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MacTavish says he might be 'losing credibility,' but better days ahead for Oilers

04/13/2015 06:48 EDT | Updated 06/21/2015 03:59 EDT
EDMONTON - Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish conceded he might be "losing credibility," but he insisted a promising future lies ahead for the organization.

The Oilers ended the 2014-15 season out of the playoffs for the ninth straight time, and MacTavish forecasted another year of rebuilding next year. But he said the foundation of the team is in a good place and that, eventually, patience will pay off.

"We've added a lot more players over the last couple of years," MacTavish said Monday. "I feel more comfortable with the foundation we have right now and we can build from this foundation.

"I think the fans have seen and appreciate we can now make six or seven passes and still have the puck. I know I'm losing credibility, but I see a very entertaining, very impactful, very successful era of Oiler hockey on the horizon."

At the same time, he admitted the team is missing some critical pieces and said goaltending, defence and drafting were areas of concern.

"I'm not going to sit here and say that we don't," he said. "We need an improvement in some pretty vital areas of our team's performance, but I feel some of those pieces may be in the organization already, developing, and the other pieces are going to be up to the organization to bring in."

MacTavish said goaltending will be an area of "intense focus" and that he's willing to part with draft picks if he can improve that area. But the Oilers defensive liabilities will also be closely looked at.

"There's no question to me, our collective defensive ability has to improve," he said. "We're last in goals against. A lot is always laid at the feet of the goaltending … but it's a much deeper problem than that. A lot of the conversation with our players have been revolving around a greater commitment to defence … we'll be focusing on that in terms of a personnel standpoint as well as a tactical standpoint."

MacTavish has only two unrestricted free agents to deal with this summer — forward Derek Roy and goaltender Viktor Fasth — while taking a hard look once again at his coaching staff. Dallas Eakins was fired and replaced by Todd Nelson after the team stumbled to a to 6-14-4 start. While the team improved its play under Nelson, MacTavish wasn't ready to make a commitment Monday.

"We will cast a net, but not a wide net and we may catch Todd in there," he said. "There's no downside to me taking time."

MacTavish said he's confident the young core group of Oilers — Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov — will provide the leadership needed now that the team has transitioned from an older group of players to a younger one.

At the same time, however, he forecast next season to be another developing year, one in which he isn't prepared to predict a playoff spot.

"The team we're trying to build will be a three-line team that can play offence, a very good dependable fourth line," he said. "We've going to play puck possession style."

The Oilers announced earlier in the day they had agreed to a two-year, US$5-million contract extension with 21-year-old Yakupov. The 2012 No. 1 draft pick established a new career high in points this season with 33 (14-19-33) in 81 games. In the second half Yakupov had nine goals and 21 points.

"We all see the promise now that we had when we drafted him," MacTavish said. "I think we've gone this far, we've got to see the end now. It has been some ups and downs, some sideways play and some head-scratching stuff and he's on top of his game now.

"He shows all the assets that we saw when we drafted him: the speed, the physical power, the shot, he's making good plays with the puck and who knows what unlatches all that for him, but he's really figured it out."

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