Category Archives: Edmonton Oilers

Nostradamus would run away rather than predict Edmonton Oilers’ future

So, now that the original Edmonton Oilers-linked hoopla has died down for a moment, let’s try to have a detached look at what has just happened.

To sum up: until proven otherwise, Oilers’ fans have just been taken down to the river where they were sold a bill of goods. Again.

The Edmonton Oilers will be picking first in this year’s draft, and they are going after Connor McDavid. That’s what all and sundry say. The only thing we know for sure is that they are picking first. The newly installed poohbah Peter Chiarelli is on record as saying he’s not trading the pick no matter what. He is not on record as saying young McDavid it is and will be. Considering the Oilers’ needs can be found elsewhere (blueline, net), what if there’s a blue-chip, NHL-ready defenceman available?

Yes, most commentators would insist, but Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are generational players, and McDavid even more so than Eichel.

Mumbo-jumbo

Care to explain the word: generational?

Care to elaborate in what sense: generational?

It just so happens that there are several definitions of generations, all of them valid. Some use demographics, others sociology, some others use the economy. All of these definitions have some features in common: a generation defines approach, use of whatever tools, vision, among many other characteristics. The span of a generation is based on the specifics of its definition: an economic generation covers a different number of years than, say, a generation that shares similar tastes in what kind of jeans to wear.

How did the word “generational” make its way into professional hockey? In a debate over one beer too many, that’s how.

A reminder: hockey is a team game. Wayne Gretzky didn’t produce the Stanley Cup in Los Angeles no matter how hard he tried. Mark Messier, despite the frequently-repeated legend, didn’t win the Stanley Cup in New York: he would have been nowhere without, say, Mike Richter in goal.

And if there was a player who re-defined his position, it would have been Wayne Gretzky. And, behind the blueline, Bobby Orr.

Did you notice? These guys re-defined their positions. Not the game. As Wayne Gretzky himself liked to say, nobody’s bigger than the game.

Yes, Connor McDavid keeps turning heads by his play. In junior. Here’s hoping that he’s going to keep turning heads once (and if) he makes the big show. Still, bluntly, he hasn’t re-defined anything. Not yet, in any case. Oh, definitely, he’s playing with flair rarely seen in professional hockey these days, and he doesn’t make too many mistakes, either.

How will all of this junior stuff translate into the NHL?

Nobody knows. Connor McDavid least of all.

In any case, there are at least as many questions linked to Connor McDavid and his future with (let’s assume) the Oilers as there are answers.

How did we get here?

Let’s try some chronology.

Until the lockout of 2004-2005, the Oilers served as a useful farm team to the richer clubs in the NHL. They would develop young talent and, once those players’ contracts have expired, it’s goodbye, it’s been nice knowing you, Edmonton will for ever remain etched in my heart, but, for the moment, my cheque book is more important.

No need to blame the players: their careers are limited and what they don’t make now, they won’t make in the future. Most of them, at least.

Whether this kind of approach is fair to the rest of the masses of the unwashed is irrelevant here. This kind of approach is what we have. Let’s live with it. There’s not much else we can do about it.

The NHL reigned the players’ salaries in by introducing a salary cap. It would be an extravagant exaggeration to say this solved everything: the ratio between the salary cap and the league’s hockey-related revenues deserved better, and it would take another lockout for the league and its players to at least attempt a new, more flexible, tack.

In any case, next thing you know, the Oilers were in the Stanley Cup finals, extending the eventual winner (Carolina Hurricanes) to seven games, losing by a lousy single goal (empty-net goals, as it happened to end then, do not count).

In the process, the then-coach, Craig MacTavish, managed to outsmart his Detroit Red Wings counterpart, Mike Babcock, and the Oilers went on to eliminate the mighty Wings in the first round.

Less than three weeks after the final game in the Stanley Cup finals, star defenceman Chris Pronger officially asked to be traded. According to insiders, this wasn’t the first time; those same insiders claim Pronger managed to change the Oilers’ dressing room into a poisonous snake pit by the previous Christmas. Stories about reasons for Pronger’s request differ: his wife Lauren didn’t like Edmonton as such, also, she didn’t like it that her husband was recognized by all and sundry whenever the couple decided to go out for a quiet dinner in one of the poshier eateries in town, or she didn’t like alleged extramarital activities some claimed her husband was guilty of.

All of this is irrelevant now.

What is relevant are two things: Pronger went to Anaheim, and the Oilers ended up landing Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid and, eventually Jordan Eberle. Not bad for a general manager (Kevin Lowe) who had to deal from a position of weakness as Pronger had let the entire world know in advance that Edmonton wasn’t his cup of tea.

The roof fell in next season: the Oilers didn’t make the playoffs. That the eventual Cup winner, the Hurricanes, didn’t make it, either, was of little or no consolation. How can one even dare considering comparisons between the fanaticism of Carolina’s supporters with the flames that burn in the hearts of Oilers’ fans?

One issue remained: thanks (or due) to Chris Pronger’s shenanigans, the Oilers’ reputation among potential free agents hit the freezing point. In attempts to lure help, the Oilers simply had to be satisfied with second- or even third-ranked free agents, and they still had to overpay them to attract them.

