Category Archives: Edmonton

Hockey Unlimited tackles kids’ bodychecking issue head-on

A good documentary does not shy away from issues that are bound to create controversy. Indeed, a good documentary does not shy away from issues that already are controversial, either.

But, at the same time, a good documentary is perfectly willing to give voice to all sides in the argument.

Hockey Unlimited is a very good documentary.

Episode 7 that aired Monday on Rogers Sportsnet, with repeat broadcasts scheduled for later (see schedule below), opened with a serious look at an issue that has split Canada’s hockey community beyond belief. When should young players be permitted to engage in bodychecking?

Hockey Canada says not before they’ve outgrown their peewee level.

The Saskatchewan hockey association says not so.

Hockey Canada is basing its decision on parents’ fears. Those fears are based on NHL-level hits, repeated on television in super-slow motion over and over again, ad nauseam. We all know the consequences of such events, often career-ending, and quite frequently having dreadful impacts on players’ lives long after their careers have ended.

As Tom Renney – who heads Hockey Canada – put it, his organization is responsible to its members. As it should be, of course.

Except, Saskatchewan hockey people say they are responsible to their members, too, and their members agree with their view that teaching kids this age the art of bodychecking will make their later hockey lives easier for them.

The Saskatchewan hockey people support their views with findings from sports medicine experts, including specialists in kinesiology. They say what kids need is for someone to teach them the art of safe bodychecking. And they’re not merely talking about it. They are holding clinics for coaches, teaching them how to teach bodychecking right.

It seems the gap is in the definition. Where Hockey Canada sees bodychecking as a martial art always linked with a huge hit that sends the victim head-first into the boards or the victim performing a salto mortale (full somersault) in the middle of the ice surface, Saskatchewan hockey association sees it as an ability to insert one’s body between the opposing puck carrier and the puck, with the objective of taking the puck away.

Hockey Unlimited does not go out to say so openly: it is a documentary, after all. But it gives its viewers sufficient amount of information to form their own decision.

Speaking of peewee hockey, its international tournament in Quebec City is now 55 years old and still going strong.

Hockey Unlimited’s segment on this event doesn’t show us only what’s going on on the ice inside the Colisee. It takes us backstage and introduces us to numerous volunteers who make the tournament the success that it has been since its inception in 1960.

They don’t use fancy computers to capture and type-out everything. An old typewriter has seen such names as Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Rick Nash and Steven Stamkos among the 1,200 players who would excel in the NHL. It still works when volunteers are typing out game sheets. The idea is simple and straightforward: why spend money on office equipment when you can spend it on making your players’ experience unforgettable?

The players are happy that they play against some strong opposition, and that they play in front of thousands of fans who fill the seats in the good, old Colisee, no matter who’s playing whom. Considering, especially, that many of them are used to playing whenever their local arenas are free, in front of their parents and closest family members only, seeing such huge crowds borders on the overwhelming, but it’s wonderful fun, the players say.

And you can feel everybody’s enthusiasm just come across from the Colisee right into your living room (or wherever you’re watching).

Just as you can feel the enthusiasm coming across from players who brave blizzards and crazy temperatures to play hockey at the self-styled World Pond Hockey Championships.

Official pomposity purists might suggest it would have to be happening under the auspices of the International Ice Hockey Federation ((IIHF) to be able to call itself the world championships, but participants do not care. The more players come, the merrier. That’s all that matters. And they DO come from all over the world, with the possible exception of the Antarctica. Come to think of it, how many teams from that continent have we seen at IIHF events, anyhow?

It’s a beer-league event to end all beer-league events, attracting players from all over the world. Staged on the Roulston Lake in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, the number of players easily doubles the number of people who live there. That the beer flows quite freely is quite obvious when the teams face the camera to introduce themselves, but the hockey is free-wheeling, too, and the handshakes and hugs that follow the games are genuine.

And when the weather gets worse, and the temperatures dip, so much the better, the Aquila Productions documentary shows. How many people can claim they scored a game-deciding goal in a blizzard with temperatures hovering around mins-30 Celsius?

You can add to it another question: how many camera crews would brave these elements the way the Aquila Productions’ crew has? After all, these guys weren’t keeping warm skating, and in good mood drinking beer. They were there to document others doing it, and what a great job of documenting they have done!

Useful tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills tips from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny have become Hockey Unlimited’s tradition; they make the show complete.

