New Edmonton GM Craig MacTavish sounded a lot like Brian Burke
during his introductory press conference. MacTavish didn't use the
word "truculent" but the message is similar: I'm impatient and we're
going to do something about it.
It was telling Saturday night that Oilers coach Ralph Krueger did not deny a post-game question asking if the Oilers had "mentally checked out" on the season.
In the past two weeks, both Calgary (privately) and Colorado (publicly) went through this, with players challenged to show pride even though the playoff chase is over. The Flames (three wins in their last four games) and Avalanche (five points of a possible six) responded.
"I'm an impatient guy and I bring that impatience to this situation. We're at the stage... that we have to do some bold things," Craig MacTavish said at Monday's news conference introducing him as the Oilers' new GM. "We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk to try and move the team forward in a rapid fashion. We've got a lot of primary pieces here, but we've got to add some depth to help these young players.
"We've got to add competitiveness. I think we lack a true understanding of just how difficult it is to have success at this level."
One stat the organization is very concerned about: Their average shot differential (minus-5.8) is worst in the NHL.
MacTavish, who refused to blame Krueger, sounded a lot like Brian Burke during the latter's first media conference in Toronto. He didn't use the word "truculent" but the message is similar: I'm impatient and we're going to do something about it.
As a resource-rich organization, the Oilers will have options. You have to be careful, though. Sometimes, openly admitting aggressiveness can be dangerous. Burke made his Phil Kessel deal never imagining the Maple Leafs would be bad enough for the cost to include a second overall pick. You look at the Oilers roster and say that shouldn't happen in Edmonton, either. But history shows it can.
The Rick Nash trade is a blueprint. Scott Howson was ripped in the moment, but, with the perspective of time, it looks better. The Blue Jackets gave up the best player, but brought in two edgy, skilled forwards who became major factors in an attitude adjustment.
Sergei Bobrovsky is unquestionably the team's (and possibly the league's) MVP, but any opponent will tell you Columbus is now harder to play against. That's what Edmonton needs, especially on the blue-line. Oilers fans are excited about prospect Oscar Klefbom, but how far is he from being an impact player?
That position needs an immediate upgrade, and they know it. If Mark Streit hits free agency, Edmonton will chase, but so will half the league. Even if they get him, one addition isn't enough.
So, the question becomes: who gets you such a return? Get ready for another round of Ales Hemsky rumours, but the most intriguing cases might be Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov.
My belief is the Oilers would like to sign Gagner, but their past reluctance to do it gives him the leverage. He's a talented centre one year away from unrestricted free agency at age 24.
Here is what the Oilers could do, though. He becomes a restricted free agent this summer. Other teams can talk to him. If one can work out a new contract, is there a trade to be made? If not, Edmonton matches and controls him. Gagner's value provides incentive for a willing partner to work out something. What mix of players/picks/prospects would a team be interested in dealing for a signed Gagner?
I'd be very curious about this. Worth testing, at least. We'll get to Yakupov in a minute. This section is getting too long.
1. More Edmonton coming up, but first some equal time: In preparing for Hotstove on Saturday, word was Quinnipiac goalie Eric Hartzell's two likeliest destinations were Pittsburgh and Vancouver. Saturday afternoon, a couple of sources said not to discount Philadelphia. (The phrase used was, "I heard the team making the biggest run at him was Philadelphia.") Sent an email to Paul Holmgren, who was unable to return the note until after the segment aired. "Bad scoop," he said. His denial should be noted, especially since the Penguins got the player.
2. With Hartzell signed, a couple of Yalies take centre stage: forwards Antoine Laganiere and Andrew Miller. Glenn Healy mentioned Vancouver, Winnipeg, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Nashville. The Predators have seen almost every game, apparently. Don't know as much about Miller, except that Washington is among the chasers.
3. Yakupov: This is purely my opinion, but I think Edmonton would listen to a massive offer. It's nothing against the player, it's more about circumstance. To get quality, you have to give up quality. If MacTavish really wants to make a bold, aggressive move, this is the name on the roster that fits. But the trade would have to be spectacular.
