Tag Archives: Daryl Katz

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.

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 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.

Katz offers disgruntled Oilers’ fans a pacifier

We can view Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz’s letter to the fans as a public relations move worthy of a genius. Or not.

But no matter how the long-suffering Oilers fans view the apologetic denial of everything that’s gone wrong with the club, it’s still nothing more (or else, for that matter) than public relations, pure and simple. It is, also, a sign of the times that the letter keeps sliding on the surface of the matter, rather than at least trying to get at the substance.

To concede for all reasons and purposes that this season has been a washout when the club still has 30 games to go may sound outrageous, if it wasn’t realistic. Of course, what this does to the athletes is another matter altogether. Yes, they are professionals, and they should play to professional standards game in and game out, no issue here.

But they are also human.

When Ryan Smyth forced Kevin Lowe’s hand with a few minutes to spare before the trading deadline a few years ago, many a player said he felt the team has written that particular season off. That the season had been long lost by that deadline, they could care less. It was the symbolism that stunned them.

And the team that had been stumbling before, just continued on its uncontrolled slide.

And now, the owner himself throws in the towel while there still can be a mathematical chance that things might change. Not a realistic chance, mind you, but still, a chance.

The fans’ wrath has been directed at former defenceman, later assistant coach, then head coach, general manager afterwards, and now, president of hockey operations, Kevin Lowe.

That the wrath hasn’t been justified is one thing. That Daryl Katz is somewhat ingenious (and this is putting it mildly) in his defence of his employee is – again – another matter.

Hockey people from all over the league would tell you that Daryl Katz is getting too involved with stuff he has no business getting involved with. There have been stories galore, told by reliable hockey people independently of one another, that where the Oilers’ hockey staff were angling for budding defencemen in recent drafts, they were overruled. Guess three times who could it have been to have sufficient power to do that.

If that is Kevin Lowe’s fault, then he’s also guilty of the volcano eruptions in Iceland several years ago.

And it doesn’t seem Daryl Katz plans to change his ways any time soon.

While boasting the club’s recent acquisitions (Andrew Ference, David Perron, Boyd Gordon, Anton Belov, Justin Schultz, Ben Scrivens, Matt Hendricks and, yes Ilya Bryzgalov), as if he deserved the credit for finding them and signing them up to join the Oilers, Katz goes on to say he doesn’t anticipate any quick-fix trades. Considering this statement is just a few lines removed from his assurance that the roster and its changes are GM Craig MacTavish’s call, and nobody else’s, this is a salto mortale (full somersault, a.k.a. deadly jump) that ought to have readers scratching their heads in shock and disbelief.

So, who’s running what?

The logic is perfectly simple: Daryl Katz has hired Kevin Lowe, a capable hockey guy. Lowe, in turn, hired Craig MacTavish, another capable hockey guy, whereupon MacTavish, in yet another turn, hired Dallas Eakins. Lowe knows better than to stick his nose into MacTavish’s business, and MacTavish knows better than to stick his nose into Eakins’ business.

What if their employer took a correspondence course from them?

You are either satisfied with your employees, or not. If you are satisfied, you leave them alone. If you are not, well, there might be others available to fill these jobs.

Whether Katz’s message to Oilers’ fans will end up having the soothing effect to help heal Oilers fans’ long-hurting pride remains to be seen.

While it’s the fans who, all things considered, pay the piper, it doesn’t mean they are always right. Except, any business owner worth her or his salt knows they better handle their customers as their bosses. Simply because they are paying for the fun.

It’s most unfortunate: the word fans comes (basically) from a version of the word fanatics. If they were to entertain sober second thoughts, they would have long ago come to the conclusion that watching adult people perform in children’s sports, earning shamelessly adult money is an insult to their own intelligence.

Of course, it doesn’t sound too cynical to suggest that Daryl Katz’s love letter to his paying customers was supposed to meet one more objective. It seems citizen support for city council spending taxpayer dollars on a new arena has been decreasing relatively significantly during the last few weeks. The gradual decrease turned into a freefall after the recent demand that city employees leave their current offices and move into a new downtown office tower, one proposed and owned by (who else?) Daryl Katz.

Yes, it does sound cynical, does it not?

But so does Daryl Katz’s recent attempt at pacifying his customers.

