EDMONTON – Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish was more than happy to talk about his team’s disappointing season Monday – but not his future with the club.
Amid speculation he’ll resign after missing the playoffs for the third straight season, MacTavish won’t make his intentions known until he’s finished a series of meetings with general manager Steve Tambellini this week.
“I’ll just start by saying I’m not going to comment on what my future may or may not be,” MacTavish told reporters at Rexall Place. “I’ve had some initial discussions with Steve that will continue over the next day or so, so it won’t be a long-term thing.
“I’ll have a clearer picture for you all, in terms of my future here.”
But MacTavish had plenty to say about yet another season out of the playoffs.
After finishing 11th in the Western Conference at 38-35-9 for 85 points – making it five of the last seven seasons out of the post-season – MacTavish voiced frustration with the latest edition of the team.
He wondered about the mix of players on the roster. He questioned how consistently his players competed. He talked about his inability to get the best from a team he predicted in the pre-season would be contenders for the Northwest Division title in his ninth season as head coach.
“There were a lot of inadequacies in our game,” MacTavish said. “The thing that was maybe most disappointing for me was our culture took a hit here in terms of our work ethic and our selflessness.
“Just the universal commitment we had here for so many years took a bit of a hit. This year, there were a lot of nights as a coach I had to ask for more and, sometimes, the tank was pretty empty.”
With just six players left from the team MacTavish guided to the 2006 Stanley Cup final, the makeup of the Oilers is considerably different from the team that lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7.
“I think everybody realizes we have to get better,” said captain Ethan Moreau, one of the half-dozen veterans remaining. “Whether that’s through personnel, or just getting more out of the people we already have, we’ll see. Definitely, things need to change. We have to get better in a lot of areas . . . it’s a failure right from the top to the bottom when you miss the playoffs.”
This edition of the Oilers was younger and more skilled than the team that came within a win of sipping champagne in 2006, but lacked the grit and gamesmanship of the Cup finalists.
“When you evolve from a team that would lay it all on the line and then you try to integrate a bunch of skill, it’s got to be productive,” MacTavish said. “Virtually all year, we’re trying to get non-confrontational players into confrontational areas where we’re going to score goals. It was a losing battle from a lot of perspectives.
“That’s where the goals are scored. If you don’t have the inclination or the game to get to those areas, you’re going to miss out on a lot of opportunities. That ended up being the case far too often.”
MacTavish never managed to coax consistent performances from top-six forwards Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. Dustin Penner played everywhere from the first line to the fourth.
Erik Cole struggled before being traded to Carolina at the deadline for Patrick O’Sullivan. Sam Gagner had a poor first half before finding his stride. Robert Nilsson was consistently inconsistent.
“When you finish the way we finished, I think it’s clear that the mix has got to change,” MacTavish said. “From a coaching perspective, it’s my responsibility to find a system that this team can play successfully. I wasn’t able to do that to any great degree of success.”
Special teams were a glaring weakness. The power play finished 23rd in the league. The penalty killing was 27th. Both were big factors in a home record of 18-17-6 – only Toronto, the New York Islanders, Atlanta, Colorado and Tampa Bay had fewer points at home.
“If you don’t have good special teams, you can’t be successful in this league,” Hemsky said. “Obviously, it’s the one thing we have to look at and get better. I can’t tell you what to do. We just have to get better.”
Clearly, there will be changes before training camp opens in September. What remains to be seen is if MacTavish will be one of them.
“I don’t know how Mac is feeling or thinking,” said defenceman Steve Staios. “The one thing we can’t lose sight of is it’s a team and responsibility is on everybody in here to be committed to perform.
“When that doesn’t happen, there’s a lot of speculation and changes are inevitable. Overall, when you don’t have success, there’s going to be a lot of questions.”