No, neither Kevin Lowe nor Craig MacTavish turned stupid overnight. The issue was (and remains to this day) they had to play the cards they’d been dealt.

They had to deal with inept ownership, too.

First, the so-called Edmonton Investors Group bought the club from its original owner, Peter Pocklington, in 1998. That would have been nice and dandy, on one condition: if most of the more than 30 participants didn’t think they knew hockey better than people who had been in it professionally, and with considerable success, for decades.

Gone was Glen Sather who had been grooming Kevin Lowe for his position for quite some time. Instead, Lowe was moved into Sather’s office. Prematurely, it seems in hindsight. Why prematurely? Simple because if he had some general-management experience to fall back on, he would have told the meddling Investors Group crowd to stop giving him advice on hockey-related matters, no matter how well-meant.

Enter Daryl Katz, he of the Rexall pharmacy chain fame, and a self-proclaimed Edmonton Oilers’ fan. He made an offer to buy the club that amounted to hostile takeover, as one of the chiefs of the Investors Group said at the time.

Another Katz’s claim to fame: he’s a bosom friend with some of the boys on the bus, Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish, in particular.

Both Lowe and MacTavish are very capable hockey people, and honest, too.

After all, it wasn’t that then-general manager Steve Tambellini fired MacTavish after the dreadful 2008-2009 season. MacTavish stepped down himself because he felt he didn’t have much more to give. That must have taken a lot of courage.

While away from Edmonton,. MacTavish worked on his vocabulary as a TSN commentator, kept up with coaching as the bench boss for Vancouver Canucks’ then-farm in Chicago and, most importantly, earned his Master’s degree in business administration (MBA).

Perfectly impressive.

But in the cold-blooded world of professional sports, with the cutthroat competitiveness that rules ruthlessly all over that kind of universe, two questions emerge:

Should it have been thus?

Was Kevin Lowe’s “best-before” date in Edmonton Oilers’ hockey operations past? While his knowledge, experience, talent and hard work are unquestionable, would it not have been for the better for everybody concerned if he either moved himself to another side of the operation or (even) offered his services to another organization? Kevin Lowe chose the former for the time being. Let’s see where it leads him (and the Oilers).

The question in Craig MacTavish’s case differs. It is based on a theory developed by Laurence Johnston Peter, a Canadian who rose to fame in the Excited States. As author of the wildly popular book on hierachiology, Peter Principle, he said: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence … in time every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties … Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.”

Mind, incompetence in this context does not mean stupidity in any shape or form. It only means that the waters around you are too deep for comfort.

So, what was the case with Craig MacTavish?

As anybody who has ever touched any basic study on the theory of negotiations would quickly attest, it is wrong to even mention publicly your shortcomings, in addition to making your time limitations known. That, alas, is precisely what Craig MacTavish did when he was introduced as the Oilers’ new general manager. He would be making bold steps, and he was impatient. Bold steps mean: I haven’t got much time. I’m impatient means: I can hardly wait because I have no time at all.

Both statements must have made 29 other general managers giddy. Craig MacTavish just gave them weapons to help them defeat him.

Being a general manager of a professional sports team doesn’t give one too much time to learn on the job. Craig MacTavish only got two years.

Except: in strolls a guy who just lost his job because his club didn’t make the playoffs. On one hand, it seems to indicate different culture: one misstep, and you’re gone.

Alas, a look that goes deeper reveals a few more missteps. Another proof that the economic theory that holds that quantitative changes accumulate until they reach a tipping point after which they become qualitative changes. Meaning, in Peter Chiarelli’s case, such steps as trading Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars. He got, in exchange, players who aren’t bad but who won’t reach Tyler Seguin’s potential if their lives depended on it. All that because of some off-ice misbehaviour and indiscretions attributed to young Mr. Seguin. How come the Dallas Stars managed to put young Mr. Seguin on the straight and narrow before even the next season started?

How will Peter Chiarelli fare in his new job? Fine, he didn’t open his statement by saying he was going to be bold and impatient. He put the young (and most talented) core on notice, instead: you may be out of town before you know what hit you, if we get someone of equal or better value to the club in return.

As a philosophy, this is as it should be. Even Wayne Gretzky wasn’t untouchable, after all.

But as part of your opening statement, before you even shook hands with the guys?

Looking ahead

Will the Oilers be chasing the cup this coming season?

The answer is simple and straightforward: no.

Oh, yes, miracles do happen, but it seems the club has collected on its share of miracles by yet another improbably lucky draft lottery win.

Once we get closer to the free-agent deadline, we’ll know whether those who are now saying that picking Connor McDavid were correct in suggesting that this would help the club immensely. Top players will be lining up to offer the Oilers their services, and at a discount, too.

Besides, considering the Oilers are not trading away their first pick, it remains to be seen whether anything has changed. There have been reported cases of Oilers’ hockey people being overruled (and guess three times who is in a position to do that). The scouts were drooling about NHL-ready defencemen, and the club would end up picking yet another forward.

If this doesn’t change, then the bloodletting made no sense. Except that it made overwhelming headlines about issues that are frightfully overrated, bordering on the irrelevant, at a time when we’re supposed to be deep in thought about whom we’re going to elect to run Alberta for the next few years.

The black art season is upon us, Hockey Unlimited promises

(Updated with detailed broadcast schedule below.)

Remember the Edmonton Oilers selecting Steve Kelly sixth overall in the 1995 NHL draft? The event took place in the Northlands Coliseum (remember THAT place? No? Would the name Rexall Place put it into context?). When then-Oilers’ president and general manager, Glen Sather, and the team’s then-chief scout, Barry Fraser, were mounting the podium, the audience went berserk, demanding the locals select one Shane Doan.

Doan went to the Winnipeg Jets who were selecting seventh. He’s been with them through thick and thin till this day, and he’s still their desert incarnation’s captain in Arizona.

Come to think of it, Edmonton native Jarome Iginla went 11th overall in that same draft, straight to the Dallas Stars, only to be traded to the Calgary Flames for Joe Nieuwendyk.

Where’s Steve Kelly now? Retired, that’s where, after achieving the unpleasant title “underachiever,” never playing more than a half of a season for any given NHL team, going through the German DEL hockey league all the way to the AHL, and ending his career there, following an injury.

Whether it was Kelly’s pure bad luck is irrelevant now. The only thing that matters is that, in hindsight, his selection in the first round was a mistake.

A mistake? After all, as we all know, hindsight is 20-20.

Again, it depends on your point of view.

In 1993, the Ottawa Senators have selected Alexandre Daigle first overall. They were so ecstatic to have landed him, they gave him an outrageous salary by the standards of the day, forcing the league to introduce more or less sensible limitations on rookie income (entry-level contract, as we know it now).

Daigle became famous right then and there. Not so much for his hockey prowess but, rather, for his frightfully idiotic statement that he’s happy to be picked first because, you know, who remembers the guy selected second.

Hartford Whalers (today’s Carolina Hurricanes, for the uninitiated) were selecting second. Chris Pronger was their choice.

Who of the two has achieved more? A rhetorical question.

This being its last installment for this season, Hockey Unlimited’s eighth episode opens with what it calls the science and black art of scouting.

Remember, the regular season will be almost over on the day Rogers Sportsnet airs this episode, Thursday, April 9. (See broadcast schedule below for further broadcast times.) The playoffs will be upon us, but so will be the draft lottery, and, ultimately, the draft itself.

Even with today’s use of advanced statistics and other hugely involved tools of what their priests call the analytics, teams are selecting real, living people, hoping they’re finding a series of gems in the rough. This, in and of itself, makes the draft a hit-and-miss proposition, easily comparable to guessing the sex in one-day-old chicken. Winning over one-armed bandits in casinos carries more probability than picking the right player.

And that even with the hoopla about the so-called “generational players,” such as Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel this season.

Teams that place first and second in the draft lottery should be very careful about what they wish for. Just to refresh your memory: the abovementioned Alexandre Daigle carried the same “generational” label.

Having an insider take us through the maze of trying to find big-league talent is going to make this an interesting segment, for sure.

It is quite logical that, following this insider look into the NHL draft, the second segment of Hockey Unlimited is going to concentrate on a school that has produced so many hockey stars.

It’s known as Athol Murray College of Notre Dame. Founded in 1927 by a visionary Roman Catholic priest, Père (Father) James Athol Murray, Notre Dame has given us stars like Curtis Joseph, Wendel Clark, Vincent Lecavalier, Tyler Myers and Jaden Schwartz, among many others. Located in the relatively small village of Wilcox, Saskatchewan, this high school academy has been developing the spirits, minds and bodies of its students since its inception.

The school’s alumni have remained “hounds for life,” as the second segment of the season’s final episode of Hockey Unlimited shows.

It wouldn’t be Aquila Productions if they didn’t find a hockey story that puts the whole thing into perspective.

Noah Fayad, a 14-year-old player on the St. Albert Sabres AAA Bantam team in the Edmonton Major Bantam Hockey League, has been stricken by leukemia. His quietly courageous battle against this disease has inspired both his teammates and his opponents alike.

Fayad’s battle has helped create a special bond between him and the Sabres’ young assistant coach Brady Reid, who lost his father John to the same disease when he was about Noah’s age. As has become the series’ tradition, Hockey Unlimited will again offer viewers valuable tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.

Episode eight of Hockey Unlimited will begin airing on multiple Sportsnet channels on April 9, with repeat broadcast at various times over the following week preceding the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs. (See broadcast schedule below for further broadcast times.)

 

BROADCAST SCHEDULE:

 

Thurs. Apr. 9

3 PM ET SN One

Fri. Apr. 10

1 PM ET SN Pacific, West, Ontario, East
11:30 PM ET SN One

Tues. Apr. 14

5:30 PM ET SN Pacific, West, Ontario, East

Hockey Unlimited: Episode Three shoots and scores again!

Edmontonians who lived through it will never forget it, and neither will those born decades after that fateful day in August, 1988. Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings.

The hockey world would never be the same, quite a few would predict then. If the greatest player of all time can be traded, so can everyone else.

Hockey’s lost its innocence, moaned many, including some Canadian parliamentarians who even would go so far as to urge the government of the day to stop what they described as blatant sellout to the highest bidder (and, potentially, ban such trades from Canada to the U.S. altogether once and for all). As if professional hockey has ever been about innocence and gentlemanly behaviour.

