MacKinnon: MacTavish’s talk mighty persuasive (video)
Edmonton Oilers GM begins pursuit of ‘complementary pieces’ to replace six to eight players who will be sent packing
EDMONTON - Talk certainly is cheap, as newly installed Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish said right up front.
But MacTavish is a mighty effective speaker and so far, at least — absent the opportunity for action to improve his team — he seems to be saying the right things. Or at least most of them.
Fans soon will begin to see whether that translates into all the right personnel moves. For now, MacTavish certainly is clear on what is needed and seems confident he can acquire it, starting with leveraging all he can by trading the club’s first-round pick (seventh overall) in the NHL entry draft, if an appropriate deal is on offer.
Bold and impatient as he self-admittedly is, MacTavish told the media on Monday that Oilers fans can expect to see six to eight new faces on the gifted but under-performing club next season.
MacTavish also noted the three bottom-feeders in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 — Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and the New York Islanders — all are playoff-bound this season. For their part, the Canadiens vaulted from 15th place to second in the East.
Can the Oilers, adding the “meat and potatoes” players MacTavish knows his lineup needs, execute a similar transformation?
“Absolutely, absolutely,” MacTavish said. “We need depth.
“The good thing is we don’t need to add the high-end skill, we need the complementary pieces now. I know those pieces are easier to come by. They’re still difficult, but they’re easier to come by.”
MacTavish is setting the performance bar high for himself. He’s also leaving the clear impression he will back up his words with smart, decisive action.
What’s more, the parallels to the Eastern clubs are apt.
Both Toronto and Montreal changed GMs in the off-season. And few gave any of those three teams a big chance to qualify for the post-season tournament, let alone earn a high seed.
In Montreal’s case, Marc Bergevin, an experienced hockey man but a rookie NHL GM, has made few, if any, wrong moves in adding grit and gristle to the Canadiens lineup, with startling results.
In the off-season, Bergevin added free agents Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong to provide some sandpaper up front, and went the same route to acquire depth defenceman Francis Bouillon.
Mid-season, he shipped unhappy winger Erik Cole to Dallas for sniper Michael Ryder and flipped a late-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Kings for depth defenceman Davis Drewiske.
He plucked centre Jeff Halpern, a solid two-way player, and strong on faceoffs, off waivers.
Draft picks Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher have added skill and energy up front. Developing blue-liners Jarred Tinordi and, to a lesser extend, Nathan Beaulieu, have strengthened the Canadiens lineup, as well.
The last time an Oilers GM linked a series of bold moves that successfully was in 2005-06 when Kevin Lowe made separate trades to acquire Chris Pronger and Michael Peca, and swapped a first-round draft pick to obtain goalie Dwayne Roloson, among other things. Next stop was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
It was a steep and slippery slope from there straight to non-playoff Hell and what MacTavish described as the “punitive price” the Oilers paid to assemble the likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.
MacTavish’s immediate task is similar to that accomplished by Bergevin. He knows the improvement needs to come in two ways: by trading, drafting or signing new personnel; and by demanding and getting more from the talent on hand.
“I do think that we are, as a group, a little naive to how hard you have to work to have success,” MacTavish said. “All the productivity is in that last five per cent of effort.
“I know that from playing the game myself. Amazingly, when you got more reckless, worked harder, went to the tougher areas, were more committed, how much more lucky you got.”
MacTavish wants his players, including the young, talented ones to create more of their own luck. He’ll work with head coach Ralph Krueger to ensure that accountability.
As for the moves he’s contemplating, based on all he has said about the current crop of complementary players being content to be non-factors, don’t expect many, if any, of the likes of Eric Belanger, Theo Peckham, Ryan Jones, Jerred Smithson back next season.
For that matter, don’t expect to see Nugent-Hopkins lining up with Hall and Eberle, either.
“Three small players with similar skill sets seldom create the synergy that you need to have a dominant line,” MacTavish said.
Obviously, MacTavish wants some Prust-like meat on the top two lines, players who can create space, prevent opponents from taking liberties and score, at least a little.
Unrestricted free agent Nathan Horton of the Boston Bruins is the sort of player that fits that bill. It’s up to MacTavish to go get a player or two like that.
On the back end, MacTavish said the Oilers will be better even if no major acquisition is made because of the expected addition of Swedish prospect Oscar Klefbom.
This would be addition by subtraction as UFAs Ryan Whitney and Theo Peckham move on and as Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz continue to mature.
Bergevin has demonstrated it is possible to fill out a roster with grit and succeed immediately.
MacTavish can expect to feel the wrath of Oilers fans if he has over-promised but under delivers, if he can’t walk his talk.
But his talk is mighty persuasive.
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