Before I get into today's blog, I'll address the elephant in the room, which today is me.
Yes, I am back on Puckrant. Yes, I no longer manage the site. Yes, I left for a while. Yes, new management and I worked out an agreement today that brought me back. No, I have no plans to go elsewhere for the next year at the very least.
And that's all I'm going to say about it ever again. The past is the past, and I'm happy with where things stand now.
Moving on to why were all here, Oilers talk. I've been hearing plenty of crazy stuff in recent weeks that I haven't had a chance to address. Where to start?
- The Bob Nicholson hiring was all Daryl Katz. So much so that I'm starting to wonder if there's a bit of an internal power struggle occurring.
A bit of history: Okay, so Steve Tambellini is brought in to be GM. He mostly-sucks at the job. Of course the failed situation also reflects badly on his boss, Kevin Lowe. I've read sports journals suggest the Oilers are the second-worst run professional sports organization in North America. Everyone knows the team is a train wreck. Everyone also knows Tambellini was micro-managed by Lowe throughout his tenure as GM.
Craig MacTavish is hired. Given a BS job to kill time until the team has a reason to fire Tambellini. It happened. I think the micro-management situation started to happen again between Lowe and the GM. Problem is for Lowe, Katz trusts MacTavish's opinion on things far more than he trusted Tambellini.
Hmmm, how to delicately explain this?
Nail Yakupov. Worst kept secret in the world is that Katz, not Lowe, drafted Yakupov. It was a public relations move. Going into the draft, fans were hammering on the organization to take the flashy forward over defenseman Ryan Murray. The team was saying to everyone that Murray was their guy, because they needed a defenseman with good all-around skills and leadership qualities. Katz changed the pick on the draft floor because Oilers fans wanted him to. He realized that fans...the people buying the tickets...we're starting to lose patience with the organization. So he acted.
The 2013/2014 season happens, and it's obvious almost instantly that there's management issues within the team. The players loved former coach Ralph Krueger and resented the hiring of Dallas Eakins, especially considering the justification that was given. Eakins was more "MacT's kind of guy." If you look at MacTavish's record on the year, he made a number of splendid deals. David Perron, Viktor Fasth, Ben Scrivens and Matt Hendricks were all acquired for little to no price. A few draft picks, a Swede who was greatly under-performing, and a goalie that can't keep a job in the AHL. MacT looked like a genius.
What wasn't so brilliant, aside from eliminating Krueger, who had the loyalty of the players, was putting new coach Eakins in a position where he had to use the ol' boys club as his assistants. It was obvious to everyone that the Oilers had a very dysfunctional room throughout the season. But was this the fault of MacTavish, Eakins or Lowe, for placing the expectation on Eakins to use his guys?
We're quickly moving towards the new season, and some developments are becoming clear to me:
- Ownership has put Craig MacTavish in full control of the hockey team. Kevin Lowe will no longer micro-manage anyone. This is MacT's ship now, and there's hope for the Oilers because of it.
- Ownership and MacTavish has given the green light to Dallas Eakins to be the full-on Head Coach. Meaning, he'll find and develop a coaching staff of his choosing.
- And in case you haven't noticed, MacT and Eakins are working together to figure out who should be on this team, and who needs to go. MacT is not going to stick Eakins with any player he doesn't want. A way to test this theory? If the Oilers reach #3 in the draft order and both Aaron Ekblad and Sam Reinhart are gone, they will take Sam Bennett. Eakins has thrown a million hints out there in recent weeks that he wants a team full of leaders, not passengers. The concern about forward Leon Draisaitl has to do with his compete level. Bennett might be small and unable to do a chin-up, but he's a battler that never takes a shift off. He's an emotional leader. He's a leader. The Oilers want more of those.
Think about 2013/2014. Who were the best players on the team? Taylor Hall and David Perron. Why? Hall takes every single shift seriously...almost personally. No one wants to win more than he does. And Perron is the new Esa Tikkanen. Intense. Annoying. Completely willing to stoop to any level required to get the job done.
While Nail Yakupov had a terrible season, he's going to be back because Eakins understands Yakupov has the same sort of drive that Hall does. He's got a long way to go to become as good as Hall, but the energy and enthusiasm are there. All the other key players for the future of this team - Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner, Nurse, Klefbom, Marincin, Schultz, both goalies - Play with intensity and passion. Heck, even players further down the roster like Boyd Gordon, Andrew Ference and Matt Hendricks are all known for their compete level.
Perhaps the person who has the most riding on this season isn't Eakins or MacTavish, it is Lowe. Much like MacTavish was brought in to wait in the wings while the Oilers career of Tambellini expired, Nicholson is now sitting around waiting for Lowe to collapse. Lowe's mission, if he accepts it, is to realize he's not a good team manager, and to leave the job to someone more suited to play that role (MacTavish).
It's funny how the sports world and the real world can mirror each other at times.
Welcome back, me.