The man, quite simply, was a God in terms of framing issues. My favorite press conference he ever held was the one where he said the Americans “were dying in the streets” at the same time U. S. tanks were rumbling down the street mere blocks away. I don’t know his name but if he’s ever in the same cafe as me I’ll buy his lunch and that’s the truth. Greatness at any level must be rewarded and he was the right man at the right time. I hope he’s happy and in good health.
In his own way, Craig MacTavish is almost as entertaining. He’s certainly stretched the truth here and there but his appeal doesn’t come from misinformation but rather from credibly detailing the state of the union for Oiler fans. It’s my belief that one of the reasons the Oilers fanbase is growing and rabid is that there’s more to chew on, more people of interest in the organization and MacT would have to rank as the most interesting of the group (among them are empire builder Laforge, the man who thinks out loud in Kevin Lowe and a man after my own heart, all-time bullshitter Kevin Prendergast).
The post-season MacTavish press conference (on the Oilers site) is the best thing he’s ever done because he not only touches on real, important issues but he gets the point across sincerely and with emotion. If you listen to the 22 minute interview you’ll come away pretty pumped about next winter, and for a guy addressing people who have such a short summer that’s like selling ice to Eskimos.
I’m not going to quote the entire interview but there are several quotes that need to be repeated. My take is in italics.
“The foundation for the future has been built.” Certainly true and I wonder how many teams have had this many young breakout players and NOT won the Stanley at some point down the line. The only example that screamed out at me was the 1980+ Minnesota North Stars.
“Super gratifying” to see the development of the team over the last 2 months. It’s nice to hear him say that because anyone who saw the man suffer through that awful run last year had to think he was in need of a leave of absence.
“I’ve never been afraid of expectations” and they were warranted. He also said the expectation is that the team will pick up from where they left off this year. From a coaching persepective, last year at this time they were on a crusade to find players, this year they don’t need to do that. Huge difference between this year and last year.
Off-ice conditioning and strength building is a key element but there’s a real hunger on this team to get back and get started. He sounds like a man who can’t wait for the fall and obviously is extremely pleased with the results of the last 20 or so games of the season.
- “Mathieu is evolving, I haven’t spoken to Roli yet, but there’s no reason to expect it won’t be a competitive situation next year.” It sounds like he’s going to roll with the hot hand again next season. Mentioned it was a difficult season for Roloson because it was a transition (I assume from starter to co-starter and then backup).
- On Pitkanen: “We all know what the issues are with Joni. He’s still a relatively young player, a little different culture than what he’s used to and in a lot of ways it takes awhile to get a read on him. I’ve talked to him about finding common ground, and there’s room there for his game to co-exist with us. It’s all about making the right decision at the right time of the game and if he can grow in that area he could be a huge asset for us.” Despite the compaints about MacT not giving offensive defensemen the chance to make an impact, he’s had both MA Bergeron and Tom Gilbert emerge on his watch despite some lapses on the other side of the play. I’m encouraged that the coach is showing patience with a clearly gifted player and if they can sign him long term this summer it’s a good idea. This guy might just rip off a 50-point season from the blueline one of these days.
- On Matt Greene: “He had an up and down year at the start but right now he’s playing the best he’s ever played for us and he’s a guy who needs to come in and play at this level.” Greene offers this team a player who is somewhat unique on this depth chart but the longer he plays against the soft parade the closer he gets to the point where he’s going to be asking for real money without doing the heavy lifting required to earn it.
- On Grebeshkov: “He just does it all. There’s a complete dimension to his game.” If we’re talking about arrows pointing in the right direction for next season this fellow has to be near the top of the list. Another trade Lowe made that was in the secondary division but looks like it’ll pay off.
- On Souray: “Cycle breaker. He’s strong, has a good stick and knocks people off the puck. I was pleasantly surprised about how well he could play defensively.” The fact he said that about one of the most expensive free agents in last year’s market tells you how badly they needed players and offense one year ago. With the fine season enjoyed by Staios and the emergence of both Gilbert and Grebeshkov, Sheldon Souray might not be in the top 4D breaking camp in the fall.
