The Edmonton Oilers haven't been to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since reaching the Final in 2006, and general manager Craig MacTavish said changing their fortunes will come with a change in the team's culture.
Speaking Wednesday at Rexall Place during the Oilers' Hockey School, MacTavish, who won the Stanley Cup four times as a player, said he only wants players willing to put in the effort it takes to win.
"It's incumbent on everyone in that locker room to really work to provide the kind of working environment that we want, the type of productive, hard-working, non-complaining culture that we want," he said. "I'm really going to be diligent in my decision-making in terms of weeding out the complainers. We want guys that want to be here, that want to come to work every day. It's a difficult way at times to make a living, but you come to work every day, you put your sneakers on, your skates on, you get in the gym, and we want that hard-working culture. And I'm going to be diligent in providing it."
While MacTavish and new coach Dallas Eakins will help provide that culture change, MacTavish said he expects the players to step up themselves and create the proper environment.
"It's really up to leadership to provide that framework on what the expectation is for our hockey team," MacTavish said. "I know as a player that's the environment I liked to work under. I wanted like-minded guys who went to work every day. There's going to be shortcomings in your game, but there can't be shortcomings in your attitude or work ethic. I think that's the part that we really want to focus on."
Part of creating that leadership group will come with naming a new captain; Shawn Horcoff, who had filled that role since the beginning of the 2010-11 season, was traded to the Dallas Stars earlier this month. MacTavish said the captain will be named by Eakins.
"It's absolutely the coach's decision," MacTavish said. "He's got a fresh set of eyes on all of this. He's going to make that call singularly."
In addition, MacTavish on Wednesday announced the hiring of veteran coach Billy Moores, 65, as the club's director of coaching development and special projects. In his role, he'll mainly work with the team's NHL coaching staff, as well as the coaching staff of the club's American Hockey League franchise, the Oklahoma City Barons, and the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League, a team also owned by the Oilers.
"Billy Moores is going to be a tremendous resource for our coaches," MacTavish said. "… We know how capable he is. He's as capable of a person, a hockey guy, as I've seen in the game. It was a no-brainer on our part to bring him in."
MacTavish also gave an update on center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is working his way back from offseason surgery on his left shoulder. MacTavish said Nugent-Hopkins is proceeding well in his rehabilitation, but his readiness for the start of the season remains in question.
"We're still operating under the same forecast we had initially," MacTavish said. "All things are very optimistic now. … The timeline before was he'd be ready Nov. 1 for sure in a very pessimistic timeline and optimistically he'd be ready to start the year. We'll stick with that and just let his progression dictate when he's ready. We won't be hurrying him, that's for sure."
MacTavish said there are in-house candidates to replace Nugent-Hopkins in the short-term, among them Mark Arcobello and Anton Lander. However, MacTavish said options could arise once teams get a look at their rosters in training camp.
"Needs are going to expose themselves on different teams through training camp," MacTavish said. "We have a lot of depth on defense, we've got some offensive depth, too, that teams are going to need at some point, and something might open up as the year progresses."
MacTavish also addressed the future of Ales Hemsky. Admitting he found little interest from other teams in the 29-year-old forward, MacTavish said he believes the change in culture around the team will spur Hemsky to a strong season.
"I have spoken to Ales. … We all know how good he is and we all know the impact he had the last time the Oilers made the playoffs," MacTavish said. "We're hopeful that given this new environment and more competitive team going forward, that's really going to play to Ales' skill set and he'll be able to help us."
As for any other roster changes between now and the start of training camp, MacTavish said he'd like to add more physicality to his roster.
"I'm still actively trying to get some toughness," he said. "There's nothing imminent. We'll see when training camp goes, when some teams' needs are better exposed, as well as our own, and we'll have more information to base that decision. Ben Eager, based on how he played at the end of the year, deserves an opportunity, and he'll get one, but outside we'll be looking for more toughness."