th, 14th again, 25th, 19th, and 21st. While he never ran a top team, his teams were mostly competitive over his tenure as head coach.

While he never had a top ten team in the NHL Craig MacTavish was a solid NHL coach. He finished his career with 656 games coached, wherein he had a record of 301 wins, 252 losses, 47 ties, and 56 overtime losses in regular season play. Craig MacTavish also posted a 19-17 record in playoff action. He was a serviceable head coach in Edmonton but was ultimately fired for not making the post season three seasons in a row. This firing prompted his change into management leading where he is today.

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The Bad

Craig MacTavish was a bad general manager for the Edmonton Oilers.

No seriously, his trade record and draft record speak for themselves. Here is the full list of Craig MacTavish trades:

I left out a couple of minor league deals that didn’t have any roster impact on Edmonton but holy if that isn’t a bad track record. 0% of the players acquired in deals remain in Edmonton. in defense and at forward not enough was done to make the team competitive. We lost Gagner, Hemsky, Horcoff, Smid and Paajarvi. In return for those players the Edmonton Oilers received Purcell, Nikitin, Hendricks, Horak, Brown, Larsen, and Perron. That is a big hemorrhage of talent. Huge. Beyond Purcell and Perron, Edmonton brought in numerous fringe players to replace the old top 9 players. Nikitin and Larsen were also a big downgrade to Smid, who formed an effective shutdown pairing with Jeff Petry while in Edmonton.

Edmonton had to trade 5 goalies that season along with playing one from the AHL. Edmonton’s anemic and outright embarrassing defense ended up costing 4 of the 6 goalies that played in 2013-2014 their NHL careers. None of Scrivens, Fasth, LaBarbera, or Bryzgalov are in the league anymore. All of them lost their NHL careers within 2 seasons after their Oilers stints. Richard Bachman is still floating between the AHL and NHL in the Canucks organization. Dubnyk somehow eventually thrived, even after this legendary quote from Craig Mactavish about his faith in Dubnyk:

“Devan, I think that you’re right, the verdict is out on Devan. I’ve always believed that when you’re assessing goaltenders, if you have to ask the question you know the answer. The question would be, has Devan established himself as a number one goalie in the National Hockey League? And I still think it’s a valid question. So, I think that Devan, although he’s trending upwards in his numbers and played adequately for us this year, I still think, and I know Devan feels the same way, that there’s another level for him. From our standpoint, we’ll see that he can get to that level.” – Craig MacTavish

These aren’t even the worst of his screw ups and mistakes which takes me too:

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The Ugly

What has Edmonton needed for the longest time? What did they mortgage a bunch of assets to get? why a right-handed top 4 defender of course. Through MacTavish’s poor negotiating tactics and big mouth he lost both Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry for pennies on the dollar. first off MacTavish said this in a media avail about Jeff Petry:

“At the end of last year I felt strongly that we had to challenge Jeff on a one-year deal. I didn’t like where his game was going. I didn’t like the urgency in his game and the decisiveness in his game and I thought it was important that we challenge him on a one-year deal.” – Craig MacTavish

This quote was spoken in a media avail dated on March 2nd, 2015, after Petry was traded from the Oilers to the Canadiens. Since leaving the Edmonton Oilers Petry has thrived, posting 16, 28, and 42 points in the following three seasons. He is precisely what Edmonton needs on their roster right now and he was lost due to what I can only call incompetence. Currently he has 31 points in only 45 games this season. Justin Schultz has also vastly improved since leaving Edmonton.

Following his trade away from the Edmonton Oilers for only a 3rd round pick, Schultz posted 8 points in 18 games and 4 points in 15 playoff games to close out the season. In his next year, Schultz took a huge leap forward posting a staggering 51 points in 78 games and an impressive 13 points in 21 games as Schultz won his first Stanley Cup. Ironically that season Schultz finished 5th in Norris voting. Craig MacTavish’s quote about Schultz rang shockingly true, he just needed to leave Edmonton to do it:

“the potential there is absolutely in that group [with Erik Karlsson and Kris Letang]. I think that Justin has Norris Trophy potential and I don’t think that there are too many people who would disagree with me in that regard.”
– Craig MacTavish

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The Really Ugly

I was only planning on doing three headings but it would be wrong of me not to mention Edmonton’s drafting record under MacTavish. MacTavish over say the 2013 and 2014 drafts and they were piss poor. Here’s the list of players Edmonton drafted that are still with the organization today after those drafts:

Here’s the list of players who aren’t. Marc-Olivier Roy, Bogdan Yakimov, Anton Slepyshev, Jackson Houck, Aidan Muir, Evan Campbell, Ben Betker, Greg Chase, Zach Nagelvoort, Keven Bouchard, and Liam Coughlin.

That is a sad group of prospects. If you want to know why our forward depth is so bleak right now this is one of the reasons. Teams live and die by their ability to draft and develop a cycle of players that can impact the roster.

We’re finally starting to see a good prospect base now from the 2015-2018 drafts but the prospects listed here should have been the ones to come in and insulate the core. I’m not by any means suggesting all of them but ideally 2 or 3 of the names above should be on the Oilers wings right now contributing. Instead the Edmonton Oilers have made trades and signings to make up for that depth and it’s cultivated into Spooner, Lucic, and Rieder costing 11.1 million against the cap. None of them have 10 points so far this year and the season is half over.

Final Thoughts

MacTavish had two years at the helm of this team and did about 5 years worth of damage. His inability to keep and acquire good defenders forced Chiarelli into trading for one when he took the helm. While Chiarelli made really bad trades (Reinhart, Hall) a very good argument can be made that it wouldn’t have been necessary if not for MacTavish. Furthermore the Lucic signing may not have been necessary if draft picks in the 2013 and 2014 draft would have been properly made and developed.

Ultimately that all boils down to maybe’s and what-ifs but what can be shown is that Craig MacTavish makes bad decisions. This guy should not be working as a part of a hockey team’s management. He failed upwards into his current position as Vice President of Hockey Operations and he should be let go.

stats from NHL.com and hockey-reference.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals


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