Monday, November 11, 2013

Lots of Laughs

After June 17th 2006 things began to go south pretty quickly for the Edmonton Oilers. Just two days after they had totally outclassed Carolina in game six they fell just short of winning the Cup. Soon after Chris Pronger was gone and the downward spiral has not abated since.

 The errors of management have been rehashed ad nauseum here and elsewhere so lets just sum everything up quickly as follows:

1/ Kevin Lowe put the club in the ditch, mostly by trading Pronger and Smyth, the team's best two players, for futures and not replacing them or other veterans from the Cup run (Peca, Spacek, Samsonov, Dvorak) with quality NHLers. This would become a theme as you will see.

2/ Lowe actually made things worse by trying to eat his cake and have it too. Rather than commit to a full on rebuild he spent money and assets acquiring a sprinkling of vets who prevented a full freefall, all the while pushing kids into the NHL too soon, resulting in a bad team and damaging or ruining the development of a number of prospects.

3/ Steve Tambellini came in and when it became clear that the team with Khabibulin in net was not going to be a Cup contender (lol) the organization went into full rebuild mode, burning everything to the ground, the end result being a roster which at the beginning of this summer included three number one picks overall as well as three top ten picks selected by the organization, not to mention Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz.

 Coming into this season then the team had spent seven years out of the playoffs. They had changed owners once, they were on their third GM, second scouting director and fourth coach. They had fired the training staff (seriously!), redone their minor league system and turned over assistant coaches, some scouts and other head office staff.

 With the Horcoff trade there was only one player remaining from the 2006 club which came within a break or two of winning the Cup who had played for the team every year since then, 'Winter' Ales Hemsky. Somehow he has survived though his days are definitely numbered. Here's hoping a Chicago or California address is in his future.

 How do you turn a team that almost wins the Cup into the laughing stock of the league? It takes a lot of work but the Oilers' management team discovered the easiest way to do it. Turn NHL players into nothing. Turn the house into a paper clip.

 Chris Pronger, the best defenceman not named Lidstrom of his era, was turned into Lupul who was sent away with Jason Smith for Joni Pitkanen who was traded for Erik Cole who was moved for Patrick O'Sullivan who is out of the NHL. He was turned into Ladislav Smid who was just traded for two nobody prospects. He was turned into three picks, one of which is Jordan Eberle.

 Ryan Smyth, good enough to play in three best on best tournaments for the deepest national team in the world, was turned into Ryan O'Marra, Robert Nilsson and Alex Plante.

 Jaro Spacek, Michael Peca, Sergei Samsonov and Radek Dvorak all left as free agents.

 Jan Hejda left for nothing.

 Jarret Stoll and Raffi Torres were traded for Lubo Visnovsky who was traded for Ryan Whitney who just cleared waivers.

 Curtis Glencross left for nothing.

 Kyle Brodziak was traded for nothing.

 Andrew Cogliano was traded for nothing.

 Sheldon Souray was buried in the minors and bought out.

 Tom Gilbert was traded for Nick Schultz.

 Dustin Penner was traded for Oscar Klefbom and Colton Teubert. Teubert is gone. High hopes for Klefbom.

 Have I missed anyone? Probably. I've only tried to include players who were NHLers when they were moved out and who remained NHLers for at least a couple of years after being moved out.

 That's a lot of good players out the door with only Jordan Eberle and maybe Klefbom coming back. And Nick Schultz who looks to be done.

 There's a reason its been seven years, soon to be eight, out of the playoffs.

 You can argue a move here and there maybe. Maybe you hate Gilbert, who is a top pairing Dman this season. Maybe Souray was a bad bad man.

 But the proof is in the pudding.


 Since 2006 you could probably divide Oiler fans into two camps. Those critical of management and those who believed in it. Some, like Vic Ferrari, RiversQ and Dennis King, wanted Lowe's head on a stick by September 2006. They predicted, correctly, that he had turned a winner into a loser. Others, such as myself, saw a flawed team that fall but believed that there was no way Lowe would not add the necessary ingredients to ensure success. When he flushed the season and traded Smyth then he lost me. I wasn't the only one.

 Every autumn following I would predict doom for the Oilers and someone would invariably comment that I would eat my words and that I was not a true fan, too negative and so on. And the franchise circled the drain. The critics increased in numbers.

 There were always fans who believed in the club though, believed in Lowe and Tambellini, believed that the rebuild began when they moved Lubo out the door, believed that the tank job would result in BAM STANLEY CUP! They ignored the fact that the guys who destroyed the club through incompetence and folly were now in charge of building it again. They also conveniently ignored the fact that for every Chicago and Pittsburgh there were Atlanta and Florida and the Islanders and Columbus and that Chicago had in fact wandered the desert for fifteen years 'rebuilding' before Bill Wirtz died and Bob Pulford finally got the axe and that the Penguins had not one but two generational players and that in both cases management surrounded the young stars with quality veteran players all through the roster and that a lot of the 'youth', Keith and Seabrook, for example, were entering their prime when these clubs went all the way.

 There will always be that dichotomy in the fan base although even the diehards are starting to grumble now. There will be those who think that moving in more kids is the answer.

 And there will be those of us who are skeptical. The diehards point at us and say 'you're not a true fan' much as someone will point to a citizen critical of the government of the day and say they don't love their country. This is dumb of course. Blind faith is really dumb. The fact that because someone is an NHL GM makes them good at being a GM is foolishness. Mike Milbury and Doug MacLean and Steve Tambellini and John Ferguson Jr. say hello. For starters.

