Deep Thoughts VIII: the great race

Robin Brownlee
March 11 2009 12:40PM

pennerdoghouse

Not since Bob Stauffer and I attempted to propel our fat asses over 40 yards in a foot race without taking the twister at Edmonton Eskimos training camp a few years ago has there been a sight as sorry as the Western Conference playoff race the Edmonton Oilers are involved in.

Stauffer and I had an excuse. First, we're not very smart. Second, we were bored after watching countless days of drills. So, Bob and I decided it would be a good idea to provide comic relief for the players toiling under a blazing sun and embarrass ourselves by lining up for an, ahem, sprint.

We accomplished both in spades. Better still, we got to see the lowlights of the race -- Stauffer beat me by a stride despite catching his toe in his pants and cart-wheeling across the finish line -- on Global TV, complete with Chariots of Fire soundtrack, because Kevin Karius wasn't going to pass up a chance to make us look like the jackasses we are.

But what of the Oilers, who have clicked it into overdrive -- which I didn't know you could do in reverse -- and are racing backwards toward the playoffs like a runaway train?

Full reverse

Despite Tuesday's 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the Oilers today sit in seventh place with 71 points despite a 3-4-3 record in their last 10 games. Can you feel the momentum?

While a 14-5-1 run in their final 20 games wasn't enough to get it done last season, it's beginning to look like playing .500 the rest of the way might do the job this time. I can only imagine that the Detroit Red Wings or San Jose Sharks hope it is.

With Detroit, San Jose, Calgary and Chicago locks in the top four spots and Vancouver having the inside track for fifth place, the final three playoff berths are being contested, so to speak, by Columbus, Nashville, Edmonton, Minnesota and Dallas.

Aside from the Predators, 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, and Columbus, 6-4-0, the rest of the field is making like the Italian Army. Minnesota, which will do an impersonation as road-kill for most of the rest of the season, is 4-4-2 in its last 10. Dallas has staggered to a 2-7-1 mark.

Despite picking the Oilers to finish ninth and miss the playoffs in pre-season, I can see them making it. As Stauffer proved, if your competition is bad enough, there's hope. If the Oilers are in a post-season spot today despite their last 10 games and a power play that's 1-for-31 the last nine games, maybe they can get it done with their toes caught in their cuffs, too.

Dog days still

I've always believed if it walks like a dog, barks like a dog and craps all over the yard like a dog, it's a dog.

And Dustin Penner, despite some reasonable statistical arguments to the contrary by Jonathan Willis before Craig MacTavish sat his lazy backside in the press box against Montreal, is a dog.

I'll concede Penner might be the most effective left winger, at least statistically, the Oilers have. Big deal. That doesn't change the fact he's an under-achieving, unmotivated player who has the physical attributes and skills to be better than he is. But nooooooo. He can't be bothered. That shouldn't be a revelation to anybody.

On November 17 I wrote:

If you look hard enough, which some people have, you can find numbers that show PDP (Poor Dustin Penner), still lugging that $4.25 million annual salary and all those unreasonable expectations like a millstone around his neck, isn't really THAT bad. Well, yes he is. PDP is in MacTavish's doghouse again because, well, he's a dog. He's a big player who plays small and who plays only when he feels like it. PDP is a player, it's obvious, incapable of consistent commitment, be it to an off-season training regimen or the pursuit of pucks, opponents and excellence on the ice. PDP is in the doghouse because he's not really interested in being the best he can be and because he doesn't play with the fire in his gut that many players, most of whom would give their left gonad to have his physical tools, do. PDP is playing in the NHL. He's wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. What? There's more?

Dollars and Sense

Now, I understand that it's not Penner's fault the Oilers unwisely chose to throw a stack of money at him via an offer sheet. I don't begrudge the big fella that dough. Anybody with half-a-brain would have grabbed that stack and run with it. Envy over Penner's wad has zippo to do with what drives me nuts about him.

