Edmonton Oilers fire Steve Tambellini, Craig MacTavish to replace him

Jonathan Willis
April 15 2013 10:02AM

As broken by TSN's Ryan Rishaug, general manager Steve Tambellini has been fired by the Edmonton Oilers.

Who replaces Tambellini? Both TSN's Bob McKenzie and CBC's Elliotte Friedman report that Craig MacTavish will be the Oilers' new general manager and that former Columbus G.M. Scott Howson will be taking over MacTavish's role with the team.

Club president Kevin Lowe will hold a press conference at 9:30 MT, at which point it is expected the team will officially confirm the reported changes. Update: Oilers confirm all of the above.

Initial Reaction

  • The decision to replace Tambellini was necessary and long overdue. For that alone, this was a positive move.
  • The Oilers are being pilloried on Twitter for the decision to replace Tambellini with an internal candidate, but while Craig MacTavish is seen by some as more of the same, that's likely not entirely fair. He was a strong head coach, and he only returned to the Oilers last summer. His CV is pretty strong and while nobody knows how well he'll do in the top job he's a bright hockey man and a legitimate candidate.
  • Also worth noting: the last time the Oilers went outside the organization, they ended up with Steve Tambellini. Sometimes the grass isn't greener.
  • Scott Howson previously worked as the assistant general manager in Edmonton before taking the top job in Columbus, and was obviously fairly successful in the role. The perception of him has changed markedly since then, but like other former G.M.'s - Don Waddell in Pittsburgh, John Ferguson, Jr. in San Jose - he may be better suited to a depth role. Certainly the Oilers wouldn't be expanding his role if they weren't impressed with his work in a similar role previously. 
  • Why not wait until summer? The obvious answer is that the team felt they had their guy in MacTavish. With that said, I'd have preferred seeing a full search in the summer that included external candidates. It's not like the Oilers have a bunch of trades and moves to make over the next few weeks.
  • This is a plum job. Is there a team in the league - outside of the current Stanley Cup contenders - that has more raw material to work with than the Oilers over the next few seasons? 
  • The perception that Steve Tambellini was just a puppet and that nothing will change until Kevin Lowe goes is not one that I buy into. The Oilers were a better team under Lowe than they were Tambellini, and when Tambellini came in there were significant changes in how the team was run - most notably in the head coaching department, where a pair of ex-Vancouver bench bosses were hired. 

To sum up: replacing Tambellini was a necessary move, and while I would have preferred a full search over the summer for a new general manager, MacTavish would have been a legitimate candidate in such a search. This isn't an ideal decision, but the Oilers are better in the hockey operations department today than they were yesterday.  

Comments from the Press Conference

  • Kevin Lowe thanks Tambellini and his family for their service to the Oilers, says he released him of his duties yesterday,
  • Lowe: "Despite showing areas of improvement... the fact of the matter is we are not where we want to be right now nore where we should be."
  • Lowe says that Craig MacTavish "played the lead role" in acquiring Justin Schultz last summer.
  • Lowe has lots of praise for other areas of the organization - the AHL, the WHL - but sharply critical of where the Oilers are now.
  • MacTavish: "I have great faith in Scott [Howson]."
  • MacTavish: "I'm an impatient guy, and I bring that impatience to this situation, and I think we're at the stage... where we have to do some bold things. We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk."
  • MacTavish: "I know every time I turn my alarm off there are 29 teams trying to beat my brains in."
  • MacTavish is on fire, hammering away on the need for the team to make immediate changes, to take some risks to get to the next level, to add depth to the organization. 
  • MacTavish: "It makes very little difference what I say today. What really, truly matters is.. what we do tomorrow."
  • Lowe, asked by Mark Spector how this represents meaningful change, says the team has much more ammunition now if what he means is that they aren't capable as a group. 
  • Lowe: "The timing didn't have anything to do with an article that was written."
  • Steve Tambellini had one year left on his deal.
  • Lowe on the 8-2 win over Calgary: "Even our biggest critics thought that we had arrived." Uh, no. 
  • MacTavish references the Oilers' five Stanley Cups when asked about how the group that made the mess that Tambellini couldn't clean up is going to do a better job than Tambellini did. That was a long time ago.
  • MacTavish says he doesn't know that he's ever failed the organization in any of his previous positions. 
  • Lowe: "You're talking about the team that came within one period of winning the Stanley Cup. Someone in the crowd: "Seven years ago."
  • Lowe: "Are you saying to me you're getting impatient after three years?"
  • Lowe says there's only one general manager in hockey who has won more Stanley cups than him, so he knows al ittle bit about winning.
  • Lowe: "The general manager makes the decisions in hockey, my position... is similar to the chairman... I'm a liaison to our owner Daryl Katz."
  • Lowe: I don't think there was ever a time when Tambellini wasn't able to do something he wanted to do, or I asked him to do something he didn't want to do.
  • MacTavish, asked about grit in the top-six: "Grit without skill, as I mentioned, is not something that's going to move the dial of our team forward."
  • MacTavish talks about acquiring "Milan Lucic-type" players, told "I don't know if you're allowed to say that." 
  • MacTavish, smiling, "Just happy times" when asked about this being the anniversary of his departure from the Oilers.
  • MacTavish: 'If you can't do the difficult things that this job requires, how can you ask your players to do them.' 
  • Lowe: "For the record, Craig stepped down four years ago... Tambi didn't fire him."
  • MacTavish: "If you're referring to the young core that we paid an exceptionally high price to acquire, we would part with those assets very begrudgingly."
  • Good news for Ralph Krueger; MacTavish says that the team's burned through four coaches and that it's very remote that coaching is the problem. "I give Ralph a lot of credit."
  • MacTavish: "My physical health is good," jokes that his mental health is open to discussion.

MacTavish came across pretty well, though as he says he's going to be judged on actions, not words. He repeatedly tossed Steve Tambellini under the bus during the press conference without mentioning his name, alluding to his impatience with the slow process of the rebuild, and talking about the need to take action, to take some risks to get ahead. The "if you can't do the difficult things line" was particularly noteworthy in that regard.

The low point was both Lowe and MacTavish referencing the Oilers' glory days victories at the press conference today. A Stanley Cup ring as a player (or five, for that matter) is a lot different than a Stanley Cup ring as a general manager - not that there isn't cross-over, but the skillset to build a team is completely different than the skillset to score a goal or block a shot. Neither man is doing a job on the ice today, and they shouldn't expect any forgiveness for a poor record in the front office based on their work on the ice. It's a different job. 

Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.