Monday, November 17, 2008


There is rarely a dull day when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers and today is no different as reactions fly with regard to MacTavish calling out Dustin Penner, who will not play again tonight.

Lowetide has made a pretty big deal about this one and I tend to agree with his assessment of the situation. MacTavish pretty well questioned everything about Penner's commitment. This may be a motivational ploy but if so, MacTavish has nowhere else to go on this. If Penner comes back and after a game or two reverts to his indifferent ways then its going to be one or the other and this is where it will get interesting.

First of all there's no doubt in my mind that Penner has been a huge disappointment ever since he came to Edmonton. People point to numbers here and there to prove that he is getting a raw deal but the fact is that he has never shown the passion in Edmonton that he showed in the 2006 playoffs when he was dominant shift in and shift out, overwhelming defencemen with his size and power. He came to camp out of shape last year and while his fitness is better this year the fact is he has underachieved grossly and unlike other guys whose numbers we point at accusingly he does not have the excuse of coming off of a major injury or of playing a new position or of being a teenager to fall back on. Yes he has not had a lot of power play time and that may be a mistake but if you are the highest paid forward on the team and a very big man besides, then you had better have some impact of some sort instead of being a cipher who gets pushed off of the puck by Alex Steen.

Now having said all of that we have reached a crossroads here because unless Penner finds God and comes back as the second coming of Maurice Richard and starts showing that he gives a damn then its going to be either him or the coach. So its going to come to that because I know and you know that Penner may come back and be hard charging for a week or two but then he's going to backslide because that's the way he is. When Shawn Horcoff or Ethan Moreau have a game where they appear disinterested its easy money if you bet that the next game their effort will be terrific. Dustin isn't of that mold.

So its him or MacT.

I like MacT and I think he's a pretty good coach. Prior to the lockout I would grade the work that both he and Lowe did as better then average. They had the constraints of a tight budget and yet every year they produced a competitive team. There were a few small budget teams that did more then they but they were better then a lot of others and some big market teams as well. MacT did a good job at developing young players and of having them play a nice energetic game.

In 2006 they had their finest moment. Some breaks in the playoffs sure but MacT took a nice roster and did some nice game planning and in the end they were a break or two away from winning it all. Can't really ask for more then that. Of course I also have to mention the power play which cost them the Cup, imo, and this is a big issue with MacT, regardless of the personnel.

So for the past two years he's been dealt a bum roster, forced to develop a ton of kids all over the place and last season may have actually been his best coaching job ever. A lot of luck involved but that team was beyond green and still was a pretty competitive team.

But now things have changed. First of all lets get one thing straight - the reality is we, as fans, have no idea what is going on with Oilers' management. There is plenty of speculation but lets start with these truths:

There is a new owner who has spent a lot of money on this club.

Kevin Lowe is no longer the GM and we have no idea how much power he has when it comes to decision making.

We have no idea how much power Steve Tambellini has.

We do know that this team has quality throughout the lineup. They could use a veteran centre to handle the tough sledding and we could quibble about another Dman but they are pretty solid. Pretty young still but a playoff team I would say.

And I'm not the only one. The playoffs are the expectation and I would guess that this expectation comes from the top. The old line that Lowe and MacT know what they are doing because they won a bunch of Stanley Cups as players is not going to hold water here and I would say that 2006 is fading fast as well. After all John Tortorella and Jay Feaster are gone and they actually won a Cup and Peter Laviolette is apparently on thin ice in Carolina and he won one too, remember?

I don't know if Katz is exerting pressure on his hockey people but as long as he doesn't go all Koules/Barrie on the Oilers where is the problem if he is? Expecting a team to make the playoffs and win - what a concept. So perhaps the hockey guys are feeling pressure for the first time in a decade. Its about time I would say.

Maybe Tambellini does have the hand in Edmonton now and he wants to bring in his own guy - that's just more speculation - but I do know one thing. Despite a pretty nice start to this season in terms of wins and losses this team's effort has been uneven and they have left points on the table. A lot of games where a full sixty minutes has not been played. We all know the old saw that the players are professionals but preparation is up to the coach too, lets not kid ourselves, and the fact that this team has lacked in the effort department speaks to the coach. And yes the three goalie situation is ridiculous but the power play has still looked anemic and there have been a lot of weird decisions from the bench and something just doesn't seem right.

It bothers me that it took benching Penner and Brodziak to produce Saturday night's effort, probably the best this season, imo, or up there anyways. The question is whether that was the wakeup call that the team needed or if that was MacT's last gasp.

I think MacTavish is in trouble. I think that some players may be tuning him out and that this may be the beginning of the end for him. I like MacT but I don't necessarily think that a change behind the bench would be a bad thing.

I think its coming.


raventalon40 said...

Perhaps the ambiguity of the power structure at the pseudo-GM level is making transactions impossible because our inability to find chemistry on all lines (with the exception of the last two games on the Eastern road swing) is beginning to affect even the players who are performing well this year, such as Hemsky and Souray. A problem for a few players is a problem for the whole team and it will take a concerted effort by both coach and GM, not just the coach.