Broadcast schedule:

Mon. Mar. 30

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

Wed. Apr. 1

9:30 PM PT (12:30 AM ET) SN Ontario, SN East, SN Pacific

Fri. Apr. 3

12:30 PM ET SN One

Kids’ bodychecking: Yes? No? Hockey Unlimited joins the debate

Should Hockey Canada have banned bodychecking at peewee hockey level?

It did so a couple of years ago, and only the Saskatchewan hockey association had the guts to say it found the decision weak-kneed and frightfully un-hockey-like.

Whether Saskatchewan youth hockey poohbahs were right or wrong remains to be seen: it’s too early to be coming up with definitive answers.

But Hockey Unlimited has entered the fray to see why the proponents of young players’ bodychecking believe what they do. And here’s what they believe: properly taught, bodychecking actually makes the full contact game safer for kids as they get older.

Airing Monday, March 30 on Rogers Sportsnet, with repeat broadcasts to follow (see schedule below), Hockey Unlimited again promises to deliver thought-provoking sports documentary programming.

Hockey, no matter whether it is in whatever organized or somewhat disorganized form, just happens to be part of Canada’s national fabric. To prove this point, the Aquila Productions documentary will show two events that run at about the same time and that can hardly be more different.

In 1960, hockey organizers in Quebec City have come up with a brilliant idea. The Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament has become the largest minor hockey tournament in the world. Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Steven Stamkos have been among the 1,200 former and current NHL players to experience it. Kids rub shoulders with top teams of 11- and 12-year-old players from all over the world: Canada and the U.S., Europe, Asia and even Australia.

You won’t find too many future NHL stars at the World Pond Hockey Championships, however. The beer league event to end all beer league events attracts players from all over North America, but it brings guys from London, England, too,

Just imagine these gentlemen of all ages, clearing off snow on Roulston Lake in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, so they can face off in games more hotly contested than Stanley Cup’s games seven in fifteenth overtime. Except, instead of NHL teams’ trainers ordering pizza for every second intermission, beer flows on Roulston Lake as if there was no tomorrow. Unlike the often concussed professionals, frostbite and hangovers are the main risk to players here.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be Hockey Unlimited without tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.

Broadcast schedule:

Mon. Mar. 30

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

Wed. Apr. 1

9:30 PM PT (12:30 AM ET) SN Ontario, SN East, SN Pacific

Fri. Apr. 3

12:30 PM ET SN One

Never give up, Hockey Unlimited’s next episode will tell us

We all have heard about career-ending injuries. But there are people among us who would never give up.

The sixth episode of the documentary series, Hockey Unlimited, opens with a story about exactly this kind of people. Premiering on Rogers Sportsnet on Monday, March 23, it will run on the network for the next couple of weeks.

Produced by Edmonton’s own Aquila Productions, the first segment of Hockey Unlimited, Episode 6, will introduce us to a group of high-performance athletes from across the country. They have overcome serious illnesses and accidents to play sledge hockey. We will meet Canada’s national team, a group of people who engage in hard-hitting, fast-paced and ultra-competitive Hockey From a Low Angle.

It takes all kinds to people this earth. Some of us wouldn’t be able to remember a thing from the past if they didn’t have a memento. You know the saying: been there, done that, got the t-shirt, right? This strange urge gave birth to intensive memorabilia trade, and sports memorabilia have become a major part of it. The segment named The Name Game introduces us to a couple of memorabilia aficionados. They are Dale and Janet, and their basement has become a veritable fan cave. A personal sports memorabilia shrine, even.

No, the series will not reveal their address.

Whenever we debate the greatest hockey players of all time, Bobby Orr’s name comes up with unsurprising regularity. Most lists of potential candidates for the title (honourable as it is) will include such names as Cam Neely or Pavel Bure. What do all these guys have in common? Their careers ended prematurely because of major knee injuries.

It must be a matter of general regret that today’s methods of treatment didn’t exist then, when these players suffered the pain and anguish of ruined knees. The Hockey Unlimited segment called Saving Knees will introduce us to modern surgical methods, such as arthroscopy, as well as state-of-the-art sports rehabilitation medicine. More and more players whose careers would have been ruined just a scant couple of decades ago are returning to play the game they love.

And of course, we will get to see and enjoy valuable tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.

So remember to tune in to Sportsnet Monday, March 23, and check your local listings for repeat broadcasts, too.

NHL dreaming, Hockey Unlimited fifth episode’s focus

Mechta” is the Russian word Yakov Trenin used.

It means: dream.

