EDMONTON – With a five-word text message, Edmonton Oilers’ owner Darryl Katz took the heat off embattled coach Craig MacTavish Thursday and put it directly on his players.
Katz’s unequivocal vote of confidence for MacTavish was delivered by way of text message to Bob Stauffer, the team’s radio analyst and pre-game show co-host with 630 CHED, before a 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
It read: “MacT is not going anywhere.”
With six losses in the last seven games and their Western Conference playoff hopes fading fast with four games remaining, Katz’s message has resonated through the dressing room.
“The onus is always on us,” said captain Ethan Moreau. “We always put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform.
“We don’t make any excuses. We don’t blame anything on coaching or injuries or media or the fans. If you’re professional, you’re accountable in the room and you take responsibility for all your team’s shortcomings.”
MacTavish discussed his future Wednesday, in the context of what missing the playoffs for a third straight year could mean to him, amid speculation he’ll be fired or step down at the end of the season. MacTavish said then he wasn’t afraid of losing his job.
The Oilers sat in seventh place two weeks ago, but their untimely slide has them at 36-33-9 for 81 points – four points behind the eighth-place St. Louis Blues.
“You’ve got to deal with the disappointment,” MacTavish said. “There’s plenty of heartache in this game, as we can see first-hand. You’ve got to dust yourself off and get yourself ready to play.
“I don’t know any other way. You just wake up and you get grinding and you try to do what you can to turn the result around.”
When the subject of MacTavish’s future was raised again on the team’s pre-game show Thursday, Katz felt compelled to send the text message, making it clear it was for public consumption.
“He said he was extremely disappointed and somewhat frustrated with the fact we’re in the middle of a playoff race and all the discussion and focus was on the future of our head coach,” said president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe.
“He found that somewhat odd. He just wanted to suppress that once and for all. It’s as simple as that.”
Players interviewed Thursday echoed the sentiment expressed by Moreau: the onus to produce and push for a playoff spot, however remote the likelihood of getting in is, falls on them.
“I don’t listen to a lot of what’s going on, but I heard about what happened last night,” said Kyle Brodziak. “I think everyone agrees, why is the talk about that (MacTavish)? Ultimately, it’s not the coach who is on the ice, it’s the players.
“We have a game plan to stick to. If we’re not sticking to that game plan, whose fault is that? We have a job to do out there and when we’re not executing the way we should, it should fall on the players. That’s the bottom line.”
MacTavish said in pre-season he expected the Oilers to be in contention for the Northwest Division title, but they’ve spent the entire season just above, or below, the playoff cutline.
“I think everybody on this team has to take full responsibility for where we’re at,” said Steve Staios. “You can’t point the finger at any one person or any one player.
“We win as a team and we lose as a team. It’s nice to have an owner who is going to back us up. At the same time, we’re not in a situation that we’re happy with. We take full responsibility for that.
The Oilers face Vancouver Saturday, then close out their home schedule against Los Angeles Tuesday and Calgary next Friday. Their final game is April 11 in Calgary.
“The future doesn’t look great, but if we win four games in a row we’ll see where that puts us,” Moreau said.
“I have no appetite to listen to anybody who is feeling sorry for themselves,” MacTavish said. “We put ourselves in this position and we’ve got to dig ourselves out of it.
“If you want to feel overcome by what-ifs, I’ve got zero-tolerance for that. Get your gear on, grab your stick and go play the game.”