Swabbubba said...

OK, Mac T getting canned for the poor performance of some players u know I can get behind that. If u get lemons u make lemonade.. so who is your next choice.

I am getting out my soap box. I want I believe to this day the best coach available is Ted Nolan. Not John F'in Tortilla.

Ted is proven to be able to get the best out of players. He was good guy in Buffalo... Islanders well where do you start there. Although I would not mind Melrose a grey Mullet. Putting it out there who is the coach of Michigan maybe we should look really outside the box?

Black Dog said...

raventalon - well I don't think I would blame the management structure for the lineup issues - the three goalies, inclusion of a goon and lack of a veteran centre are all questionable from OUR point of view (esp. the goalie situation from my point of view) - but the buck stops with someone. Just because we don't know who it is doesn't mean there are folks rowing in all different directions. Someone is wielding the power when it comes to this club's roster.

swabubba - I'm a fan of Ted Nolan. Pat Burns is also out there.

If it comes to that, who knows? I would bet that its someone from outside the old Oilers' cabal though.

Anonymous said...

Pat Burns!

raventalon40 said...

If it's Kelly Buchberger I'll revoke my Oilers fanship.

jdrevenge said...

i wonder what bringing in a guy like torts would do for the group. hes an emotional guy and he ran a pretty high octane offense in tb.

Oilman said...

I like MacT but I don't necessarily think that a change behind the bench would be a bad thing.

I think a lot of people feel the same way.

HBomb said...

Replacing MacT with Buchberger would be akin to the Edmonton Eskimos replacing Danny Maciocia with Rick Campbell.

Right idea axing one guy only to take a step backwards with the replacement.

I'd send Bucky down the river with MacT if I was the guy calling the shots. Why exactly did they bring him in to replace their only "offensive" coach? Perhaps the PP reverting to shit after promise in the latter stages of 2007-08 has a thing or two to do with Daum not being here?

Anyways, this six day break coming up after the game Thursday is just like an NFL bye-week. 1/4 of the schedule done, it's quite the opportunity for a well timed shake-up.

This might very well be the last days. As a guy who has never been a huge MacT guy (even though he's earned some respect from me over the years, the same weaknesses exist), I can't say I'd be that upset. It might just be time for a change in the form of Burns, Nolan or Tortorella....

Pat H said...

unless Penner finds God and comes back as the second coming of Maurice Richard and starts showing that he gives a damn then its going to be either him or the coach.

Actually, God may be part of the problem. I say that a bit flippantly, but honestly, I think there's something to it. I just don't think that Penner ever played the game with an edge, or played an overly physical game, and I think his background really is a contributing factor to this. The two links below flesh this out a little.

And don't get me wrong, I don't hold it against him. I mean, I find it frustrating as hell, but he has enough skill to play in the NHL even if he doesn't play with the edge. And he uses his body well to shield the puck, even if he doesn't use his body to bang other bodies.

I think we need to recognize and accept him for what he is. Problem is, I think Lowe/MacT banked (so to speak) on him being something more in the vein of a power forward. And honestly, if they had taken a even a cursory look at his background, they'd have quickly realized that such expectations weren't really plausible.

raventalon40 said...

I think Bruce from Oil Droppings showed that Penner is still performing despite reduced ice time. Perhaps he has called out the wrong player but regardless the team is not performing. I think Tambellini needs to make a move soon.

Black Dog said...

pat h - been a while; yeah I think that part of Penner's makeup is important

Thing is I don't think they are expecting him to be Mark Messier out there. John LeClair would do. LeCalir wasn't known as a very mean guy, iirc.

raventalon - well his PP time has been cut so his production has dropped off but its his B game, as MacT calls it, that has been the issue

Lots of guys are not scoring but Penner has brought very little to the table besides. No physical presence whatsoever when you are that size is inexcusable

Kish said...

Fundamentally, there are a few things that coaches must be able to do to be successful in today's (or at any time) NHL:
- productive, consistent PP
- consistent effort/compete level through the season (Bettman points still count)
- allowing young core players to develop from within (when applicable)

If each point was worth three (1 being terrible, 3 being great), what would you score mact at? me? he gets 1, 1.5, 2 for 4.5/9.
Really if you can check off those three things as a coach, you've control what you can control, the rest is just the hand you're dealt. A year ago, I would have given him 1 or 2 extra points.

Jon said...

I am a Mennonite -I work for the church in fact- and I would be the first to argue that Penner's heritage has little or nothing to do with his physical play. I have been involved in hockey games comprised entirely of mennonite pastors and found them to be some of the most competitive, cranky, cheapshot artists around.

I also went to school with Regehr and know his family and while I would never defame his character (he is one of the nicest guys around, even if he plays on the wrong side of the battle of Alberta IMO) he will go right through you to win.

I guess I am saying don't give Penner the out based on who his parents are. His play has consistently been soft and disinterested and smacks of laziness.

