EDMONTON - As the NHL playoffs kick off, the Edmonton Oilers are once again on the sidelines, and head coach Craig MacTavish is paying the price for that.
The team fired MacTavish on Wednesday after missing the post-season for the third straight year.
The Oilers finished 11th in the Western Conference with a record of 38-35-9 for a total of 85 points and general manager Steve Tambellini said the team needed a fresh start 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."
Tambellini said it was a tough decision to let MacTavish go, but knew it had to be done.
"We shouldn't be comfortable when we're sitting here out of the playoffs," said Tambellini. "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."
It was the fifth time in the last seven seasons that the team failed to advance to the post-season.
The notable exception was in 2006 when the Oilers lost the Stanley Cup in the seventh game of the deciding series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
With just six players left from the team MacTavish guided to the Cup final, the makeup of the Oilers is considerably different now. This year's edition was younger and more skilled but lacked the grit and gamesmanship of the Cup finalists.
During his final media availability earlier 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 Monday. "Virtually all year, we're trying to get non-confrontational players into confrontational areas where we're going to score goals. It was a losing battle from a lot of perspectives."
MacTavish also never managed to coax consistent performances from top-six 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 consistently inconsistent.
Special teams were also a glaring weakness. The power play finished 23rd in the league. The penalty killing was 27th. Both were big factors in a home record of 18-17-6 - only Toronto, the New York Islanders, Atlanta, Colorado and Tampa Bay had fewer points at home.