After five years at the helm – and no playoffs under his reign – Steve Tambellini was fired Monday as the Edmonton Oilers’ general manager.
Tambellini has been overseeing a perpetual rebuild that has seen the team miss the playoffs for the past six seasons and is poised to come up short again this season. After staying in the playoff race through a difficult February, in which they were on the road for nine games because the Brier took over their building, the Oilers have lost five games in a row and fallen out of contention.
“Let me be clear: the Edmonton Oilers are not where they should be right now and that is unacceptable and we need to get better immediately,” said Kevin Lowe, the Oilers’ president of hockey operations. “That starts today with the announcement of Craig MacTavish as general manager and Scott Howson as senior vice-president.”
MacTavish was coaching the Oilers in 2006 when the Oilers made an unexpected trip to the Stanley Cup final, but lost the final in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes. Howson was Edmonton's former assistant GM who was previously fired as GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier this season.
MacTavish spoke of what needed to be done to help the Oilers take the next step in their development.
“I’m an impatient guy and bring that to this situation,” he said. “In terms of the cycle of the hockey team right now, we have to do some bold things. We have to expose ourselves to some risk to move forward … We need greater depth. We’ve got a lot of great primary pieces. We’ve got to add competitiveness. We lack a true understanding of how difficult it is to have success at this level. We have to do a better job of arming our coaches and arming our core group in the dressing room.”
For the Oilers, the last straw came Saturday when they were defeated 4-1, at home, by a Calgary Flames’ team gutted at the trade deadline and playing mostly kids and a back-up goalie. It was a far cry from the Oilers team that ran roughshod over the Flames 8-2 a day after the trading deadline, when it appeared as if all the promise of the Oilers’ Generation Next was coming to fruition.
Sadly, that was an illusion, and of late, the Oilers’ young guns – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and the rest – have been unable to produce on a consistent basis.
Tambellini endlessly preached patience, making the point that the Oilers time would eventually come. It probably will too – but with MacTavish at the helm. Management ultimately ran out of patience with Tambellini’s ultra-conservative approach, which was rooted in careful measured steps. After all those years out of the playoffs, the feeling in Edmonton was that more needed to have been accomplished by now.
The history of teams that have undergone scorched-earth rebuilds is that development can be up-and-down, but eventually, they soar. For example: the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early days of the Sidney Crosby era, went from 58 to 105 points in a single season and made the playoffs. The Washington Capitals, in the early days of the Alex Ovechkin era, went from 70 to 94 points and made the playoffs.
The perception is that the Oilers need to continue maturing and supply a better supporting cast before they can make that quantum leap. It could come as soon as next year, when the Oilers draw in to a revised Pacific Division in a 14-team Western Conference, where eight teams will make the playoffs.
“We’ve got to add competitiveness,” said MacTavish. “I think we lack a true understanding, in watching our team, of just how difficult it is to have success at this level. It’s an incredibly difficult league to win in. It’s as highly competitive a league as anywhere. Every time the alarm rings in my house, I know there are 29 teams trying to beat my brains in. We have to do a better job, in arming our coaches and our core group in that dressing room, with a group of players that is going to go forward and compete.
“We all know we’re going to get there. It may not sound like it, where we are right now, but make no mistake about it, we’re going to do bold things and competitive things to get us to the point where we’re highly competitive and challenging for a Stanley Cup.”