In his initial hours as general manager of the Edmonton Oilers, Craig MacTavish called on players to elevate their game with urgency and toughness.
MacTavish spoke to Hockey Night in Canada Radio on Monday, just hours after succeeding fired GM Steve Tambellini with the Oilers in the midst of a five-game losing streak.
"I don’t think there’s a full understanding from our group of how incredibly difficult it is to have success in this game and how hard you have to work to have any type of success in this game, both individually and collectively," MacTavish, 53, told HNIC Radio host Gord Stellick and co-host Kelly Hrudey.
MacTavish was speaking partly to his team’s poor effort in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the visiting Calgary Flames that dropped Edmonton’s record to 16-18-7 and put it eight points behind Detroit for the final playoff spot in the NHL’s Western Conference.
'If you’re operating at ninety or ninety-five per cent, you just have to add that urgency and that desperation in your game, given the circumstance and the enormity of the situation.' — New Oilers GM Craig MacTavish
Hrudey told listeners on Sirius channel 207 and XM 92 that the Flames simply "outwilled" Edmonton’s skilled players, who the retired NHL goaltender said didn’t compete at a high enough level to succeed.
"It’s always been my belief that all the productivity is in the last five or ten per cent of effort," said MacTavish, who coached the Oilers to a .537 winning percentage in eight regular seasons from the 2000-01 campaign to 2008-09.
"If you’re operating at ninety or ninety-five per cent, you just have to add that urgency and that desperation in your game, given the circumstance and the enormity of the situation [like Saturday’s game against Calgary] where you’ve got to be able to push yourself to a higher level."
On Saturday, HNIC personality Don Cherry said the Oilers need to add toughness, saying as the opposing team "you don’t worry about a thing" playing in Edmonton.
Room for improvement
MacTavish agreed, saying he believes young offensive forwards like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov are capable of playing with more intensity.
The GM also noted the Oilers have paid a high price at times this season for adding a bit of toughness to their lineup.
"The game has changed now," he said, "and you have to be able to make a play with the puck, otherwise you can’t use the toughness."
MacTavish, who most recently served as the Oilers’ senior vice-president of hockey operations, said he would look at any and all potential moves to turn things around in Edmonton, which appears headed to seventh consecutive season out of the playoffs.
The man known as MacT, who went back to school after his stint as Oilers coach and earned a master’s degree in business from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said he would switch gears and offer a more aggressive style of management than Tambellini, who seemed reluctant to part with any of the team’s first overall draft picks in the past three years: Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov.
The Oilers have nine regular-season games remaining and MacTavish said head coach Ralph Krueger’s job is safe along with that of his assistants Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith.
Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, MacTavish and Krueger have coached the team since its last appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2006, when the Oilers lost to Carolina in a seven-game final.
"It would be assinine to think that the situation that we’re in has anything to do with Ralph Krueger," MacTavish told HNIC Radio. "We have to take the responsibility ourselves … as managers to get more out of the group we have. We have to add depth to the group we have. That’s where my focus will be."
MacTavish said he would be leaning heavily on Scott Howson, who was promoted to the former’s old post on Monday, as the team prepares for the free agent season in July. Howson had been in a scouting position in Edmonton since being fired in mid-February after nearly six seasons as GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets.