Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Optimism Leaves Town; Does Not Purchase Return Ticket

When I was introduced to the Oilogosphere back in March of 2006 by Vic Ferrari, this site was described as the best place to go to after an Oilers' loss. I am an optimist by nature - I always look at the bright side of things.
But this is getting pretty fucking hard to take.
Here we have a team just eighteen months removed from losing Game Seven of the Stanley Cup that is amongst the very worst in the NHL.
Injuries? Forget the whine. The injury situation from last spring when the number of regulars out of the lineup reached double digits? That was an excuse. To paraphrase Andy as he put it (sarcastically I might add) in a comments thread - just wait until everyone is healthy ... and gets thirty games to gel - then we will see what this team is made of.
Bullshit. All teams go through injuries and deal with it. The problem arises when you don't have enough quality NHL players so that when you lose one or two of the actual ones that you have you reach critical mass almost immediately.
We're coming on almost a year since Smyth was traded and has the number of regulation wins reached double digits yet?
This team has spent almost up to the cap. Since the Rangers before the lockout has there ever been so much money so poorly spent?
The Loweapologists look at Smyth's numbers in Colorado and say I told you so while we watch the guy who got that money, Souray, do even less. I was one of the few guys who could get on board with moving Smyth - it made no sense to me to spend the money on an aging player when the trend was to give the youngsters the big bucks. Then Lowe turned it all around by signing a lesser player, with a terrible history of injuries, who had one good year. A guy who Habs fans were all to glad see leave town.
The Loweapologists say that Lowe has a plan, that they will be saying I told you so in two or three years when this team is contending again.
See, here is the problem. These kids may not turn out. It happens. And if this team is in rebuilding mode why dump your first round pick in a deep draft? There are only two explanations. Either you think your team is not going to be near the lottery, which means that you cannot evaluate talent, or you don't have a plan, which means that you should resign. Lets review shall we ...
1/ Lowe's hands are tied to an extent by Pronger's request. Ignoring David Staples' advice that we should just give Lowe the benefit of the doubt because he is Kevin Lowe, we should ask two questions. Why did he think that Lupul was worthy to be the centrepiece of the deal? Either the kid is crappy (I think so) or he could not handle playing in his hometown. You think Lowe, with his vast experience and finger on the pulse, could have figured that out. The second question is could he have gotten more? Reason tells us yes. At the top of his game and signed to a beauty contract, Pronger's value should have set this team up for years. At the very least they should have gotten a quality NHLer for him. And he did not. He traded one of the three best defencemen in the game for nothing.
2/ Lowe fails to address losing Pronger, Spacek and Tarnstrom on the blueline as well as Peca and Dvorak up front. Three veteran puckmoving defencemen, two who played tough minutes, and two out of seven forwards on the Oilers finallists who could play the other team's best players. Instead the Oilers enter the '06/07 season woefully short of experience on the blueline. When Moreau goes down they are left with Smyth, Horcoff, Pisani and Torres who can handle the tough sledding. When Staios goes down only Smith and Hejda are left to do the same on the blueline. With too many guys who can't play anything but the soft stuff (how do you hide four defencemen and eight forwards anyhow?) the team predictably slides. Smyth gets sent away.
3/ So much has been said about Smyth all I will say is this. All of those people who are slamming him as part of their support for Lowe - how do you reconcile this viewpoint with Lowe himself saying this summer that he made a mistake by not signing Smyth? For that matter what do you think of his explanation that he was surprised to see the cap go up?
4/ Lowe's defence for not signing Smyth revolved around his age and his non-elite status yet he immediately threw big money and term at Nylander and then Souray last summer.
5/ Rebuild? Lowe took the MLSE route - after Oiler fans waited patiently for over a decade for their squad to get back to success, Lowe decided that they would not wait for another young team to develop so he tried to have it both ways. Unfortunately he blew it once again. Rather then spending money on short term solutions - giving two year contracts to guys like Guerin, Hejda, Markov, Johnson (much like he did with Tarnstrom) - to buy time and wins while the kids developed, he blew the wad on Souray. The result - a defence deep in guys who can play on the third pair and a forward corps once again thin on veterans and guys who can handle the tough sledding (the two go hand in hand obviously). He is lucky that Tom Gilbert has arrived. Imagine this team without him. And before everyone goes on talking about how this shows how astute Lowe is when is the last time a rookie defenceman stepped in and played top two minutes in the NHL? Don't go telling me that they figured Gilbert was Bieksa. They did not.
So we are left with a team that is too thin to handle any injuries without falling apart. A team with too many kids up front and on the back end. A team with iffy goaltending, inexperienced defence and forwards, built for tomorrow but with a maxed out cap, a team that is losing game after game but doesn't even have its first round pick to show when all of this will be said and done.
And while all this is going on nobody calls the man responsible for this mess to task.
All of these kids had better turn out or we're Phoenix.


Pat H said...

uh...that all makes far too much sense.

Anonymous said...

Its true, I'm not an Oil fan, but it sucks to see you die-hards have to bear Lowe's strange moves. I can't believe that he also got an extension. Something is wrong there with the structure of the team, and i'm sure it isnt a secret amongst the players in the NHL. If I was a player, I would not want to go to the Oilers at this point, with Prongers move and Nylanders comments, it sounds like a nightmare... As I said, it must suck to be following right now. Especially since whoever wrote this blog entry obviously has an honest handle on the right and wrong things to do to develop a team... Chins up, it will have to get better eventually!

RiversQ said...

Great post pat.

I think you can find justification for each of Lowe's offseason moves individually, but as you've pointed out, they can't possibly be part of a plan.

Dealing Smyth makes sense if you get quality (they didn't), or you sign legit talent with the money (hey didn't), or you just rebuild (un-fucking-known).

Nylander? Doesn't match with the Smyth move and is a weird departure from MacT's Hemsky plan, because surely the idea was that Nylander/Hemsky were supposed to be McDonald/Selanne or Nylander/Jagr and just butcher soft opposition. MacT has been grooming Hemsky for tough minutes for a long time so that would have been a different tack.

Vanek? That seemed like a sucker's bet, but the kid clearly has talent. Still, what's the point of collecting young players if you're going to pay them max contracts before they're any good?

Penner was a reach, but he has been decent even though he's something of a specialist.

Souray was just sheer madness.

That's about it. How Lowe escapes serious criticism in Edmonton is bizarre.

Pat H said...

/I think you can find justification for each of Lowe's offseason moves individually, but as you've pointed out, they can't possibly be part of a plan.//

I think that's an excellent summation, Riversq. Case by case, you can make an argument for the wisdom of each decision (though some are a stretch). The problem is trying to find any consistent mindset, or 'plan' I guess is the word.

It's amusing that Lowe admitted, just prior to July 1st, something to the effect of 'being willing to overpay on the UFA market, just as everyone does'. Well if that's your operating philosophy, why didn't you just 'overpay' the devil you know (Smyth)? Right - couldn't read the tea leaves.

Black Dog said...

Two words that tell you all you need to know about Lowe's plan or lack thereof - Dick Tarnstrom.

Here you have a guy who MacT preferred Matt Greene and Marc Andre Bergeron over back in '06 AND who never got a sniff at running that sack of shit PP despite running a pretty good one in Pittsburgh, if memory serves me correctly.

Regardless of this, Lowe signs him early on this summer. Reasonable cost. Short term. Perfect. A guy who can run your PP, move the puck, play in your third pair, maybe in your second if you stretch it. You bring in Pitkanen for Smith and now you have eight D men. They're green as hell but there you are.

Now, a full month after this or thereabouts you bring in Souray. Ideally a #5 guy probably, maybe a 4 if you like to bleed goals. He is a vet who is a weapon on the PP. And of course you give him a gigantic contract (don't get me started).

And now as this season unfolds we see Tarnstrom scratched numerous times despite being a better option then Smid or Grebeshkov or Roy. He's no Pronger but the guy is a veteran guy who is a decent option out there.

To me he is exactly the type of guy Lowe should have been signing once Smyth was gone and it was decided that this was a rebuild. Guys who can stabilize the team while the kids develop. Short term contracts. And you likely can cash them in for a minor pick or maybe a prospect at year's end. Fedotenko. Mike Johnson. Markov. Brad Stuart. Nagy. And so on.

Pat H said...

Absolutely. You're preaching to the choir, BD. Especially the short-term contract bit. I mean, I understand the argument that a "rebuild" can't just involve throwing a bunch of kids to the wolves. You need some vets. Fine. But look at how many teams went out and got vets for short terms: Guerin (2 years), Nolan (1 year), god, even Bertuzzi (2 years) (and I'm sure that there are way better names that I'm not thinking of). It just ain't worth it to hamstring your franchise for 5 years.

Not to mention that fact that, as you spell out, Souray really wasn't what was needed at the time anyhow. wtf..!!!

Black Dog said...

I had an email exchange with John MacKinnon and he said that he thought Lowe got seduced by Souray's numbers on the PP, plain and simple.

Its all about putting your players and team as a whole in a position to succeed. Having Laddy Smid in your top four D at 20 is not helping him or the team, imo. Having Sam Gagner on the first line at 18 is not helping the team and probably not helping him. Having a lineup riddled with rookies everywhere is not helping anything. Do you think Horcoff is enjoying this shitshow? What sort of faith do you think he has in management? And when he walks will he also be tarred as someone who is not a "true Oiler" because of it?

Anonymous said...

"And when he walks will he also be tarred as someone who is not a "true Oiler" because of it?"

What is with this True Oiler crap? I read this quite often, as if there is some kind of pride to play on a team that was spectacular in the 80's, and has been absolute shit for the last decade. NHL'ers are pros, and Edmonton has to be the last destination in the league to go and play. Factor in the trashing of players by management, and you end up with fringers like Moreau, Smith, Staios showing loyalty and no-one else. Horcoff might leave, but wouldnt you? Realistically, how good of a shot will the Oil have at another cup in the next 5 years? Bad management, bad coaching, bad drafting and bad ownership will cost this team its slim possibilities for years to come...

Black Dog said...

Anon - that's sarcasm. Just as Smyth was pilloried when he left so will Horcoff be. Its not just an Edmonton thing. Whenever the Jays decided they weren't going to sign a guy you could always tell. First a few negative comments here and there, then some columns. Next thing you know the guy is getting booed out of town.

But that is the Oiler way - guy won't sign - he's not a "true Oiler", like all of the 80s guys who played their entire careers there. :)

As for Smith, Staios and Moreau being fringe guys - not sure where you figure that. Two top four defencemen and a pretty good third liner? Oh well.