The irony of it all: the Tories under Brian Mulroney were running the show then. They were engaged in a heated battle about their newly negotiated free trade agreement with the U.S. For the record: the Tories would win the federal election later that year, and it was the free trade agreement that was the top topic of the contest. So, how could (or would) they be able to stand in the way of a perfectly legal deal between two willing business entities, such as the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings?

Those who were saying that the world of hockey has changed forever were right. It did in many more ways than one. And one of those ways would come as a pleasant surprise bordering on outright shock a couple of decades later.

How? How about seeing Matthew Nieto of Long Beach, California, selected by the San Jose Sharks 47th overall in the 2011 NHL draft, now a regular in his club’s lineup? What’s so special about him? The kid’s come up all the way through California’s newly burgeoning minor hockey system, something that wouldn’t have happened without Gretzky’s arrival in the La-La Land.

And that’s what the first segment of the third episode of Aquila Productions’ Hockey Unlimited is all about. Broadcast by Sportsnet Tuesday, with a number of repeat airings coming during the next few weeks, this brilliant piece of documentary television shows the numbers of enthusiastic kids playing hockey in all kinds of youth competitions, where they used to engage in baseball, basketball or football. Many other sports would cross their minds at the time, but definitely not hockey. The seeds that Gretzky planted have developed into an Anaheim Ducks’ Stanley Cup, and a couple of Stanley Cup wins by the Los Angeles Kings. Hockey has become an integral part of the vibrant local sports scene.

And, the document shows, if a sport (or any other activity, for that matter) is to grow, it has to rely upon strong grassroots.

Hockey Unlimited takes it one step further: in a brief segment that follows the opener, hockey instructor Steve Serdachny shows one of Gretzky’s patented moves, describes it in detail and shows all and sundry that they can learn it too.

What a catch!

When Manon Rheaume appeared in goal for NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992 and 1993 exhibition games, there were voices that described it as a marketing gimmick for the fledgling franchise, basically telling the young goalie that she must be off her rocker. Well, it seems none of her critics thought of asking her. Hockey Unlimited did. And Manon Rheaume tells her story her own way.

Now 42, and a hockey mom in her own right, living in Detroit, Manon Rheaume’s sons Dylan and Dakoda have both become hockey goalies. The elder, Dylan, has his heart set firmly on blue paint. His younger brother, Dakoda, is still undecided: the left-wing position attracts serious thoughts, too.

Manon Rheaume bristles at the suggestion her Tampa Bay stint was only a gimmick. Not so, she says. It helped her extend her professional career in a number of minor leagues, both in North America and in Europe. It also helped her start her own foundation that now provides scholarships for young female hockey players.

But times have changed, she smiles. When she played professionally with and against men, she would do anything to stop a shot. There used to be guys who genuinely hated being beaten to the punch by a female goaltender. Being stopped by another guy, well, they didn’t like that much, either, but a girl?

Now, when Manon Rheaume sees her own sons going after each shot, no matter how hard, she cringes and her heart beats faster. Moms will be moms. Even moms with one Olympic silver and two world championships gold medals in their cupboards.

And what about those suggestions it was all marketing? Well, as she put it, you still have to go out there and perform.

Who can retire at age 80?

Simon Bennett’s fitness exercise is a proper introduction to the final segment of this episode of Hockey Unlimited. Can you imagine an 80-year-old hockey player calling his 70-year-old teammate a young punk, and the entire club of people their age having some pretty incredible times playing the game they love?

These guys have their own sets of rules. No slap shots, for example, No hitting, either. When one of them happens to fall on the ice, the play stops and teammates and foes help him up again.

And one overwhelming rule: unadulterated fun for everybody concerned.

These guys will remain young for ever. Some of them played when they were kids, then stopped, and now they’re back, some never played organized hockey, some have continued throughout their lives. But they all have one thing in common: while the fastest team game on earth might have slowed down a tad when they are on the ice, it’s the friendships that make it all worth their while. And, their improved health, too.

It’s the wonderful scope that makes the new series, Hockey Unlimited, so special.

Looking at Canada’s pastime from all possible angles, the documentary series speaks of hockey that touches everybody, not only sports teams’ fans. It makes its viewers wish they become active participants. And it’s quite possible it might convince quite a few that now, right now, is the time to grab our pair of skates, find those old hockey sticks, buy a puck or two, and ho for the open spaces!

Where now, Edmonton Oilers?

It’s obvious not many people (including fans) will be fooled enough by the latest changes made by the Edmonton Oilers to start plotting a Stanley Cup parade route.

And if anyone thinks the latest series of disasters has been ex-coach Dallas Eakins’s fault, think again. How about the people above him on the totem pole, that is, the people who hired him in the first place?

As the good old saying has it, fish smell funny (read: stink) from the head down.

The club’s owner represents the head here.

Many a commentator would point to the sad fact that the Oilers are doomed because their organization, once the envy of the league, has become a dysfunctional mess.

They can hardly be more right.

The issue of misplaced loyalties has raised its ugly head again. And it will continue doing so until the fans force Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz to walk away, ride into the sunset, perform a disappearing act, simply vanish from the scene.

How can the fans achieve that? But it’s simple and straightforward: by stopping sending their money Katz’s way.

