Circle the Wagons

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Kung Fu Circle Jerk

HUH?

It was only a week ago that Craig (It’s Not My Fault) MacTavish called a press conference to announce that the team was going to stay the course and that he, and the players, had full confidence in Dallas Eakins. One would assume both Bob Nicholson and Kevin Lowe were on board with this message or it is extremely unlikely it would have been delivered.

So, what changed in a week?

The Oilers continued to lose but that was nothing new.

Taylor Hall went on record as fully supporting Eakins.

We’ll never likely hear the whole story but I think we can speculate.

1) Daryl Katz got a phone call from Gary Bettman expressing his concern about the sorry state of the franchise and the widely held belief the Oilers were deliberately tanking the season.

2) Daryl Katz took a look at the bottom line as an increasingly empty Rexall Place was beginning to cost him serious dollars and demanded “something” be done.

3) Craig MacTavish found “religion” in a week and countermanded everything he said he a week earlier.

4) Taylor Hall (and/or others) demanded a trade.

There really are no other plausible explanations but please let me know if you have one.

At this point I guess it doesn’t really matter but we need to step back and take a glance at what has really happened here.

When the Oilers rebuild began Kevin Lowe, Craig McTavish and Scott Howson were charged with leading the team to glory. Howson would soon leave for Columbus while McTavish would fall on his sword later but, incredibly, rather than re-shape the organization, Kevin Lowe decided the smartest thing to do would be the bring them both back for another kick at the cat. That pretty much tells you all you need to know about Lowe’s acumen as POHO.

Tone Deaf

One of the best takes on today’s events comes from ESPN’s esteemed hockey writer Scott Burnside. I strongly urge to read his entire column but here is the money shot:

MacTavish, who was bounced from behind the Oilers’ bench back in 2009 after missing the playoffs for a third straight season after somehow coaching them to the 2006 Stanley Cup finals, will go back behind the bench, because, well, why not?

What could possibly go wrong?

Or more wrong?

MacTavish will preside over the bench on an interim basis to perform a task he was deemed ill-suited to perform a few years ago, while helping former AHL coach Todd Nelson get used to the job. Nelson will then hold the job on an interim basis presumably until the end of this miserable season when who knows what further chaos awaits.

Meanwhile, MacTavish will continue to perform his duties as GM, another job he has proven to be ill-suited for.

Back when MacTavish was hired as GM, Lowe got rather defensive when asked about the old boys’ club mentality that permeates this franchise that was once the gold standard for on-ice excellence.

At one point at that press gathering, Lowe peevishly reminded a questioner that he figured he had more Stanley Cup rings (six) than all but one person working in the game.

It’s not true, by the way, but the point was obvious: Look, I’m smarter than you, so how dare you question how we do things?

Tone deaf? Oh there’s lots of that going around the Oilers.

Ten days ago MacTavish made it clear that while he and ownership were ticked off at the Oilers’ losing ways, it wouldn’t be wise to lump him in with personnel decisions made prior to his arrival as an executive.

Monday he was a man with bloody hands.

The beleaguered GM also insisted Monday — presumably after those higher up the food chain demanded a sacrificial lamb — there is ongoing evaluation at every level of the organization to get at the core of the problem with this team.

Perhaps we might suggest more frequent use of a mirror.

And when MacTavish is done, he might lend it to Lowe.

Doomed From the Start

Sportsnet’s Mark Spector takes a lot of heat from Edmonton hockey fans because he’s never been afraid to question the status quo and, even today, his veracity is being questioned but he hits it out of the park here:

As for Eakins, he was a hyped up product of the Toronto media who interviewed so well for an associate coaching position that MacTavish fired Ralph Krueger and made Eakins his head man prior to last season. A Roger Neilson disciple, Eakins strutted through the door promising improved fitness, analytics, and his innate ability to get to know each “young man” on a paternal level. Many of those young men were already in great shape and had fathers, however, and found the new coach arrogant and assuming.

Eakins acted like he had 381 NHL wins, but alas, leaves Edmonton with a .381 winning percentage and departs a team with absolutely no pulse or energy, and losers of 15 of their last 16 games. But as MacTavish points out, it is “naïve” to think Edmonton’s biggest problems stood behind the bench in a suit and tie.

They lie inside the suits in the GM’s box, at the Oilers offices behind the name plate reading “Kevin Lowe,” and in the roster of amateur and pro scouts who have simply failed to produce, and should be wholly replaced.

More of the Same

And another take from the Journal’s John MacKinnon, one of the only MSM members in Edmonton to call bullshit on Lowe.

So, to summarize: Bob Nicholson, vice-chairman of the Oilers Entertainment Group, five months into his first NHL gig, will evaluate MacTavish, not yet two years into his first NHL job as a GM, who will evaluate Nelson, who has yet to coach his first game in the big leagues. But, not to worry, Nelson has MacTavish as his mentor as he transitions to the Oilers head job.

Many in the hockey industry speak well of Nelson, but given the Oilers dreadful record of developing talent, it’s probably best to wait and see how he does. How much did defenceman Justin Schultz learn about defensive-zone coverage during his time in Oklahoma City, to cite just one example?

Somewhere in the management mix are Kevin Lowe, the former GM and president of hockey operations, and Scott Howson, his second-in-command during Lowe’s tenure as GM, and who now is MacTavish’s assistant.

It sure will be interesting to see what the soup-to-nuts organizational audit turns up. What could the problem possibly be?

Buying Time

Firing Eakins strikes me as nothing more than another desperate attempt for the Lowe/MacTavish cabal to save their own asses. Lowe hired McTavish back, McTavish hired Eakins and the team is worse than it ever was so, rather than effecting any real organizational change, the team scapegoated Eakins (mea culpa..I always thought his hiring was stupid) and are now working toward finding another sock puppet to take the gas pipe when none of this works out. Todd Nelson is going to have MacTavish hanging over his shoulder for the rest of a season that is far, far beyond saving. Any success he might have is totally irrelevant.

Today’s move means nothing more than giving Lowe and McTavish another shot at righting the ship in the offseason when it’s likely they will punt Nelson (who understandably will leave the organization) and the decimation of the scouting staff (well deserved in my opinion but this far into a rebuild is almost an afterthought)

What I think you can count on is that Lowe and MacTavish, with Bob Nicholson as an advisor, will be given yet another opportunity to show us they are the “smartest guys in the room” and will soon start dismantling the core that they lost so many games to acquire.

Are you comfortable with that knowing the track record of these people?

I’m not.

 

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