Is Mac-T a good fit for the Wolves?

Thomas Drance
July 25 2011 09:20AM

Though it looked like the hiring of Craig MacTavish as the head coach of the Canucks new AHL affiliate the Chicago Wolves was imminent a week ago - it has still yet to occur. We chronicled the odd circumstances surrounding the delay in a post last week - asking "What's the Hold Up?" What's especially odd about the MacTavish non-hiring, is that Mac-T has nine years of experience as an NHL head-coach, a career winning record, and seems like he'd be an able mentor for the Wolves...

I got at Oilers bloggers Jonathan Willis and Derek Zona, and asked for their opinions on Craig MacTavish's Oilers tenure, and his overall abilities as a head-coach. Here's what Jonathan Willis had to say:

Craig MacTavish is a superb coach in a lot of ways. He's strong tactically, matching lines religiously and moving players around in the hope of a favourable match up. He tended to coach a strong defensive team during his time with the Oilers, and his penalty-killing units were, as a rule, excellent. Like most coaches, he likes veterans, but he isn't afraid to give young players key roles, and he doesn't mind using flawed but talented players (like Marc-Andre Bergeron) in tailored roles. On the other hand, he's never coached a team that performed strongly on the man advantage, and he has at times shown an unfortunate willingness to criticize particular players publicly. Those flaws aside, I think he's a highly competent coach.

Willis' take makes MacTavish sound like a very promising fit for the Canucks AHL affiliate. His "religious" line-matching habits could help the Canucks young players get accustomed to an obsessively tactical style very similar to the deployment strategies favored by Alain Vigneault. Having a defense-first coach at the AHL level makes a lot of sense as well, it makes it likely that any call-ups (who would probably  play on the 4th line, or on the bottom pairing) will be well schooled on the defensive side of the puck. That MacTavish is able to adjust his game-plan to the roster he's given, giving "flawed but talented players" a chance in "tailored roles" is also a desirable trait for a farm-team head coach to possess (especially with prospects like Prab Rai, Kevin Connauton and Jordan Schroeder in the Canucks system). Also - the Canucks stable of high-end offensive talent offsets his weakness as a tactician with the man-advantage. Simply put: with the Sedins and Kesler on board, it's highly unlikely that any current AHL prospects will be averaging any more than a hundred seconds of power-play time per game at the NHL level until at least 2014-2015.

Added Derek Zona (who managed to swallow his hatred for Vancouver's hockey team for just long enough to give this Canucks blogger a quote):

MacTavish is an excellent in-game tactician. He matches lines to create opportunities for his young players to make an impact from game-to-game. He will ride veterans hard for own-zone faceoffs and the penalty kill. He's also very good at turning young kids into two-way players, something he was never given enough credit for in Edmonton.

What Zona tells us, and what Willis tells us is pretty similar, though the added nugget that MacTavish "is very good at turning young kids into two-way players" is new, and something a fan certainly wants to hear about the head-coach of their teams AHL affiliate.

Consider Mac-T's track record - he led an undermanned, pre-salary cap Oilers team to a winning record in each of his four seasons there prior to the lockout. He made it to game seven of the finals with a gutty if mediocre club (mediocre for a finals team, apologies to Chris Pronger) in 2006. Though the Oilers lost their footing after that - one can hardly blame MacTavish for the Pronger trade, the bonanza of bad contracts signed by Oilers brass, and the injury woes the team endured in the following two and a half seasons.

MacTavish has more experience as a head-coach at the professional level than any other available candidate, and seems like a slam-dunk aspirant to coach the Wolves. Should the Canucks falter and Alain Vigneault lose his job mid-season (something that is both unlikely, and that I'd hate to see) MacTavish has the experience to step in, right the ship, and maybe pull a Dan Bylsma. Having looked into Mac-T's head-coaching performance, and heard the opinions of intelligent Oilers observers regarding his competence - I'm convinced that he'd be a stellar choice to coach the Wolves. So I suppose we should ask again - what's the hold up?

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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