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Tencer's Blog: MacTavish Moving On, Moving Back - Part 2

by Dan Tencer / Edmonton Oilers
Craig MacTavish's new role as Senior VP, Hockey Operations will involve the 53-year-old in all decisions made by the club's management team.

**Click here to read Part 1 of Dan Tencer's one-on-one interview with Senior VP of Hockey Operations Craig MacTavish**

Since Craig MacTavish stepped away as bench boss of the Edmonton Oilers on April 11, 2009 there have been two other men try their hand at the job. Pat Quinn and Tom Renney were hired together later that summer, with Quinn as head coach and Renney as his associate. Under Quinn in the 2009-10 season the Oilers finished 27-47-8 for the league's worst record at just 62 points.

Quinn was "promoted" to a Senior Advisor position that season, basically never heard from again. His associate Renney was elevated to the top job. The team actually won fewer games in 2010-11 as they compiled a record of 25-45-12 to equal the 62 point total from the year prior, once again finishing last. An improvement to 32 wins and 74 points in 2011-12 wasn't enough to earn Renney a contract extension, so the team is now looking for the man who will be their 3rd head coach in 5 seasons.

"I think Tom did a real good job as a teacher in the time that he was here," says newly appointed Senior Vice-President of Hockey Operations Craig MacTavish. "You can see that in how these young guys have come along under his coaching."

What MacTavish didn't see under Renney, however, was a consistent belief from the team that they could win. He references wild fluctuations where he saw very little consistency from the group. In his words, the team rolled well when they were winning and snowballed out of control when they were losing, with far more of the latter. The new head coach, MacTavish says, needs to instill the belief in winning as a constant.

"For me, it's about somebody who can continue to sell the belief to these players in their ability to win," says MacTavish. "It's got to be somebody that can really come in and identify with the young skill level. Somebody that can come in and really harness the energy of youth. Somebody that's gonna ride the balance of adding the structure and stifling the creativity of the youth. That's a considerable skillset for a coach coming in, but there are guys out there that can do it."

I believe the search for that man has concluded. I believe they've got a list of final candidates, I don't know how long, and now they've got to decide which basket to put their eggs in. "We've talked about a number of candidates over the last while that I've been involved here," was all MacTavish would admit to.

For me, one of the delicate questions that needed to be addressed upon MacTavish's arrival back with the club was how his presence would affect the man behind the bench. Frankly, I find it easy to imagine some candidates needing to take a harder look at the job because of the presence of a very experienced NHL head coach watching from upstairs every night. During a losing streak in January in a year or two, Craig MacTavish could easily feel like the grim reaper in a suit watching from the management box. MacTavish says he doesn't think his presence will, or should, make the new head coach uncomfortable.

"My philosophy was as a coach, and is as a manager, that you do really 3 things with your coach: you hire the coach, you support the coach to the best of your ability and then you fire the coach," explains MacTavish. "It's such an extremely difficult job that you have to have the support of the management and it's virtually an impossibility to perform the job if you don't. I'll be extremely supportive of whoever the candidate is that eventually lands here behind the bench."

Of course, the new head coach is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to vaulting the team out of the NHL basement. The management team is keenly aware that the roster of players is going to need to improve in order to make the results do the same, and Craig MacTavish says that's going to start from within.

Team Captain Shawn Horcoff is one of the veterans that will need to step up in 2012-13. Under MacTavish, No. 10 enjoyed career seasons, including an MVP-like year en route to the 2006 Stanley Cup Final vs. Carolina.
"There are a few guys that have been here for a pretty good period of time that have not put together as good a stretch of hockey as they're capable of," he laments. "I really believe that the players that were the cornerstone of the team that we took to the Stanley Cup Final realize that they've got to perform at that level again. They've performed under that level."

"There's the perception out there that the youth is going to carry this team to the next level and back to an era of incredible success. But, I think that when you really look at it, the youth was good last year. The youth was the strength of the team last year. The veterans have to re-establish themselves as really good, solid, dominant players as well to augment what the youth means to the team."

There are a number of variables that will go into the turnaround for these veteran players. Things like health (Hemsky), defined role (Horcoff) and managed ice time (Smyth) will all contribute to these pieces yielding more consistency and value within the lineup. That said, it doesnit start and end with the players currently on the roster. The current roster of players, as I said before, needs to improve for the results to do the same, but so does the caliber of that roster. Itis incumbent on management to, as quickly as possible, start to shore up the depth and talent of the team in certain areas. Size and grit amongst the forwards and defensemen capable of playing big, and quality, minutes are good starts. MacTavish says this is all obvious to him.

"There's a ways to go and sometimes now can be the most delicate stage of any rebuilding phase, where you need to add some pieces that might cost you things that you don't want to part with," he says.

An interesting turn of phrase there, from MacT, suggesting that the team needs to be open to moving some valuable pieces in order to address other deficiencies. While that might seem like an obvious course of action, pulling the trigger on such a deal is never an easy thing to do, so another strong opinion in the room that seems to be in favour of that could be a positive thing.

"It's exciting, but also dangerous from a management standpoint because we've got to help this team along by making some good decisions with personnel,” MacTavish continues. “That's really what I view my job as here, is to help and augment this management staff in terms of determining value. It's all about determining value, whether you're signing a player or analyzing how a player is going to perform when he's injected into your lineup."

"Teams are rated on a daily basis from 1-30 in the sports section. When you're on the bottom end of that, there's a real expectation that through the evolvement and maturation of the young players the team is going to improve. But you also know that there's got to be some areas structurally that you're going to have to improve the team."

Speaking of the team, I asked MacTavish about his presence on the management staff and how it might affect the comfort level of Steve Tambellini, much the same way I asked about how his presence would affect the new head coach. After saying earlier that his spot in the organization shouldnit have the new coach looking over his shoulder, he reiterated the same about the GM.

"I'm going to do exactly what I did as a player,” explains MacTavish. “I'm going to try to add whatever I can to the element and the fabric of the group that we have here so we can move this team forward. I guess I'm ambitious, but I'm not that ambitious. You have to really enjoy the job that you're doing and work together and have some fun along the way. If anybody is looking is looking over their shoulder or I'm looking over my shoulder, then it really inhibits your ability to do that."

You can listen to Dan on Inside Sports weeknights from 6 to 9 on 630 CHED. Follow Dan on Twitter | @dantencer
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