Craig MacTavish (right) with Scott Howson (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
The former coach is now back behind the bench in Edmonton and 'Mac T' does so with high stakes. If he can't turn around the roster that he himself constructed, he'll follow Eakins out the door.
The Edmonton Oilers have fired coach Dallas Eakins, thus ending a relationship that metaphorically resembled a broken man sitting at the end of a dank tavern for most of the year and a half Eakins was in charge. Dumping on the Oilers the past few years has become so easy and ubiquitous that it brings to mind all the photos and documentaries that have sprung up of burned-out houses and urban blight in Detroit: Even the admitted rubbernecking feels sad.
Now, GM Craig MacTavish is stepping behind the bench in an attempt to stabilize the situation. And he should realize before he sets a fire under Edmonton's players that he himself is covered in kerosene already.
Discount the fact MacTavish had already coached the Oilers from 2000-09, as his record is mystifying from that time. Yes, the team made it to the Stanley Cup final in 2006 and that was probably a miracle, but they did make it and you can't take that away from him. Otherwise, MacTavish's teams won a total of four playoff games during his tenure, never getting past the first round. Can he coach in the modern era and wring some defensive awareness out of his troops? He better, because even if he's only coach on an interim basis, the stakes are high here.
Should Edmonton continue to wallow this season, Eakins can no longer be the organization's scape goat. MacTavish will wield the hammer of being both coach and GM, so it should become clear pretty quickly if the Oilers players simply weren't listening to Eakins, or were just incapable of executing a game plan as a group.
That second option is of course the scariest for all involved, because this team has been in rebuild mode essentially since Chris Pronger left for Anaheim after just one season (that Cup final season, not coincidentally) in town. It has been eight years since Edmonton has made the playoffs and it's pretty much guaranteed to be nine after this campaign.
The team has squandered the best possible luck in the draft lottery, winning three straight No. 1 overall selections in the past five years and picking within the top seven the other two times. MacTavish botched what could have been a great prospect signing over the summer and the franchise never seems to have anything better than average NHL defensemen at their disposal.
if MacTavish can turn the Oilers around, or at least set them into a position where the next man hired as coach won't be simply bringing a clean mop to a murder scene, then he deserves full points. If however, the structure of the franchise is in fact as sordid and beyond repair as it appears, then owner Daryl Katz needs to sweep out MacTavish and his buddy, president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe. It is long past time, even if MacTavish has bought himself one last life.