Edmonton’s fata morgana

An office tower and a hotel will revitalize Edmonton’s downtown. That’s what proponents of taxpayer-supported new arena for the Edmonton Oilers are trying to make us believe.

Why and how, they don’t say. We ought to believe in the tooth fairy, too, perhaps. Their reasoning is difficult to fathom, and no logical explanation has been forthcoming. Next time, perhaps.

Meanwhile, a mirage of Sahara desert proportions will keep us linked to Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz through an invisible umbilical cord. We’re going to be the mothers. He would be the embryo we’re going to feed.

It was bound to happen. As part of the highly suspect deal that has the city of Edmonton involved in building a private entrepreneur’s playground, taxpayers will be on the hook for moving their employees from their present location to a brand new office tower that Daryl Katz proposes to build downtown.

To Daryl Katz the new tower is supposed to be a cash cow. Based on his experience with Edmonton’s city council, he now knows where to find ready cash, neatly packaged and bundled, in no particular numerical sequence, so he can just pick it up and laugh all the way to the bank.

That’s what this deal is all about. The shovel hasn’t hit the ground yet, and the tower already has tenants galore. Who? We are the tenants. We as in we, the taxpayers. Wonderful.

How an office tower and a hotel can pretend to be places where people gather to enjoy their leisure time? That’s a question nobody has seemed to ask yet.

Let’s go back to the basics

Daryl Katz wants his Oilers to have a brand new arena. He’s of the view that he can’t build it all by himself. Despite being listed all over the place as one of the richer (if not richest) people in the country, he wants the taxpayers to kick in.

Why?

Because, he claims, the new arena will help revitalize the downtown area of Edmonton.

How? Somehow.

Let’s forget the question whether the Oilers really need a new arena. In all generosity, let’s accept this wish for a fact. After all, Rexall Place, formerly a.k.a. Northlands Coliseum, is an old building. It will turn 40 this coming November. It cost just above $17 million to build, about $81 million in today’s money. If we accept the publicly budgeted $450 million as the price tag for the new arena (and only a perfect fool would accept that amount), its bells would have to be closing in on 24 karats, pure gold, that is. And its whistles would have to be 100-carat diamonds. (Note: there’s a world of difference between karats and carats. You can look it up. The former describes purity of gold, the latter, gemstone mass.)

Anyhow, the Oilers’ owner says he needs a new arena. The almost-40-year-old building no longer suffices.

Let’s put aside the fact that if a 40-year-old building really is as decrepit as some proponents of the new arena claim, it doesn’t speak too well of North American building industry in general, and of Edmonton’s building industry in particular. Considering there are buildings aged centuries all over the world, still in overwhelmingly good shape and serving people, the comparison is shocking.

Of course, there’s another angle to consider: economic case studies after economic case studies after economic case studies show that professional sports organizations’ owners are wont to call 30-year-old stadia too old. They do so especially in cases where they had managed to get the original structures built with taxpayer participation. Now, they’re coming for seconds. The points they make are repetitive to the point of being boring: they claim that they want to revitalize whatever area they want to use. Except: economic case studies after economic case studies after economic case studies show those new buildings might attract visitors (not permanent residents) only as a consequence of what has been dubbed as “novelty effect.” There’s no permanency.

Downtown areas throughout the world, not only in North America, have been suffering for quite some time now. Office towers and sundry such buildings are not people places. They have pushed people as living creatures out. People who used to live there have been moving out to the suburbs. Once they have matured to the point of getting married and starting families, they prefer living in their own homes rather than condominia or rental apartment buildings.

The facts are simple: a new attraction, such as a new sports arena, with all the attendant bars and restaurants and whatnot around it, may slow down emigration from downtown for a few years. It will not stop it. And it will not reverse it, either. In fact, once the novelty effect wears off, the emigration returns to its previous levels.

Why oh why?

Why Edmonton city council bought into the downtown revitalization bluff in the first place will remain an enigma wrapped in mystery. It may very well happen that some intrepid forensic accountants will tell us in the not-so-distant future that not everything had been above board, but for now, this is pure speculation.

The only certainty we have here is that this city’s taxpayers are supposed to be on the hook up to their teeth for a private entrepreneur’s private playground.

And now, the city will be involved in a new office tower by moving its employees whence they’ve been working thus far into new digs.