That is the reason he, along with many others, has moved several thousand of miles (kilometres, if you wish) away from home, to play in North American junior leagues. These kids hope that an NHL scout is going to notice them, like them enough to go to bat for them at the NHL draft, and they’re going to make it all the way to the show.

They are perfectly aware that a chance of THAT happening if they stayed at home would border on the improbable.

Whether they will make it or not is another question. Even if they don’t, they’re going to return home stronger men.

But their dreams have some pretty solid foundations. Such as: they must have been good in their respective age categories. The North American junior teams wouldn’t have drafted and brought them over if they weren’t.

Hockey Unlimited, an Aquila Productions’ documentary series aired on Rogers Sportsnet Monday, March 2, with repeat broadcasts scheduled for the next couple of weeks (see detailed schedule below). In its fifth episode, Hockey Unlimited opens with a very careful, sensitive and sensible look at a couple of guys, kids, really, who have made the jump.

The abovementioned Yakov Trenin came all the way from Chelyabinsk. The place is home to Traktor, a Russian KHL club. Yet, not even the potential perspective of playing for his hometown team would change young Yakov Trenin’s dream. He knows, obviously, that to be the best, he has to compete with the best.

Yakov Trenin now skates with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The other kid featured in this episode of Hockey Unlimited, Edgars Kulda, shares Trenin’s ambition. He came from the capital of Latvia, the ancient and beautiful city of Riga, all the way to a brand new place (everything is relative) called Edmonton. Where Riga’s roots reach to the 2nd century of the past millennium, in Edmonton, everything that comes close to being a century old is a historical artefact. Kulda, too, could have tried to make his hometown KHL team, Dinamo. His ambition aimed higher.

Nothing wrong with that.

Kulda, now an important part of WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, has made the first step: the Arizona Coyotes have selected him in the seventh round, 193rd player overall, in the 2014 draft. Only one step remains: making it out of the Coyotes’ camp.

These two guys are similar. To a degree. And Hockey Unlimited, without saying it, notices these differences in careful detail. Where Trenin is a shy newcomer, a greenhorn, Kulda is a grizzled veteran. A 2014 Memorial Cup MVP, Kulda comes across as a self-assured kind of guy. Where Trenin still has a bit of difficulty finding the right words to express correctly in English what he wanted to say in Russian, Kulda is firing away with undisguised gusto as if he was born speaking English, with a mistake here and there.

In addition to talking to both guys’ coaches and teammates, Hockey Unlimited gives considerable space to the billets with whom these kids are staying. The loving relationships between the kids and their surrogate parents are obvious. But the billets’ ability to pinpoint these two guys’ character strengths and weaknesses is refreshing.

The next segment of this episode of Hockey Unlimited is perfectly logical.

Player agents don’t appear all of a sudden in players’ lives. They’ve been watching the playing phenoms with at least as much interest as NHL scouts. They reach out to players whom they consider safe investment, nurturing their relationships with both the players and their families. They do all that for free, in the hopes that when their client would make the NHL, they would negotiate a rich contract for him, and their percentage would be a nice return on their investment.

All fine and dandy. Still, it’s refreshing to hear Don Meehan, one of the most powerful player agents in the business today. He’s pretty straightforward when he explains that there might come a time in a player’s career when it would be a good player agent’s job to sit down with him and ask him whether his ambition is limited to playing on an NHL club’s farm team, or whether the time has come to look at other options.

Which brings us neatly to the third story: Wes Goldie became the all-time leading scorer in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). He helped the Alaska Aces win the Kelly Cup. He made it all the way to NHL teams’ training camps twice during his career. That would be as far as he would be able to get.

Wes Goldie has retired and he’s repaying his wife and his four children for all the sacrifices they made during his career.

Was it illustrious? You bet. You don’t have to win all of the NHL’s annual awards to have an illustrious hockey career.

Wes Goldie tells his story with enthusiasm that is quite justified. And his family is, just as justifiably, proud of him and his achievements. His career didn’t make him filthy rich. Not so far as his bank account is concerned. But it made him a wiser man. And that should count for something.

As has become its useful habit, Hockey Unlimited also features valuable tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.

In addition to its brilliant tradecraft, wonderful camera work, editing, music and overall sound selection, Hockey Unlimited’s choice of stories shows that its creators know and love their topics, their heroes, as well as being perfectly aware of the role hockey plays in the everyday life fabric of so many Canadians.

Three cheers! And five stars, too.

