It has been announced today that the Canucks and Craig MacTavish, a team employee who was the head-coach of Vancouver’s AHL affiliate club the Chicago Wolves, are parting ways. Craig MacTavish has stepped down to "pursue other opportunities" and in particular, other opportunities in the Edmonton Oilers front-office.
It had been speculated that Mac-T was preparing to re-join the Edmonton Oilers, albeit not in a head-coaching capacity, and sure enough only moments after the news broke that he was stepping down in Chicago, the Oilers confirmed that MacTavish will join the organization as the Senior VP of Hockey Operations.
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Here are Mike Gillis’ comments from the official media release on Canucks.nhl.com:
“Craig brought a tremendous amount of experience and expertise as Head Coach of the Wolves this past season,” said Mike Gillis. “We were pleased to have him as a member of our organization and wish him continued success in the future.”
Craig MacTavish led the Wolves to a 44-27-4 record this past season, as the team won their division but were eliminated in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs by Laurence Gilman’s former club, the San Antonio Rampage. The Wolves, under Mac-T’s guidance, were something of a "typical" MacTavish team – stingy in their own end and stifling on the penalty-kill, they were also challenged offensively and their power-play production was rather limited.
In the past, the Canucks and their AHL affiliate clubs in Manitoba played the same basic system. Former Moose coaches, for example, tend to closely echo Vigneault’s extreme zone based deployment schemes when they graduate to fully fledged NHL coaches, which, suggests a sophisticated level of institutional co-ordination between the NHL club and their past AHL affiliates.
It’s my observation – and granted I only watched a handful of Wolves games this past season, and covered one live – that this changed somewhat this past season. The Wolves shirked a modified Umbrella formation on the power-play (and didn’t regularly use Newell Brown’s patented delayed, drop-pass zone entry), worked in an aggressive box rather than a more passive one on the penalty-kill, and didn’t match lines at even-strength with any sort of Vigneault-esque obsessiveness.
In addition to this, I think it’s fair to point out that certain young players and in particular undrafted free agent signees Darren Archibald and Sebastian Erixon, may not have been granted the same types of opportunities in Chicago this past season that the likes of Eddie Lack and Chris Tanev were given in Manitoba. Granted, Tanev and Lack are both singularly talented prospects, but Darren Archibald spent much of the season in the ECHL, while Sebastian Erixon was a fixture in the press box, became quickly unhappy with his situation, and was traded at the deadline. In fairness, while fringe prospects like Archibald and Erixon struggled with Mac-T at the helm, guys like Kevin Connauton and Jordan Schroeder put together career years, and noticeably improved their two-way game.
When MacTavish was initially hired, it was widely thought that his presence would serve to put oft-embattled head coach Alain Vigneault’s feet to the fire. It certainly seems as if that never really happened, even though the Wolves season was a qualified success.
So, now we’ll await the naming of a new Chicago Wolves head-coach. The Canucks’ AHL affiliate has a rich history of churning out big league head-coaches, with names like Alain Vigneault, Randy Carlyle, Claude Noel and Scott Arniel all having coached in Manitoba relatively recently. This is purely speculative, but I’d single out Scott Arniel as an intriguing name – he’s got NHL head-coaching experience, a level of familiarity with the Canucks organization and he’s currently out of work. While he floundered in difficult circumstances in Columbus, the Blue Jackets’ underlying numbers were significantly better than the team’s record, and I’m not sure one can blame him for the goaltending.