Say it ain't so
I'm obviously a pretty big Craig MacTavish fan. I've wasted many an hour on the messageboards defending the poor man's honour. Usually this is pretty easy to do, because MacT's decisions in the past have been fairly sound, but there's smoke on the horizon.
In general, the guy has preferred substance over style and seemingly hasn't been afraid to make unpopular decisions. (Comrie be damned, he'll play him as needed.) Now of course MacT has his blind spots (PP personnel anyone?) and he's made some mistakes (matchups vs. Carolina in the SCF for one) but I think most of the Oilogosphere has appreciated his general aptitude and pragmatic approach. My general opinion has been that his gameplans and game day rosters have been a reasonably good approximation of what it takes to win a hockey game on any given day.
Thus far, 2007-2008 has not looked like previous years.
Really the offseason should have been the first clue. According to the dailies, MacT was heavily involved in pro scouting the Stanley Cup playoffs and supposedly had more input than ever into player personnel decisions. Well, I think it's safe to say that the offseason was sheer madness and that stink is on MacT as well, even though Lowe has taken all the heat from Regier, Burke et al.
The regular season decisions have made little sense as well:
- Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate a good cuddle as much as the next guy, but even I can't fathom why Serial Hugger Zach Stortini continues to draw into the lineup at the expense of Brodziak or Pouliot. Now the latter two haven't exactly been stellar, but at least they've each laid claim to some solid game performances this year.
- Souray looked out of place as a top minutes dman in all situations. (How the heck did MTL use him on the PP last year anyway? I'm guessing he only shot the puck)
- Instead of Dick Tarnstrom we see Roy or Grebeshkov. This is flabbergasting. I can't fathom what this decision has to do with winning hockey games.
- He and Huddy have consistently experimented with matching players like Gilbert and Gagner against the Sakics and Iginlas of the league, sometimes for extended periods of time.
At the same time, MacT's old habits die hard.
- He's back to his old tricks with the PP personnel. The dmen play way too much and he seemingly refuses to play Hemsky on the PP as heavily as every other coach in the league plays their best PP producer. Meanwhile the PP has been drowning.
- Roloson is playing far too much. He has also had some pretty uneven performances, so I can't see sticking with him.
I've heard the arguments that the Oilers may be just throwing the kids in the deep end. Giving Cogliano, Gagner, Gilbert, Greene and Grebeshkov a trial by fire. This could be the plan, but if it is I think it's the wrong move. I'm not sure there is any good evidence of this but young players should probably be put in situations where they have a decent chance of success. The welcome side effect for the fans is that the team has an outside shot at winning some games while the kids develop anyway. Personally, I don't think trial by fire is ever the preferred development approach. Those that espouse this approach are typically in the middle of it and don't have any other options besides pillaging the waiver wire or their farm club for AHL veterans.
This is not the Oilers' situation IMO. They have Tarnstrom. They have Staios. They have Horcoff, Torres, Reasoner, Hemsky and even Sanderson and Penner. They can afford to ride these players as hard as necessary until the reinforcements can climb down off their slabs.
I can handle the botched trades, the bad negotiations, the silly offer sheets, and the fucked up rebuild. I can handle watching a pretty poor team this year because players like Cogliano, Gagner, Gilbert and Pouliot are fun to watch and they are getting better. What I can't handle is not bench coaching to win.
This Oilers club is sitting at +19/-29 at 5V5. Although I agreed with bank shot over at LT's site the other day that the Oilers' offense didn't look good, that's not exactly true. The PP is terrible and is killing the GF totals, but the 5V5 GF ranking is a respectable 11th going into tonight's action. The 5V5 GA is dead last in the league. More goals wouldn't hurt, but offense is not the problem, the defense and goaltending is the problem and the Oilers need to shore that up tout de suite.
In previous years, after the team has been porous and the bench coaching has been a little loose MacT has made corrections. If that doesn't start tomorrow night against Detroit, then this year is going to be even longer than I imagined.