Monday, 19 March 2007

A Lesson in Futility

Have you ever got that gut-wrenching feeling in your stomach when you've done something you thought was good only to have it completely backfire? Welcome to the Edmonton Oilers and their 2006-07 season. The Oilers, at this time last season, were on a tear to make the 8th-seed in the Western Conference. They had just acquired Dwayne Roloson and Sergei Samsonov to add to their solid team. However, things began to fall apart shortly after Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals when Chris Pronger demanded a trade. I'll start from that point.

Chris Pronger demands a trade, and gets one. He is sent to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Ladislav Smid and Joffrey Lupul. Smid, while young, has great potential, and Lupul is a goal-scorer, something the Oilers could use. In reality, Smid has scored two goals and seven assists in 67 games while posting an -12 rating. Lupul has 15 goals and 11 assists in 71 games while posting a -22 rating. I'm not saying this was a bad trade at the time, but hindsight says "ouch".

The Oilers also lost several key free agents in the off-season. Gone were Jaroslav Spacek, Georges Laraque, Sergei Samsonov, Ty Conklin, and Mike Peca. Again, through no fault of his own, Kevin Lowe tried to keep some of these men on his roster. However, he could not.

The Oilers battled in most of their games during the 2006-07 season. They were up and down, but always hanging around that 8th-spot in the West. But that's where the good story ends, and the Mr. Hyde of Kevin Lowe's persona comes out. For all the good he did last year with the deals he made, he made two trades that may have destroyed this entire season, and possibly the next few to come.

On February 20th, 2007, Kevin Lowe swapped Marc-Andre Bergeron, the Oilers' leading-scorer in terms of defensemen and the only guy who could carry the puck out of the defensive zone for the Oilers, to the NY Islanders for Denis Grebeshkov, a prospect with potential. The Oilers were not out of the playoff race yet, but this was a significant blow to their chances.

And Mr. Hyde kept working his magic on the phones. In the eleventh-hour of the 2007 NHL Trade Deadline, Lowe swung a deal with the Islanders again, trading heart-and-soul captain Ryan Smyth for Robert Nilsson and Ryan O'Marra. Nilsson has one goal in two games for the Oilers so far, but has not been near the player that Ryan Smyth was for the Oilers. I know that's an unfair comparison, but it's one that has to be made.

I've written before about these two lousy trades. I've said how bad these trades will make the Oilers. But here's where I bring to light how Kevin Lowe may have potentially ruined several seasons.

First, some history. In 1984, the Pittsburgh Penguins were poised to miss the playoffs once again, and began focussing on the draft. They were interested in a young Laval Titans player named Mario Lemieux. However, one team stood in their way: the New Jersey Devils. After watching Lemieux destroy the record books in the QMJHL, the Penguins decided to "throw in the towel". The Penguins jettisoned their best players to other teams and tanked the season, finishing dead-last with the rights to draft Mario Lemieux. The Devils, coincidentally, finished second-last and took Kirk Muller.

What does this have to do with Kevin Lowe, you ask? Not much. However, the problem lies in that the Oilers have far too many points to finish dead-last in the NHL this season. Had they finished last, they could have had the rights to draft Angelo Esposito or Alexei Cherapanov. This draft year has already been called "one of the weakest draft years in history". If the Oilers were convinced they didn't have a shot at the playoffs, why not shut it down earlier and tank the season to be able to draft one of the two best young players available?

In trading Ryan Smith, the Oilers got two decent, young players back, but they may not be able to re-sign Smyth in the off-season. For all the contract squabbling that the Oilers and Smyth have done, the trade to the Islanders may have ruined any chance of re-signing Smyth in the off-season.

Who is your most marketable player at that point? Ales Hemsky, most likely. How long do you think he'll want to be there if the Oilers can't win? How will the Oilers attract free agents? How will the Oilers keep other talented, young players if they don't want to pay them? These are extremely tough questions to answer.

Let me be clear: I'm not trying to hang more trouble on the Oilers. They are winless in ten straight games since trading Smyth, and have looked quite lost on some of those nights. What I am saying is that Kevin Lowe, despite adding good, young players to his roster, may have killed this season and the following season.

Sometimes, good management means you have to lose to win. I'm not sure that Glen Sather or John Muckler had ever taught that to Kevin Lowe. My only hope is that the Oilers break out of this funk they're in, and start playing good, up-tempo hockey again. Otherwise, they may start losing the most important piece of their franchise: the fans.

Keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Anthony Verna said...

But they have those "Spawn" alternative uniforms!