So, I've decided to take a few minutes and end my self-imposed exile to share some thoughts on the Oilers and mostly about the presser GM Craig MacTavish gave on Monday afternoon following the merciful end to another abomination of a season.
The Oiler GM's end of season press conference could not have been more Oiler-y. Which is to say that within about the first few minutes you knew it was going to be a big disappointment, but there was nothing to do but watch it slowly unfold before you.
If you haven't seen MacT's media availability, check it out below:
Also, if you haven't read it yet, check out my good twitter buddy Matt Henderson's take on the presser here. As usual, Matt has a pretty reasonable take on things. Matt dissected MacT's words the way I had initially intended when I decided to sit down and put my thoughts down on
paper (screen?). Since that's already done, I'll go a little bit more macro in my commentary, and it's nothing you haven't heard from me before, but hey, when you write about a team who makes the same mistakes again and again, sometimes old comments are still relevant...
In Monday's press conference, MacTavish made the following statements:
"Our growth is going to be internal growth and incremental growth"
"Next year I would forecast as another developmental year"
Basically, what those statements tell you is that the Oilers are not forecasting the kind of jump forward next season that other clubs like the Predators, the Panthers and the Islanders made this year. Essentially, it means they have already accepted that they are unlikely to make the playoffs next season. Keep in mind that we're a whopping four days removed from the end of the 2014/15 regular season and we're already having expectations lowered on 2015/16, which, incidentally will be the 10th anniversary of the Oilers' run to the Stanley Cup Final (which also marked the end of their relevance as an NHL Franchise).
When MacTavish says "I don't think it's good strategy to trade developing players", (as he did Monday) he's not necessarily wrong, but it's also not that cut and dry. There are absolutely times it makes sense to trade developing players. The Oilers have just allowed their fear of losing a trade to prevent them from even making an attempt at moving forward.
A Change in Rhetoric
Compare and contrast the tenor and language of Monday's comments from Oiler Management with those that were made when MacTavish was given the job, which, incidentally, was two years ago today. On that day, here is what Kevin Lowe and MacTavish had to say about their approach on how to address the development of the Oilers:
"Let me be clear," said Lowe, "we're not where they should be right now and that is unacceptable. And we need to get better immediately. That starts today."
"Because careers are short and opportunities for achievement don't come along very often, we feel strongly that it was important we make some changes right now."
"I'm an impatient guy and I bring that impatience to this situation"
"We have to do some bold things and expose ourselves to some semblance of risk to move the team forward in a rapid fashion."
All of those quotes are from the same end-of-season press conference on almost the exact same date two years ago. At that point in time the team, the City, and the media had all reached a breaking point and it was obvious that they needed to do something.
In the two years that have followed, can we say that a single bold move has been made? Maybe David Perron if you feel that reaches your criteria. Other than that...the Oilers are still in the same purgatory they were in when Steve Tambellini...for my money THE WORST GM IN NHL HISTORY...was relieved of his duties.
Since MacTavish took over, the Oilers went from finishing 24th with 45 pts. in the lockout shortened season (over a 76 pt. pace normalized to an 82 gm. schedule) to finishing 28th with 67 points in 2013/14 in what was widely accepted as perhaps the most difficult and disappointing season in franchise history. Then, this year...they got worse again. Once again finishing 28th but with only 62 points, which ties the all-time franchise low.
In my opinion, if you had asked Craig MacTavish at his first press conference "What do you think should happen to you if the Oilers finish in the bottom three and have their point totals stay on a downward trajectory in each of the next two seasons?" I'm pretty sure he would have said he'd deserve to be fired. He had a swagger and a confidence that he was the guy to fix this team and that he was going to come in and make the changes Tambellini consistently seemed too scared to make. But he hasn't.
That Begs the Question...
With all of that said, I'm going to ask the question (again) that needs to be asked...How is Craig MacTavish still the General Manager of this team? How is anyone associated with player personnel not having to publicly justify their continued employment right now?
Equally as important...where is the outrage? Where is the discontent? Where are the challenges from the media that we finally began seeing last year?
Remember, this is the guy who took over the man not-so-affectionately known as "Toonces". The guy who took over the team when it was at rock bottom has managed to find new ways to drill down further and taken the franchise backwards in both standings placement and points in each of his first two seasons.
Not only that...as if that wasn't already enough to have him shipped out of town (which it is)...but he's now flat out setting the table for a continuation of his failure and ineptitude for the next 12 months. HE'S TELLING YOU THEY AREN'T GETTING BETTER NEXT SEASON. And, making matters worse...he's not getting fired for saying it! That means those above him are ok with it. I'll get back to that last point in just a minute.
All Just a Case of History Repeating
In my opinion, it's pretty easy to see some of the mistakes the Oilers made last summer. The Nikitin signing, the ridiculous 1 yr. deal for their best Defenceman as he was headed into a UFA year, but I think without question most would agree the most egregious error was the ignorance of the lack of depth at the centre ice position and basically handing two of the four jobs to Marc Arcobello and Leon Draisaitl - both unproven NHLers - before camp even opened.
I raise this point because MacTavish, in all his glory, basically foreshadowed a repeat of that performance during Monday's media availability. When asked if, in an ideal situation, he'd like to be able to start next season with the team's top two prospects, Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse, playing in the AHL rather than moving straight to the NHL with no other professional experience, here's what MacT had to say:
"Well they wouldn't want to hear that in a press conference...they're going to determine their own level and I don't want to put a ceiling on them"
Now, in theory, I don't think there is anything wrong with a statement like that. It shows that if they can prove they belong next season, they'll have the right to earn a job on merit. The unfortunate thing though is that the Oilers have a history of building their team based on the most optimistic of scenarios. They tend to assume players who might be ready for a bigger challenge will be ready for those challenges, and then they build their roster on the assumption those players will be capable of taking that next step. Sadly, that's not the way it works.
What a good GM does is plan for the worst case scenario, assume those guys won't be ready and that he still has to ice a playoff-calibre roster without them. Then, if they come to camp and steal someone's job, well that's a wonderful problem to have. Lowering the bar to help them clear it doesn't make things better for anybody, but it's become the Oiler way.
At the end of the day, the biggest problem with this franchise is that the former Oilers that have been given the keys to the store have a seemingly bottomless pit of loyalty from their buddy and boss Darryl Katz. Craig MacTavish has gone from saying he was going to act boldly in an effort to move things forward quickly to wasting two years and now saying that next year won't be much better...Kevin Lowe (to his credit) has offered to step down as President because he knows his reputation in this market has become so toxic that it will be almost impossible to win back the good faith of the fanbase with him still employed...Bob Nicholson was brought in to do his "forensic audit" of the most poorly managed pro sports franchise of the last decade and the number of changes he made among the leadership group...None.
At the end of the day, nothing is going to change until Darryl Katz decides he wants it to, and that's the problem. Everybody knows it to be the truth as there is simply no other explanation for how continued ineptitude and failure can go unpunished for so long.
During an email exchange with our own Ryan Batty the other day, we were discussing this very issue and Ryan had the following to say, which I felt was worth sharing:
"If Katz wants to use the Oilers like his own personal toy, and it appears that he does, there is nothing that will change the direction of this team. For me it's not even about Lowe or MacTavish and whether they can do the jobs they've been hired to do (I have my doubts) anymore, it all comes back to the owner. If he can look at what's gone on during his time in charge and say that things are okay then nothing else matters, the team is completely f***ed."
To Sum Things Up...
A quick parting statement to each of the Four Horsemen of the Oil-pocalypse:
Craig MacTavish: Shut Up. Ever hear the expression "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"? Well, if you can't offer a sense of optimism to your fanbase after 10 years of suckitude, just keep your mouth closed. Better yet...CREATE A REASON FOR SOME DAMN OPTIMISM.
Bob Nicholson: Speak Up. Every season the Oilers reach an apex where the anger of the fanbase hits it's peak, then management holds a meeting to acknowledge the frustration...then nothing happens. This year the way to quiet the angry mob was your "forensic audit", yet so far...nothing has come of it publicly. Personally, I think Oiler fans should be entitled to ask you what you found. If you determined Lowe and MacTavish should keep their jobs despite their failures...fine. Justify it to me. Show me your process and how you arrived at that conclusion. If you can do that, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. If you can't or won't, then congrats on becoming part of the problem rather than a solution.
Kevin Lowe: Get Up. As in, get up and go. Honestly, I respect Kevin Lowe. I truly believe his love for the Oilers is probably unmatched by most people in the world. He's given the majority of his adult life to serving the franchise, and he's owed a measure of respect for that. That said sir, it's time to exit stage left. You made the offer to Darryl Katz to step aside...it was a nice gesture, but Katz doesn't have it in him to take you up on it. So, Kevin, do what's right for the Oilers, take Katz out of the equation and just move on. In time, your reputation will restore itself for all you've given to the Oilers and Edmonton but for now, absence truly will make the heart grow fonder.
Darryl Katz: Wake Up. For a guy who grew up loving the Oilers and realized his dream of owning the team he's cheered for his whole life, I can't fathom how you can continue to turn a blind eye to this. Look, I get that it's cool hanging around with your childhood heroes. That sounds awesome. But if you still love this franchise, then I don't know how you can allow yourself to become more despised than the owner who sold the greatest player that ever lived right in his prime. On your watch, fans have gone from loving the Oilers, to hating the way they are run, and are speeding down the highway towards just not caring at all anymore. That's on you. Maybe you don't care, but even if you don't driving away the fanbase isn't a good business strategy, and I suspect you care about money. You're the only one who can fix it. So...wake up and do it already. The fact that people aren't complaining as much anymore isn't a sign that people are happier, it's a sign they can't even be bothered caring.