An impatient Craig MacTavish gets a chance to rebuild Oilers | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaAn impatient Craig MacTavish gets a chance to rebuild Oilers

Posted: Monday, April 15, 2013 | 03:58 PM

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Taylor Hall, centre, celebrates an Edmonton goal during an April 3 game with a mix of Oilers veterans and young players. It will now be up to Craig MacTavish to decide the core group the team will build around. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press) Taylor Hall, centre, celebrates an Edmonton goal during an April 3 game with a mix of Oilers veterans and young players. It will now be up to Craig MacTavish to decide the core group the team will build around. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

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The Edmonton Oilers decided it was time for Steve Tambellini to go as general manager of the struggling NHL team. But was it the right decision to replace him with recycled Craig MacTavish and Scott Howson?

These rebuilds, in the NHL, take time.

Not every team can tweak like the Montreal Canadiens and go from worst to near first in the East in a year. Not every team has a strong goalie (not counting Carey Price's outing last Saturday), a strong core that was three years removed from a visit to the conference final and an all-star like Andrei Markov finally healthy and ready to return to form.

Sometimes a coach can make a difference like Randy Carlyle has made with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but this development arrived after seven long seasons of playoff-less hockey.

The Edmonton Oilers situation was different. They hit rock bottom a few seasons ago. You don't get three consecutive first overall draft selections by being good.

So was the right call made on Monday morning, when Oilers president of hockey operations decided to fire Steve Tambellini, ending his five-year stint as the club's general manager? 

Will Craig MacTavish as general manager and Scott Howson as MacTavish's replacement as senior vice-president of hockey operations make a difference in the short-term? How much say will Kevin Lowe have in the day-to-day operations? After all, he's the common thread to the last six, soon-to-be seven, playoff-less seasons in Edmonton. 

But these rebuilds take time.

Just look back at the last team to have three consecutive first overall selections. The Quebec Nordiques chose Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan and Eric Lindros in 1989, 1990 and 1991, but even though this team already had a young Joe Sakic this franchise didn't make the playoffs until the 1992-93 season. They didn't win a playoff series until they won the Stanley Cup in 1995-96 as the Colorado Avalanche.

Yes, the Nordiques/Avalanche changed GMs twice - from Martin Madden to Pierre Page to Pierre Lacroix - before winning the championship. By the time the Avalanche won, Sundin, Lindros and Nolan were all dealt for key components.

The biggest move of them all was when Patrick Roy became fed up in Montreal and demanded to be traded. Colorado certainly wasn't hurt by the fact that Lacroix used to be Roy's agent. It also didn't hurt that Mike Keane was included as part of the package that went from Montreal to Colorado.

The Pittsburgh Penguins had the first overall selection in 2003 (Marc-Andre Fleury), second overall in 2004 (Evgeni Malkin), first overall in 2005 (Sidney Crosby) and second overall in 2006 (Jordan Staal). The impact came swifter for the Penguins than the Nordiques/Avalanche with a Stanley Cup championship in 2008-09.

Tambellini's undoing was that he didn't add enough complementary pieces to youthful stars in Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.

Ales Hemsky was inconsistent. Ryan Smyth had nothing left. Shawn Horcoff missed significant time with an injury and please don't underestimate the importance of the Oilers captain when he was in the lineup. Ryan Jones, one player who could have been a factor, missed too much time with an eye injury.

This was a strange season with the lockout. If you don't have depth like the Ottawa Senators you better stay healthy. You also better have outstanding goaltending. The Oilers had neither this season.

The Oilers needed to contend for that eighth and final playoff spot in the West. They did. A five-game win streak before the trade deadline put them right there. But then the wheels fell off with a five-game losing streak that included an embarrassing 4-1 loss to the rival Calgary Flames last Saturday.

I know there are Oilers fans angry that MacTavish and Howson have been recycled. But Howson spent the past several seasons getting an education as GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets. MacTavish expanded his horizons with a season in the Vancouver Canucks system.

Maybe they will be better the second time around. I just don't think their return to the Oilers had to come at the expense of Tambellini. I would have liked to see him get another year or two to add more pieces.

These rebuilds take time.

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