- “Marty Reasoner has a lot of value in the role that he plays and a lot of value in terms of his impact in the dressing room.” It’s hard to imagine Reasoner going anywhere based on the comments from the coach. He clearly views him as an integral part of the team.
- On Stoll: “He’s a good player and he overcame a lot coming off the season and the doubt he had two years ago. I liked his competitiveness the last two or three weeks of the season. Players sometimes have off-years, but sometimes you have to be patient even with veterans who have off-years.” MacT clearly still believes in him and Stoll does have areas of strength (PK, faceoffs). I think they’ll sign him to a one-year deal and if he struggles again in the fall he’ll be 4line C before you can say Jim Dowd. Loyalty and faith are trumped by results 100 times out of 100 tries.
- Kyle Brodziak: “The challenge for him is to come in with the same confidence he’s playing with.” This is a key player for the Oilers moving forward. If they can count on him producing and doing it against tougher minutes then it means the options available at center behind Horcoff and Cogliano are less vital. They can afford to sign Stoll and endure another poor EV season if Brodziak can play between Moreau and Pisani with positive results.
- Torres: “It’s a performance based business and a dog eat dog world. It’ll be incumbent upon Raffi to come in and grab a spot for himself.” There’s something unusual going on with Raffi and I can’t put my finger on it. Throughout the season after their injuries you saw Horcoff, Souray and Moreau here and there and the Oilers would update their injuries and there seemed to be more inclusion than there was with Torres. I’m not questioning the injury, he was clearly hurt or they would have brought him back when the F group was thinned. However, after Raffi’s season ended it was like he was gone and that’s a curious thing for an organization that prides itself on family. My guess is he’s gone.
- On Penner: “There’s still a considerable distance he has to go as a player. He’s scratching the surface.” I wonder if he’ll be the 2line LW in the fall. The Hossa rumor comes up from time to time and was mentioned in the PC but after seeing him for a year I’m wondering if Dustin Penner might be better suited to a secondary role. Gagner of course is available too plus Glencross and Moreau and of course Torres is still on the roster. Penner will play next season but my guess is the coach makes him earn the cherry linemates.
- “We’re going to have a lot of competition at some spots.” The toughest areas to break into the lineup will certainly be up front, especially if they add a UFA like Hossa. Even without him, a top 6F of Horcoff-Penner-Hemsky and Cogliano-Gagner-Nilsson means guys like Raffi will be on the outside looking in.
- “There’s something very positive that’s building here.” I wonder if MacT is reminded of his own time breaking in with the Bruins. It took him awhile, he played half a season and then two more “cup of coffee” seasons before getting established on a very good young Bruins team.
- “I don’t think you can ever have enough players. Those things will sort themselves out.” The injuries to Moreau and Souray will have to be factored in and for that reason alone it’s likely the Oilers get some extra AHL depth again this year (another Allan Rourke).
- “I can’t tell you what our opening day lines will look like next year.” One of the areas I’ll be interested in seeing is that kid line. When they break it up there are three players who might make another line go from the starting gun. Seriously. If they keep them together though and give them soft minutes that line might be the key ingredient to a romp up the standings. If the Oilers finish in the top 5 in the West next season they’re going to need an excellent powerplay and consistent EV scorers. Gagner, Cogliano and Nilsson are key elements despite their age.
- “There are so many guys on our team right now playing better than they’ve ever played before.” He mentioned the objective is to come in at that level in the fall and while there’s no doubt one or two players will fall back to the pack (and others might endure injury plagued years) there’s just too much talent here to go backwards from the 07-08 season.
- On Depth: “I don’t see too many expendable pieces right now. The way they’re playing they’re deserving of those benefits of the doubt if there is any doubt.” This would be good news I think for players like Ladislav Smid, Matt Greene and maybe even Marc Pouliot.
- Raffi Torres may already be gone.
- Jarret Stoll is staying.
- Marty Reasoner too.
It’s never fun to watch 16 other teams make the second season, but I can’t recall a spring where there were this many good things to talk about when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers.