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Oilers fire Tambellini as GM, MacTavish takes over

by Dan Rosen

Craig MacTavish completed the hat trick with the Edmonton Oilers on Monday, but he also may have just signed up for his greatest challenge yet.

Kevin Lowe, Edmonton's President of Hockey Operations, announced Monday that MacTavish is taking over as the Oilers' new general manager, replacing Steve Tambellini, who was told Sunday night that he was being relieved of his duties.

Former Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson was also promoted to take over MacTavish's former role as Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations.

Howson was Edmonton's assistant general manager from 2002-07.

MacTavish also played for the Oilers from 1986-94 and coached them from 2000-09.

His job now is to build them back into a winner.

"I'm an impatient guy and I bring that impatience to this situation," MacTavish said Monday during what was at times a combative press conference at Rexall Place. "I think that we're at the stage in terms of the cycle with our hockey club right now that we have to do some bold things. We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk to try and move the club forward in a rapid fashion."

The Oilers were 138-185-46 under Tambellini, who was hired on July 31, 2008. Despite the fact that they have selected first in each of the past three NHL Drafts and all three of those players (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov) are playing top-six minutes, the Oilers are 16-18-7 this season and have lost five in a row to fall into 12th place in the Western Conference.

Edmonton moved into eighth after beating the Calgary Flames on April 3, but has scored four goals in going 0-5 since.

Lowe admitted the recent losing streak factored into the timing of the decision.

"I, for one, really had hoped that we'd be more advanced than we are right now," he said. "For Steve's sake, I was hopeful we'd be a competitive team right until the end. Losing five in a row, how we lost, where we are -- all of those things go into the decision. If we're going to do something, why wait? Allow these guys to get their hands on the operations and give themselves a couple of weeks' advance work."

There doesn't, however, appear to be any coaching changes on the horizon in Edmonton. MacTavish offered a vote of confidence to Ralph Krueger, who is in his first year as a NHL coach.

"I think it's fair to say that there is a very remote chance that where we are right now has anything to do with coaching," he said. "What we need to do is give the coaches better tools to compete at the NHL level. For me to say it's Ralph Krueger's fault right now would be extremely shortsighted on my part."

Lowe and MacTavish were faced with questions about why they think they'll be able to turn the organization around now. It was five years ago when Lowe left the GM's chair and MacTavish was let go as coach after the Oilers missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second of what has turned into six straight seasons.

Lowe was particularly defensive.

"I think it's safe to say that half the general managers in the National Hockey League would trade their rosters for our roster right now," Lowe said.

He defended his past, too.

"There is one other guy in hockey today that is still working in the game that has won as many Stanley Cups than me," said Lowe, a six-time Cup champion who last raised the trophy in 1994. "So I think I know a little bit about winning, if that's ever a concern."

He also cited the differences in the organization, particularly stable ownership, between then and now.

"If I analyze our team, it's interesting now versus six or eight years ago," he said. "We didn't have the top-end talent before and we had many restrictions on what we could do. With ownership now, the resources are there and now the pieces are in place. We have much more ammunition now than we did a number of years ago."

MacTavish also brought up the difficulties the Oilers had in the past in attracting players, but he pointed to the future.

"The fact of the matter is it's really not about yesterday," he said. "Maybe there are some skeptics out there. There are going to be in this business. You don't take a position like I'm taking right now with rose-colored glasses on. It's not for the faint of heart. I walk in here completely understanding of the situation that's in front of me. I'm not looking at what's happened in the past. My sole objective is to come in here and add something to the future of this club.

"I don't know that I've failed this organization in any regards before in any of the jobs I've taken in the past," he added. "I get back to what we say today has very little bearing on how I'm going to be evaluated going forward. I look forward to the challenge of the job. I'm going to help turn this team around."

He said it starts with building depth around the young star players such as Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz.

"The future is extremely bright with the young players, but we've gotta add some depth," MacTavish said. "We've got primary pieces here, but we've gotta add some depth to help our team grow. We've gotta add competitiveness. I think we lack a true understanding of just how difficult it is to have success at this level. It's an incredibly difficult league to win in. It's as highly competitive a league as there is anywhere.

"Every time the alarm rings at my house I know there are 29 teams trying to beat my brains in. We have to do a better job in arming our coaches and arming the core group in that dressing room with a group of players that is going to go forward. We all know we're going to get there."

MacTavish talked about the need to "do bold things and competitive things," to turn the team around in a hurry.

"To get into the playoffs in the NHL has never been more difficult," he said. "You see that last year, L.A. gets in the playoffs from the eighth-seed. The line from getting in the playoffs and winning a Stanley Cup is a lot finer than it has ever been before. I don't think we're that far off. We're going to have to make some changes, but we are at the point in the cycle where we can expose ourselves to some risks."

He didn't specify what those risks are.

"Talk is cheap in this game," he said. "I can come here and talk about a strategy or a particular player I want to acquire, but talk is cheap. It's in the action. It's in the execution. We're going to be exhausting every avenue to help our team and we are going to explore different things that we think collectively can move our group forward.

"I understand we're on the heels of a five-game losing streak now, so there is skepticism in the air, but things change quickly. I'm feeling we have the ability with the group we have to move this thing forward very quickly."


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