The Oilers can still claim sell-outs, but regular watchers will confirm that the number of empty seats has been growing exponentially in recent weeks. These are (mostly) season ticket seats that have been sold before the season began. Anyone who thinks they’ll be sold again once the next season rolls around is dreaming in Technicolor.

Empty seats lead directly to sponsors’ reluctance to support a losing proposition much longer. Meaning, Daryl Katz would be facing a double-whammy. He may start whining. He may start talking about Edmontonians’ civic duty, as if supporting a professional sports team was local citizenry’s solemn obligation bestowed upon birth. He may even demand that city government help him through these difficult times because his club’s presence helps increase Edmonton’s quality of life. Given his record, this is not out of the question at all: just recall how he got city council forfeit its duties to its employers (citizens of Edmonton, that is) and shell out a huge chunk of the cost of a new arena.

Just for the record: a professional sports club’s presence does nothing to enhance quality of life for the community where it happens to be sitting. In pure economic terms, it’s just another employer. Except, unlike most of the other employers, professional sports clubs use (abuse is a better word) their customers’ frightfully shortsighted (stupid is a word that describes the situation better) loyalty to the product. For whatever reason, it takes supporters of professional sports clubs much longer than an average citizen to realize they’re buying damaged goods and that they believe that snake-oil sales pitches have any merit whatsoever.

In any case, to get local supporters to the stage where they begin abandoning the brand, especially in a hockey-crazed community such as Edmonton, now, that takes sheer genius. Yet, that’s precisely what’s happening. It’s gone so far that scalpers have been trying to sell tickets to what used to be attractive games offering them at deep discounts, much less than the price they had paid to obtain them in the first place. Not only that: they’re finding no takers.

By the way, Edmonton fans are used to looking down on their Vancouver colleagues. Guess what: their Vancouver colleagues showed their displeasure with the Vancouver Canucks brand in no uncertain means. Within a few months, the entire managment crew of the Canucks was gone. Fans are coming back.

Reasons, anybody?

To be fair, general manager Craig MacTavish did his best to sound professionally and show a dose of honesty. Announcing Dallas Eakins’s departure, MacTavish would admit that he’s to blame for the mess to a degree. What a turn of events from just less than two weeks ago when he blamed everybody but himself, telling all and sundry he hasn’t been in office long enough to clean up the mess.

Of course, MacTavish’s use William Shakespeare’s kind of imagery has turned what was supposed to be a wake of almost tragic proportions into a farce.

Well, at least he was honest, as he was announcing that Dallas Eakins would no longer coach the team. This is a positive character quality, and it’s not new. After all, it was MacTavish himself who resigned as coach in 2009. He wasn’t fired. It showed honesty and loyalty to the club, despite the fact that it must have hurt him beyond belief.

But that was then, this is now.

The Oilers have started going down after two events: first, after the departure of Peter Pocklington, and, secondly, after the departure of Glen Sather.

No, not after the Wayne Gretzky trade. They did manage to win another Stanley Cup without him, too.

Granted, Pocklington’s personality didn’t attract everybody, and it couldn’t, either. His faults were many. Not as many as some of his critics would say, and not as few as some of his supporters would claim. And the fact the Oilers won five (count them: five) Stanley Cups while Pocklington was their owner, does not necessarily reflect his ownership genius. Yet, it does remain an undisputed (and undisputable) fact.

Granted, Sather’s departure was engineered to bring in some fresh air and cut the club’s ties to the past. That’s what the gang of 21, a.k.a. Oilers’ new ownership group would claim. Yet, in the interest of continuity, they would replace Sather with Kevin Lowe.

Here’s the issue: Kevin Lowe is a highly intelligent, professional, honest and loyal human being. He knows more about hockey (both as the game and as the business) than all of the members of the ownership group combined. He faced a barrage of suggestions and proposals from these people and, for whatever reasons, he didn’t tell them to go where he should have told them to go.

The ownership group, a gathering of hockey ignoramuses if there ever was one, would eventually give up and sell the club to a pharmacy chain owner.

Why? Because it hated losing money, that’s why.

What’s so new about the so-called new era?

Daryl Katz claims he’s been the club’s fan since time immemorial. As a little kid who’s never managed to grow up, he’s still incredibly proud that he can count these great stars of the past amongst his personal friends. Why, he’s even got their home phone numbers, and he can call them by their first names, too, and how many of you can do that?

Therein lies the first mistake: a professional sports club is a business like any other. While it can’t hurt if its owner likes what his or her company produces, whatever it may be, an owner’s first and foremost approach must be professional. Businesslike, that is. In the Edmonton Oilers’ media book, Daryl Katz reveals he’s not aware of anything of the kind. He waxes poetic about how much he’s a fan throughout his biographical entry. Good for him, probably, but awful for the business, for sure.

Because of this approach, he views his vice-president (Lowe) and general manager (MacTavish) as his personal buddies, and he wouldn’t do anything to cause them pain.

That it may hurt the guys in the future, nobody seems to have told him: if they continue working for Daryl Katz, their reputations around the league will be going down, if they hadn’t yet.

Frankly, Kevin Lowe’s “best before” label has expired. At least in this market. He would absolutely be a perfect leader in 29 other NHL locations. Not in Edmonton, any longer.

