SUN Hockey Pool

Oiler vets not surprised

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

For players there is always a sense of culpability when a head coach gets fired. After all, they're the ones out on the ice. The Oilers are no exception.

Having missed the playoffs for a third consecutive season, there was little shock in the news Craig MacTavish was relieved of his coaching duties yesterday after nine seasons behind the bench, eight as head coach.

"I don't think anybody is terribly surprised," said Oilers captain Ethan Moreau. "We knew changes had to be made throughout the organization and I think this is the first one.

"We (players) are the first people to realize that, and we have to take responsibility. We have get better in a lot of areas and it starts with the players. Now we're looking forward to accepting that challenge and that responsibility."

A season that began with so much promise never lived up to expectations. Despite being in a playoff position with three weeks left in the season, the Oilers let it slip away.

"It's mentally taxing," Moreau said. "It wears on you being in that same position, every year fighting for our lives to make the playoffs. As a coach it's stressful.

"Hopefully we can get to the next level regardless of who's here and be a team that can get to the playoffs every year. And get that pride, get that commitment back into our organization and the team."

A team in transition, the message delivered by MacTavish never got through to his players, especially the younger ones. The head coach seemed frustrated by his inability to get the most out of them, regardless of the different approaches he took.

"I think we kind of all sensed that," Moreau said.

"The thing about motivating players, that's kind of the thing that bothers me. If you're in the NHL and if you want to have a good career, you should be able to motivate yourself.

"You could sense it was coming to an end, not just for him but the whole system we've had in the last few years here."

Unable to get the most out of his young talent, MacTavish turned to the veterans to lead them out of the wilderness.

That didn't work out, either. With the exception of Sheldon Souray and Dwayne Roloson, they didn't have all that much to give.

"It was frustrating for all of us," said defenceman Steve Staios. "We did our best to relay the message to everybody on how we felt we were going to be successful.

"There were some games where the message got across and there was a definite jump in our game. But the message overall, whether it was Mac saying it or us saying it, didn't resonate with any real success throughout a consistent period of time."

It's unlikely MacTavish will be the only one to take a bullet. The organization feels they still have a good, young nucleus to build around, but it has to get bigger and grittier.

There is also no guarantee the rest of the coaching staff will stay in place when the search for a new head coach comes to an end.

"He's been my coach the whole time here," said Staios.

"We've had some success. It was a good relationship and I feel like we were so close to accomplishing some great things here and that's what makes it so disappointing. You always want to be successful with the people and the players that you have, and when you don't, changes are going to happen.

"This is probably just the start of it and it's unacceptable for us not to be in the playoffs."


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