For most hockey fans, summer is a chance to take a break from hockey and focus on other parts of life. Excluding the NHL draft and Free Agent Frenzy on July 1, the summer can seem pretty dull from a hockey fan standpoint.
For Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish, this summer has been anything but dull.
“It was a very busy offseason. For [the Oilers] and other teams that don’t make the playoffs, once the season ends your focus is really on the amateur draft. For Scott Howson, Bill Scott and me, we’ll spend our time looking at eligible players. We’ll meet with our amateur scouts in early June and continue to chip away at our rankings, so we get our draft order down with all of our amateur scouts.”
Even during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, teams that have been eliminated begin looking towards the amateur draft and free agency, hoping to get a solid plan established come draft day.
“Early on in June, we will start to focus on what our objectives are from a pro scouting standpoint, and we will start looking at pending free agents develop a strategy on who we’re going to go after. Generally that gets us to the week before the draft.”
A crucial period of the summer for a general manager is the week before the amateur draft, held in Philadelphia this year on June 27, and free agency on July 1, when pending unrestricted free agents become available for any team to scoop up.
“It’s a really busy time coming out of the draft for all general managers, but it is may also be the most entertaining time. The season is over, you’re not beat up from the losing anymore, and your focus has turned to really building and improving your team through the amateur draft and the UFA season, and you try and develop and work a strategy.
“We really targeted three people during free agency; Nikita Nikiten, Mark Fayne and Benoit Pouliot. We ended up getting all three, so that was good.”
Once free agency dies down, management focuses on their development camp, which brings all of the team’s prospects together for about a week.
“We’re there for a week with all our prospects and all our staff, trying to inundate our players and trying to communicate to our prospects what we’re all about, what our expectations are from a cultural standpoint for our organization as well as the conditioning standpoint. After that it dies down again, until preparations for training camps start to ramp up in September. That gives you a little bit of a timeline as to what managers are up to during the summer.”
As for the upcoming season, MacTavish feels the off-season has been productive.
“I’m an optimist. I’m always thinking better times are around the corner. Eventually I’ll be right, but I haven’t been so far in the last few years. I think we have some elements and realistic expectations for improvement, but I’m always cautious. We also changed some of the coaching staff, so there was a lot done.”
Having won four Stanley Cups in his playing years, MacTavish knows a thing or two about what it takes to win.
“Talent wins championships, and we haven’t been in the mix. But we have developing talent, and we firmly believe that there are players there that are going to help us improve greatly. My experience tells me we need patience when developing young players, but our players are getting to a point now that they’re going start having a significant impact on the outcome of a game.”
“Hopefully it’s all moves that will make a positive impact, but you just don’t know until the puck drops in October. It’s all a calculated gamble and calculated risks, and hopefully we made some moves. I think everybody feels they’re improving their team. This time of year, everybody is optimistic, and some are going to be wrong come October 8.”