I'll say it again: What grinds me is Penner shows no consistent inclination to earn a contract that was offered with the expectation he'd do his best and work to provide value in return, when I can think of dozens of players I've met over the years who'd do anything just to get a cup of coffee in the NHL at minimum wage.

So, forgive me when I feel the contents of my stomach rushing up my throat when I hear people trying to mitigate Penner's indifference or make it sound like he's somehow got a raw deal or has been picked on.

Sorry in Springfield

You know the situation sucks in Springfield when the Oilers are apologizing to fans of their AHL affiliate for an abysmal product even before the season is over. Such was the shame-faced admission this week.

“We are in the business of winning hockey games and we failed miserably in Springfield this season,” Oilers assistant GM and vice-president of hockey operations Kevin Prendergast said in a news release.

“On behalf of the Oilers we apologize to the fans in Springfield who have supported this team through a very difficult year. We will begin plans immediately in addressing the problems on the ice this season and promise that we will do everything we can to put a more competitive and winning team on the ice next year.”

One would hope those "plans" include providing talent capable of playing at the AHL level through the Entry Draft, which would fall to Prendergast and his scouting staff.

As it stands, the 19-37-7-2 Falcons don't have nearly enough of it. Thin to start with, call-ups by the Oilers, injuries and brutal seasons by the likes of Rob Schremp have made for a long season for the local faithful.

Pity Rob Daum, saddled with this gaggle of grunts since parachuting in for fired Jeff Truitt Feb. 10. Going into action against Hershey Wednesday, the Falcons have lost six straight and are 3-10-1-1 under Daum.

Fact is, Scotty Bowman couldn't coax this ECHL roster into the playoffs. I trust the Oilers brass will keep that in mind before laying any of the blame for what's been an unmitigated failure at Daum's feet.

I'm thinking somebody should get the proverbial can tied to their backside over the Springfield mess, but it isn't Daum.

Just asking...

Isn't it time Schremp and agent Scott Norton asked to be traded so they can get a second opinion?

With 7-32-39 in 54 games with Springfield, Schremp hasn't only stalled on the development curve, he's losing ground. In his first pro season, 2006-07, Schremp produced 17-36-53 in 69 games with Wilkes-Barre Scranton. In 2007-08 with Springfield, he had 23-53-76 in 78 games.

Schremp's seen limited duty in just seven games with the Oilers since draft day, including four this season, and produced 0-3-3.

How long will it take after the Oilers back into the playoffs with a 7-10-3 record in their final 20 games before I get the first e-mail: "Brownlee, you IDIOT, didn't you say they'll miss the playoffs?" I'd say the over-under on that one is about six minutes. How could I not believe?

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#101 Robin Brownlee
March 12 2009, 07:38AM
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@ RossCreek:

I'd keep Grebeshkov because Gilbert brings you more back in a trade and I think Gilbert, despite good numbers this year, is a bit pricey.

After Peckham, I can't honestly say I know enough about Chorney or Petry to suggest when they'll be ready. I think Smid might grow into a shutdown role.

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#102 Deep Oil
March 12 2009, 08:19AM
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swany wrote:

Greg MC wrote: Peter Pocklington arrested and charged with bankrupcy fraud. Good on him! I undserstand why so many people dispise Peter Puck, BUT you can’t take away that he was the guy that brought the Oilers into the NHL, and that he was the owner of the club for 5 yes 5 cups. Yet he has never been involved in any of the off ice tributes, would it be diffrent if he wasn’t the guy to sell Gretz? It’s been 21 years since that debacal of monumental porportions, I think he should get some credit for all the Oilers early success, as for his troubles now well atleast he still doesn’t own the team thanks EIG.

That is why Rexall is based in Canada with it's American interests. Mess around with the FBI with your tax structure and you go to jail, adjust your corporate return in Canada and you might get a fine.

Is there a coincidence that Katz and Pocklington share the same city (Palm Springs) for a winter home.... birds of a feather....

