Friday, April 24, 2015
Six or seven years ago or so, I can't even remember really, some dude posted, I think on Dellow's site, about how he couldn't wait for Ty and Dennis King and Cam and I and all the other nay sayers to eat crow about Kevin Lowe. My response was that I hoped I was wrong, I would be happy as hell to be wrong, all I want is for my team to win, I don't care who is in charge.
We never got to eat that crow,
Year after year, especially when I posted a lot back in the day, guys would take their shots. Why are you such a pessimist? Why don't you believe? Blah blah blah.
Now of course the thing about me that you know, if you know me at all, is that I am a dyed in the wool optimist, just like my old man. Absolute glass half full until I drink it and fill it up again, sunny side of the street, dumb, grinning, to hell with it let's live it up and drink, smoke, fuck, laugh and eat dude going. Even after this week, a mentally and physically grinding bastard of a week at work that has left me wrecked, I am smiling. It's been a great week never mind the work and the Oilers' news. Had some beers with an old friend last Saturday, a little eee ee oo oo Sunday night with my lovely wife, volunteered for an afternoon in my youngest's classroom, planning my autumn trip (Iceland the leader with the Azores or Lisbon rising), ate some wonderful Chinese Wednesday for lunch. You get it. Life's what you make it. (Turns on a little Talk Talk, feathers hair, pops collar).
The one grey cloud in my worldview this last nine years is the Edmonton Oilers. They've been junk. Forever. Nine years of being an enormous mess. I ranked the NHL's saddest sacks last year, the worst franchises over a long period of time and this Oilers' era was top five and rising and if I revisited my list I think they've likely moved up a notch or two.
The turnover during this time has been unreal. Taylor Hall is now the longest serving Oiler at 23 years old. Todd Nelson is the sixth coach (and likely out the door now.) Assistant coaches, minor league coaches, scouts, equipment managers. MacT was the third GM. Hell even the owner changed.
Over the years the constant was Kevin Lowe and of course this is what everyone harped on. Lowe was the GM when it all went to hell and then when he brought Tambo and then MacT in he was still in the picture. Whether he was involved heavily or not his presence was a sore spot, because of what he represented. First that for all the preaching about accountability here was a guy who always skated. And secondly the fact that this team, like many many teams let's face it, was an old boys' club. The Leafs were too. Nonis and Loiselle and Poulin and so on and it's telling that when Shanahan came in and Loiselle and Poulin got canned they remain unemployed a year later. The NHL is changing, slowly. Sure you get the old boys, you see it a lot, the old star returning to run the joint, or at least distract the braying masses. Yzerman was one of the first. Then Nieuwendyk, Hull, Robitaille, LaFontaine, Sakic, Linden, Shanahan, Neely and have you noticed Alfredsson hanging around Ottawa a lot more lately? A couple of these guys came and went, a couple have less prominent roles and those in prominent positions have been pretty bad at it with the exception of Yzerman (and the jury is out on a few to be fair).
Anyhow I digress but the reality is that more and more owners have decided that entrusting huge multimillionaire companies to guys with high school educations whose main qualification is 'I played the game' may not be the best move. And so we are seeing guys who have a hockey background, sure, but who followed up their college or minor league careers with extensive education and apprenticeship.
But in Edmonton there was Lowe. And guys like Semenko and Musil scouting. And Buchberger coaching despite being by all accounts useless. And Messier hanging around, my god that was terrifying. And MacT leaving and coming back and Howson leaving and coming back and after a while we were all wondering what does a guy have to do to get fired around here. Apparently finishing in the basement year after year wasn't enough.
And on top of that there was the arrogance. Even Lowe, by all accounts a prince of a man, made the ridiculous comment that he knew a little something about winning when he was finally challenged by the spineless simple minded collection of media that let the clowns pile out of the clown car year after year without a peep. The not so veiled threats by LaForge to move the team to a better market (there are no open markets better than Edmonton and few that are not open for that matter), the joke that the ice at Rexall has become, the thin skinned reaction to criticism, the Oil Change series, longest running other than Corrie Street, the comments, again from Laforge, that empty seats were because of a little cold weather. It went on and on. These weren't the Cubs, loveable losers, or the old Oilers, the little team that could, despite a tight budget. Nope, these guys were absolutely incompetents and on top of that they were, in public at least, arrogant and unlikeable to boot.
Arrogant and unlikeable I could stand if the team was winning. Christ those adjectives describe a large number of NHL players and executives. Don't care. Win.
When they brought in Nicholson we said so what. Hockey Canada is like running the Yankees back in the day. Pick the best 25 players and sit back and watch the rivers run with gold. An empty suit. You can forgive us our cynicism, it has been bought and paid for. When the team sagged out of the gate (again) and the announcement was made that there would be a full audit of the Oilers' operations we snickered and jeered and the snark flew and again we had earned that right. Back in September I wrote about the Oilers and I said that until the Oilers actually do something they didn't deserve the benefit of anything and of course they don't, nine years of shit should bring repercussions if you aren't going to get fired. The audit was a PR move we said, nothing more.