Black Dog said...

kish - well, you could talk about the PK as well as part of the package among other things but I get your point, that is that for some reason MacT seems to be less effective as a coach this season

now we could point fingers at the makeup of the roster certainly in a couple of cases (more vets would be nice, as always) but I think other then the PP, always a MacT bugaboo, he is not getting a consistent effort and he is not putting some youngsters in positions where they can succeed

whether or not this directive is from above - ie. play goon to detriment of Brodziak (poor linemate) and Stortini (spot on roster) / play Gagner in tough minutes to accelerate development - is an open question

the key to me is the effort - great effort Saturday and then from most accounts uneven one last night

kanadienkyle said...

Pat, not sure where else to send this, but I am writing over at Illegal Curve and am doing the "Around the NW" feature. Would you be interesting in writing a quick little piece on the Oilers? The Around the Atlantic piece is up now if you need guidance.


Black Dog said...

thanks jon, I think that's pretty helpful

I forgot Reghyr was a Mennonite - based on the way he plays you know its either ok or he's lapsed ;) although I would take him on my team any day

yeah, plenty of people seem to be making excuses for Penner - I don't get it, the guy has been playing like a sack of shit for the most part since he came to Alberta - I have seen him play with far more intensity so I know its in him, unfortunately that was when he was a Duck

Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks Jon, I forgot about Regehr also. I was wondering if that was a consideration re: Penner so maybe not so much eh?. Actually the Mact comment that's got me really wondering is the "It's one thing after another". Hmmmmm.
Boy, Vanek is sure looking good over there in Buffalo.

I was excited for this team this summer because of the strides the young players had taken and we were getting Moreau, Horcoff and Souray back. Adding Visnovsky and Cole was big too. Most of my enjoyment last season was from my keen interest in guys like Gagner, Cogliano and Gilbert from before the start and then following them.
Brodziak too.

I never felt the team were now going to be a shoe in because in those last 2o some games last season however; my memory kept telling me they were mostly against other bubble teams or a few great games like Roli in San Jose. Faulty memory perhaps? But I did expect some progress.

I also expected the Kid Line to be tested and challenged and the returnees + Vish & Cole essentially composing a somewhat new team (i.e. gelling required)

I fully believe Gagner and Cogliano are working their way there. For me there's a feeling of one more corner and they'll be off flying. It doesn't look like Gagner is enjoying the game like he did last year, but it's also showing me he's intent on finding that corner.

I also took into consideration the 'holy s***' early part of the schedule. So count me as one of those fans who are kinda suprised with some of the panic and anger right now.

The one big worry I do have is losing Pisani (hopefully he's a fast healer) even though he hasn't been quite his old reliable self. I kept wondering if his back problem earlier was a factor.

Sorry for the length; I'm a cup is half full fan:
Moreau-seems rejuvenated.
Horcoff-will also work his way back
Souray-is what I thought and hoped for.
Roli-still has that fire.
Vishnovsky-didn't know alot about him and am pleasantly surprised.
Cole-despite results, showing quite a game. I'm sure he's frustrated though.
Garon-not sure what's what there.
Gilbert-looking like his old self again.
Staios-old steady, now has a load he can handle well.
Grebeshkov-still gives me heart attacks.
Brodziak-working his way there too.
Actually was surprised with his benching.
Stortini-is Stortini, useful.
Pouliot-does some nice things, but I've never been able to get excited about him.
MacIntyre-glad he's on our team, and seems like a good guy to boot.
Smid-I like him; do I need to be more patient with him though?
and Hemsky-he makes me downright giddy sometimes.

David S said...

That's one of the best anonymous posts I've seen in a while.

Hey guys, I understand the wish to go 80-0 after all the hype this summer, but geez man, look at this schedule for cripes sakes. Given that, didya happen to take a look at TSN's standing tonight? That doesn't look like a team where a coach is in jeopardy to me.

OK. If we suck in February after a good chunk of home games, you might have a point. But right now the whole "MacT is in his last days" thing is grossly overblown and more than a little a bit premature.

In reality, there's a total of about 20 guys on the 'sphere making all the commotion. And I hate to say it, but none of those 20 guys draw a Rexall cheque.

If anything, the game tonight probably shows why MacT's so frustrated. Penner played his ass off tonight and the other guys were shades of brilliant, albeit in spurts. THAT's the problem.

This team has real potential and its killing MacT that they don't believe it yet. He's pissed because he seems to be the only guy that sees how good they can be. His problem is (like Staples said today) that he told the world as much. Great magicians NEVER reveal their secrets. Stupid MacT!

Black Dog said...

david s - I definitely recognize the schedule and overall the record is fine but there a few things bothering me about this team. I'm a MacT guy too. So is Lowetide and he is of the same mind as I am. And there are others who I would generally call pretty rational guys, as I would consider myself.

As you said yourself, this team has real potential. I think MacT is not the only one who sees it. I think his boss does too.

Having said all that, we're all completely mental.