Mark Spector’s Latest Article – And Why You Need To Take It With A Grain of Salt

Jonathan Willis
April 03 2009 06:03PM

CANADA/

If what we were looking for was proof that the Edmonton media have teeth, the surest evidence to date was provided in Mark Spector’s column at Sportsnet today.

Unfortunately, the column also seems to confirm that Spector has a personal axe to grind with the team, or more specifically with Daryl Katz. It’s good to remember that it was Spector who quoted an anonymous veteran earlier in the year as saying “first a trade, then maybe the coach” as the solution to the team’s problems; it was also Spector who got Sheldon Souray on record criticizng his coach’s optimistic prediction of a run at the division title this season. Both were good stories, but he went beyond good journalism with his comments today.

Newer, richer and younger, Katz was like a Peter Pocklington with real money.

At least Spector makes no initial pretense that he likes Katz; an immediate comparison to a man more reviled in Edmonton than Chris Pronger is a great way to start. Plus, the man Katz is being compared to is currently bankrupt and is being charged with fraud.

Well, the first full season under Katz is in the books in Oilerville, and some disturbing signs are beginning to emerge. Missing the playoffs is the least of the problems in Edmonton, as signs of a dysfunctional Oakland Raiders-like organization creep to the fore.

Since their last playoff appearance (2002), the Oakland Raiders have gone through 5 different head coaches and put up a combined 24-72 record. By comparison, the Oilers would need to win only 21 games a season for six straight years to match their streak of futility. The majority owner is Al Davis, one of the most controversial owners in any sport; he’s filed multiple lawsuits against the NFL, battled with his fired coaches over the remainder of their contracts (almost to a man they’ve gone on to success elsewhere). 44 years ago Davis was a coach, and by all accounts he pulls the strings from above on his current coaches.

I go into detail here to show how off Spector’s comparison is; there’s a difference between meddling in a team and insisting on total control and to date there’s been nowhere near enough evidence to suggest that Daryl Katz is anywhere near Davis’ level of lunacy.

Moves like signing second-line centres to $7-million deals and backing coaches with cryptic text messages, all from a Howard Hughes-like owner who likes to manage his asset, but leaves others to speak to the fans who sell out his building every night.

As though the Pocklington comparison weren’t enough, Spector moves on to Howard Hughes. The same Howard Hughes who struck and killed a pedestrian with his car, the same Hughes who was a massive financial backer of Donald Nixon – which when discovered led to a political scandal. The financial ties between Hughes and the Nixon family have long been speculated as one of the driving forces behind Watergate.

That probably isn’t what Spector’s getting at though – he’s undoubtedly making reference to Hughes famous reclusiveness later in life, which led to incidents like the one in 1947 where he spent four months exclusively in a film studio, living off of chocolate bars and milk and relieving himself into the empty containers. At this point I think it’s safe to say that these aren’t objective comparisons – Spector has an axe to grind. But let’s skip ahead a little bit in the article.

If a four-year contract extension that averages $6.5 million for Shawn Horcoff — that’s right, Shawn Horcoff — sounds like something cooked up between a player and an owner who also spend time together away from the rink, that’s mighty logical.

It appears that one of my favourite pet peeves about Oilers’ message boards – screwing up contract details – isn’t limited to faceless folks on the internet. You see, Shawn Horcoff never signed a four-year extension averaging 6.5 million a season. He signed a six-year extension averaging 5.5 million a season. And when a respected journalist goes out on a bit of a limb and says that a contract was negotiated not between a player and his G.M., but between a player and the team owner, he damn well better get the details right. Because when he doesn’t it casts doubt on all of his information.

Spector does other things in his column too; he mentions rumours that Katz is far too close with a select group of players, and says that the dressing room is “infested with guys who have lost respect for the coach’s authority.” He calls Horcoff’s and Penner’s deals “two of the ten worst contracts in the NHL” – and while I’m not going to argue that either is an example of good management, that’s hyperbole at it’s finest (off the top of my head the deals given to Brian Rolston, Rick DiPietro, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Wade Redden, Daniel Briere, Ed Jovanovski, Jason Blake and Michael Nylander are ten worse than either Penner’s or Horcoff’s deals).

