Jim Matheson: Edmonton Oilers GM stands firm in spite of losing record, upset fanbase
Craig MacTavish says he won’t make hasty trade to solve current problems
Toronto Maple Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk checks Edmonton Oilers winger Nail Yakupov during the third period of NHL action in Edmonton on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013.
Photograph by: JASON FRANSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS
EDMONTON - This has statistically been the worst October in 20 years for the Edmonton Oilers, who had current general manager Craig MacTavish taking faceoffs in his last season here before he was sent to the New York Rangers for an unknown college kid named Todd Marchant several months later.
Those Oilers started with a 2-10-1 record, just a hair better than the current 3-9-2 log of MacTavish’s team.
Present-day assistant coach Kelly Buchberger, goalie Bill Ranford, assistant captain Doug Weight and Jason Arnott were also on that team. It’s hard to fathom, with that cast, how they were that bad, losing eight straight games to close out the first month of the 1993-94 season. They finished 20 games under .500.
Is there a glimmer of hope for this year’s team after one month? MacTavish says there is and he doesn’t sound like he’s in denial.
He says he’s “as shocked as anybody” by the Oilers’ anemic record, but he’s not ready to make a trade today and regret it tomorrow just to pacify an angry audience. He knows the team has major blemishes and he knows he doesn’t have the right mix of players.
“I don’t see how making a bad trade helps anybody. Are we trying to do something to shore up the deficient areas? Absolutely. But I’m not doing something at all costs,” he said. “We’ve got significant pieces. Does the record really reflect the first 13 (14 games actually)? Everybody can draw their own conclusions there. And I’m drawing mine. I don’t think it’s reflective. We’re improving.”
But when big, nasty defenceman like Matt Greene, Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell kick butt for the Los Angeles Kings, it’s obviously an area MacTavish has to address. When six-foot-three, 210-pound James VanRiemsdyk goes to the net or Max Pacioretty, of similiar frame, does the same, this is certainly something the GM wants. He also needs somebody to grab the ball and run with it, hard, in net. Devan Dubnyk, presumably, but for all those Ryan Miller fans, Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier says there has been not one offer for the unrestricted free agent.
MacTavish says he’s not the eternal optimist.
“I actually gravitate to the negative side of things normally,” he said. “I don’t know what the mood is out there, but I’ve been reasonably pleased with the personnel. I see progress.
“There are things I didn’t see coming. The game against Toronto, there were a number of factors that would be called excuses, so I won’t go there, but in the analysis of the game, I was disappointed with the result but not the effort.”
MacTavish knows the fan base is restless.
“Sure, but I have to make judgment calls on what I’m seeing, not calls based on the last four years of being in the same situation. I’m evaluating this group based on a 12- or 13-game stretch, not bringing in the baggage of what’s happened previously,” he said. “There are holes. Are they fixable in the short term? Some are. But they’re solveable over the long term.”
MacTavish won’t trade all of his draft picks next June for immediate help. He won’t say if he’d even deal his first-rounder, but you can bet it’s in play, although this might break the heart of chief scout Stu MacGregor.
“You have to put value on what you’re getting and what you’re paying. We’ll do whatever’s reasonable to help this current group,” he said. “But I won’t make a trade because you run the risk of undoing your long-term objectives for a very myopic, very short-sighted gain.”
Are the Oilers just conditioned to losing after being no higher than 19th out of 30 teams since their last Stanley Cup appearance when MacTavish was head coach in 2006?
“Absolutely not. That’s not the body language I’m seeing. I’ve seen that body language before, but I’m seeing a pretty resilient group here,” he said.
MacTavish agreed with captain Andrew Ference, who said the team has to get better with the little details (playing smart, constant work ethic) that winning teams harp on.
“There were some plays that were our undoing against Toronto, but from the beginning of the season when we weren’t very good to now, there has been improvement,” he said. “It’s hard watching it day to day as we are, but you have to watch it with both eyes open.”
If Dubnyk hadn’t struggled early before getting his game back close to where it was last season, maybe the Oilers are 6-7-1.But MacTavish wasn’t going there.
“I’m not blaming the goaltending. It’s a team game and we’re all in this together. We’re responsible to win as a group,” he said.
Does playing against the Kings, even in their old purple jerseys, hammer home the point that the Oilers need nastier people?
“Yup,” said MacTavish. “That’s what I’d take from that game. There are other teams with big nasty people who are looking for people who can score goals. Do we have the makeup now? When healthy we do. We can be highly competitive.”
Can MacTavish get one of those abrasive blue-liners?
“There’s a premium on nasty players and that’s not necessarily what we want to pay,” he said.
Does he have the right makeup of players on his team now?
“No. That’s obvious when you have holes from game to game. The makeup has to be jigged.”
Lots of fans are howling, saying he should trade one of the Oilers’ young guns for bigger help?
“I understand the frustration, but at the same time, it’s all about value. There’s lots of deals out there where we can overpay.”
There’s no deals on the horizon?
“I wouldn’t say that. You never know.”
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