Kevin Lowe, the Oilers President of
Remembering the 80s Hockey Operations, kicked off today's press conference (which you can watch in its entirety here) announcing the team's decision to fire Steve Tambellini replacing him with Craig MacTavish and promoting Scott Howson to Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations by saying that the team had made some significant changes within the organization. More than thirty minutes later he closed the press conference down by saying that the team is "poised for greatness." In the thirty minutes between those two statements the press conference took an interesting route.
Lowe got things going with a prepared statement and vaguely explained the firing by say that "we are not where we want to be right now, nor where we should be." I don't think anyone who watches this team even on a semi-regular basis would argue with that statement. I would argue that the same was true at this time in 2012 but that's just me. Lowe was reading from a prepared statement and so as you might expect most of what he had to say early on was, for lack of a better term, drivel. Where things got to be a little more fun was when Craig MacTavish took over.
The first thing you realize when MacTavish talks is that he is not Steve Tambellini. His thoughts come in coherent sentences and those sentences form actual paragraphs. He referred to being a more competitive team rather than talking about compete level as Tambellini would have done. That on its own is almost reason enough to like this move. But statements like, "We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk to try and move the team forward in a rapid fashion" is like a gift from the heavens. Of my many complaints about Tambellini's body of work the lack of desire or inability to make moves to improve the club was the one that I just couldn't get past. The proof is obviously in the pudding but at least when MacTavish says this it seems less like lip service and more like a true understanding of what needs to be done.
Where the press conference gets really good is when they open it up to questions. Personally I don't feel that the Oilers media is in any way critical enough of the management of this team. They focus on the wrong things - size and grit - and even after seven years of seasons ending after 82 games almost never question the decision makers. But Mark Spector opened up the Q & A portion with a direct shot at Lowe and John MacKinnon followed up with a question along the same lines. Both wanted to know why fans should believe that the group that created this mess for Tambellini, a mess he was unable to fix, should be trusted to fix it now.
I'm not opposed to the hiring of MacTavish but I think that's a fair question. But Lowe, who really isn't used to being questioned in public, was rattled by the suggestion that he's part of the problem not the solution and didn't respond well. After explaining that "We have two types of fans. We have paying customers and we have people that watch the game that we still care about, but certainly the people who go to the games and support, we spend a lot of time talking to them, delivering our message," which was bizarre in its own right, referenced the Oilers loss in Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup as a reason for trusting this group. The problem for Lowe is that a) that was seven years ago (as MacKinnion pointed out too) and b) the problems that followed are why we're where we are today so Game 7 is irrelevant.
Lowe wasn't done though with irrelevant ramblings though adding, "And lastly I’ll say that there’s one other guy in hockey today that is 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." There is no arguing that Lowe is a fierce competitor, his passion was clear for all to see in the press conference, but this is ridiculous. Accomplishments as a player don't give anyone a built-in ability when it comes to working in the front office of an NHL team. Those two jobs require very different skill sets and implying otherwise is simply wrong. For a couple of minutes things really got away from Lowe today. I suspect we won't be seeing much of him for the next little while.
With that drama out of the way things got back to more of what I would call a normal press conference after that. Lowe clarified the "General Manager is the General Manager" when asked about Tambellini and now MacTavish's ability to do their jobs, comparing his role to that of a chairman and referring to himself as a conduit to the owner, Daryl Katz, clearly trying to distance himself from the day-to-day decision making process. In any conversation regarding who is most responsible for the perpetual rebuild the question of who really pulls the strings is always a sticking point. Lowe seemed to make it very clear that it isn't him pulling them.
Before things wrapped up Jason Gregor asked a very good question about the team's bottom six and how size and grit will be addressed by this group going forward (again full credit the media today for asking some intelligent questions). Physical play is part of the game but management's obsession with it is a problem in my opinion. It remains to be seen if that obsession is curbed by MacTavish but his saying that "grit without skill ... is not something that is going to move the dial of our team forward" at least gives me hope for the future. Also I love move the dial forward; I missed you MacT. Of course, we'll see if they put their money where their mouth is this summer though at both the draft and during free agency.
In answering the last question Lowe, as I mentioned before, says that this team is "poised for greatness." If you watch closely you'll see him smirk a little when he says it too. And to think, I didn't think they we're listening to us when we talked about Tambellini.