 

BROADCAST SCHEDULE

 

Mon. Mar. 2 9 PM PT (Midnight ET) SN Ontario
Mon. Mar. 2 10:30 PM PT (1:30 AM ET) SN One
Thurs. Mar. 5 10:30 AM PT (1:30 PM ET) SN One
Thurs. Mar. 5 9 PM PT (Midnight ET) SN One
Fri. Mar. 6 Noon PT (3 PM ET) SN Pacific, SN West
Fri. Mar. 6 11:30 PM PT (2:30 AM ET) SN Pacific, SN West
Tues. Mar. 10 10 AM PT (1 PM ET) SN Pacific, SN West, SN Ontario, SN East

 

And, as the usual television saying goes, check your local listings to confirm program updates

What it takes to make it: Hockey Unlimited’s fifth episode will explore junior players’ courage

Coming to Canada, having crossed the Big Pond (a.k.a. the Atlantic Ocean) to pursue one’s dreams takes a lot of courage.

The fifth episode of Aquila Productions’ documentary series, Hockey Unlimited, focuses on two such brave young men. Their dream is to make the NHL, and they are now honing their skills in Canada’s major junior leagues.

This episode of Hockey Unlimited airs first on Monday, March 2, on Rogers Sportsnet (see detailed schedule below), with repeats coming up during the following week.

A Long Way From Home, that’s where Yakov Trenin finds himself. Just check the distance between Chelyabinsk, Russia and Quebec’s Gatineau. It’s more than eight thousand kilometres.

A rookie with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Trenin has been giving a good account of himself. Whether it’s good enough for him to land the coveted NHL job, only time will tell.

Meanwhile, Latvian Edgars Kulda, last year’s Memorial Cup MVP, is more than seven thousand kilometres away from home. A third-year player with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, he’s considered talented enough to make it to the show.

Hockey Unlimited speaks to both players, and their billet parents, coaches and teammates. We get a close insight into what it’s like to risk it all while pursuing one’s dreams.

Let’s Do Lunch is the name of the second episode.

Most players (and general managers) in the professional leagues will agree that it makes good sense for players to have others represent them. Especially during contract negotiations: the player thinks so highly of himself he’s close to believing he’s the Second Coming, while the general manager, trying to meet his budget, will maintain it’s only his generosity that drives him to keep that player gainfully employed playing hockey. Besides, today’s contracts are filled with legalese, and so is a professional athlete’s life in general. Just imagine paying taxes on the millions you’ve made a season.

That’s where player agents come in. They take the brunt of respective general managers’ stinginess. They know how to spread your income over more years so that your taxes due become at least a tad more palatable. And they can do a lot of other things for the players they represent.

But the relationship has to start somewhere. And that’s what this chapter is all about: following player agents as they approach AAA Bantam- and Midget-age hockey players who come to their attention as promising young prospects and prospective clients.

Not all that glitters turns out to be gold. But even if you don’t become a millionaire several times over, playing hockey for at least some money can be rewarding, too.

I Was A Hockey Player profiles Wes Goldie, the all-time leading scorer in the East Coast Hockey League. Goldie never got rich or particularly famous as a minor league pro, but it’s clear from this heartwarming story that he has no regrets about the game, nor should he.

And, as always, Hockey Unlimited features valuable tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.

 

BROADCAST SCHEDULE

 

Mon. Mar. 2 9 PM PT (Midnight ET) SN Ontario
Mon. Mar. 2 10:30 PM PT (1:30 AM ET) SN One
Thurs. Mar. 5 10:30 AM PT (1:30 PM ET) SN One
Thurs. Mar. 5 9 PM PT (Midnight ET) SN One
Fri. Mar. 6 Noon PT (3 PM ET) SN Pacific, SN West
Fri. Mar. 6 11:30 PM PT (2:30 AM ET) SN Pacific, SN West
Tues. Mar. 10 10 AM PT (1 PM ET) SN Pacific, SN West, SN Ontario, SN East

 

And, as the usual television saying goes, check your local listings to confirm program updates

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.

Edmonton Oilers chasing their own tail in a vicious circle

Is loyalty a good thing?

Yes, absolutely, most would say.

Here’s a cynic’s answer: not really. Or, to make it sound at least a tad more acceptable: not always.

And that is Craig MacTavish’s dilemma. He hired Dallas Eakins to be his team’s head coach. The team is not performing. Time for the head coach to go, right? Wrong, says Craig MacTavish.

Well, he’s got it right to the degree that a head coach can only use players his general manager has given him. So: how much blame should the coach take?