4. I do think Steve Tambellini was allowed to make his own decisions, but by the end, Kevin Lowe (and MacTavish) clearly didn't believe in them. The most interesting thing about Monday's media conference was how different Lowe and MacTavish sounded. Lowe talked about past accomplishments, MacTavish looked towards the future -- saying repeatedly how much the game has changed. There was criticism for going "same old, same old" in Edmonton, but MacTavish came across very differently. This could be a very interesting dynamic.
5. Best omen for Oilers fans: when MacTavish coached, players said his best skill was quickly determining how good someone was -- or wasn't.
6. Best news, period: MacTavish wouldn't take this job if he wasn't healthy. He had a cancer scare two years ago.
7. It would be smart for Lowe to make some kind of apology or "clarification" for his comments about fans. Maybe not everyone in Edmonton can afford a ticket. But they drive up TV ratings, buy your merchandise and ignite the passion for your team. It is a mistake to take those people for granted.
8. Edmonton's also got a weird situation going in AHL Oklahoma City. Two Monday call-ups will ease things, but there are 27 skaters listed on the roster. Not all are active, but in six games over nine days ending Sunday, the Barons never used the same lineup. Sixteen forwards and nine defencemen played at least once. They went 4-2, a credit to them, but it's tough on the players and coaches. Can't have too many guys sitting around.
9. Ben Hanowski played his first game for Calgary last night. It reminded me of an old The Score feature on Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr., the pitchers the Montreal Expos got for Pedro Martinez. Armas was absolutely crushed by the pressure associated with that trade. The organization really struggled with finding a way to insulate him from fan and media expectation. It's not easy, but it will be critical to let Hanowski learn, breathe and develop.
10. Jean-Sebastien Giguere on the fallout from his comments: "I don't regret doing it... Well, I regret the Vegas thing, that's it," he said during a phone conversation last Thursday. "Obviously, the Vegas thing was a little much... I will do stuff with my family (in the off-season), no doubt." Also: "It's not like I think my game is perfect and nobody else's is. I have to be better too."
11. I don't have a problem with anything he said. Sometimes, a public flogging can be beneficial. Giguere was criticized for lashing out publicly rather than keeping it in the room, but he said he'd privately voiced displeasure, and one teammate backed that claim. "We're 30th in the league. We've had a lot of coaches' meetings, players' meetings, nothing was changing. We've got nine games to play, let's focus on nine games... Winning or losing now is not going to change anything, but you have to start somewhere. Why wait until next year? Losing is an attitude; it's really, really hard to change, but you have to work at it, we have to start somewhere... We're 30th. We should be mad."
12. Woody Paige wrote a column in The Denver Post asking for Joe Sakic to take over the Avalanche in the same manner that John Elway now runs the NFL Broncos. The timing of Paige's column was interesting (and probably not coincidental), because that gossip is making its way around the NHL.
13. I'm careful with Colorado, because the Avalanche operate very secretly. It's hard to say what this organization is going to do. I do believe Sakic's been asked before to take an increased role, but decided he wasn't ready. There were two reasons: he wants to make sure he's fully prepared and wants to be an involved father to his three children.
14. Sakic did attend at least one major Board of Governors meeting during the lockout, which led to speculation he's considering more responsibility. If you look at Elway's job with the Broncos, he's not the day-to-day general manager. He oversees the "big picture," like convincing Peyton Manning to go there. Sakic's children are teenagers now. Can he balance family with the "Elway role?" That's the key.
15. Darcy Regier never came close to dealing Ryan Miller or Thomas Vanek at the deadline. "The value wasn't there," he said last week. When you see what it took for him to trade Jason Pominville, you understand what value he wanted. More interesting: the Sabres GM hinted, but would not confirm, that he's talked to both players about extending their contracts in Buffalo. Miller and Vanek are unrestricted free agents after next season.
16. Regier told Hockey Night in Canada Radio the departures of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury taught him that you can't let those kinds of players leave for nothing. When he and I talked by phone, he talked about "the void" that still exists under the new CBA. We know now (thanks to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry) what the high-end 27-year-olds are going to get. Vanek will be 30 and Miller 33 when they hit the market. Can the Sabres find a number they are comfortable with for those players? If not, they will be traded. Regier will sit down with both men after the season. Those talks will determine where things go.