 The funny thing is like the diehard all the critical folks want is to win. And we look at history and we say that its not likely going to happen.

 The fear all along for me is that this would become a perpetual rebuild and again there was scoffing but the move Friday night of Ladislav Smid for, wait for it, two marginal prospects, was a perfect symbol of all that we have gone through since 2006.

 He, along with Lupul, was the centrepiece of the the Pronger deal, the first pieces of the puzzle. Now both are gone for nothing, seven years later, and the franchise has not played one playoff game.

 Ladi Smid never turned into an all star but he was at worst a top four defenceman who took a step backwards over the last eighty games. Now he's gone and Saturday afternoon the Oilers made the Flyers popgun offence look like the Chicago Blackhawks and then when they met the actual Blackhawks last night they handed the defending champions the two points with an absolute joke of a defensive game.

 The Oilers are in no position to give away actual NHL players without replacing them, especially those under contract (and a reasonable contract at that) after this year. They are amongst the worst teams in the league. Again. Same as the last seven years. They are going to miss the playoffs. Again.

 The team is not as bad as their record. There has been bad luck and injuries and the goaltending has inexplicably let them down.

 But the song remains the same. Not enough NHL players. Giving away guys like Ladislav Smid isn't helping matters.

 Hold on tight because the next thing I predicted is one of the golden boys asking out. It won't be this year, maybe not even next. But does anyone think Taylor Hall is going to spend his career waiting for management to get it together? He won't. He will ask out and the media will say nobody wants to play in Edmonton and that he was a bad person and Oiler management will count their money and shrug.

 They need more good players and the problem with the scorched earth rebuild is part of it is you give away most of your good players. The end result is that you are weak and so the Oilers don't have the chips to acquire what they need unless they are really smart and really creative.

 I'm a MacT man through and through and I'm hoping someone is on their way to replace Smid but if not then I have to say I'm beginning to have my doubts.



Malcolm said...

Imagine if Kevin Lowe's job was related to positive results. He has been a disaster . I guess Daryl Katz is not inclined to fire him because the stadium is full. Outside of Edmonton Toronto and Montreal I don't think he would have a fan base given the results of the last 7 years.

I ask myself how can Edmonton be so bad with all their picks and players. How can Kevin Lowe pretend he knows winning.

Calgarysux said...

Well technically Laurent Boissoit was one of the top rated goalies in the WHL until he graduated to the ECHL this season, but yes in terms of immediate NHL players coming back for a legit NHL player then he is in the "magic beans" category.

The irony of the Smid trade is 1) We still had enough room to sign Bryzgalov regardless and 2) It would've been a hell of a lot cheaper and easier to just wait for Bachmann to get healthy - IMO he deserves more of a look as the backup as he did pretty good in the 3 games he played, also 3) We just traded our most physical d-man to a division rival which will most certainly come back to haunt us.

Bar Qu said...

I was critical of Fester for saying the goal was playoffs this year & to be competitive ("shouldn't he be aiming for a top five pick?"), but his team is making the Oilers plan (tm) look foolish. I'm seeing the value in challenging players for their best & cobbling together a workable roster in the interim. Plus not resting on your laurels or publicly 'giving up' thereby letting players off the hook for poor play.

I was always on board with the rebuild & am still a fan of the team (& MacT) but the Smid move needs another shoe to drop to be defensible.

Black Dog said...

Malcolm - its the D first of all. Plus they could use a winger or two who can check/PK.

I think they are better than they have shown really. Dubnyk's struggles out of the gate really hurt them.

Bar Qu - yeah they need to fill that hole, if the plan is to wait for Klefbom and Nurse its a bad plan

Black Dog said...

Calgarysux - goalies are voodoo, Brossoit was great in junior but then again so were Bunz and Roy. Who knows what comes of it but for now he's totally magic beans as you say.

I don't mind the Bryzgalov signing, he is a legit NHL goaltender but they didn't need ot move Smid to sign him, I presume another move is coming.

Loxy said...

First of all, the captcha text below (I kid you not) is c"named 83".

And all I wanted to say is...

Hemsky to Ottawa please.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of Willie Nelson when he got caught in bed with another women by his Wife. Willie says

Are you gonna believe what you see? Or what I tell you?"

Kevin Lowe has used that line on Daryl Katz

Calgarysux said...

I hated the Bryzgalov signing, personally. He's been wildly inconsistent his entire career, and even if he somehow figures out consistency after 11 years in the NHL (impossible), he's 33 years old. Granted, his contract isn't a boat anchor like Khabby's was, but he's still dangerously approaching the cutoff line when most NHL players decline in performance.

IMO he'll be an upgrade on Labarbera as a backup (like that'll be hard to do....) but nothing more.

Calgarysux said...

On top of it all, we didn't even need to shed cap space to get Bryz - we already had it.

Smid may not have found consistency this year, but we probably could've gotten more for him at the trade deadline. I don't think a legit bottom 6 forward would've been too much to ask.

Black Dog said...

Agree on both of your points. Bryz isn't the magic bullet but he is an improvement on LaBarbera.

And as you noted they didn't need to shed Smid for cap space which means either they have something cooking or the move is even worse than it looks.

Woodguy said...

Really feels like 6 rings plan that he concocted during his moment of clarity is going for shit eh?

Black Dog said...

Lol Woodguy, oh no everything will be fine, no panic. ;)

Anonymous said...

Lots of laughs

Anonymous said...

1 more laugh