Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Come Back Kevin, All Is Forgiven!

Har Har! Yeah right.

One truth about the Oilers going back for years and years is that things are rarely dull. From about ten years ago on to the spring of 2006 there was the annual rush for the last playoff spot. As players outgrew the Oilers' budget there was management's attempt to get a good return for them. Off the ice there was the concern about the future of the Oilers in Edmonton. On the ice the team may have lacked skill but played a hard driving, fast, aggressive game that entertained its fans.

2006 saw the beauty run that just fell short and then most of the drama shifted off of the ice. The Pronger departure, last year's disastrous campaign which culminated in the trade of Ryan Smyth, this summer's dramatic offer sheets to Vanek and Penner, the Nylander fiasco, the Souray fiasco, the acquisition of Pitkanen.

And looming in the background, Daryl Katz.

This week, after all that has happened in the past two years, saw the end of the Katz saga, the loss of the Oilers' best player for the season and two unlikely victories, games that showed that this team isn't going to roll over at least. A tougher road lies ahead over the rest of the month and all of the talk of the playoff push is as silly as the same talk here in Toronto but with the exception of Horcoff's injury it has been a good week to be an Oilers' fan.

EIG rides into the sunset finally and they should not be forgotten for what they did to keep the Oilers in Edmonton. Without them we're talking about the Houston Oilers. Having said that it was time for them to go. I didn't begrudge Cal Nichols and EIG as much as some but the past couple of months demonstrated why they had to go as Bill Butler and some media, led by Fat Terry, disparaged Katz, called into question his motives, raised the threat of the team being moved.

Now I was a fan of Katz coming in from day one but having said that I certainly believed that EIG had the right to maximize the money they made off of the deal just as they had the right to make money off this club when they were owners. However, Butler's tactics echoed the same issue that a lot of fans had with EIG over the past number of years, that damn spin. Claiming the team was on death's door for so many years when number crunching shows that they were doing ok was unnecessary and so were the holdouts' tactics over the past months. They came off as unprofessional smalltimers and any credibility that Jones had (none anyway?) was lost as he embarrassed himself repeatedly.

What do I think about Katz? Hey, he could be Harold Ballard which would be the worst case I think but my impression is that he is going to be a terrific owner. He's a fan of the club. He has a pile of money. He's successful. He also has a huge ego and he wants to win. Put yourself in his shoes. You now own your hometown team, the team that you cheered for as a young man, who you saw in their glory years. Think of what you would do to bring them back to their former standing. He has the means and the drive and I think its great for the Oilers. I think he leaves the team to the Lowe for the next couple of years and if things don't progress then he pulls the plug on him. You don't amass that much wealth without being ruthless and I would say that we may see that side if Lowe doesn't produce. That's a good thing.

You know what? Anyone around my age will never have to worry about this club moving again in our lifetimes, about them not being able to compete with the Detroits and the Rangers. How good does that feel?

As for the team on the ice, it received a huge blow on Monday when Horcoff decided to go under the knife. Then they went out and kicked Calgary's ass.

Last night they did a job on the admittedly terrible Blackhawks.

A lot of things to like about these two wins.

First of all the shot Moreau took at Phaneuf. This team has been pushovers for the last eighteen months on too many nights and too many guys have been knocked out of games. Phaneuf, a big man who sometimes plays a cowardly game in my opinion, took a run at Glencross and then Cogliano. Both were clean hits. Moreau's retaliation, a forearm shiver, was not. And I loved it. It sent a message and threw the Flames off early on. The remainder of the game, like the Dallas game (from what I ahve read) and then the Chicago game, saw the Oilers being the aggressors, hitting, skating, standing their ground. We'll see how it goes Saturday night but watching Stortini tee off on Lapointe and fight Reghyr, Glencross take on Sarich and guys like Nilsson (?) and Gagner throw hits was a reminder of when this team played hard aggressive hockey as a matter of course. It was good to see and it was no surprise that two wins resulted.

The special teams were terrific. The PP saw players moving and the puck getting thrown about with abandon. Players were shooting from everywhere and Lalime looked like Denis Lemieux flailing about in a shooting gallery. The PK was sticks in the passing lanes and bodies in the shooting lanes and good hard plays on the puck - reminiscent of spring 2006.

As for specific players well a one handed Ales Hemsky is better then most players in the league. He has taken the proverbial next step. The argument over Penner will continue, I am sure, but my guess is next year he comes in fit and probably pots nearly forty. The difference between now and the fall for this guy - unbelievable. And a good interview to boot.

Gagner looked good although he may eat it on the road - we'll see. In any case both he and young Marchant look to hit around forty points and that's damn good for a couple of kids.

Nilsson is fighting for his job. He looks good and then he looks terrible and I wonder if he may be a guy who gets shipped out for a veteran who can help this team this spring and next season.

And Pitkanen's walking the blue line and then firing home his seventh - well, this guy is a special talent. I don't know what he's asking but with him the Oilers have seven guys on the blueline for next year and if they sign him longterm then they have two guys who look to be able to play on the top pair for years. Is he worth 5 or more? I don't know but I think he's a bet you have to take. He's been hurt and he's coming off an offyear and other then Horcoff and Hemsky he's been the Oilers' best player for all that. And I think he's just scratching the surface.

Trading him would be stupid. If you can find 5.4 to give to a one trick pony like Souray then you better figure out a way to keep a much younger player who could anchor your defence for years. The whole idea of rebuilding a team is to find young players who are special and bring your team back to the promised land. I think Pitkanen is one of those guys.


Anonymous said...

Lowe has to go this summer. He has lost the respect of pretty much everyone. I can't see Katz keepin him around. MacT might stay, but he is a weak coach and is consistently outcoached. I do see the Oilers staying though in Edmonton for years. I don't see them however making any kind of significant push for at least 2 more years. Anyway you slice it though, its a good time for Oilers hockey.

Vic Ferrari said...

Great post, Pat.

I think a lot of Oiler fans are trying to curb their enthusiasm a bit, bracing themselves for a Wirtz or Jacobs type of situation. But really, it's just impossible to avoid feeling positive about this. At least for us, the points you make about Katz's motivations are compelling.

Ownership is just such a huge factor in the success of a franchise, as YKoil and Lowetide have articulated very well recently. I'm hoping for a change in the culture of the organization, no more deception and contradictory statements. No more bullshit, no more slander of players after they are traded away. This team needs an enema.

If Katz just changes the PR department it's a terrible sign to my mind. An indication of "same old bullshit, we'll just present it better!".

If they clear out Laforge, Watt, and their minions ... then maybe, just maybe, it's a new day dawning.

heed said...

i guess we just hope and pray that katz loves joni.

Pat H said...

Trading [Pitkanen] would be stupid. If you can find 5.4 to give to a one trick pony like Souray then you better figure out a way to keep a much younger player who could anchor your defence for years..."

I cannot overstate how much I agree with this point. IF he goes, Lowe must flip him for someone who gives IMMEDIATE equal value.

If Katz just changes the PR department it's a terrible sign to my mind. An indication of "same old bullshit, we'll just present it better!".

Amen to that Vic.

Black Dog said...

It will be interesting to see what sort of changes Katz makes off the hop - apparently someone with a high profile is gone according to one of the dailies a few days ago - I would think it would be LaForge, who made the comment the other day that he thought it was good for the Oilers but that he didn't have to like it (!?)

Hopefully Katz goes to Lowe and says he's got to work something out with Joni and then they can figure out where to cut contracts elsewhere if they need be. A few guys underperforming their contracts.

Yeah Vic - I don't really get the whole fear of what Katz is going to do. I understand the loathing of Pocklington and the worship of EIG for stepping up when they did but how that translated into a free pass for EIG and equating Katz with Peter Puck because he is a single owner is beyond me.

The media toadying to that effect was just bizarre. Ask Sens' fans what they think of Eugene Melnyk or conversely Leaf fans what they think of their nultiple owners.


Pat H said...

I actually had a bit of a lengthy (though totally civil) email exchange with Jones last month. It was instigated on my part in response to his "Nowhere to Hide" article, which I'm sure we've all seen (the one where he asks, among other things, if Katz played hockey as a kid). The gist of what I initially said was something along the lines of, "why does much of this even matter?" His response: "i've been asking those type of questions to everybody on every beat i've ever covered, thank you very much."

Sorry if that made anyone spit up their drink.

grease trap said...

What's the penalty for going over the cap?

Is the cap a real, or psychological barrier?

MetroGnome said...

I've heard rumblings that Laforge and Lowe are on thin ice now that Katz is the man. It'll be interesting to see if either or both last the summer.

As a Flames fan, I personally hope he keeps Lowe...

David S said...

Laforge and Alan Watt will be gone. We all know about Laforge (I imagine his type makes Katz' skin crawl), but I've heard Watt was a complete tyrant in the Oilers head office.

Pat H said...

Is there anybody left that actually likes Laforge? My lasting memory of him will be him misspelling his own name in the famed end-of-season 'things will get better letter' last year. He spelled it 'Lagorge', and there were several other blatant spelling errors in the piece, at least as it was presented on the Oil site. I immediately saved it as it was, a snapshot of (minor) incompetency. I figured that, as dumb as they were, they would eventually fix those errors. They did.

Granted, maybe he had a secretary write it up. But Patrick, come on - look it over before someone hits"enter". Can you imagine if the Leafs did something like that? I suspect that the media would be quick to poke a little bit of fun at it, and we non-Leaf fans would laugh ourselves silly.

Anyhow, little things like that are - to me at least - a microcosm of the problems that have plagued us lately. The story about Laforge calling Weight a "pussy" at a public rally should have been grounds for dismissal right there. For an organization that is so quick to boast about its "class", sometimes we do things that indicate we have none ourselves.

Black Dog said...

g.t. - if you are over the cap you cannot play - basically you forfeit any games where you are over. That's my understanding of it.

Lowe is the real question mark here. My guess is that he will present his case to Katz and then Katz will give him his thoughts on it. I can't see Katz coming in and cutting him loose immediately. I would bet that he gets a year, maybe two to get it together and if they are going nowhere then he gets the chop.

LaForge is a goner.