Some say the city (its taxpayers, that is) will save money on this deal. Saying it is one thing. Proving it is another. Where’s the beef?

If the new idea is so incredibly beneficial, why did councillors have to debate it for hours on end behind closed doors? One would have expected such beneficial ideas to be aired with as many employers (taxpayers, that is) present.

Even the report that councillors would vote on remains secret. The only thing we know that the vote went 10 to three for.

And we also know that a former journalist (and city columnist) for the Edmonton Journal  heaps praise on the whole thing, without mentioning the details but once. Since it’s the details that matter, it’s rather surprising how low could a former intrepid reporter stoop.

City employees have been working in city-owned structures that, the city says, need renovations. Some city employees work in leased spaces, and the deals are coming up for renewal next year.

How are the savings going to happen? First and foremost, we are told that working space would be used more efficiently. Meaning: each employee will have less shoulder room. How’s that for efficiency?

The palatability quotient

Daryl Katz has been quite open about the fact an office tower would make his arena plan more palatable. For whom? Guess three times.

Here’s an interesting fact: the city has received more than a dozen proposals just last spring from potential landlords who had been hoping to house city staff in new and existing buildings.

But no, we need a new office tower. Not only spanking new, but also potentially the tallest such structure in the neighbourhood.

Some developers are licking their fingers: the new office tower would be the first swallow of the spring. It would signal the arrival of more such towers in the near future.

If anyone thinks building office towers downtown spells downtown revitalization, they’re dreaming in Technicolor.

One wonders what would have happened if city council was more responsible and told Daryl Katz that if he wants to build himself a new arena, here’s the development permit office, file your plans, pay the fees and build it.

Some have feared the Oilers’ owner would pick his toy and go to find himself another sandbox. Not only would it have been wise to remind him we had a similar experience with a former Edmonton Oilers’ owner, and look where he is now. It would have been prudent to call his bluff.

But no. City streets are close to impassable because city council has not the wherewithal to make sure crews keep them clean 24 hours a day, seven days a week. City infrastructure has been crumbling for years, closing in on decades.

But city council is spending money that isn’t its own on dubious projects that make no other sense than saving a local entrepreneur a pretty bundle while doing nothing to revitalize downtown.

We voted this gang in. Judging by election numbers, quite a few voters chose not to turn out and exercise their basic civic right. Things wouldn’t change if we voted, anyhow, many of them said.

Well, things will not change. You didn’t vote. That’s why they won’t. And that’s a shame.

As robberies go, this one takes the cake

Taking a leap of faith, that’s what our city parents have done. They acknowledged that part of it as they had approved the deal with the Oilers’ owner, warts and all, as if there was a lot of competitors who could beat them to the punch, and as if they had no concern over whose money they’re playing with.

They are playing with money that is NOT theirs. The previous municipal election was NOT about the arena deal, even if some informal and unofficial polls asked individual candidates where they stood on the issue. The results – if published at all – were published so unobtrusively only political junkies could have noticed. So, to say, without blushing, that council has and had a mandate to commit the city to this highway robbery is demagoguery as shameless as Sir Neville Chamberlain’s infamous “Peace in our time.”

If the city politicians were willing to pool their own money to finance the project, there would have been no need to waste time debating the issue. As it was, it was a charade, plain and simple.

And here’s why. Mayor Stephen Mandel was quoted, on several occasions, and not that long ago, either, that if the provincial share of $100 million was not forthcoming, he himself would help raise it using private sources. Asked to elaborate, he dodged and said he would announce it only if and when needed.

Well, here’s the question: why did the city not go this same route, instead of committing money that doesn’t belong to it to a private corporation’s project?

It’s a separate issue, to a degree, but claiming that a new arena, even with an entertainment complex attached to it, would in and of itself revitalize our downtown, now, that is perfectly ridiculous. Economic case studies performed on a number of similar projects all over North America have shown that such projects, no matter how they are financed, do nothing to save downtown cores. Period. Learn to live with it. Some economists suggest there might be ways to turn the downtown deterioration around, but they all see it as a longterm goal, and none of their solutions include sports arenas and entertainment complexes.

The deal, as negotiated by the city (or, more precisely, as dictated by the NHL), is definitely NOT a deal. It is a surrender. And it is a surrender to an enemy that doesn’t exist.