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#103 Robin Brownlee
March 12 2009, 08:25AM
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Deep Oil wrote:

That is why Rexall is based in Canada with it’s American interests. Mess around with the FBI with your tax structure and you go to jail, adjust your corporate return in Canada and you might get a fine. Is there a coincidence that Katz and Pocklington share the same city (Palm Springs) for a winter home…. birds of a feather….

Or maybe Katz likes warm weather and playing golf. Could be as sinister as that, no?

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#104 slurve
March 12 2009, 08:27AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

@ RossCreek: I’d keep Grebeshkov because Gilbert brings you more back in a trade and I think Gilbert, despite good numbers this year, is a bit pricey. After Peckham, I can’t honestly say I know enough about Chorney or Petry to suggest when they’ll be ready. I think Smid might grow into a shutdown role.

They also have Alex Plante coming into the picture as well. Probably not ready for prime time yet. Smid is more offensive than current status as was in first 2 years with the Oil. Don't know why it changed.

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#105 Rick
March 12 2009, 08:29AM
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RossCreek wrote:

As far as Dustin Penner goes, yes he’s lazy , but he’s amongst their top 12 forwards (top and should be in the lineup (if nothing else, at least ahead of “Softy toffee” Bobby Nilsson). How is it that Sam Gagner has not been sat in the press box for a game or 2? Ever?

If sitting Bad Dustin Penner for one game gives you 6 or 10 games of Good Dustin Penner, is that not a net gain?

Let's see how he responds to the benching before forming a MacT lynch mob over his decision.

As for Gagner, he was sent to the press box for a couple games last year with the exact rationalization you state - a chance to see the game from a different perspectve - so you can't say he has never been benched.

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#106 Deep Oil
March 12 2009, 08:38AM
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Bad Seed wrote:

I ask you this, RB, has anyone done a poorer job building an organization than our esteemed Kevin Lowe?

DOHO takes first place, then Barry Fraser scouting from Mexico and then Glen Sather's expense account and mystery employees..........

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#107 Deep Oil
March 12 2009, 08:44AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Deep Oil wrote: That is why Rexall is based in Canada with it’s American interests. Mess around with the FBI with your tax structure and you go to jail, adjust your corporate return in Canada and you might get a fine. Is there a coincidence that Katz and Pocklington share the same city (Palm Springs) for a winter home…. birds of a feather…. Or maybe Katz likes warm weather and playing golf. Could be as sinister as that, no?

I thought they were in the same city to deliver the stanley cup rings for cash sold at auction a few months ago. Note to the Dark Knight - Puck has been known in the past to use fake diamonds in his teams rings.

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#108 RossCreek
March 12 2009, 09:32AM
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Rick wrote:

RossCreek wrote: As far as Dustin Penner goes, yes he’s lazy , but he’s amongst their top 12 forwards (top and should be in the lineup (if nothing else, at least ahead of “Softy toffee” Bobby Nilsson). How is it that Sam Gagner has not been sat in the press box for a game or 2? Ever? If sitting Bad Dustin Penner for one game gives you 6 or 10 games of Good Dustin Penner, is that not a net gain? Let’s see how he responds to the benching before forming a MacT lynch mob over his decision. As for Gagner, he was sent to the press box for a couple games last year with the exact rationalization you state - a chance to see the game from a different perspectve - so you can’t say he has never been benched.

Ok, if thats the case then I do not remember that. I notice he played 79 games last year, so it is possible I'm mistaken. Verification anyone? ROBIN?

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#109 Rick
March 12 2009, 09:41AM
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RossCreek wrote:

Ok, if thats the case then I do not remember that. I notice he played 79 games last year, so it is possible I’m mistaken. Verification anyone? ROBIN?

This link is short on details but does make reference to it. I am sure if you googled around you could find alot more.

While Canada was winning another gold medal, Gagner was watching the Oilers from the press box. He must have been quite disappointed to be see both teams play without him. ... In the two games Gagner sat out, the Oilers notched a narrow victory in St. Louis and suffered a difficult defeat to the Predators.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/5898-a-rookies-ride-up-and-down-with-sam-gagner

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#110 RT26
March 12 2009, 09:50AM
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My fundamental beef with this team lies with the brain trust (K Lowe, Tambo and to an extent, MacT).

