Sunday, July 08, 2007


With even Terry Jones and John MacKinnon sharpening the knives, it looks like Kevin Lowe is really in deep trouble. Only Bob Stauffer remains in his corner and with friends like that ... well, you know the rest.

A terrible week for Lowe to cap off what has been a terrible year, a year that saw the Oilers transformed from near champion to laughing stock, bit by bit.

Prior to the lockout I think Kevin Lowe would have been considered a decent GM. His drafts were pretty good, certainly a vast improvement over the late 90s. He was able to put together a competitive team on a budget. For the most part he made the correct choices when moving guys out, generally getting pretty good return.

The year after the lockout he hit home run after home run. Striking out on the UFA market, he acquired Chris Pronger and Mike Peca and managed to get Pronger to sign a terrific longterm deal. As the season wore on he acquired Spacek and Tarnstrom for pretty well nothing and then added Samsonov and Roloson at the deadline. His creation came a game short of winning it all.

Even when he played with fire (leaving the Oilers' goalie situation to fester until the last minute) he came out on top. A little lucky at times but that's ok. The goaltending situation was a bit of a harbinger of what was to come as he almost flushed the season as he waited and waited and waited to address an obvious problem the team had from day one. It worked out but it illustrated that Lowe has patience and stubbornness in spades.

Last summer and fall things were still in hand for Lowe despite being blindsided by Pronger's trade request and the fact that he didn't get the return the team needed to remain a true contender. The only NHL player he received turned out to be a disaster. The remainder of the deal was futures.

Having said that the remainder of the calendar year was not a disaster. He managed to sign Pisani and Roloson; only Spacek stands out as a guy he wanted back who walked. He shored up the blueline with serviceable Tjarnqvist and also acquired a nice pickup in Jan Hejda. He signed Petr Sykora. He also extended upcoming UFAs Steve Staios and Ethan Moreau and got Hemsky and Horcoff on a couple of nice deals, especially the Hemsky deal.

Two problems remained. Just as the previous year there was an obvious shortfall in net, the Oilers' blueline was now a big issue. And secondly, heart and soul winger Ryan Smyth was unsigned with UFA status coming in 2007. Lowe had the chance to ink him to a five year, 25 million dollar deal and walked away.

As we now know, these two issues would come back to haunt Lowe and would mark where he led the Oilers over the cliff.

More then anything though the disaster of the past twelve months started and ended with the failure to acquire a Dman. The Pronger trade request and disappointing return ensured that this team could no longer be considered a threat for the Stanley Cup but the Oilers were in first place in a brutal division right through mid December.

And this with Tjarnqvist and Hejda taking turns playing with Smith in the top pair and Laddy Smid playing with Staios in the second pair.

We don't know what was out there but rest assured a GM a little less patient, a little less stubborn and lets face it, perhaps a little less mindful of his press clippings, would have filled that hole before the season started, never mind the end of 2006.

Lowe had a plan for 2005 and it worked to perfection. He went with the same plan in 2006 and refused to bend when other teams likely asked for more then the most marginal prospects for defensive help. That stubborn refusal to give was akin to Nero fiddling. When he finally realized that getting Brad Stuart was going to cost him more then a pick and some clown toiling in the Slovenian league, the team had faded from the race.

Lowe admitted that if the team had still been in the playoff hunt he would not have dealt Smyth.

If he had retained Smyth he most likely would have signed him, I think. Instead by not signing Smyth, famous and well liked, he opened the franchise to questions about their commitment to winning. The fact that they would not sign the face of the franchise was questioned by many, including those few who thought committing that amount of money to a player on the wrong side of thirty was not a great idea (guilty as charged). Nobody, even supporters of the deal, didn't feel a little violated by the whole thing. (My first reaction was a hearty Fuck You EIG!) The disaster of the last twenty games would have made an impact at UFA time as players look for situations where they can win if all other things are equal.

Add to this the sudden organizational verbal trots, coming from the GM, Cal Nichols, Patrick LaForge, the assistants to the GM and no wonder that this looks like a franchise in disarray. From Nichols' musings on divorce to LaForge's letters and sermon and Lowe's public promises, one wonders what the hell is going on.

