Mac-T Relieved Of Duty: End of an Era in Oil Country

Kruzer KryzanowskiContributor IMay 8, 2009

EDMONTON - OCTOBER 12:  Head coach Craig MacTavish of the Edmonton Oilers watches the action during the game against the Colorado Avalanche on October 12, 2008 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

I know it's taken me a while to say anything about this, but it's been hard for me to swallow that they—meaning the so-called Oilers faithful—have rested the Oil's lack of success this season squarely on the shoulders of the best coach this team has had since Glen Sather back in the '80s.

Yes, I was the sole member of the 'Anti-Brown Bag Movement' on the Oilers message board this season, if you can call it that.

In all the years since the '06 run I hadn't seen such negativity and bitterness on the site.

It was astounding and most of it was surrounding Mac-T or more to the point "Fire Mac-T"! So much so that I stopped frequenting the board for a while, 'cause I just got so sick and bloody tired of all the whining, bitching, and complaining coming out of the mouths of "Oilers fans."

I swear, this was the first season I've ever been somewhat embarrassed to be an Oilers fan. And it wasn't the team, the coach, or the roller coaster way they were playing. It was other apparent Oilers fans that appeared to have just jumped off the bus from Calgary!

The icing on the cake for me was in the middle of the stretch run to the playoffs, when the Oilers were right in the hunt to snag as high as sixth in the conference. Some no-mind, jackass, crap-for-brains "fans" decide that it's a good idea to hold a "Fire Mac-T Rally" outside of Rexall Place on a game day.

That was my low point. I couldn't fathom that any fan would be so selfish as to hold a coach firing rally when the team was just a week away from a potential berth in the playoffs, which is allegedly what they wanted.  Instead, they were content to provide a distraction to the team and elect to not support the team in that task. It honestly made me sick to my stomach.

Well, Oil Country, you got your wish—the only guy to take the Oilers to the Stanley Cup Finals since Sather is now gone. I hope you're happy with yourselves. Bravo.

The same people that were screaming for change and "tired of mediocrity" are about to get a sharp dose of reality next season with a new coach. They will realize that it wasn't the coach that was mediocre—it was the players themselves playing at a mediocre level and way under their potential due to some outlying, lingering injury recoveries from the season before. 

And of course we're dealing with just under one-third of the roster going into their second full season in the NHL. Yes, the sophomore jinx. And it hit the Young Guns hard, unfortunately. 

But I'll admit, I was on the bandwagon too. I got swept up in all the hype the media and everyone was putting out there about the Oilers being a contender again this year.

Looking up and down the roster, I was excited. And why not? Souray, Vishnovsky, Hemsky, Horcoff, Gagner, Roloson, Gilbert, Garon, Cogliano, Brule, Cole—and the way they finished the season last year with key guys out from injury, it looked like we'd be nearly unstoppable.

It wasn't until I saw the first couple of games on my freshly squeezed Centre Ice package that I noticed that everyone had overblown the situation, and they weren't quite as good as they looked—yet! ;-)

Horcoff was still recovering from his shoulder surgery, something nearly everyone completely forgot about. Or, they just didn't bother to realize that despite being a pro athlete, and in better shape that you or I, it always takes a while for anyone to get back to form after an injury—let alone surgery.

I kept pointing this out to people but all they could see was him missing shots he normally would make, fanning on passes he normally nailed—and all they kept saying "Well, how long could it possibly take? He's supposed to be a professional!"

Well, I only point to Dwayne Roloson as an example. From his knee injury in Game One of the '06 Finals to last season's abysmal flop (lucky Garon was on fire), to exploding this season and being the Oilers MVP, while Garon fell flat on his face like he always does.

So, you tell me how long it takes for someone to get their rhythm and confidence back. It doesn't come back right away. Anyone who's has played sports and has gotten an injury will tell you that.

Garon coming out flat didn't help matters at all. And MacT still wasn't sure where Roli was at yet. Coupled with the fact Lowe had just signed DesLauriers to a one-way contract, this only made things worse. Having to play three goalies is difficult when you don't feel you have a bona fide No.1 guy between the pipes.

'Fatso' Penner showed up to training camp looking like a beached whale. He was completely useless for most of the season and only played when he felt like it. Same with Nilsson—he is just simply not the player he was touted to be. MacT called them both on it and got ostracized even more, when he was just calling a spade a spade and looking for more out of his players.

But it's funny. Despite the players not playing to the full extent of their potential, most everyone blamed MacT and the coaching system for the entire season.

Did anyone stop to think that maybe these players just physically couldn't play in MacT's system? Whether it be they were too big, too slow or just not physically big enough to play the style of play that MacT was showing them. And it wasn't for a lack of trying, even to the point of changing up his own coaching style and his own system to try and compensate for what they were missing and trying to accentuate their strengths.

Is that not what all good coaches do? My answer would be yes—yet, somehow, it failed. Why? I honestly attribute it entirely to one single moment. One day: 'Black Tuesday,' February 27, 2007.

The day Ryan Smyth was traded to the New York Islanders was the day the Oilers died. Not just because of the undeniable fact that Smytty was the heart and soul of the Oilers, and the face of the franchise.  It was the worst-possible, knee-jerk reaction deal in the history of the franchise. Yes, worse that the Gretzky deal.

They traded away the one true Oiler full of heart, grit and toughness in exchange for Robert Nilsson, Ryan O'Marra, and a first-round pick (Alex Plante)—three tiny little boys—and bring them into the American Gladiators-esque style of hockey in the Northwest Division.

It was basically K-Lowe saying: "Here, Mac... I just got some midgets for the show! What do you think?" What's a coach to do when his game plan is built around size, speed, and skill—not one or two of the three.

This isn't a freakin' Meat Loaf song—it's the hardest, toughest division in the NHL. And you bring in three runts? One—okay, sure. One you can work with—but three?

Now, I'm not denying their collective skill, but you're asking your coach to change his entire philosophy overnight. It completely killed anything they had built over the last 10 to 12 years in Edmonton.

Is that the coach's fault? Not really.  Did it look like it was? Possibly to any half-wit with the blinders on and only seeing what's right in front of him.

My point is that MacT should not have been "relieved of duty." Tambellini said himself that there were going to be changes in that locker room for personnel that are willing to play Oiler hockey. The thing is that you're going to be hard-pressed to move Gagner or Cogliano anywhere—they are now the future of the Oilers.

So, now comes the task of bringing in a coach that can use a system that will work for these types of players. And usually as soon as I mention it, everyone in Oil Country cries foul.  Well, you asked for this—now deal with it!

In my mind, the only coach capable of coaching those runts? No, sadly it's not the rumored Mark Messier that everyone and their dog would have you believe, because that would be not better than MacT's system with these current Oilers. No, the only guy available now is Tambellini's good friend, Marc Crawford.

Crow has ties to Tambellini through Vancouver.  He's an offensive-minded coach that will bode well wfor this group. He has a winning record in the NHL, in spite of his brief tour of Hollywood. *rolls eyes*  Oh, and gee—let's not forget that he's got a s ring as a coach too!

Besides, we need to get his annoying voice off of HNIC, as knowledgeable as he is!

But as the headline suggests, it is the end of an era in Oil Country, which started back in 2007 and has been steadily on the decline ever since. I'm sad to see MacT go, but on the other hand, I see now that it is better that he has been relieved of duty.

Not because it was his fault, but because it was painful to watch him with that look of surprise and dumbfoundedness on his face most nights and not understanding "Why, with all that talent, why can't they just get their crap together?"

But I can honestly say that after writing this, I get the confused look now—because I think most of us in Oil Country and the Oiler faithful had the same look on our faces too.

Thanks for all your years of great service to the Oilers, MacT! Thank you for your part in the 2006 Stanley Cup run. And thank you for being a true Oiler too!

Welcome to your new Oilers Oil Country. I hope you can handle it!


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