The Edmonton Oilers have been in full face-saving mode in recent days. An extended series of losses would do that to a sports team.

One of the club’s stars, Taylor Hall, went public as saying that the players are all behind their coach, and it’s their fault the team finds itself where it does. He’s got it almost perfectly right: it’s the players who are supposed to perform, not the coach. Of course, this approach has got a hitch: if the players don’t play what their coach tells them to play, they are risking benching, scratching and other such measures, anathema to professional athletes each and all of them. And if they do play what the coach tells them to play, and it’s not working, whose fault is it?

The GM goes public blaming himself for his club’s woes.

Of course, that would be that same Craig MacTavish who opened his general managerial era by telling all and sundry he was after bold moves and, since he was impatient, these moves would have to come sooner rather than later.

In all fairness, Craig MacTavish has made quite a few moves. It’s the boldness of these moves that is going to have to remain in the eyes of the beholder. Besides, and this is much more important, when you are changing an entity, and it does not matter what kind of entity, it usually does not begin with any bold moves whatsoever. Here’s the rule: there has to be a sufficient number (or weight) of so-called quantitative changes before their sheer number (or weight) develops into changes known as qualitative.

Have the Oilers reached that stage where one change, no matter how minor, does change the entire picture all of a sudden? Are we getting close to the situation where the Oilers are again a major threat to all and sundry, and it’s no longer a question of whether they win but by how many goals they win?

It doesn’t look like it from the outside looking in, and it does not look thus from the inside, either.

Craig MacTavish is blaming himself. It is one of the honest answers. Except, of course, he must be aware that his owner has expressed his willingness to support him come what may. If that is the case, Craig MacTavish’s honesty is no longer as pure as it seemed to be.

Here’s a cynical recipe for improvement: get rid of the owner, first and foremost. Then, forget about loyalties and clean house.

In the Oilers’ media book, Daryl Katz waxes lyrical about what a perfect fan of the club he’s been throughout his life. True as this statement may be, it’s a perfectly wrong kind of statement. A professional sports club’s owner may be a fan in the pensive silence of his den, but in public, he (or she) must be a businessman (or woman) in the first place. All of such an owner’s decisions must be based on business and nothing else. Loyalty must never enter the picture.

The logic is simple.

Kevin Lowe, a great guy, a smart man with a lot of hockey sense and business savvy, ought to realize that his “best before” label in (and for) this particular market has run out. Lowe would be a great leader in any of the 29 remaining NHL markets, but in Edmonton, he’s got nowhere to go.

Craig MacTavish seems to fit the so-called Peter Principle to a T. Named after Vancouver native, Professor Laurence J. Peter, its basic rule stipulates: “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.”

Besides, as Professor Peter put it, “noblest of all dogs is the hot-dog; it feeds the hand that bites it.”

A very good head coach who managed to lead his team within a couple of goals (empty-netters do not count) of the Stanley Cup, Craig MacTavish didn’t go soft in his head overnight, to end up facing so much fan wrath that he himself decided to resign. That was honesty and, come to think of it, loyalty at its best. He wouldn’t bite the hand that fed him by staying on.

One of the substantial definitions coming out of Professor Peter’s book is the definition of ceilings. According to Professor Peter, candidates are being way too often selected based on the performance in their current roles. They should be judged based on abilities that are relevant to their intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence.”

Has Craig MacTavish reached this level yet, a new MBA or not?

Tough to judge: most of what he does happens behind closed doors, and the information goes only to those who need to know – and it’s “a need-to-know” as defined by none other than Craig MacTavish himself.

Some of the challenges are obvious: Craig MacTavish works in a most competitive environment. No other general manager is going to help him if he can help it. Getting players off the free-agent markets isn’t too easy, either. Why? Simply because it takes two to tango. Even if Craig MacTavish targets precisely the players his club needs, it still doesn’t mean those players would be eager to come to Edmonton. Any number of reasons, just listing them would take a volume thicker than the Bible, but the fact remains: getting the right free agents to sign on the dotted line is no slam dunk.

Is this Craig MacTavish’s fault? Well, not really. Do we know whether a different general manager would get different reactions from free agents? Well, not really.

So what do we know? We know but one thing: the way things are supposed to work just now, they are NOT working.

So, barring the cynical way mentioned above, is there a solution to Edmonton Oilers’ woes?

The answer: yes.

Does anybody at least seem to know the solution and how to implement it?

The answer: no.