Shut up! Even a franchise where management is as dysfunctional as the Leafs, with constant machinations an apparent daily occurance, manages to keep a lid on it. Only the taciturn GM says anything, with the exception of the odd blather from the foolish Richard Peddie, and when Ferguson speaks, he says little.

Instead we have the spectacle of Lowe inviting reporters to his home, promising the moon over and over again as he thrashes about in an attempt to dig himself out of the hole that is of his own making. And a team that was a goal away from the Cup has now traded the two guys who were the heart of the team for a decade (and I liked the Smith deal - don't get me wrong), have only six or seven proven forwards, a defence corps that makes last year's look like the 77 Habs and an aging goalie who is probably trying to figure out how he got into this mess and when he should ask out (Colorado at the deadline anyone?)

Its simple but if Lowe had picked up that D man a year ago, hell, maybe gone crazy and picked up two, it would have all been different.

Things are bright for 2010, maybe 2011 but this year is going to be a disaster. Its a bitter pill.


David S said...

Wow! Nicely done.

You know I can't help but wonder why it is that the Oilers seem to have a habit of starting strong and fading down the stretch. Perhaps the perception is somewhat backwards.

It seems to me that contending teams pace things better, starting slower and gaining momentum as the season progresses. The Oilers have always laid it out from the day the season starts, making us the perennial mid-season wonder boys. Then when strong teams really begin to gel, those wins get alot harder to come across and the drive for 12th begins.

I firmly believe this is the result of the EIG's reluctance to really mix it up. Will this repeating scenario ever change? Lets face it. They maximize revenues every year and there's STILL a waiting list for season tickets. They're making a profit with this strategy, so why should they do anything different? Prolonged periods of mediocrity sprinkled with the occasional bout of success seems to be their business model.

So given this, I must admit I feel really bad for Kevin. Yeah, he's made his share of mistakes, compounded by the fact that every one is tied onto the pick-up bumper and dragged down Jasper Avenue in full public view. But the CFP thing really threw the club for a tailspin in more ways than one. Problem with working magic is that people expect you to do it over and over again. I honestly don't think this is possible with the current ownership mentality. And the sad thing is, Lowe knows it.

The anguish on Lowe's face seen lately quite frankly makes me cringe. I have to think its only a matter of time before he simply says "fuck it". That he hasn't yet earns my respect.

uni said...

Gilbert is going to rack up 40 points and all is good and pure in the world.

Anonymous said...

Weren't Pronger and Peca trades though as opposed to UFA's that he actually convinced to come here.
We still lost Brewer and York and whatnot, if I'm not mistaken.

Black Dog said...

anon - yep they were trades - its a little unclear - I say he struck out on the free agent market and traded for them but I can see it looks like he struck for them on the market

uni - still on that Rickards, huh?

david - well, I know a lot of folks aren't big fans of EIG and the numbers certainly suggest that they are raking it in, certainly to the point where crying poor is absolute BS

and the Pronger request caused a lot of damage - but the fix last season was a simple and relatively cheap one and Lowe didn't take it - some said EIG's hand was int hat but jeez they could have spent the 2.9 they spent on Sykora plus the money on Shaggy (1.6) and likely gotten a pretty damn good dman or two middle of the road vets

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I did read read it as "struck for."
Seems so obvious now.
Worries me that I was sober yesterday, and drunk today, and things are much clearer on the sauce.

David S said...

BD - How right you are. I am still stunned that Lowe let Sykora go. He seems to have this odd contrarian approach in that whatever you think would be the logical thing to do, he does exactly the opposite.

Most of this is conjecture anyway, since there will probably be a wholesale front end house-cleaning when Katz buys the team (and he will). My guess is that LaForge is buying a shitload of steak dinners for Katz right about now. I am curious to see how Kevin runs the team with a single task master.

uni said...

With the money Katz is willing to lay down, one would hope that he'd approach the team with a Ilitch type of hey let's win spend to the cap type of attitude. Now that could go the other way into a Wang type of deal...but at this point the EIG's standing is so low there's no where to go but up with Katz it seems.

Pouliot is also going to hit 50 points. And I've moved on from Rikards to Stella Artois.

Anonymous said...

RE: You know I can't help but wonder why it is that the Oilers seem to have a habit of starting strong and fading down the stretch.

Could it be that MacT plays the shit out of his veterans every year until they run out of gas and/or get injured?