Where is the plan for the roster? By that I mean, why don't we identify a style of hockey we want the Oilers to play - identify players who fit that strategy and get them. Finally, play the players on stable line assignments and give them a chance to compete.

While K Lowe has an undeniable eye for talent, I just don't see how many of the players fit into a coherent strategy. We're too small for dump and chase, and we don't seem to want to run and gun. I just wish team leadership would establish a consistent direction. Then we'll see if Mac T can or can't lead us forwards.

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#111 Jack "FMNF" Bauer
March 12 2009, 10:49AM
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"While K Lowe has an undeniable eye for talent"

BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!

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#112 J-Bird
March 12 2009, 11:03AM
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I think Kevin Lowe has this team in pretty bad shape, with many questionable deals of late especially.

It's funny to me that they're looking for a guy to play the LW with Hemsky who can put up 30+ goals a year. They make a desperate play for Penner, losing a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pic, on top of the long term cap hit, for this bum. They need a LW and obviously go out and get a RW in Cole. You think Ryan Smith would put up 30+ playing with Hemsky? Damn, it woulda been nice to get him.

Going forward, look at the cap numbers here. When I do, I get cold sweats:

Horcoff & Penner = $9.75

$9.75 / $56 million = 17.5% of the team cap today. For, in a good year, just over 40 goals. Incredible really.

Staois, Moreau, Pisani = $7.2

These guys all got their money while Ryan Smyth sat around waiting for the phone to ring. I don't think Smytty's worth what he's getting, but if the Oil coulda had him at $5.5 a year, we have that elusive LW they've been trying to find for Hemsky. A guy who'll put up 30 every gawd damn year, and you'd never question commitment or his "try".

K-Lowe goes out and signs "character" over goals. He tries in desperation the Vanek and Penner offer sheets. He's got long term money tied up in "hope" that they'll come close to producing. If there was one guy to pay for, it was Smyth.

I sit and look at this vanilla line up of soft players, who all play the same way. Gagner, Nilssen, Cogliano, Pouliot, Horcoff, Penner, and now Kotalik and O'Sullivan, they keep getting softer. Nobody comes to Edmonton and leaves town with any bruises. Nobody willing to pay the price.

It's seems to me a lot of deals reek of desperation and the "hope" that they'll do something. They did this while chasing proven commodities out the door.

Kevin Lowe is on the verge of leading this team to year another missed playoff year. Employing a coach of little success who holds everybody accountable except himself. A team that hasn't finished higher than 6th in his time. From a man who said if "only they had a level playing field". The writing is on the wall. Clean house already. They've had their chance, we're in year 4 of the "level playing field", and they're still no better than before. And worse than that, the team is so damn soft they don't seem like they care either. Too much of the same thing, all the way through the line up.

All on Kevin Lowe. Like it or not.

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#113 David S
March 12 2009, 11:29AM
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RT26 wrote:

By that I mean, why don’t we identify a style of hockey we want the Oilers to play - identify players who fit that strategy and get them.

I think we have to some degree. Problem is, that style is still in development and has been plagued by injuries to key personnel. People here seem to think we have a fully developed team, when in reality we are far from that point.

I'd say the plan was to build a team that has offensively punishing D complementing highly skilled and deadly forwards. It's been inferred by many that Detroit is the model. Problem is, Detroit has been working on that model for a long time and hasn't continually been giving up key players along the way. I bet 90% of this year's roster in Detroit will be the same next year, and so on. Can you name half the Oilers roster from three years ago? Also, Detroit breaks in maybe one or two new guys while half our team has less than 3 years in the big show.

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#114 Antony Ta
March 12 2009, 12:05PM
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Penner may be an underachieving "dog" but MacTavish needs to do whatever gives his team the best chance to win. Has he done that?