17. Speaking of Briere, if Philadelphia does buy him out (as has been widely reported), would the Sabres bring him back? It's a good family fit for him, they need experience and it would give the fans something to be happy about. He helped Sean Couturier's NHL adjustment and Buffalo will be full of young guys seeking that aid.
18. That quote by Craig MacTavish about the problem not being coaching in Edmonton? Same goes for Buffalo. Same problems under Ron Rolston that existed with Lindy Ruff. The Sabres need more forwards committed to defending and winning battles. Their defence don't get a lot of help.
19. That brings us to Tyler Myers. I've written it before, but his biggest problem is he places way too much pressure on himself and can't let go of mistakes. He and the Sabres feel they are finally making progress on that issue. You can't question his compete level when he plays 26 minutes on a night where he broke his leg. He needs to fill out his frame, yes, but the mental side is the most important.
20. Patrick Kaleta, on the dressing-room corner he shares with Steve Ott: "The most hated corner in the league."
21. Yes, I did ask Ott about the lick to Jeff Halpern. He laughed. "I was just [bleeping] with him."
22. Texted a goalie coach Monday night about Carey Price. Asked what he thought. He thought I was overreacting. "He will be fine," was the reply. "I truly believe that." Entering last Saturday's game, Price had a .927 save percentage at even strength, which is good. (It's down to .923 after two ugly performances.) But, both he and Pekka Rinne have allowed 25 power-play goals, second-most in the NHL. No full-time starter is lower than his .811 percentage when killing penalties.
23. Pavel Datsyuk's agent, Gary Greenstin, was in Toronto visiting client Mikhail Grabovski. We talked about rumours Datsyuk will play the last year of his contract next season, then go back to Russia. Greenstin said he'd just been in Detroit and talked with Ken Holland. He wouldn't go too deeply into those conservations, but it did sound like they discussed the possibility of an extension. (Datsyuk cannot sign anything until July 5.) He added that if Datsyuk stays, it will be with the Red Wings. "Playing with one team is very important to him."
24. Heard both Ducks play-by-play man John Ahlers and Detroit compatriot Ken Daniels mention Francois Beauchemin's adjustment to playing right defence for the first time in his career. It's a pretty interesting story. During the lockout, Beauchemin practiced solely on that side. If he played any charity or exhibition games, it was only on that side. His performance is impressive, considering that's far from ideal.
25. The word on the San Jose Sharks, after all their trades: "Much faster. Rejuvenated."
26. Travel estimates submitted to the IIHF and IOC by the NHL and NHLPA were between $4-7 million for travel and $7-10 million for insurance. The exact costs will be determined by how many charters are used to get everyone there and whether or not there will be summer camps for the individual countries. Will the league or players pick up any of those costs? Both sides agreed (for a change): not a chance. They were adamant they give up enough already.
27. The NHL denied a Sacramento Bee report that the Maloof brothers, who are trying to sell the NBA Kings, are trying to get a hockey team in Vegas. The league was surprised by the report, saying they haven't met or discussed that possibility in five years.
28. Carolina ended a 1-13-1 stretch with a 4-2 victory over Boston, one day after the funeral for Doris Barksdale, who spent almost 20 years as the team's "motivational consultant." She was beloved in the organization and the service was quite the celebration for her. Jim Rutherford told a story about taking a member of the Windsor Spitfires to her, and how an hour of her time changed the kid's life. Excellent tribute.
29. Suggestion for the NHL: only play the makeup game for Ottawa and Boston if it determines who makes the playoffs. (The likely date is April 28.) If the Senators and Bruins are already in, don't bother and determine playoff seedings by points per game. Is it really necessary to make it up otherwise, considering the circumstances?
Elliotte FriedmanElliotte joined CBC in October 2003 and is a commentator with Hockey Night in Canada.
As part of his duties with Hockey Night in Canada, Friedman hosts Inside Hockey, a feature airing every Saturday during Scotiabank Hockey Tonight that tells the stories of the people and places that shape the game of hockey. Always committed to giving viewers the inside story, fans call follow him throughout the regular season and playoffs on Twitter.
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