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NHL Report: January 30, 2009

At the beginning of December, I was told by an NHL source who was inposition to know that the Edmonton Oilers were poised to fire coach <strong>Craig MacTavish</strong>.&nbsp; Didn't happen.&nbsp; And so, two months later, I must ask this question: Why the hell not?&nbsp;

At the beginning of December, I was told by an NHL source who was in position to know that the Edmonton Oilers were poised to fire coach Craig MacTavish.

Didn't happen.

And so, two months later, I must ask this question:

Why the hell not?

Don't get me wrong. I am not in the habit of encouraging a firing. I don't get a kick out of seeing someone lose a job. In fact, quite the opposite. I've been saddened far too often during this recession by seeing folks I know being dumped by their employers.

Seriously, though, does MacTavish have pictures of someone high up in the Oilers' hierarchy or what?

The Oilers not only were supposed to be an improved squad this season but many (including these eyes) envisioned them as authentic Stanley Cup contenders.

Not happening.

The Oilers are scrambling for their playoff lives these days with a mere record of 24-20 and 51 points.

And on Tuesday night of this week, they were downright embarrassed by the Buffalo Sabres in a 10-2 rout on their home ice.

This game was so bad for the Oilers that, even though they won the opening faceoff at centre ice, they allowed the Sabres to score against them before the game was 10 seconds old. The Oilers were booed off the ice.

MacTavish described his team's effort as a "debacle of monumental proportions."

But this wasn't even the only such debacle for the Oilers at home this season. In December, the Chicago Blackhawks trounced them 9-2 at Rexall Place.

Many (most?) Edmonton fans are unabashedly blaming MacTavish for the Oilers' woes. Calls for a coaching change in Edmonton have been commonplace online and on talk shows since November.

Which brings me back to that York Report of mine in early December, the one in which a source in the know was passing on word to us that the Oilers were poised to fire MacTavish.

Like I said, didn't happen.

"It was all set to happen," the same source insisted to me Thursday, "but (club president) Kevin Lowe changed his mind. In fact, as I understand it, he's changed his mind several times since then. He won't pull the trigger, and the consensus among NHL insiders is that Kevin cares too much for Mac-T as a friend. He can't pull the trigger on him, and probably won't now until the end of the season. Lowe's a loyal guy. We should all have bosses like him."

But what if the Oilers suffer a few more lopsided losses?

"I still think he'll stick with Mac-T now," the source said. "I've been wrong before (as he was in early December, in fact), but I truly believe MacTavish keeps his job now for the rest of this season. He has been given the rope and he'll either climb back up on it or, at the end of the season, hang himself with it."

MacTavish won't talk about his job but he clearly knows the tenuous position in which he finds himself. He's been around the NHL longer than most coaches. He's in his eighth season as Edmonton's coach. Only two of his counterparts - the Sabres' Lindy Ruff (11 seasons) and the Nashville Predators' Barry Trotz (10) - have coached their NHL teams longer than MacTavish.

While he wouldn't discuss his job security, or lack of it, MacTavish was trying to be philosophical Thursday, I think.

"It's important," he said, "that when you get beaten as handily as we did (Tuesday night), the urgency in your game reflects the urgency of the situation."

Um, okay.

On Friday night, the Oilers entertain the Minnesota Wild, who are tied with them in the final playoff spot of the Western Conference. The teams play each other five times in their final 35 games. On Jan. 15, in Minnesota, the Wild pounded the Oilers 5-1.

"Minnesota is a team that thrives on turnovers and impatience," MacTavish said. "Their No. 1 attribute as a team is trying to make you beat yourself. They prey on frustration. We have to make sure we play a heady game. We have to expend some mental energy along with some physical energy."

Which is, in reality, what the Oilers have needed to do all season - but haven't.

Marty York is Metro's national sports columnist as well as an
instructor at the College of Sports Media in Toronto. He can be heard
regularly on Vancouver radio station CKNW with Sportstalk host Dan
Russell. Contact Marty at marty.york@metronews.ca

 
 
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