EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) -This was starting to look all too familiar to the Oilers. The NHL playoffs were starting, and Edmonton was done for the season.
Coach Craig MacTavish paid the price.
He was fired Wednesday after the Oilers failed to make the playoffs for the third straight year. The dismissal came on the same day the NHL postseason began, and general manager Steve Tambellini said the team needed a fresh look behind the bench.
"He gave everything he possibly could to help this team get better," Tambellini said during a news conference. "But we both agree that it is time for a change."
The Oilers finished 11th in the Western Conference with a record of 38-35-9 for 85 points. This was the fifth time in seven seasons they have not reached the playoffs.
"We shouldn't be comfortable when we're sitting here out of the playoffs," Tambellini said. "Is there emotion when you have to let a quality coach go? Yeah, there is emotion. But that's the hard part of this business. Decisions have to made for us to get better."
The Oilers were a long way from 2006 when they made it to the Stanley Cup finals, losing in seven games to Carolina. MacTavish had just six players left from that team. This year, his players were younger and more skilled but lacked the grit and gamesmanship of the club that came within one game of the title.
This week, MacTavish acknowledged that toughness was an issue.
"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," he said. "Virtually all year, we're trying to get nonconfrontational players into confrontational areas where we're going to score goals. It was a losing battle from a lot of perspectives."
MacTavish never coaxed consistent performances from 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 erratic.
The power play finished 23rd in the league and the penalty-killing unit was 27th. Both were big factors in a home record of 18-17-6. The only teams with fewer points at home were Toronto, the New York Islanders, Atlanta, Colorado and Tampa Bay.