We have observed quite a few not-so-subtle hints that if the deal that would be to Mr. Katz’s liking were not forthcoming, then, why, he would move the team elsewhere. Sure, sure, nobody has stated this to be so for the record, but veiled threats are threats, too. To this, our council’s answer should have been: oh yeah? Not a word more, not a word less.

Why? Well, can you imagine the NHL moving the Oilers somewhere else? Where, pray tell? There’s not one spot in Canada that could accommodate an NHL team on the move. And the U.S.? With the Phoenix club still in the ashes (and the league owing, for example, Wayne Gretzky a cool $8 million), with Columbus unable to attract more fans than their players’ immediate families and former schoolmates, with both Florida clubs fighting potential fans’ indifference, with the Dallas Stars fighting valiantly to spend at least enough money to touch the salary cap’s prescribed minimum? If you look at most of the other U.S.-based NHL teams, you would see that there’s not much of a market there, either.

Besides, the overall economy being where it is, in the U.S. in particular, Mr. Katz (and the NHL) would be hard pressed to find a community stupid enough to invest in a hockey team’s arena. Whoever thinks Canadian overall economy is in better shape should give their heads a thorough collective shake.

One anticipates Oilers’ fans in Edmonton will consider this protest an act of treason.

Not that I would try to provoke anger, that wouldn’t be me, as anybody who knows my peaceful demeanour would attest, but here comes. I heard from a guy who questioned the city’s investment in public libraries. The new arena, he said (wrote) for the record, was much more important. These public libraries, he said (wrote) for the record, were places where he has never set foot, and didn’t plan to, either.

That particular reader sounded quite proud of himself.

Another reader, questioning the wisdom of private financing for a sports arena, said (wrote) for the record that all those privately financed arenas built recently in Canada flopped. He was exaggerating a bit. The original owners walked away, that’s what one considers he wanted to say. Of course, these original owners walked away for a number of reasons, such as other commitments, or sudden realization (triggered by their bankers) that they had spread themselves too thin.

Now, so far as this reader is concerned, if the arena flops (or starts bleeding, whatever you wish to call it), why should its private owner suffer? The city is a bottomless pit, isn’t it? To those coming back to tell me the city would own the arena and Mr. Katz will be only renting it, the answer is simple: have you really lost your mind? So, the Oilers rent the place for a token amount, they and their parent corporation stage all kinds of events there, and they get to keep whatever they make there. Whom are you trying to kid here (except yourselves)?

Remember the names of those who voted for this deal. And never return them to council chambers (or any elected position) ever again.

A fair deal? Why not call it highway robbery?

As sellouts go, this one is close to being perfect. The Katz Group drops the no-compete clause demand it wanted to get from Northlands, the city will buy the land, etc., etc., and new arena supporters are ecstatic.

They’ve been taken for a ride and let’s hope the province will not be as foolish. After all, it’s got a strong incentive not to be: if there’s $100 million coming to Edmonton to build this new ice palace, guess what? Next thing you know, Calgary will demand (and justifiably so) that same amount to replace the Saddledome.

The Katz Group won’t be seeking the no-compete clause, and that’s a victory for the city? You’ve got to be kidding: that demand has been illegal from the get-go, and it dawned on the Katz Group leadership at long last that this might end up in court, where they would lose, plain and simple. Some victory, that.

The chutzpah our city parents will show if they approve this deal is endless. So, they will tax Rexall (or whatever it’s going to be called post-Oilers) tickets to help pay for their fancy. If THAT is not an attempt to cut Northlands’ legs under them in order to make the place less competitive, pray elucidate what it is, then.

Let us set aside the argument that putting professional sports facilities in downtown areas in attempts to revitalize those areas has failed all over the place. Yes, even in Columbus. Yes, even in Los Angeles.

The city will make sure nobody will be willing to park downtown, given the fees. They are shamelessly high as it is, and they will go higher still. And that to our enlightened council seems to be the way to drum up custom for downtown.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman did what his job description dictates him to do. But our Mayor is neither an NHL employee, nor an NHL flunky.

This nonsense that without a new arena the Oilers would move is something we’ve heard before. Peter Pocklington got run out of town because of it. Why the difference? Veiled threats to similar effect are cricket just because Daryl Katz claims he’s an Edmonton patriot? How foolish can our council members be? How short are their memories?

