MacTavish is MacToast

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:09 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Craig MacTavish walked the plank and in the end, Craig MacTavish you have to thank.

The fans who so vehemently wanted MacTavish fired throughout this season should be toasting the classy coach today for doing a huge favour for the future of the franchise by convincing them they had to fire him.

If he hadn't, we'd be dealing with a dysfunctional franchise far into the future.

If MacTavish had been retained by that five-word text from owner Daryl Katz it would have been complete and utter chaos. That it was MacTavish who, in the end, had to tell Katz, Kevin Lowe and GM Steve Tambellini that he had to be sacked, is a statement in itself.

But he did. And it's a testimonial to him.

TOUGH TALK

The way it went down, he allowed for a tough talk transition to Tambellini as the man at the helm, ready, able and willing to step forward and make major changes to the team not only behind the bench but on the ice and organizationally.

Tambellini, the until-now-mild-mannered, soft-spoken new GM of the Oilers, had been left looking like a puppet by the owner with that "MacT is not going anywhere" text. But I'll remember MacTavish's last moments as the Oilers coach from another text yesterday.

Two Edmonton-based sportswriters in a cab heading to the morning skate prior to last night's Stanley Cup playoff game here sent a text to MacTavish inquiring about the press conference the Oilers had called inquiring if he'd made his decision either way.

"Yes," MacT responded. "I just signed a long-term deal. See U at the press conference."

The guy kept his sense of humour to the very end.

MacTavish was a class act to the very end. The way he handled himself since the fatal stick measurement against the Anaheim Ducks to that last text message should all be edited together as an instructional film for coaches everywhere. Members of the media will never find another who will match MacTavish as an honest, candid and exceedingly quotable coach. One last time, I repeat. I'm going to miss him.

But his time was up and he knew his time was up. He had to go and he knew he had to go for the Oilers to go forward.

"We both agreed it was time for a change," said Tambellini in his press conference. "This is the right time for Craig and the right time for the Edmonton Oilers. This does not absolve the players and their performance or lack thereof. We need a new voice, a new start and new expectations."

MacTavish two days earlier left a very clear and damning exit interview about what was wrong with his hockey team in terms of the culture which has changed, the uncoachable aspect of the team as it is currently configured and the shortcomings in grit and size and combining will with skill.

It'll be very, very interesting to see what Tambellini does with Dustin Penner, Robert Nilsson and Kyle Brodziak, the three coach killers who in MacTavish's final statement in the final meaningless game of the season were all benched.

With Lowe significant by his non-participation yesterday, Tambellini made some very strong statements.

He told Edmonton with his tough talk that he's spent the year observing and now he's going to take this team - "his" team - by the throat to turn the culture, replace a significant number of parts in the lineup and others in the organization including development and scouting.

"Things are going to change!" said Tambellini. "One thing I will not put up with is an unemotional game. I want an aggressive, emotional team not standing on its heels. I want a team that's proactive. We need to have more grit and be a tougher team to play against.

"There is a lot of work to be done here. We have to stop looking back and start looking forward. We have to take a total look at our organization and how we're doing our business. Getting better does not mean staying with the status quo. We're not a team which has been comfortably sitting in a playoff position for the last three years.

"Obviously we need to change some things," said the man who had to go to Springfield and apologize to the fans of the minor-league team what an embarrassing product they provided them.

The guessing game will begin about who he may hire as his next coach.

"I have in my mind the type of person I want as coach," he said.

OUTSIDE THE FAMILY

It's highly unlikely to be an ex-Oiler. It's much more likely to be somebody Tambellini has worked with in the past as either a Vancouver Canucks coach or a Team Canada coach or in the case of Pat Quinn, who gave him his first job, both.

Marc Crawford and Tom Renney quickly come to mind. Brent Sutter, the current coach of the New Jersey Devils and likely coach of the Olympic team next year, would be the fans' first choice.

Whoever it is, thank Craig MacTavish for knowing it was time to take a hike and force the Oilers to go forward and make the major, major changes which must be made.


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