|And this is where we're at.|
This is Craig MacTavish. We all know him, and some of us still hope against hope that he can clean up the mess that is the Edmonton Oilers. Anyone who has followed the team and grew up in Edmonton probably have their own MacT story or two. I am no exception. Before I get into my take on his press conference today (which is actually just reusing my own words from a comment I wrote over at Lowetide earlier today when I should have been grading my Sociology of Education papers), I wanted to share my MacT story.
|A simpler time. Certainly a better time.|
Anyhoo, here's what I wrote earlier, for good or for ill:
1) this is a different MacT than I think we as fans have ever seen. The comments about humility going a long way that many of you have made seem off base. Mac looks and sounds shaky, on edge and more than a little frustrated, but his body language was not the body language of a confident, indestructible man. His eyes said almost as much as his words and it looked to me like Craig was on the verge of cracking, especially at the beginning.
2) he handled Spector's question/attack really well. He may have been coach for a long time, but he wasn't in management and at the very least had the benefit of a few years away from the poisoned atmosphere, time spent learning new things both in school and in another organization. He's actually correct when he says he's only been on the job in this role for about 18-20 months.
3A) I think his assessment of Nikitin is not as horrific as many seem to suggest. Mac explicitly stated that he's been inconsistent and has had an up and down year. I think that's by and large completely true – he's had more bad games than good, but he's shown flashes of being a competent 4/5 D with PP upside on more than a few nights. Consistency has been an issue for basically the entire team this season. The only consistent thing about the way the players have played is how seemingly manic-depressive they appear to be on the ice. (This was not meant as an insult to anyone who suffers from mental illness, but rather more a generalizable statement about the sweeping highs and debilitating lows from one player to the next and one game to the next). Nikitin and Schultz are the picture of this inconsistency, but the same could be said of the goalies. I don't necessarily trust that MacT is the best talent evaluator out there, but his position on NN is not exactly wrong. He also wasn't going to throw his player under the bus, perhaps learning from the Penner incident of 2008 a little.
3B) MacT spent a large portion of the presser discussing consistency in relation to accountability and development. While these are just words and we can perhaps assume that they are empty words, they hold a specific set of meanings. When he took Hall and Eberle to task for not taking an active leadership role, he basically suggested that he knows they have been responsible for some of the most inconsistent play on the team this year, particularly in the context of turnovers and soft play in the offensive zone. Accountability comes both from words and actions and I think he was in fact issuing a public challenge to his best players to be better both on the ice and in the room. If this really is Hall's team, Mac knows Hall has to do more, own up to his own on-ice issues and be the leader he needs to be, not the leader he thinks he deserves to be. This statement was not meant to contradict my point in 3A about not throwing players under the bus, and I really don't think he said anything bad or wrong about Hall and Ebs. Those players have to be better, and if they play with more consistency and eliminate their sloppy efforts, it might help the rest of the team.
4) Development – MacT's biggest issue is in development and I think he hit the nail on the head when he said there's been four coaches all delivering the same message. That might be the problem in and of itself. What is this message? Why have the various coaching staffs all been tasked with saying/doing the same thing? Maybe the problem itself is that the strategy is all wrong, and that an actual new message is needed.
And now the critiques:
1) Ok, he owned his mistake in a backhanded way about C depth and kinda looked like a tool doing it.
2) Why is Marincin not being identified as a good player? I don't get it. They've discussed the lack of successful 2nd round and beyond picks, and yet there's a perfectly good 2nd rounder, who like the rest of the D this year has not be consistently good, is still a very talented player.
3) He maybe shouldn't have started off by saying that nobody will be satisfied. That's just setting himself up to be tarred and feathered.
4) When talking about accountability he stayed in the general and didn't get specific enough aside from knowing that not all players can or should be yelled at, citing his own time coaching Hemmer as an example. However I think he should have been more explicit about his expectations for his coaches to ensure accountability. Dallas has to do more on that front as well. He needs to return to the 'ice time as currency' approach to bench management that he used last year, and not be afraid to staple Hall or Ebs to the bench for a while if they mess up any more than anyone else.
I also know that I've mentioned Hall and Eberle a few times in this post and I am not trying to rip on them specifically, nor do I think they're the problem. They're both great players and I love watching Taylor Hall play hockey. I don't much care for him as a person (He summers in Kingston where I lived for 5 years and he's not the most friendly or approachable fellow, unless you happen to be a Queen's girl...my former students have shared a few NSFW stories, but I digress...) but he is easily the best Oiler in a decade and one of the top 3 LW's in the league. However in order for the team to grow, the players need to be accountable to themselves and to each other. It's a difficult thing for kids in their early-mid 20s with all that money and all that attention to understand what accountability and responsibility mean, but they will learn or they will continue to lose. There is really only so much a coach or a GM can do. This process has to be bottom up, not top down. The leaders need to drive the play a little more. What kills me about watching Calgary play is how much they remind me of the little teams that could (97-03). They outwork their opponents even though they have virtually no top-end talent. These current Oilers could stand to take their inspiration less from the 80s Oilers and more from the Marchant-Grier-Murray/Moreau teams that we all loved so much.
I want change as much as any other fan. It's hard to put on my jersey when I watch the games, and increasingly I find myself not bothering to wait until the game is over before calling it a night. I love hockey, and quite frankly I need the distraction from work from time to time, but things are not getting better. As a fan I am frustrated, but no matter how frustrated I am, I cannot even imagine what Craig MacTavish is going through now. I feel for him, especially because I'm starting to realize that things are going to get worse for this team before they get better.