Just an aside: it was that same Peter Pocklington who brought the NHL to Edmonton in the first place.

But let’s get back to the main topic: anyone equipped with basic knowledge of economics will tell you that private and public money do not mix. The good old oil and water story. The two have different reasons for their existence, hence, they have different priorities. Or, at least, they should have.

If Daryl Katz is so convinced that his club’s arena downtown is going to be the proverbial goose that lays golden eggs, he should go for it. Himself, with outside (but private) help, doesn’t matter. But not with a cent of public money.

Of course, if he asks other entrepreneurs for help, they will want to know what makes him so sure that the plan will work in Edmonton when it hasn’t worked anywhere else. For whatever reason, our city parents have swallowed his pitch whole, never asking the hard questions.

Gary Bettman, in his spiel, mentioned it was a matter of economics for Daryl Katz to seek public support. Gary Bettman should stick to his knitting. It had nothing to do with economics. It had everything to do with business. These two terms have different meanings. Business propositions – if the outcome is ideally positive – work for the business entity that is involved. Economics are about society as a whole. Not only that, but economics also take a longer-term view, something many business people tend to forget.

If one were to start pointing out in individual detail where the city has been had and where Daryl Katz must be laughing, it would be a pretty long list.

But the most serious matter here is this: this council seems unable to provide the city with basic services. And yet, it is willing to go ahead and waste money that would be better (and more usefully) spent elsewhere just to satisfy a billionaire who has just found an easy way how to become even more affluent. Would if all of us were so lucky as to have our mortgages paid by other taxpayers.

One of the nicest gimmicks: the city will demand that the Oilers commit to staying here for another 35 years.

Let’s forget some warning signs that professional sports have been losing their spectator appeal the last few years and nobody knows if anyone will care some 15 years down the road that they even exist. Judging by the price hikes, the Oilers will price themselves out of the general market pretty soon, anyhow. The funniest (or saddest?) part is that professional sports clubs owners are of the view that their facilities become obsolete once they hit the age of about 30 years. That means we’ll be at this same point we’re today 30 years hence. A nice perspective if there ever was one.

To sum up: the murder capital of Canada, a provincial capital with the worst infrastructure in the entire country, a provincial capital that says it can’t afford to provide basic services, will have a shiny new arena for one of its professional sports clubs, all that paid using taxpayer money.

In Europe, they’re now so down economically, just because of follies like this, they have expanded their taxation base to demanding fees from farmers for bovine flatulence. Yes, and it wouldn’t be the insanely bureaucratic European Union if it didn’t come up with quotas: the rate is higher in Bulgaria than in Denmark. Why, nobody knows.

Is that where we want to end? Or what else will the city have to tax to help it pay for something private citizen Daryl Katz thinks he needs?

In addition to being a murder capital, we’ll become a laughingstock. Nice, is it not?

To whom is His Worship responsible?

“Obviously, my first duty is to the citizens of Edmonton, but at the same time, it’s unfair to my council colleagues not to be able to brief them on it, which we’re planning to do Friday morning. After that, I’d be glad to answer questions with the media.”

That, my dear friends, is a quote from His Worship Stephen Mandel, the Mayor of Edmonton, following his six-hour meeting Wednesday with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Edmonton Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz in the NHL New York office.

Once again, His Worship has got it all wrong. Yes, he’s right when he says that his first duty is to the citizens of Edmonton. But he must have forgotten one minor thing: members of council are citizens of Edmonton, too. And so is he. What His Worship is proposing is offering preferential treatment to one (very minor) group of citizens, while gaining time to ponder what to tell the rest of us, the masses of the unwashed, and what to keep secret from us.

It would be acceptable only if His Worship were in New York on his own room and board, representing himself. Of course, in that case he’d have no business committing any public money to what is a very private undertaking.

The entire scenario stinks to high heaven.

Facing a shameless deadline from the Oilers’ owner, and an even more shameless (and potentially illegal) demand for a no-compete clause from Northlands, His Worship and his top civic bureaucrat hurry to Big Apple because NHL Commissioner wants to play God. The Commissioner, of course, is talking about money that isn’t his all along. This money isn’t his Edmonton council interlocutors’, either.