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#115 TDSM31
March 12 2009, 12:30PM
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FPNFJason Gregor wrote:

swany wrote: SFF should get a bump when Omark and Eberle play next year, I really want to see if Omark can play over hear, he is doing great right now in the Sweedish elite league Eberle can’t play in Springfield next year, he is too young. The farm talent is horrendous right now. They bring in Daum and nothing has improved, and most think he is a decent coach. They have no veterans, and a long time AHL scout told me last week that the blueline corps might be the worst AHL backend he has seen. He told me Chorney was from a blue chip prospect. He has a long way to go to improve. They have no veteran presence on the backend, and not many puckmovers at the AHL level. Sometimes you get the best observations when you speak with someone outside the organization.

FPNF

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#116 RossCreek
March 12 2009, 12:37PM
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J-Bird wrote:

I think Kevin Lowe has this team in pretty bad shape, with many questionable deals of late especially. It’s funny to me that they’re looking for a guy to play the LW with Hemsky who can put up 30+ goals a year. They make a desperate play for Penner, losing a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pic, on top of the long term cap hit, for this bum. They need a LW and obviously go out and get a RW in Cole. You think Ryan Smith would put up 30+ playing with Hemsky? Damn, it woulda been nice to get him. Going forward, look at the cap numbers here. When I do, I get cold sweats: Horcoff & Penner = $9.75 $9.75 / $56 million = 17.5% of the team cap today. For, in a good year, just over 40 goals. Incredible really. Staois, Moreau, Pisani = $7.2 These guys all got their money while Ryan Smyth sat around waiting for the phone to ring. I don’t think Smytty’s worth what he’s getting, but if the Oil coulda had him at $5.5 a year, we have that elusive LW they’ve been trying to find for Hemsky. A guy who’ll put up 30 every gawd damn year, and you’d never question commitment or his “try”. K-Lowe goes out and signs “character” over goals. He tries in desperation the Vanek and Penner offer sheets. He’s got long term money tied up in “hope” that they’ll come close to producing. If there was one guy to pay for, it was Smyth. I sit and look at this vanilla line up of soft players, who all play the same way. Gagner, Nilssen, Cogliano, Pouliot, Horcoff, Penner, and now Kotalik and O’Sullivan, they keep getting softer. Nobody comes to Edmonton and leaves town with any bruises. Nobody willing to pay the price. It’s seems to me a lot of deals reek of desperation and the “hope” that they’ll do something. They did this while chasing proven commodities out the door. Kevin Lowe is on the verge of leading this team to year another missed playoff year. Employing a coach of little success who holds everybody accountable except himself. A team that hasn’t finished higher than 6th in his time. From a man who said if “only they had a level playing field”. The writing is on the wall. Clean house already. They’ve had their chance, we’re in year 4 of the “level playing field”, and they’re still no better than before. And worse than that, the team is so damn soft they don’t seem like they care either. Too much of the same thing, all the way through the line up. All on Kevin Lowe. Like it or not.

Well put. However, hindsight is 20/20. I think if K-Lowe could reverse some of his decisions, he would. But that doesn't change the fact the decisions were made. I'm not an Oiler fan, but thought Lowe was making the right moves, both with Smyth & Penner. Like I said, hindsight is 20/20. It didn't seem that Smyth was worth the long-term deal he was seeking, and Penner had the potential. He probably didn't imagine he'd be paying Shawn Horcoff the same 5.5 that Smytty was looking for just a few years later. Salaries escalated more than most thought. Looking back now, its easy to say they shoul've kept Smyth at 5.5 for 5 rather than Penner at 4.25 for 5.

Had the Buffalo Sabres not matched the Thomas Vanek offer sheet, everything would be peachy. From where I sit, the light at the end of the tunnel is far away.