In MacTavish’s case, the scenario is more difficult.

After his resignation as a head coach, in addition to coaching in minor leagues and commenting on television, MacTavish went and earned himself an MBA degree. Commendable. Remarkable, even. But: business administration touches upon economics, the science that is behind it, only rarely and very briefly. Too rarely and too briefly, in fact. Which means that, it seems, nobody mentioned an advanced economics theory known as the Peter Principle to him.

Named after Laurence Johnston Peter, a Canadian economist, educator and “hierarchiologist,” the theory deals with the sadly undisputable fact that we all have our ceilings so far as our abilities are concerned.

Here’s an example: a car mechanic is able to hear right away everything that’s going on inside the vehicle’s engine as the customer is driving his car in. The guy is a genius. Cars that he fixes would fetch more on second-hand markets than what the original owner had paid for them to begin with.

The mechanic gets promoted. He becomes a foreman. This is still relatively OK. He still has to (and gets to) work on the shop floor. His reputation as a genius keeps bringing new customers to the shop.

Everybody’s happy. Well, not everybody, actually. The paperwork is more often than not late. The guy’s main interest is still in the engines, not behind a desk. But so famous is he that the dealer promotes him to the position of service department manager. Which is precisely where it all comes crashing down. The guy interferes with the mechanics, he’s getting in their way, and the paperwork keeps getting more and more unfinished.

What happened? The unfortunate guy is a step or two above his ceiling. It can’t work, and it doesn’t.

And that’s precisely where Craig MacTavish is right now. An honest, hardworking guy who forgot more about hockey than the rest of us will ever know, he has stumbled (or was pushed – that doesn’t matter) into an untenable position.

Proof?

How about MacTavish’s inauguration speech? Remember? He’s going to make bold moves, and he’s impatient.

That one singular turn of phrase gave 29 of his opposing numbers reliable weapons. The one about lack of patience in particular: oh, we’ll just outwait him.

Oh, he wants this or that player? We’ll demand this or that player in return. Mostly players who were on MacTavish’s “untouchable” list.

His dismissal of previous coach, Ralph Krueger, during a Skype conversation about hiring an associate coach (in Dallas Eakins) did nothing to make Edmonton more attractive to potential new talent behind the bench. Whether MacTavish intended it to look and sound like this is absolutely irrelevant. It looked and sounded incredibly disrespectful. Everybody around the league is aware of this.

After this fiasco, how many will even begin to consider Edmonton an ideal spot to work as a coach? A rhetorical question, this.

True, MacTavish has had a hand in replacing about a half of the team. How many of the newcomers have been a success outright, how many have meant no change, and how many have been an unmitigated disaster?

Change for the sake of change may make you look like the busiest of beavers in the world. It doesn’t get you anywhere.

Attacking the club’s scouting staff doesn’t go over exceptionally well, either. The scouts are told, instructed, even, what kind of players their club is after. So, they go and concentrate on looking for that kind of players. Is it their fault? Is it somebody else’s fault? How about the general manager’s?

Here’s a sad picture: Pat Quinn comes in as a coach, and finds that the club can’t think of number one draft choices as automatic saviours within the first years of their careers. Result? Dismissed.

Tom Renney comes in as a coach, and finds that the club can’t think of number one draft choices as automatic saviours within the first years of their careers. Result? Dismissed.

Ralph Krueger comes in as a coach, and finds that the club can’t think of number one draft choices as automatic saviours within the first years of their careers. Result? Dismissed.

Steve Tambellini figures the same thing out, too. Result? Dismissed.

Whose hand do you detect here? Kevin Lowe’s? Absolutely not. He’s a hockey guy, and hockey guys’ views are much more realistic. He knows the NHL is not what junior players have got used to. He knows the NHL is superior to the AHL, too.

Lest anybody dreams that Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, both described by hockey experts as generational players (whatever THAT is supposed to mean) will turn the Oilers’ fortunes within the first few shifts of their arrival, think again.

Not even Wayne Gretzky managed to turn the Los Angeles Kings’ fortunes around and help them win the Stanley Cup. Yes, they got into game seven in the cup finals, but it took a much better-rounded club for the Kings to win it all years later. And nobody will dispute that if there ever was a generational player, it was Gretzky.

Is there a way out?

No, there isn’t, as it is. Definitely not as long fans are going to support their team in good times and bad, accepting that they’re being sold a bill of goods year after year after year.

Can there be a way out? Yes, under new ownership, there can be. Can that happen? Certainly. The owner will have to feel his club’s fans’ discontent where it hurts the most. In Daryl Katz’s case, in his wallet. Then, and only then, will there be hope that the Edmonton Oilers can begin aspiring to greatness again.

Will it ever happen? Why not? Then again: why yes?

Craig MacTavish claims he’s got an alibi … but what about his club?

This is called alibism at its best: surrounded by media hawks, most of them out for blood like a bunch of sharks, Edmonton Oilers’ general manager Craig MacTavish told them his club plans to stay the course because what he’s doing makes sense. If there were anybody to blame, it would be his predecessors in office. Craig MacTavish’s got an alibi: he’s been in office – your choice: 18 months? 20 months? – to sum up, not long enough to be blamed for the state his club is in.

