Above the 49: MacTavish has plenty to prove as new Oilers GM

8:41 AM, Apr 17, 2013   |    comments
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Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - Craig MacTavish might not have a tough act to follow in his new role as general manager of the Edmonton Oilers, but his biggest challenge will be convincing the team's frustrated fan base that Monday's announcement was indeed a step toward a culture change.

While the Oilers may have trumpeted the need to make bold moves as part of Monday's change of leadership announcement, unless MacTavish really steps up quickly - and by that we mean as soon as the Oilers finish off what will in all likelihood be their seventh straight season out of the playoff picture - and makes the so-called tough decisions the Oilers so desperately require, it's hard to see this turnover as being anything other than a cosmetic change.

On Monday, the Oilers relieved Steve Tambellini from his position as GM after just shy of five years on the job that saw the team compile a dismal 138-185-46 record under his guidance.

The biggest criticism many had of Tambellini was the steadfast patience he showed during his team's rebuilding process, which resulted in little to no moves being made beyond those involving bit players to give his team a realistic shot at making the playoffs.

But Tambellini's lack of impact moves didn't just mean standing pat and allowing his team to finish in the bottom of the league standings year in and year out, something which did have the benefit of yielding him three first overall picks in a row and allowed him to build a roster loaded with up-and- coming young stars that is the envy of many other general managers across the league.

Tambellini, despite being a rare outside hire by Oilers president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe and not being among their so-called old boy's network, failed to help create a new identity for a team that, despite only being two seasons removed from an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals when he took over, had clearly allowed apathy to set in.

MacTavish's task will now be to make those tough moves that his predecessor wouldn't - moves that might not seem as difficult now to pull the trigger on given Edmonton's run of futility over the past several years.

However, those moves may still involve more than just shipping out the likes of popular, long-time Oilers who have clearly overstayed their welcome such as team captain Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky.

It also might mean giving up their lottery pick in this year's draft or one of their top youngsters - possibly one of their big four in Hall, Eberle, Nugent- Hopkins or Yakupov - to bring in some proven stars who can work with their existing young core.

It also may mean making a decision to walk away from No. 1 netminder Devan Dubnyk in favor of bringing in an established goaltender such as Roberto Luongo or impending unrestricted free agent Mike Smith. It could work if they feel they have the opportunity to make a legitimate run in the near future before the bulk of their young core gets to their next respective contract stage, which will hinder the team's ability to spend money on the open market.

It's clear the next few months will be critical for MacTavish as he will be asked to make the decisions that will ultimately determine whether the franchise takes a step toward fulfilling the promise of becoming the dominant team many had envisioned of it, or whether the Oilers continue to stay stagnant as they have through much of the Tambellini era and watch their window of opportunity slowly begin to close on them.

MacTavish certainly talked the talk during Monday's announcement. Oilers fans are desperately hoping he can walk the walk now.

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