Top Shelf: ‘MacT’ at center of storm for Oilers

Philadelphia, PA ( – No offense to Dallas Eakins, but his
firing as head coach of the Oilers is the least interesting part of the recent
turmoil in Edmonton.

That’s because Eakins only had a brief role in a drama that was going on well
before he arrived in Edmonton, and one that shows no signs of slowing down.

Sadly, Oilers fans can only see this story heading in one direction. It’s
unclear if it’s comedy or tragedy, but whatever it is it’s unlikely to get
rave reviews.

Eakins lasted only 113 games behind the Oilers bench, but that was more of a
chance the club gave Ralph Krueger, who served as coach for 48 games before
getting the ax following the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Even the late
Pat Quinn only lasted 82 games before getting let go after the 2009-10 season.

For the time being, the Oilers have gone back to the man who preceded Quinn
behind the Edmonton bench, as general manager Craig MacTavish is taking over
for Eakins on an interim basis.

Before taking the GM job in April of 2013, MacTavish coached the Oilers for
eight seasons from 2000-01 to 2008-09 and he was at the helm for Edmonton’s
one shining moment in the 21st century. But it’s been a long time since “MacT”
shocked the hockey world by taking an eighth-seeded Oilers club to the Stanley
Cup Finals in 2006, and Edmonton seems as far away as ever from even returning
to the postseason.

This time, MacTavish is only planning to coach for a brief period while Todd
Nelson prepares to take over the reins. Nelson was promoted from his job as
coach of Edmonton’s American Hockey League affiliate in Oklahoma City and will
serve as an assistant under MacTavish before transitioning into the head job.

But just like it isn’t really about Eakins, this isn’t about Nelson either.
Whether he’s behind the bench or not, the focus is centered around MacTavish,
as is the ire of a disgruntled fan base.

While facing the media Monday after announcing the coaching changes, MacTavish
seemed to finally realize he needs to own every bit of this debacle.

Earlier this month, the GM tried to evade some of the blame for the current
state of Edmonton’s hockey team and it did not go over well.

“I’ve been on the job for 18 months,” MacTavish said on Dec. 5. “I coached the
team here for a long time, but I had nothing to do with management, so don’t
lop me in into a situation of power and influence in the management level of
this organization.”

The GM apparently learned from his mistake because that type of rhetoric was
nowhere to be found on Monday. In its place was an acceptance that everything
that is wrong with the Oilers now is MacTavish’s problem, whether that is
technically true or not.

“There is blood all over my hands in this too as well,” MacTavish said on
Monday. “Because I put the lineup together and the roster. I’m not here to
absolve myself of accountability for the situation that we’re in.”

With a 7-19-5 record through 31 games — the worst mark in the NHL — the
Oilers are likely headed for another high draft pick and may once again be
picking No. 1 overall when the 2015 draft rolls around. But when a team has
had such little success at picking new talent, it’s hard to even get excited
about the prospect of kids like Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel donning an
Edmonton sweater.

In the end, there’s a fundamental lack of faith in MacTavish (or anybody else,
for that matter) to turn things around in Edmonton and that is the saddest
part of this saga.

Although it may have comedic elements to those watching from the outside, to
those who love the Oilers and remember the halcyon days of the 1980s and ’90s
it is tragic to see hope die a slow death the way it has in Edmonton.

Of course, MacTavish and his colleagues in the Oilers front office still claim
to have hope they can turn things around. At the very least, they at least
sound like a franchise that has acknowledged it hit rock bottom. It may have
taken too long to arrive at this stage, but perhaps real growth is now
possible that it’s finally here.

“To think that this is just a coaching issue is naive,” said MacTavish. “It’s
rooted deeper than that and we have to get to the core of it. And we will.”