Everyone knows their draft record: In '02 the took the one and only Jesse Niinimaki (15th)rather than Denis Grebeshkov (18th), Alex Steen (24th), and local STANLEY CUP WINNING GOALTENDER Cam Ward (25th) - the Oil then took Deslauries at 31. In '03 where the Oil took Marc Pouliot rather than Zach Parise, Brent Burns, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards and Corey Perry. In fact, the Oil traded down with New Jersey and also picked up JF Jacques. So Pouliot & Jacques for Parise - WOW. Thats actually an interesting draft to look at, as many other teams missed the boat on the above players as well, but Getzlaf played just down the road, is a Western Canadian boy, has the size & skill the Oil were looking for at the time and only went 2 picks after the Oilers original draft position. So while you can forgive them for passing on Parise, (small forwards weren't as likely to succeed in the old NHL), there is no excuse for missing Getzlaf! In '04 they took Dubnyk (14th) and Schremp (25th) rather than Radulov (15th), Wojtek Wolski (21st), Andrej Meszaros (23rd), Cory Schnieder (26th), Mike Green (29th.)And the Comrie for Perry trade Lowe backed out of (instead opting for Jeff Woywitka) is another inexcusable deal. Perhaps KP should be looking for work.

Lowe left a hell of a mess for Tambellini to clean up. Time will tell.

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#117 Dennis
March 12 2009, 02:44PM
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I think Lowe's done a great job.

The proof's in the pudding.

What??;)

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#118 J-Bird
March 12 2009, 02:57PM
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The bad drafting doesn't bother me as much as the rest. As most have said, lots of teams missed out on Getzlaf, Perry, Richards and the rest. It's a crap shoot drafting kids at 18. Nobody batts 1000% at the draft. Although a case could be made that K-Lowe is dangerously close tot the "Mendosa" line.

This team has a lot of money over a long term tied up in guys who aren't great. They're "hoping" they are, but that's a pretty big gamble.

I sit and look at the team south of us. Their money is tied up in Iginla, Kipper, and Phaneuf. Like them (I hate them) or not, those 3 are legit stars in the league. We have one, and he's the best deal (Hemsky).

This Horcoff contract is going to be a killer. Just like the Penner one already is. Just like the Pisani one has been. Just like Staois and Moreau's are. Why we commit to guys like that is beyond me. Most teams commit to their stars, and fill in the rest. K-Lowe commits to the rest. If it was me, I'd sign Smitty and let some other guys go if I had to. Priorities. If for nothing else the fan favorite "thing", the jersey sale "thing", the perception around the league "thing". To me, this would be like Calgary signing all their role players and losing one of their stars. Who does that?

I think Kevin, MacT, Huddy, Moore's, Bucky, have all had their time, and it's time to get some fresh ideas and a change in direction. We need some people running it who don't get a free pass from the fans and media in this market because they wons Cups here a couple decades ago. (Yes, it's been that long!)

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#119 David S
March 12 2009, 03:55PM
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Dennis wrote:

I think Lowe’s done a great job. The proof’s in the pudding. What??;)

Dennis is at least two hours ahead of us guys here in Alberta. He's already into the sauce. ;)

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#120 Dennis
March 12 2009, 04:30PM
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DS: I just like to jab at it because it's the story no one fleshes out. there's enough ink being spent on 27's pact now that you'd think they go back and start unraveling the Whole ball of yarn:

- signing 27 and losing picks because 94 was too old to sign

- 94 was too old but souray wasn't.

- souray misses the best part of his first season

- trying to sign nylander

- missing the playoffs

- pronger trade

why?:)

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#121 David S
March 12 2009, 06:19PM
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Dennis - Bruce had a very interesting theory about the Pronger trade, which I think isn't to far off the mark. You should ask him about it.

I think it was LT that brought up the idea that 94 was done due to his play (or lack of it) in the 06 run. Most teams that value players tend to lock 'em up sooner than later. If they don't, the rest is posturing and more than not "we'll take him only if we can steal him" sorta thing.

Souray (along with Penner) was probably one of those EIG reactionary moves borne more of fear than common sense. One of those things Lowe was told (or rather "highly encouraged") to do.

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