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MacTavish Talks to Season Ticket Holders

Last night the Oilers hosted a Q&A session with General Manager Craig MacTavish for their season ticket holders. Some of the answers were quite interesting.

I often joke with people that I went to university just so I could afford Oilers season tickets. It's a joke but there is a little bit of truth to it as well. I've wanted season tickets for a very long time, and in March 2006 my wife and I committed to purchase season tickets for the 2006/07 season just so we would be eligible to purchase those same seats for the playoffs that were a little over a month away. It was the only way we could guarantee playoff tickets, and since we wanted season tickets anyway it was a win-win. We all know how the 2006 playoffs went, that was very much a win for me. Since then it has been anything but.

The numbers are downright depressing. In my seven years as a season ticket holder the Oilers have compiled a 214-267-59 record and haven't made the playoffs once. They've finished dead last twice. Three coaches and two general managers have been fired. In terms of the on the ice product my experience as a season ticket holder has been a disappointment, and that's putting it nicely. I didn't expect the team to be this bad, nobody did, but I also didn't expect the Oilers to treat their season ticket holders as well as they do off the ice either. Of course this doesn't make up for the losses, not even close, and treating your customers well is a good business practice, but with a season ticket holder waiting list rumoured to be over 1,000 people long it's not something the Oilers have to dedicate as much time and effort to as they do either. This is something they choose to do and for that they deserve credit.

One of these season ticket holder events occurred last night with the team hosting a conference call Q&A with Craig MacTavish. Everyone on the call was able to ask a question directly to MacTavish, and if they didn't get to your call during the allotted hour then your question was recorded and they would get back to you with an answer. As I said before, this doesn't make up for the losing but it was a nice treat and provided a level of access that I wouldn't have expected and that most other teams come nowhere close to matching. It was something that I really enjoyed.

What I had planned to do this morning was recap some of the more interesting answers. I didn't record the call so I was going to paraphrase almost everything but thanks to Dan Tencer there is a transcript of most of the call. Everything in quotes comes from that article.

On Oscar Klefbom:

We have high hopes for Oscar Klefbom.

In the course of what I was doing this year early, I took a trip to Farjestad to watch Oscar. I went in there with one of our Swedish scouts, Pelle Eklund, and it was one of those games where I walked in, sat down, watched warm-up, Oscar came on the ice. The team that they were playing, Modo at the time, dumped the puck in the corner. Oscar pivoted and went back hard and fast for the puck. He fought off a pretty physical forecheck, turned to the back of the net, made a movement of the puck, a simple play, a direct pass up to the wall. That player subsequently turned the puck over. Oscar closed the gap in a hurry in the corner, used his stick, finished his check, knocked the guy off the puck, spun the other side of the net and moved the puck out. I turned to Pelle at the time and said, we can pretty much pack up our briefcase right now and get outta here, I've seen enough.

I'm always a little bit skeptical when I hear very positive things without having seen them myself. I wanted to spend that trip, get over, take a look at Oscar and we have high hopes that he'll be a part of our team very quickly. Whether he needs some time, we like to think that all players are benefited from some sort of time in the American Hockey League. Oscar, having played with men this year, might be an exception, but that will be determined at training camp for him.

This isn't interesting because it's something new about Klefbom but now that we've heard it so many times I think it gives a good indication of what the Oilers are planning for next season, and that is to have Klefbom here to start the season. Justin Schultz did an excellent job stepping into the NHL as a rookie last season but it's important to remember that his performance this past season is the exception and not the norm. If the Oilers have Klefbom on their roster at the start of the season that isn't automatically a bad thing as long as the expectations and his role reflect that he is a rookie. To me this means a 6/7 role. If the Oilers are anticipating him playing a bigger role than that then I hope they have a backup plan just in case.

On the Oilers first round draft pick:

Well, we've talked to a number of teams about that seventh pick and moving that pick in either direction. I think that's something that we're very amenable to. If we do move that pick back and get an asset that we feel can come in and help the current group, we'd be more than happy to have any of those discussions, and have had many of those discussions with a lot of the managers at this point. In terms of moving up, I've had a couple discussions with managers about moving up.