And so the season ended in shit again, nine years on and we noted with jealousy that Boston, like Vancouver last summer, had cleaned house almost immediately despite years of success. One hiccough after a decade of success and the axe fell. And we wondered what the fuck was going on. Even Toronto fired massive failure Dave Nonis and everyone realized that this was the right thing to do except for toadies like Steve Simmons who judge a man as a hockey man not by his acumen but by the fact that he is a 'good guy'. And in Edmonton business as usual.
And then last Saturday there was the luckiest of lucky draws and then Monday suddenly there was Nicholson with his Alexander Haig moment except he was actually in charge and still we sneered at generalities about change coming maybe and then two days later Chiarelli in town and Thursday night after the pc had been announced and Bob McKenzie said that Ch-ch-ch-chiarelli was only coming in if he had full autonomy and we knew it was true because Bob is two things, he is a mensch and he is reliable. He doesn't throw shit against the wall and if he's not sure he says he is not sure.
And so we knew that Lowe was out and that this was a blood letting most likely.
And so this morning the news came fast and furious and it is just the beginning.
Lowe is out.
LaForge, in a move nobody saw coming, is out.
And there is no doubt that this is just the beginning. MacT will be offered a job probably and he may or may not take it. It will be a step down but the thing is a whole lot of these guys aren't going to be finding work that easily. 'What have you been doing Craig?' 'Well I've been a big part of the worst franchise in hockey' 'Ok then, we will call you'
So he may stick around but Howson will be gone and the scouts will be purged as well. Todd Nelson is a bit of unfortunate collateral damage here. Is he a good coach? Maybe? Like every Oiler coach since 06 he had to make chicken salad out of chicken shit and that's no easy task. He did alright but these guys aren't fucking around and they don't want to gas Nelson next year, they want a real big boy coach right from the get go, so McLellan or Bylsma or Babcock or maybe Julien or Hitchcock if things go sideways for those gentlemen. Is it fair to Nelson? No but I am guessing that he will either stick as an assistant or go elsewhere. He didn't hurt himself with his work this spring and he will get his shot one day I have no doubt.
I will post something about Chairelli but let me just say that my overall impression is a good one. There are people who will tear down anyone and so today I saw a lot of 'all his good moves were luck' and 'look at all of these bad moves' and all I can say is that I look at one of the three best teams of this era along with Chicago and the Kings and he had a huge part in it so yeah I think the Oilers did ok here. He probably had some luck both bad and good and there was politics bad and good but this isn't Brian Burke walking into Anaheim and having Pronger fall into his lap and bam Stanley Cup. This was longterm repeated success in a thirty team cap league. That's good.
The reality here is that this day has been a long time coming and should have happened in 2010 when they signed Khabi to make the playoffs and capped out and finished dead fucking last. Maybe even earlier than that. What happened in Boston this spring was politically motivated in large part but it also is the opposite of a mentality that has permeated the Oilers for nearly a decade. Boston, hugely successful, barely out of the playoffs for the first time in a decade, axes their GM.
In Edmonton year after year winning never happened. The seasons invariably ended by Remembrance Day. The concern was with the new arena and getting as much public money as possible to finance that. The majority of the media, either cowed or bought off by 'inside information' or simple minded or all three, stood idly by or were vacuous cheerleaders. And the old boys' club mugged for the cameras and carried on, untouchable.
Imagine being Jeff Petry, lowballed while Norris Schultz made the money and got praise, a guy who couldn't hold your jockstrap. Or Shawn Horcoff or Jason Smith, teaching kids how to be pros or dragging anchors around the ice with you, getting jeered while management sat on their hands. Or Ales Hemsky, coming halfway around the room as a boy to a different country, no English, busting your ass, giving your all year after year, getting your ass kicked by Reghyr and going back for more and then some dummy questions your character and your bosses never step up in your defence.
And imagine being Taylor Hall, always a winner, losing and losing and losing because of shit management and now somehow you are the problem. Or Devan Dubnyk, called out by your boss in public before the season starts (!!!) and then shit falls apart and your career ends up in the toilet.
Imagine being a player who lives to play and to win and that is all that you want to do and the guys who are in charge of your team are incredible failures.
And imagine being a fan watching this mess year after year and then Patrick LaForge says the team may move to a better market (EDMONTON AGAIN A REMINDER THAT THERE ARE ONLY MAYBE A HALF DOZEN BETTER AND MORE PROFITABLE MARKETS IN THE LEAGUE!!!!) and you look around a full rink and look at your visa bill for your season's tickets.
And now tell me that this isn't the most glorious day in a long time.
Posted by Black Dog at 11:47 PM