Who’s to blame? Of course, Craig MacTavish’s immediate predecessor, Steve Tambellini, comes to mind first. Next in line: the guy who hired Craig MacTavish in the first place, one Kevin Lowe. If we were to read anything of importance into MacTavish’s “media availability” Friday (what’s wrong with “news conference,” anyway?), the other person to blame would be the Oilers’ owner, Daryl Katz.

From what is known, owner Katz’s new right-hand man, former Hockey Canada poohbah Bob Nicholson, has been closeted with Lowe and MacTavish the last few days, trying to figure out how to right the ship.

Like: what else is new?

If what MacTavish told the media gathering was all the Oilers’ top honchos had come up with, it was much ado about nothing. The club is starring in a frightful comedy of errors (to stay with William Shakespeare’s plays a bit longer), and all its general manager has got to say he’s got an alibi, and besides, it takes more time. In all fairness: case studies show that, indeed, to completely rebuild a professional sports club (or any corporation that size, for that matter) takes not only a dollop of patience, but also a bit of time. Say, anywhere between five and six years. Not much longer, not much less, either. These case studies, of course, deal with rebuilding operations that go from top to bottom.

Did you notice the qualification: from top to bottom?

And that’s what the Edmonton Oilers have been trying to avoid all along.

Bob Nicholson’s eyes are the only set that has come from the outside, and even that begs a question or two: Kevin Lowe has worked with him, on and off, on Hockey Canada’s projects for years. Meanwhile, another boy from the bus, one Mark Messier, has been involved in what ought to be a rescue operation (and isn’t), too.

Nothing against the boys from the bus in the past. They have achieved what they have achieved, and they deserve to bask in all kinds of glory for their past victories.

Except: all of these victories have happened in the past. Not only that: in distant past.

Where to start?

There are several issues at play here.

Number one: there is no quick fix in sight whatsoever.

Number two: with the owner they have, Oilers are content they are making money hand over fist, some of it from masochistic fans who continue to support the team despite hearing from the club (in not so many words) that the Oilers aren’t worth a cent of their hard-earned bucks. Some of the money comes from city government that, for reasons of its own, is robbing its employers (read: the taxpayers) so the Oilers get a new arena. Both sources are welcome, so far as Daryl Katz is concerned.

Coming up with a better product? You’re kidding, right? RIGHT?

Number three: the Edmonton Oilers lack what in the lingo of professional sports has been known as either a franchise player (John Tavares, anyone?), or a generational player (Sidney Crosby, anyone?) In fact, we can safely say they lack both. To their defence, let it be noted there were no such players available in the last several drafts. Still, with many other teams picking gems in later stages of the draft, the question remains: have the Oilers scouts not learnt how to do their homework?

Now, of course, selecting young players is a gamble comparable to deciding the sex of one-day-old chicks. But: picking Steve Kelly, for example, rather than Shane Doan? Please … This goes to show that even the Winnipeg Jets knew better than the Edmonton Oilers in 1995. Kelly went to the Oilers as Nr, 6 overall, Doan to Winnipeg as Nr. 7. Where’s Kelly now? Retired, just like another Oilers’ draft flop, Jason Bonsignore (1994). We all know that Doan captains the Arizona Coyotes now and is doing quite well, thank you very much.

So, the spotty draft record the Oilers own is really nothing new.

What is new is that not many have noticed the Edmonton Oilers haven’t got one single leader on their team. Sure, they have a captain in Andrew Ference, a guy who can be vocal when it comes to that, but also a guy who wasn’t better than Nr. 5 or 6 defenceman in his earlier incarnation with the Boston Bruins. While it’s a given that a captain does not have to be the best player on a team, still, his word should carry the weight of on-ice example.

It is also somewhat surprising that the Oilers haven’t got a bona fide Nr. 1 centre. Yes, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been trying his darndest, and he’s quite good – at being a Nr. 2 centre, not Nr. 1. Similarly, Leon Draisaitl, the Czech-turned-German centre who has been working on the second line with mixed success, would have been much better off back in the WHL. And so would have been the Oilers, if only they could afford it.

Oilers in real danger

For whatever reason, Craig MacTavish didn’t mention the unmentionable, but it exists, and it’s beginning to spread. It’s the fact that more and more fans have been turning their backs on the Edmonton Oilers, choosing to spend their entertainment money elsewhere. It’s called dropping or abandoning the brand, and it’s the worst thing that can happen to a business.

And, remember, professional sports, NHL hockey included, is a business.

Fans (read: customers) abandoning the brand was what cost his job Mike Gillis last summer in Vancouver. It took only a botched goalie trade and whatever followed.

Vancouver fans were more nit-picky (read: more intelligent) than their Edmonton counterparts.

The Edmonton Oilers, once a proud NHL franchise, have become the league’s laughingstock. Their general manager, trying to push the recipe of more of the same down his club’s customers’ throats, saying he was innocent of the bedlam, didn’t help matters one bit.

His club’s only hope: Edmonton Oilers’ fans would be stupid enough to continue buying what this group is selling.

Edmonton Oilers name new head coach?

 

 

This has been making rounds in the Internet world lately …bean

Edmonton Oilers should NOT feel sorry for themselves: it’s their fans who suffer

Some Edmonton Oilers’ players are happy they’ve made the NHL, and that, it seems, is enough. At least, so far as they are concerned.

