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MacTavish sticking with core, but looking for results

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish admits he is frustrated with their current state but said Friday he will not be making drastic changes at this time.

Edmonton has lost 11 straight games (0-7-4) and entered play Friday 30th in the NHL standings.

The Oilers are winless (0-12-4) against Western Conference opponents this season.

"Visually we're a better hockey team, and I think our most ardent detractors would have to admit that we are a better hockey team visually," MacTavish said. "But there isn't any tangible evidence of any of that improvement, and that's what so difficult for everybody to swallow. In particular, the fans, the faithful fans that flock to Rexall [Place] night in and night out to see some material evidence of improvement. There just hasn't been that level of improvement."

MacTavish said the organization will conduct a long, internal audit of the way it drafts and develops players, which he admitted needs to be better.

For now, coach Dallas Eakins has the support of management and will remain in place. Eakins was hired prior to the start of the 2013-14 season to replace Ralph Krueger.

"The coaching, the way our players are directed on and off the ice, is certainly under scrutiny, as is the performance of the players," MacTavish said. "When we talk about coaching, there have been four coaching changes here in the last number of years. I've been around for two of them. The messaging to the players has been very similar and the accountability to the players to execute on the ice has to improve.

"For me, we could bring in a fifth coach to deliver the same message to this group. The thing that gives me optimism is that I'm hearing the same messaging from the players that I haven't heard in the last number of years."

Eakins is 35-59-14 as Oilers coach. Prior to being hired, he coached the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.

"He's a good role model for our players," MacTavish said. "He's a passionate guy about the game and he's evolving as a coach. The way he deals with this situation, his resiliency as a coach, it's no easy feat in my mind to have the record that we have and still have the support of the whole group [of players] in there."

The Oilers have not been to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since losing Game 7 of the 2006 Final against the Carolina Hurricanes. MacTavish coached the Oilers from 2000-09.

MacTavish returned to the Oilers as an adviser in June 2012 and was named general manager in April 2013, replacing Steve Tambellini.

MacTavish said he believes the Oilers need to continue on their path of developing from within and building around core forwards Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

"There is some growth," MacTavish said. "I'm reasonably satisfied there is progress with those players. Did we underestimate the amount of time that it would take those players to develop into top-flight NHL players? Yes we did. But as long as there's progress, which I've seen in terms of physical growth, performance growth, and maybe more importantly accountability growth. The players are holding themselves accountable. You have to credit the current coaching staff for that and getting that messaging through."

MacTavish said he is not willing to move one of the core players to fill a pressing need.

"The core needs to continue to develop and there has to be growth internally," MacTavish said. "Trades in today's NHL are very difficult to consummate. You try and find teams and organizations in similar situations, which there are a few, and try to make some lateral deal that is going to try and spur the performance level of your group. So far I've been not able to find a deal that make sense to me, to satisfy our short-term objectives, which is to get better as quickly as we can, or our long-term objectives, which remain the same."

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