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.
#251 GVBlackhawk
April 15 2013, 04:49PM
Trash it!
Jonathan Willis wrote:

Speak for yourself. I think there was, at the very least, a vocal minority that was sharply critical of many of his moves when they were made - starting with Khabibulin and carrying on down to his poor work on deadline day.

Guess I should have read your response first before I basically said the exact same thing.

I particularly detest how he says "We" thought Hordichuk and Eager were good 4th line acquistions (although Eager was supposed to be a 3rd line acquistion).

We didn't like those moves at all, did we precious? gollum, gollum

#252 Bank Shot
April 15 2013, 09:44PM
Trash it!

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.

Strong resume? Compared to who?

Kekalainen who was also hired as a rookie GM this year had head of Player personal, and assistant Gm experience in two different NHL organizations, as well as almost 10 years as a GM in the Finish Elite league.

Mactavish had coaching, and a diploma. Zero management experience.

One of those guys has a strong resume. Mactavish's resume would be far below average when comparing to other NHL GM's.

#253 Throttlehead
April 15 2013, 10:12PM
Trash it!

This is getting about as silly as you can get, no wonder players don't want to go to Edmonton. The common denominator with failure is Lowe, Horcoff, and Ales Hemsky, and I'm pretty sure Tambi never had a chance to trade Horcoff, thanks to Lowe and MacT. This firing is fail on so many levels that it is actually embarrassing, not that it was Tambi going, but the fact that Lowe still has a job and that MacT is brought back.

They seem to think they can relive the 80's just by bringing in ex oilers. It can't be done! RNH is not Gretzky, Hall is not Messier, Eberle is not Kurri, Schultz is not Coffee, they are all great in their own right. What successful team in the NHL does this nonsense with management, in fact what teams do this period?

Lowe says it was MacT who was responsible for getting Schultz (bull****) Schultz himself has said MANY times that it was Kreuger and Hall that had the impact on his decision. Why is Lowe lying? Why does he feel the need to sell a line to the fans? The next immediate reason Lowe should be fired is from what he said today about the fans, separating ticket buying, and non ticket buying fans. Has this guy lost his mind? Isn't every fan and non fan from Edmonton paying for the new arena? When ticket buying fans stop being ticket buying fans, who fills the next seat? This is the most ignorant, arrogant statement I have heard from management in pro sports. In other words, I will say and do what ever I want and you will fill the rink that you bought for us. MIND BOGGLING!

It is completely obvious who the leader on the Oilers is and its not Horcoff (bless his 7 million dollar soul), its Taylor Hall, the move today should have been switching captains, not hiring retreads. Has Horcoff dominated ONE shift (never mind a game) since he has been captain, I mean ONE shift? The talk is we need more grit (agreed) but our captain is the softest 6'1" 215lb leader in the league, for the last 3 years he has forced new players to play out of their spots, he is a 3rd line centre and has been for years. Unless we move Horcoff, Hemsky and Lowe, we will have this unremovable weight attached to us. Its time for the kids to own this team, and they will if given the chance.

Brodziak gone for nothing, Glencross for nothing, Green & Stoll major mistake, Pronger for Smid and a "home town boy" when we could have had Getzlaf. Where did the grit go? ENOUGH of the home town crap! Thank goodness players didn't want to come to Edmonton when Lowe was offering 7-9 million dollar contracts over long contract terms, we would be Horcoffed forever.

All I see is a cover up by Lowe for HIS failures, now his top supporter is hired into the GM position, Katz won't speak up unless he is asking for public money. This franchise became a joke and was on the road of healing, today just set it back to being the biggest joke in the league again, I'm sure players around the league are trying their best to sign no trade contracts so they don't have to go to Edmonton (the worst managed team in the NHL).

Lowe, MacT, Smith, Buchberger, seriously folks enough is enough. I fully expect Kreuger to be fired one day after last game, which ex Oiler is available? Waiting for that one.

Remember MacT on TSN "Horcoff should be considered for Team Canada", that exudes GM qualities.

#254 Throttlehead
April 15 2013, 10:47PM
Trash it!

Mr. Willis, step up the debate, the city deserves it, nobody seems willing to really question what the root of the problems have been and demand answers to the hard questions.

#255 TM8Trent
April 16 2013, 05:48PM
Trash it!

@Eddie Shore

and complete sentences!

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