And when their team is sliding like a pedestrian on an ice patch, way too many of them mope instead of doing something positive.

That would be team captain Andrew Ference’s view. Ference didn’t name names. But he did try to point out what ails his team.

Upon hearing this, it looked for a split of a second as if head coach Dallas Eakins was surprised.

Well, come to think of it, he could have been surprised to hear his captain was making such incendiary statements to reporters. That would be the better scenario.

Eakins’ reaction to the revelation seemed to indicate he might be sharing similar feelings with his captain. Still, he didn’t say that. Good for him. If he did, it would fall into the “washing dirty laundry in public” category, a no-no in the world of professional sports.

In fact, washing one’s dirty laundry in public is anathema to any professional, even to those whose job it is to keep a community’s sewage systems in working order.

Of course, Ference’s statement contrasts wildly with what Eakins had to say at his post-mortem. In the head coach’s view, there weren’t any (or was it many?) issues with the players trying their darndest. It was the execution that did them in.

Yes. And the earth is round. (If you they taught you at school it was, just look out of your window. Believe more what you see than what they tell you at school. Wink-wink.)

This trying-versus-execution thing is a two-way street. There are days when you’re trying like there’s no tomorrow, and the result is a pitiful nothing. And then, there are days when whatever you touch works, and it’s almost like a fairy bestowed a lucky charm upon you.

A personal memory here: a guy who used to play for the Oilers and, at that time, was playing for the Philadelphia Flyers, had an incredible scoring streak. Asked to what would he attribute the string of consecutive 28 or 29 goals, he said he wouldn’t dare even think about it. It’s Lady Luck, he said. Yes, but you’ve got to be good to be lucky, no? Don’t even ask, he answered, don’t jinx it. Better tell me what’s new in Edmonton. And no coaxing would get him back to talk about his scoring streak.

So yes, luck does seem to have something to do with it. And with luck comes confidence.

Another personal memory comes to mind: decades ago, the late Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov couldn’t score a goal even if he tried to shoot the puck into an empty net. Asked about it, his head coach, the late Anatoli Tarasov, shrugged. So what? Does Kharlamov create scoring chances? He does. Is the goalie paid to stop him? He is. Don’t you worry about Kharlamov, Tarasov said. One of these days he’s bound to get a greasy goal, and then wait what’s going to happen.

Sure enough. Just one game later, Kharlamov scored a greasy goal, with the puck barely crossing the goal line. That was by the end of the first period. Midway through the second period he had a hat-trick.

Can this happen with the Oilers?

Remember, the accepted wisdom has it that teams that aren’t in the playoffs by the time American Thanksgiving comes and goes can start waiting for the next season. They are toast so far as this season is concerned.

The American Thanksgiving has come and gone. The Oilers are (yet again) the NHL’s bottom-feeders.

One expects the management is beginning to work on speeches that promise bright future next season. If they believe their fans would accept that, they must also believe in tooth fairies. Or they must think their club’s fans believe in tooth fairies. Or any combination thereof.

One third of the seats in the Arizona game was empty. They might have been sold. But they were empty. Only a wild dreamer will believe these seats will be sold come next season. They will remain empty, all right, but they will also remain unsold. Will that be the long-awaited wake-up call?

Andrew Ference may have spoken out of turn, calling out his teammates for publication, but he had the right to do it: in 20-plus minutes on ice, that translated into 25 shifts, Ference had one shot on goal, one attempt blocked by the opposition, two hits, one giveaway and one blocked shot. Not bad for a grey beard, not bad at all.

Will Ference’s call take the Oilers all the way to the promised land? No. They would have to win most (if not all) of their remaining 57 regular-season games to have a chance of making the playoffs. Can anyone in their right mind see them doing it?

Suppose they win the draft lottery. Whom will they pick? The future legend in Connor McDavid, or Jack Eichel (both centres), or will they at long last do the logical thing and grab a defenceman instead? There is at least one whom experts describe as NHL-ready: Brandon Wheat Kings’ Ryan Pilon. Will the Oilers follow the flash-and-dash, or will they (at long last) try to fill their team’s need?

Before anything of the kind happens, there should be an earthquake of major proportions. Gone should be the owner. With him staying at the helm, there’s but scant hope anything will change. An owner who has his biography in the Oilers’ book filled with statements about what kind of a great fan of his team he is has no business being in this business. Remember: professional sports is a business proposition. It’s as far removed from the idea of sports as it can get. Its owner has to run it as a business, not as an old boys’ club.

To be blunt: while Kevin Lowe deserves all the respect he can get, he should be earning it elsewhere by now. While Craig MacTavish deserves the nickname Silver Fox, in his today’s role he’s above his ceiling. And so on, so far as the management group is concerned.

This is not a re-discovery of America. Everybody who knows a thing or two about the economics of professional sports must be aware of this sad state of affairs by now. Everyone, that is, except the Oilers’ owner.

When a hockey team registers 14 giveaways to the opposition’s five, guess whose hopes of winning are more realistic?

But this is just a minor detail in the larger scheme of things.

No amount of moping by the players and/or players feeling entitled is going to change this picture.

The fans staying away and not buying the unacceptably expensive tickets might.