Our wish list in the draft would be to draft a centerman and/or a defenseman with that pick in that area. The higher end centermen, not to divulge too much about where we're ranking players, but if you look at the public rankings like Red Line or Central Scouting, there are really three very high end centermen available in this draft. Nathan MacKinnon from Halifax, Monahan from Ottawa and also Barkov, who played in the Finnish men's league. I think that those three centermen, relative to some of the public rankings, we would finish just out of the realm of getting one of those three centermen if we didn't move up.

It's going to be a very strategic draft in that regard. There are teams ahead of us that are more inclined to draft a defenseman and there may be more of those that you'd be very happy with on the 7th, 8th or 9th pick, so there might be a fit there. Those are definitely discussions that we're having that we're looking to improve our team by.

Benjamin Franklin said that "in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes," but Ben Franklin never experienced the NHL draft. If he were alive today I think he would add talk about the Oilers moving up at the draft to that list of certainties. By mentioning three centres was MacTavish tipping his hand regarding the team's strategy, or was he making everyone think that is the team's strategy? And this is why the draft is so much fun. MacTavish also talked about the often mentioned "bold move" and how that might affect the draft. According to MacTavish this move would more likely involve the seventh overall pick than one of the "six core guys" who he would be very reluctant to move. Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle were mentioned as four of the six, the other two went unnamed. Jack Michaels suggested Schultz and Sam Gagner two but MacTavish didn't confirm.

On Devan Dubnyk and the goaltending situation:

Well, we're going to be very active in finding at least a couple goalies.

I'd like to say about Nik Khabibulin that when he did play, he played very well for us this year. The problem with Nik, from our perspective, is that he's a 40 year old body who wasn't able to stay as healthy as what you need. But, he did play exceptionally well when he did play, and gave us very adequate backup goaltending.

Devan, I think that you're right, the verdict is out on Devan. I've always believed that when you're assessing goaltenders, if you have to ask the question you know the answer. The question would be, has Devan established himself as a number one goalie in the National Hockey League? And I still think it's a valid question. So, I think that Devan, although he's trending upwards in his numbers and played adequately for us this year, I still think, and I know Devan feels the same way, that there's another level for him. From our standpoint, we'll see that he can get to that level.

We are looking for a number two goalie and the jury is still out on Yann Danis, who has done a great job for us in the American Hockey League playoffs in Oklahoma City. We definitely have identified goaltending as not an area of strength within our organization. We have very little depth in our organization in net and we're going to address that, too, as well.

He may not have slammed the door shut but I interpreted the first part of this answer to mean that Nikolai Khabibulin will not be returning, and I slept much better last night knowing that. I found the comments regarding Dubnyk to be a little surprising though given the season that Dubnyk had. He finished 14th in the league in save percentage and generally had a very solid season. I certainly think he's established himself as a number one goalie. He isn't an elite goaltender but not all number ones are. MacTavish does mention that Dubnyk is trending upward so the comment could be nothing more than pushing him to keep improving and not become complacent. It also seems as if the Oilers will be looking outside of the organization for a new backup for Dubnyk, perhaps someone who can push him for ice time helping him reach that next level.

And lastly, on Shawn Horcoff:

Well, I think that that will be determined as the summer goes along with Shawn. I have a lot of respect for Shawn as a guy that really saw him come into the league. He was a player that played at Michigan State and played in our minor league team and came in and I saw him really develop as a player and as a person over the years. The one thing I will say about players like Shawn that have been here for a long period of time, it can have a little bit of a negative effect on your spirit, when Shawn's reaching a certain age in his career. He's gotta get energized as well and we'll see what happens or what the summer has in store for Shawn and the Edmonton Oilers.

This was the most interesting answer MacTavish gave during the one hour conference call. I especially enjoyed the comment about all of the losing having "a negative effect of your spirit." I can tell you that applies to fans as well as players. On the Horcoff front this was a very non-committal answer, much like what was said regarding Ales Hemsky at the year end press conference. I had more or less convinced myself that Horcoff would still be an Oiler this fall, now I'm not so sure. I have my doubts that the team will buy him out because it doesn't save them much in real dollars, there is just enough space under the cap to bring in some new players and still re-sign the RFAs, and there isn't anyone available within the system to fill his spot. Which leaves a trade as the only way to move Horcoff, and MacTavish's answer left me with the feeling that the team might be willing to lose a trade if that was the only option available to them. Horcoff is worth more to this team than that.

All in all it was an interesting way to spend an hour and hopefully the Oilers do it again soon. If they do maybe I'll solicit a question from the readers here.