SUN Hockey Pool

Spread the MacBlame

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

When the most significant off-season personnel change on an 11th place roster was replacing MVP Dwayne Roloson, it almost seemed like the only plan the Oilers organization could come up with was Blame MacTavish.

Don't worry, we were told, the improvement will come from within.

MacTavish is gone.

How will they get better at faceoffs? From within. How will they score more goals? From within. Character? Within. How will they improve enough to make the playoffs? From within.

Interesting plan. Or lack of one.

Or, as it said here on Sept. 13: "Oilers fans are probably thinking the same thing Oilers management is thinking -- let's hope like hell it really was Craig MacTavish's fault ... If not, this team is screwed, and its former coach will get the last laugh from the safety of a TSN studio."

Turns out it wasn't MacTavish's fault, and, yes, the Oilers are screwed.

MacTavish is no more to blame for the last few seasons than Pat Quinn and Tom Renney are for this one.

Dustin Penner? You can hang that one on the old coach. Everything else? That now lies at the feet of the players and a management team that misjudged its dressing room by about 180 degrees.

'GET BETTER'

"That was the answer at the start, we're going to get better from within," said head coach Pat Quinn, the morning after their 10th loss in 11 games and the day before they take on Columbus in a humiliating struggle for 14th. "Well, it's arguable if we're better at all from last year."

They're not.

And they can't blame this debacle entirely on injuries, no matter how hard the club's chief apologists try and sell it to the listeners. The New Jersey Devils lost Martin Brodeur for 50 games and Brian Rolston for 18 last year and won the Atlantic Division with 106 points.

A sag, yes. But a brutal free fall that has them 29th in the league? That's on the players who are here, not the players who are out.

"Was it supposed to be turned around immediately, to become that competitive team that everybody wants here," asked Quinn. "We all stepped in thinking that's what was going to happen. That clearly hasn't happened."

So here we are, halfway through the season, and the season is over.

Instead of the fresh new beginning and all that improvement from within, we're left with the longest funeral march in franchise history -- 39 essentially meaningless games that lead to a fourth-straight season out of the playoffs.

Now what? What's the new plan? Blame Khabby?

Will somebody from the organization ever get around to telling Edmonton where the Oilers go from here? Do they know? A three-year rebuilding effort that means seven years out of the playoffs? One more run at Heatley?

How long will it take to untangle this terrible ball of yarn?

'CAN'T HIDE'

"Looking at this season from the beginning of the year, you never thought we were going to be in this position," said Sam Gagner, whose hopes for this year were as high as anyone's. "But we are and we can't hide that fact."

Or hide from it.

"It's never fun around the dressing room when you're losing," sighed Gilbert Brule. "It's kind of depressing. The mood around the room is not a very good one, obviously.

"We're all trying our best here; we're just trying to get on the same page."

The bad moods don't stop at the dressing room doors. Rexall Place wasn't close to being full for two of the last four home games, although the Oilers announced 16,839 on both nights, keeping alive a rather dubious sellout streak that will surely be extended when 14th place Columbus visits tonight.

"We've had our ups and downs the last two years and you always think it'll get better," said Tom Gilbert. "This is just not going the way we want it to go."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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