Clean slate for Mac-T

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

It was finally safe for the Edmonton Oilers to bring Craig MacTavish back to town yesterday.

There was no longer a danger of him being caught somewhere in public saying, "How in hell do you expect me to coach this horsebleep hockey team?"

MacTavish admits it was a long, long while thinking about a long, long season capped by a long, long week while he waited to find out if the Oilers were going to get Dustin Penner for three draft picks (a first-, second- and third rounder) after handing the former Anaheim Duck an offer sheet worth $21.25 million US over five years.

"I didn't want to be sitting here all year saying 'Boy, we've got those first, second and third round draft choices at the end of the year," said the coach.

MacTavish had been laying low in the Okanagan all summer while GM Kevin Lowe went through his run of phenomenal failures and subsequent successes to finally provide, with considerable controversy, his coach with renewed enthusiasm and optimism for guiding the Oilers back into a playoff position this season.

"To go back to the table with what we had at the end of last year ... I don't think so," he said.

MacTavish yesterday was a coach very much saying thank you to his general manager for giving him a chance to again contemplate success.

"I'd like to commend Kevin. It was not really that popular but at the end of the day, who cares?" he said of doing the dirty deed with Penner.

"Maybe someday it'll look like a stupid play, but right now I feel pretty good about it."

Asked to comment on the reactions of Ducks GM Brian Burke, MacTavish responded with a Burke-like quote.

"Irrelevant really. Listening to him is the equivalent of taking a drink from a firehose.

"Kevin did what he had to do for his hockey team."

And overall, with Mathieu Garon as the new backup goaltender, Sheldon Souray, Joni Pitkanen, Denis Grebeshkov and Dick Tarnstrom added to the defence and Penner and Geoff Sanderson up front, MacTavish figures he has something to work with.

While he'd still like to see another top forward, at least he can come out in public and smile again.

"I'm pretty excited about the prospects, especially considering everything that went wrong after the trade deadline," he said.

"It's a completely different looking back end. We've definitely made defensive improvements, especially in our ability to move the puck and provide offence off the back end. I like the addition of Garon to lighten the workload on Dwayne Roloson, at his age, in goal.

"There was a significant void in scoring, but now we have some net-front pressure," he said of Penner essentially replacing Ryan Smyth at left wing on the first line with Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff.

"Now that Penner is an Oiler we're a whole lot better. He can score goals, make plays and protect the puck."

While Penner had a reputation of needing to be prodded more than most by coach Randy Carlyle with the Ducks this past season, MacTavish doesn't expect he'll have to do much of that.

"He's going to get more of a role here than he had in Anaheim," he said of the 29-goal sniper. "He'll have much more power-play time and much more five-on-five ice time. I think he'll have an even better year playing with Ales Hemsky."

MacTavish likes another thing about his team which hasn't been talked about much.

"We're also a bigger hockey team now. Pitkanen and Souray are both 235 and Penner is 245," he said of the player poundage.

That's a lot of weight off of him.


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