EDMONTON – Five and a half weeks out from the start of Oilers training camp, General Manager Craig MacTavish is expecting fierce competition and a torrid pace when his players hit the ice.
MacTavish made a special guest appearance at Oilers Hockey School in St. Albert on Wednesday and also chatted with reporters about his expectations heading into camp the second week of September. He said players will be in for a rude awakening if they're not ready to battle at every moment and commit to the team's hard-working culture.
"It's incumbent on everyone in that locker room to provide the kind of working environment we want … a productive, hard-working, non-complaining culture," MacTavish said. "I'm going to be diligent in my decision-making in terms of weeding out the complainers. We want guys who want to be here, who want to come to work every day. The competitive environment that is going to be created in training camp is going to have a real residual effect on the rest of our year."
MacTavish said he and the team's first-year head coach Dallas Eakins will make their expectations very clear at the start of Oilers training camp next month.
"It's a conversation both Dallas and I will have with the team prior to training camp starting," he said. "It's really up to leadership to provide that framework of what the expectation is of our hockey team. I know, as a player, that's the type of environment I wanted to work under. I wanted to play with guys who came in and went to work every day."
MacTavish highlighted the team's defencemen in particular who will be pushed extra hard to perform, considering how many NHL-capable players are in the group. Anton Belov, Andrew Ference, Denis Grebeshkov, Philip Larsen, Jeff Petry, Corey Potter, Justin Schultz, Nick Schultz and Ladislav Smid are all listed on the team's active roster. Add up-and-coming blueliners like Oscar Klefbom and Taylor Fedun to the mix and there are a bevy of candidates fighting for a limited number of roster spots.
"We had a fair amount of complacency back there at times," MacTavish said. "We need more spirit, more fire, more competitiveness. Everybody will tell you that can't ever have too many defencemen. The depth that we have back there is going to set the framework for a much more competitive camp. There can be shortcomings in your game, but there can't be shortcomings in your attitude or your work ethic. That's the part we really want to focus on."
More off-season moves unlikely
As he promised heading into the summer, MacTavish has had a busy off-season, acquiring new talent to the Oilers in the form of Ference, Grebeshkov, Larsen and Belov on the back end, David Perron, Boyd Gordon and Jesse Joensuu up front, as well as Jason LaBarbera between the pipes.
The GM said further action before the start of training camp is unlikely but added trade talks will open up again as the season gets underway, especially with the Oilers depth on the back end.
"Needs are going to expose themselves on different teams through training camp," he said. "We've got a lot of depth on defence, and offensive depth too that teams are going to need at some point. Opportunities could open up as the year progresses."
Asked about the status of centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who had shoulder surgery towards the end of last season, MacTavish said he has received updates from RNH himself, Oilers Athletic Therapist T.D. Forss and RNH's agent Rick Valette.
"We're still operating under the same forecast that we had initially," MacTavish said. "All things are optimistic right now. The pessimistic timeline is that he'll be ready by November 1 for sure, and optimistically he'd be ready to start the year. We're going to stay with that and let his progression dictate when he's ready. We won't be hurrying him, that's for sure."
In the event that Nugent-Hopkins is unavailable to start the season, MacTavish said the Oilers "off-set Nuge's absence in the interim" with a combination of up-and-coming middle-men Mark Arcobello, Andrew Miller, Will Acton and Anton Lander.
Captain to be picked by Coach
The Oilers are also currently without a team captain after they dealt Shawn Horcoff to the Dallas Stars on July 5, and MacTavish said the decision of who will don the 'C' on his jersey this season will be left entirely to Coach Eakins.
"It's absolutely the coach's decision," he said. "He's got a fresh set of eyes on all of this, and he's going to make that call singularly."
Moores "a tremendous resource"
On Wednesday morning the Oilers announced Billy Moores will rejoin the organization as the Director of Coaching Development and Special Projects. Moores enters his 13th season with the team after serving as Senior Director of Player Development from 2010 to 2012 and as an Assistant Coach from 2000 to 2009.
MacTavish said Moores will work with the coaching staffs of the Oilers, the American Hockey League’s Oklahoma City Barons and the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings, bringing a wealth of experience and expertise to the role.
"Billy is going to be a tremendous resource for our coaches," MacTavish said. "I always felt that when I coached it was in a bit of a vacuum and I was never really exposed to new ideas, strategies and styles of play … Billy has been charged with the professional development of all our coaches. It's a job that's really going to suit him."