It is out with old and in with the old in Edmonton.
Oilers team president Kevin Lowe fired his best friend, Steve Tambelleni, as their general manager this past week and named his other good buddy, Craig MacTavish, his replacement.
What makes this move even more of a head-shaker is that four years ago to the day Tambelleni was fired, he let go MacTavish as the Oilers’ head coach.
One local Edmonton columnist said the Oilers are being run more like a “tree fort” than a professional sports organization.
I have to agree with him. It’s as though team owner Darryl Katz is letting his “circle of friends” run his franchise regardless of how poorly they do. When you fire your GM in the National Hockey League, you go out and look extensively for the best man for the job. Instead, Lowe looked to his right and practically said “Hey Craig, do you want to take over Steve’s job?”
Former Columbus Blue Jackets architect Scott Howson joined the “old boys club” as MacTavish’s assistant GM. This move wasn’t popular among the Edmonton faithful because of Howson’s questionable track record in Ohio. He did, after all, draft Nikita Filatov over Tyler Myers and Erik Karlsson in the 2008 draft. Not to mention, he traded Jacub Voracek and the 2011 eighth overall pick, which was used to draft Sean Couturier, to the Philadelphia Flyers for Jeff Cater, who he later dealt to the Los Angeles Kings for Jack Johnson and a first-rounder after Carter asked for a trade.
At the press conference, reporters didn’t hesitate to question Lowe’s move.
“How are fans going to be reassured that the group that left the mess that Tambellini couldn’t quite cleanup is now going to be cleaned up by the guys who left the mess to begin with?” asked one reporter.
“In terms of the group that messed things up, you’re talking about the group that had a team one period away from winning the Stanley Cup (in 2006)?” Lowe shot back.
“Seven years ago,” said the reporter.
What Lowe failed to add to his “2006 Staley Cup run argument” is that since he joined the Oilers as an executive in 2000, the team has only made the playoffs three times.
It is, however, about time the Oilers fired Tambelleni. In his four and a-half years as general manager, he failed to make his mark on the club. It seems his biggest trade was sending Dustin Penner to the Los Angeles Kings for Colton Teubert and a first-round draft pick. Some hockey architects don’t need to make a huge blockbuster deal, but when your squad finishes at bottom of the standings in three straight years, you need to shake things up to send a message to the fans and the players that losing isn’t acceptable.
Lowe went on to praise Edmonton’s roster. The same roster that sits third last in the Western Conference.
“I think it’s safe to say that half the general managers in the National Hockey League would trade their roster for our roster right now,” he said. “And in terms of the group that messed things up ... you’re talking about a group that had a team one period away from winning the Stanley Cup.”
Really? Half of the teams in the league would switch places with the Oilers. That’s debatable, but even if that’s the case, it is only because Edmonton has been rewarded with the first-overall pick in the draft for the past three years because of their regular-season failure.
The 54-year-old Oilers president continued to spew arrogant comments.
“We’re finishing Year 3 of that (rebuild) plan. Lastly, there’s one other guy, I believe, in hockey today that’s still working in the game that has won more Stanley Cups than me.”
“So I think I know a little bit about winning, if there’s ever a concern.”
You won Stanley Cups as a player, Lowe. Those rings don’t exactly translate to the front office. Just ask Wayne Gretzky. He didn’t seem to have much trouble winning on the ice, but behind the Phoenix Coyotes’ bench he maintained a 143-161-24 record. Sure, you could argue he didn’t have the greatest team in front of him; however, the very next season after Gretzky stepped down, the Coyotes’ new head coach, Dave Tippett, won the Jack Adams Award with a 50-25-7 record.
When MacTavish piped in, he made as little sense as Lowe.
“Well, I think any time you win five Stanley Cups, there’s a certain amount of mess that comes on the tail end of all that success,” he said. “It’s the cyclical nature of the business.”
“We kind of semi-jokingly talk about the price we’re still paying for all that success in the 1980s and the early ‘90s that still has a residual effect over where we are right now.”
Sometimes a mess does follow a string of Stanley Cup wins. But that’s directly after the team’s core players retire or go beyond their prime; therefore, the Oilers’ downfall should have happened around 1995. It is a weak excuse to bring up in 2013.
MacTavish undoubtedly inherited a handful of valuable pieces to build around such as Nail Yakupov, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Ganger, Justin Shultz, and Devan Dubnyk. He, however, still has his work cut out for him. The Oilers need to add grit, veteran experience up front and more talent on the back end. His predecessor didn’t make the moves to fill these voids. It is now his turn in the “old boys club” to turn the Oilers’ potential into wins.