Hockey Headlines

Monday, 15 April 2013

Extreme Changes Needed

No offense to any Oilers fan who is reading this, but the NHL organization in the city of Edmonton is led by a triumvirate of clowns. After he excused Steve Tambellini from his general manager duties, Kevin Lowe turned around and named former player and head coach Craig MacTavish as the new leader of the club. Scott Howson, recently dismissed by the Columbus Blue Jackets as their general manager, is back in as the Senior Vice-President of Hockey Operations. If there was any team who took a step back today, the Oilers might be it.

"We are not where we want to be right now, or where we should be. We feel strongly we make changes right now," said Oilers' President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe at the press conference. "We need to get better immediately. That starts today with this announcement."

Better? You're giving Craig MacTavish, a guy with exactly zero experience as a general manager, the reins to a team that is very much in disarray, and Kevin Lowe thinks that makes them better? The Oilers have a pile of young, exciting players that they have picked up with their numerous high draft picks over the last four years, yet still have not seen the postseason. How does adding MacTavish make this team better given the state of the franchise that these three men left it before Tambellini was hired?

"As far as the group that messed things up," Lowe stated in the defence of his team, "you're talking about the group that had the team one win away from winning the Stanley Cup."

That's a pretty bold statement to make when looking back seven years ago. Gone from that team are Chris Pronger, Fernando Pisani, Sergei Samsonov, Jaroslav Spacek, Raffi Torres, Mike Peca, and Jarret Stoll - all players with double-digits in points in that postseason. Only Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, and Ryan Smyth remain on this Oilers team seven years after losing in the Stanley Cup Final. Smyth, however, was traded and brought back as a shadow of his 2006 self.

If teams are going to one-and-done Stanley Cup runs, the Oilers made it pretty clear that you shoot for glory and then rebuild for a decade. That's not a "strategy" that many fans will buy into, and none should accept. Teams that players like to play for - Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston as examples - enjoying playing for these organizations because there is a commitment to winning and a chance to do something special every postseason. That's why players like Dany Heatley and Michael Nylander refused to sign there. That's why the Oilers had to throw $50 million at Thomas Vanek just to have him sign an offer sheet. Players simply aren't interested in wasting their short playing careers toiling for a franchise in a constant rebuilding mode.

Taking credit for the team's 2006 Stanley Cup run is nothing short of arrogant and ignorant. It took some incredible performances by a few key players in the playoffs to help Edmonton get to the Stanley Cup Final, and they also got some major help along the way. Not one of the top-four teams in the Western Conference advanced to the the second-round in 2006, meaning that four points was the difference between Edmonton and fifth-place San Jose in Round Two. Edmonton and Anaheim were merely three points apart in the Western Conference Final, so it's not like they were knocking off the toughest teams in the Western Conference during their run.

To claim that the three men at the press conference today were the architects of that Stanley Cup run is Kevin Lowe's grand delusion. Sure, they put that eighth-place team together, but they caught a number of breaks that opened the doors for their run to be much easier. With all four of the top seeds falling early to injuries suffered by key opposition players in the next rounds, the Oilers make good on these lucky breaks and capitalized. I'll admit that Lowe and MacTavish put together some magic in getting the Oilers to dispatch the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings, but claiming that they drew up that blueprint is a pipe dream.

The arrogance bled through once more when Kevin Lowe, clearly agitated by the questioning, stated, "There's one other guy, I believe, in hockey today that’s still working in the game that has won more Stanley Cups than me."

How is the number of Stanley Cups Kevin Lowe won as a player even relevant? If Stanley Cups were an indication of great management, Steve Yzerman would have his Lightning in the playoffs right now. Glen Sather would have the Rangers firmly entrenched in a playoff spot. Instead, guys like Ray Shero, Ken Holland, Stan Bowman, and Peter Chiarelli have more Stanley Cups to their names as management than Kevin Lowe has.

Great players are often elevated to player management positions on teams on which they previously played. Rarely does this work out well for the former star player. Brett Hull with Dallas? Horrible. Wayne Gretzky with Phoenix? Nightmare. Joe Nieuwendyk with Dallas? In progress, but not looking good. Steve Yzerman with Tampa Bay? The exception in that he didn't play for Tampa Bay, but the jury's still out.

Instead, we see guys who have toiled as assistant GMs, player agents, and journeymen players who do well. Star players who promote their own former on-ice accomplishments while sitting in the front office are nothing more than egomaniacs trying to justify their own jobs while stuck in the midst of futility. Kevin Lowe? If I owned the Oilers, he'd be dangerously close to teetering on that cliff right now between employed and embarrassed.

You never once hear Ken Holland talking about his four NHL appearances as a goaltender. You never once hear about Ray Shero's achievements at Harvard while speaking at press conferences about the latest deal made by the Penguins. Not once has Peter Chiarelli spoken about all the great deals he cut as a player agent while serving as the general manager of the Bruins. And why not? Because it's not about what they did as players. It only matters what they do as general managers.

Honestly, the Oilers are a mess in the front office, and it starts with Kevin Lowe. In nine of his 13 years at the helm of the Oilers, they have missed the playoffs. This year could be the tenth season in his 14 years. No one cares what Kevin Lowe did as a player because that was eons ago as far as fans are concerned. No one cares how many Stanley Cups Kevin Lowe won as an Oiler because he hasn't treated Edmonton to a parade since 1990.

The sports world isn't about what have you done for me. It's about what have you done for me LATELY. Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, and Scott Howson had better learn that fairly quickly because they're dangling by a fairly thin thread right now in terms of fan support and fan sympathy.

With the Oilers eight points out of the playoffs right now, they need someone who has studied the game closely over the last few years to step in and change the course of this team. I'm not suggesting Nashville assistant GM Paul Fenton or Tampa Bay's Tom Kurvers, but with seven games left there was an opportunity to fill Tambellini's role with someone who really understands the game today and is a student of the game.

Patronage hasn't worked in Edmonton's favor in the past, and I don't see it working here either. It might be time to cleanse the front office of the Oilers from top to bottom much like John Davidson did in Columbus when he was hired to steer the good ship Blue Jackets.

If we look at the standings, it says a lot when one considers changing the dynamics of a team. The Blue Jackets are within two points of a playoff spot, and six points ahead of the Oilers. The Blue Jackets are making a run at the playoffs while the Oilers are fading badly into the also-ran category. Starting over in terms of rebuilding starts at the front office level and extends through the franchise.

Lowe believes the Oilers are in Year Three of the rebuild. It seems to me that they've been tearing down and rebuilding for a lot longer - 14 years, maybe? - than that.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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