In fact, if Gary Bettman wanted to be so helpful, he should have come to Edmonton, rather than pretend he’s an emperor whose wisdom matches Solomon’s, and then some. Not only would it have been more polite (decent, even), it would have cost less, too. After all, Daryl Katz is Gary Bettman’s boss. Takes a certain level of gall to summon one’s boss into one’s office.

In enlightening us on his motivation, Gary Bettman tried to explain that it was pure economics that had been behind Daryl Katz’s demand.

Gary Bettman has got this one wrong, too. It’s been a business sense, mixed with a sense of entitlement. Why should I be paying for the whole thing if I could be entitled to having the taxpayers cover at least a quarter of it, if not more?

Business and economics do not mix easily. There are some major differences between these two, and one would have expected an NHL Commissioner to be aware of those differences. But maybe it’s asking too much. After all, as mentioned, the Commissioner is the league club owners’ employee. He’s got to whistle their tune.

And the Mayor’s motivation is simple, too. As American economist Thomas Sowell observed, politicians think in election cycles. Economists take a somewhat longer-term view.

So, we’ve got the three motivations behind this entire deal: greed, greed, and some more greed. In all three cases with an incredibly high level of egotism thrown in.

What should motivate us, the mass of the unwashed citizens of Edmonton, those to whom His Worship has a duty, but who will have to wait?

An answer to just one question: would our dear council members be willing to fork over from their own pockets the required $100 million, and whatever compensation Northlands would require if it were to agree not to compete with Daryl Katz’s new arena? And let’s make it biblically simple: Yes? No?

Oh, they can’t afford it?

You know what? Immorality of public funding for private enterprise notwithstanding, Edmonton can’t afford it, either. And if Daryl Katz has got a problem with it, congratulations, he’s got something we don’t.

Case closed.

 

Summons to Big Apple a sign of bad manners

If there ever was an example of bad manners, this is it: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman invites Edmonton Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz and Edmonton mayor Steven Mandel to drop by for a chat about the downtown arena issue, and the two hicks accept and go, one of them, presumably, at public expense. No, wait, make it two of them: city manager Simon Farbrother is going, too, and nobody can expect him to pay for his flight, room and board.

Why bad manners? On two grounds.

Gary Bettman is Daryl Katz’s employee. He should be coming to see his boss. Not the other way ’round.

And Gary Bettman wants something from Edmonton’s council. Not the other way ’round. Again, he should be coming to Edmonton, hat in hand, and wait in the reception area until council is ready to hear him out.

Other than that, Gary Bettman is doing what he should be doing: trying to push his employer’s point of view. But, as a good employee, one would have expected him to do his homework first.

Even if city council gives in and binds taxpayers (its employers) to paying $100 million, there is still the minor issue of no commitment from the province. Without that particular commitment, everything’s been just so many puffs of hot air. And it doesn’t seem the province is in any spectacular hurry to commit a cent towards the project.

The other issue is much more simple: Daryl Katz is demanding a firm commitment from Northlands that what is known today as Rexall Place won’t compete with however the new downtown arena is called. There exist laws that specifically forbid such behaviour. Ever heard of anti-trust legislation? Not that such legislation pleases anybody who’s all gung-ho for free markets, but still, it’s on the books.

Gary Bettman, as mentioned, is Daryl Katz’s employee. He can’t be ordering his boss around, but he can offer him advice. Wise advice. Here’s what its gist should be: don’t waste your time looking for public money. If you want a new arena, build it. Downtown Edmonton, any of Saturn’s rings, wherever tickles your fancy. If you’re not a member of the proper clubs where moneybags gather for afternoon siesta, I could introduce you to some that have for their members people for whom your fortune is their weekly allowance. You can talk to them and ask them if they would want to chip in. You can also go and see your friendly neighbourhood bank manager about mortgage. But stop feeling you’re entitled to getting public money. You’re not entitled to anything. The period of overwhelming demands for social and financial entitlement is behind us. Live with it.

Both Messrs. Mandel and Farbrother should decline Mr. Bettman’s invitation. If they don’t, the mayor should reimburse us all for his and his city manager’s Big Apple extravaganza. The realization they can’t be doing as they please will only happen when our elected politicians become personally and financially accountable for all of their decisions. That’s when they might begin to see the foolishness of their ways.

In the meantime, they need to be reminded they are our servants, we’re not their serfs.