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EDMONTON – Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish said the struggling organization is "under scrutiny" for underperforming despite an influx of high draft picks and young talent in recent years.
The Oilers (6-15-5) are mired in an 11-game losing streak, but MacTavis didn't announce any personnel changes in a testy news conference Friday. Coach Dallas Eakins is in his second season behind the bench for Edmonton, last in the Western Conference with 17 points.
"The accountability of the players to execute has to improve," MacTavish said. "There isn't any tangible evidence of any of that improvement, and that's what's so difficult for everybody to swallow."
MacTavish said everyone is under evaluation from the front office to the dressing room, but suggested Eakins isn't going anywhere.
"He's evolving," MacTavish said. "We've changed assistant coaches. We've brought in co-coaches. We've brought in former head coaches. Those coaches were all delivering the same message and we need a higher level of execution (by the players)."
The Oilers have not been in the playoffs since 2006. MacTavish said the team has not progressed as fast as he expected, but said he won't deviate from his long-term plan to draft and develop talent.
"As painful as this process is, we feel that it's a necessary step to get us to the next level," he said.
Asked if the plan is not just behind schedule, but the wrong plan or the right plan executed by the wrong people, MacTavish retorted: "Is it time to punt out the core of these players at 23 and 24 years old as they're developing?
"I've switched out 14 or 15 players in the 18 months that I've been on the job, and what I think I have now is a group that is capable of growth."
Eakins skated the players hard in Friday's practice but insisted it wasn't a punishment for poor performance, rather it was a prescheduled "conditioning day."
"The worst day is when my boss and the players' boss has to come in here and get ... questions about the team," Eakins said of MacTavish's news conference. "That responsibility falls on me, my staff and the players in that room. It's something I take personally and certainly all of the players should be taking it personally."
Eakins said his main concern was not whether he might lose his job but bridging the divide between the fans and the team.
"We're doing everything we can to repair that," he said.
Fans also have focused their displeasure on owner Daryl Katz, who came of age cheering for MacTavish, Oilers hockey operations president Kevin Lowe and other players during the team's glory years in the 1980s.
MacTavish said no one is more upset about the Oilers' plight than the man in charge.
"I would characterize the owner as upset. He's like a lot of our fans times 10," he said.
The Oilers next play the San Jose Sharks at home on Sunday.