Craig MacTavish is returning to the Edmonton Oilers.
No it’s not as the team’s new head coach, but as the Senior VP of Hockey Operations.
MacTavish’s most recent post was head coach of the Vancouver Canucks AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves. He was there only one season and compiled a record of 42-27-4-3 winning a midwest division title, but ultimately losing out in the quarter-finals in the AHL playoffs.
At this point it’s a little unclear as to where MacTavish exactly fits into the Oilers hierarchy, as the position itself is newly formed. The title would suggest that he reports directly to the President of Hockey Operations, which is Kevin Lowe, and would in turn be General Manager Steve Tambellini’s boss. However the fact that it was Tambellini and not Lowe that introduced him at the press conference and gave the impression that wouldn’t exactly be the chain of command, makes its seem not so cut and dried.
In his new management role with the Oilers he will have a hand in just about everything hockey related, including the draft, hiring a coach, scouting, trades and free agent signings.
In the press conference, Tambellini stated:
“We feel we need another, not just another voice, but a voice with this kind of pedigree, experience and feel for what this market brings. This isn’t a junior position… I expect Craig to be involved in all decisions of our hockey club. His opinion is incredibly valuable.”
“Craig will have a voice in all decisions. He will be involved in all aspects of our team. Pro scouting, amateur scouting, etc. Another voice and opinion. At the end of the day, I have to make the decision.”
In any event, both will report to Lowe and will have integral roles in Edmonton’s decision-making going forward.
In hiring MacT, the Oilers have returned to the fold one of the more respected members of the team’s history. He won three Stanley Cups with the Oilers as their third line checking centre with the 80′s dynasty, and played a total of 9 years with the organization, even wearing the “C” for a time. He is also one of their longest serving coaches, being the bench boss between 2000 and 2009. He most notably lead an underdog Oilers team in 2006 from an 8th seed going into the playoffs all the way to game 7 of the Cup finals falling just short to the Carolina Hurricanes.
He unfortunately enduring three losing seasons to follow, missing the playoffs in all three, and was subsequently let go in 2009.
Not only is he an important part of Oilers history but also one of the better hockey minds in the game. After being relieved of his duties in 2009, he was hired on for the following season as an analyst for TSN, and impressed during his 25 studio appearances with his vast knowledge of the game, articulate analysis, as well as witty humour.
During that time MacTavish also worked hard and earned a master’s degree in business from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. When asked about the eMBA degree he stated, “I wanted to get some contemporary ideas on leadership, strategy and operations.”
While a good story and many Oiler fans are glad to see MacT back in Oil Country, what exactly does this hiring mean for the club?
It’s hard to believe he was brought in without a next move in sight.
A popular notion is that he’s here as a GM-in-waiting and an eventual replacement to Steve Tambellini. As the Oilers can no longer fire Tom Renney if things don’t go well, Tambellini would be next in line to take the fall, and MacTavish would be there ready and waiting to take over, gaining valuable management experience as he goes. Even though Tambellini was just signed to a new multi-year contract, he still has a window where the team needs to show significant progress, and that window appears to be shrinking.
“Hard to think Craig MacTavish won’t be taking over the entire show soon enough. That’s just my gut reaction, no inside information there. But I base this opinion on a few things: 1. Kevin Lowe has had a long run with the Oilers. It’s not an easy job. Does he really want to do it forever? 2. It’s been widely reported that MacTavish is close to owner Daryl Katz. 3. MacTavish is an extremely bright and capable man, suited for the heavy analytical work now required as an NHL hockey boss.”
While there have been no indications that Lowe is weary of the position or intends to step down at any point soon, MacTavish would be a good fit should that situation arise down the road, especially if he is indeed that close to Katz.
The new position that he now steps into could be one where the Oilers simply wanted to bring in more expertise and another sound mind and trained eye to help take the young Oilers to the next level. MacTavish certainly brings intelligence, a knowledgeable mind, familiarity with the organization and a winning pedigree to the management team. However with the appointing of this position, the fact it is Craig MacTavish and the timing itself leads to much speculation and the possibilities that could evolve from it.
Realistically it is the product on the ice that will decide the fate of many members of the organization, including that of Tambellini, at least in the short term. Should the team and its young stars take the steps forward everyone hopes they will, then many jobs will be more inclined to be spared.
The one position that MacTavish doesn’t appear to be slated for, ironically enough, is that of the Oilers next head coach, as he seems destined to be a front office man for the Oilers. Although as he knows, it’s not something you can ever count out.
“Sitting here right now I think I’m done with that … but who knows, in this game? It’s a crazy game. I can’t predict I’ll never coach again.” – MacTavish
Even though the roster has been turned over somewhat since his time in 2009, only Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Ladislav Smid, Sam Gagner and potentially Ryan Smyth were around when MacTavish was behind the bench, it would be a difficult situation to walk back into. There are far too many who remember MacT from his coaching days, good, bad or otherwise, and it seems the Oilers want this as a fresh chapter in his tenure with the organization.
Regardless of where MacTavish is in the future within the organization, at the present he makes the Oilers management a much more complete group and the 53-year-old will bring valuable insight and input to go with that of Lowe and Tambellini.
Bringing back a familiar and respected face in that of MacTavish is a good move for the club and can only help going forward…….even if Lowe and Tambellini potentially just hired their own replacement.