Craig MacTavish's Biggest Mistake

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

We've all heard it before - actions speak louder than words. From an evaluation perspective, it makes sense to evaluate someone on their actions. There are many constructs that people use to do this. Some things are easy to measure, others are much more complicated. Leadership, for instance, is something most of us can recognize and we can probably all agree on what the characteristics of a good leader are, but measuring leadership can be extremely challenging.

It's arguable, of course, but leadership is more art than science. Leaders have qualities that we often call "intangibles". They seem to have certain innate abilities: reading people and situations, tailoring their communication to their audience, understanding when to speak and when not to, recognizing opportunities, learning from mistakes. We can painstakingly and scientifically compile a list of qualities and characteristics and then try to determine a scale on which to score them, but something about those qualities prevents us from fully capturing the fullness of those traits.

Craig MacTavish has a tremendously difficult job. We've seen evidence of this in recent news about player no-trade lists and we also hear, often months after the fact, about players that MacT unsuccessfully pursued. Obviously, Edmonton is not the choicest of locations for millionaire athletes and their families. Chances are good that we only hear portions of what actually goes on behind the scenes.

I have little doubt that MacTavish is a good leader, so I hope he has the ability to recognize and acknowledge his mistakes to avoid similar ones in the future. Without dissecting every decision the man has made since taking over from Tambellini, as a close follower of the team and the information about them, I think any mistake that has been made by MacT boils down to one thing: he talks too much.

I'm not talking about his frequency of communication; I'm talking about content -- what he says when he talks. Some examples:

  • The press conference after he fired Ralph Krueger - He provided a lengthy rationale for his decision when all he had to say was, "we've decided to move in a different direction.
  • The press conference announcing the hiring for Dallas Eakins - This is a particularly interesting example because he talked about how similar Eakins was to him (foreshadowing). As we all got to know Dallas Eakins, it became clear that the man liked to talk. I imagine that during his hiring process, MacT was likely impressed by Eakins' ability to speak. They probably enjoyed talking hockey and it no doubt created a bond. This was a ridiculously long press conference.
  • Off-season press conference summer of 2013 - MacT revealed his lack of confidence in the Oilers' goaltending, specifically Devan Dubnyk. One has to ask, why would a GM publicly announce this?
  • Off-season press conference summer of 2014 - MacT calls Justin Schultz a future Norris trophy candidate. Why would he say such a thing about a player with whom they are actively negotiating a contract?? It's beyond reason.

There are other examples, but these are the ones that are seared into my memory.

Looking forward, I only hope that Craig MacTavish realizes that he needs to leave the communications to the communicators. If he is a strong leader, he will learn from his mistakes and hopefully not repeat them. Obviously the team didn't respond well to Eakins' style, so I can only imagine that persisting with a pedagogical orientation will only alienate the players.

Todd Nelson obviously has some notable skill in the coaching department. Coaching is about leadership and leadership is underpinned by a number of intangible skills. If a coach builds strong relationships with the players, based on trust and mutual respect, don't mess with it.

Maybe it's a stretch, but I believe that MacT's bonding with a similar personality (Eakins) led him to completely ignore fit with the organization, to hire a coach who checked off a bunch of boxes in the "skills" area. Thankfully that's over now.

I'm not saying that a proven, more experienced coach who becomes available and wants a shot at coaching the Oilers should be shunned. I'm saying that people who hire for a living have it right when they say, "hire for fit." Just because you can't measure it, doesn't mean it's not important.

Maybe actions do speak louder than words, but for MacT, the actions were the words.

The Copper & Blue is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Edmonton Oilers and hockey in general. These posts do not necessarily represent the views of the staff of The Copper & Blue.

In This FanPost