He may well be right on the factual parts of his article. Unfortunately, I don’t know that I can take him at face value – between the gratuitous shots at Daryl Katz and the obvious factual errors, I just don’t trust everything that Spector’s written today.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Colin-FMNF
April 03 2009, 10:10PM
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Sandra wrote:

4) Coglino. here we can get something back, plus he won’t be anything better than a 3rd line center behind Gaga and Sully, 5) Gilbert, This guy is all nerves in a game on the line and his mistakes always end up in the net and a loss. Sadly no one will take the top 3 , because of contracts and skill. 4 and 5 can bring in some good assets to help “CONTEND” for a playoff “SPOT” so I guess we will be stuck until Horcoff’s contract is in the last 2 years but then again no one will want him then too. I really hate Horcoff for his abuse and blame of the fans in Oiler country for the Oilers misfortunes at home.

4) dumb, no forward other than hemsky has more goals and he only gets 13 mins of ice time a night, he has terrific speeeeeeed and is misused on a line with plumbers like moreau and pisani. He's a 25 goal scorer with good line mates and more ice time.

5) I agree he has to go but not with the reasons why. He's a 40pt defenceman, he'll be in demand, and we can't afford him and Grebs and I think Grebs has more upside. Plus Smid deserves a top 4 spot.

No real argument about the top 3 but you missed staios. You remove those 4 and the team gets handed back to the kids, where they had some success before.

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#52 albundy
April 03 2009, 10:15PM
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Cog's can't win a battle on the ice at all. And he can't win face offs. Sure he has speed, so does Todd Marchant and Eric Cole who both won fastest skater and are no longer Oilers. @ Colin-FMNF:

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#53 Jonathan Willis
April 03 2009, 10:41PM
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Chris wrote:

@ Jonathan Willis: OOOOOOOWWWHH. Willis. Your favorite: Strudwick nominated for Masterton! Comment? *crickets* (Roli would be my nominee!)

Already commented on it, this morning. It's a nice gesture for a guy who has put a lot of effort into his career.

Personally, I would have picked MacIntyre.

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#54 kingsblade
April 03 2009, 11:00PM
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Jas in Red Deer wrote:

@ kingsblade: They are the rightsholder. As we saw with their “overbearing” protection of CHED during the Gola parody, they are just guarding their jewels.~ Heaven forbid someone should speak with ill intentions.~

Thanks for stating the obvious.

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#55 Colin-FMNF
April 03 2009, 11:59PM
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@ albundy: Last I checked Hemsky or Souray don't win face-offs either and they're still valuable parts of the team. He shouldn't be a centre is all.

I think scoring all those goals would count as winning some battles. I'm not sure what you expect of a sophmore getting 11-13mins of ice time but he's been pretty good by most reasonable peoples expectations.

And speed is a great tool, so I'm not sure what you're saying there, he could be very dangerous on the rush paired with another fast & skilled player. He could also be a threat on the PK if developed properly.

I guess I'm expecting too much from someone named for an idiot.

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#56 flashy
April 04 2009, 04:03AM
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uhh wtf? Oakland raiders??????? Where on earth did you decided to bring an NFL team into the mix?

Should we compare the Islanders to the Detriot lions?

It doesn't make sense, your grasping at strings, I don't care if Katz says something, whatever he owns the team but he should of god damn knew well what was going to happen by buying a team like edmonton.

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#57 john
April 04 2009, 10:07AM
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You slag Spector for accuracy and refer in your blog to Donald Nixon...... seriously who is that?

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#58 Jonathan Willis
April 04 2009, 10:25AM
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john wrote:

You slag Spector for accuracy and refer in your blog to Donald Nixon…… seriously who is that?

Richard Nixon's brother. His connection to Hughes was a major source of embarrassment for Richard during the 1960 presidential election and in his run for Governor of California in 1962.

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#59 albundy
April 04 2009, 10:26AM
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Dude, relax, to get something you have to give up something, Cogs would be a person to go in order to get something in return. You know KLowe's track record is really good at trades so stay tuned@ Colin-FMNF:

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#60 Jonathan Willis
April 04 2009, 10:26AM
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flashy wrote:

Where on earth did you decided to bring an NFL team into the mix?

You're talking to Spector, yes? Because he's the one who made the Oakland Raiders comparison; I just expanded on it to show how over-the-top it really was.

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#61 SLURVE
April 04 2009, 10:38AM
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Who the hell cares if Katz text msg Stauffer about MacT not going any where. It is his team and he obviously cares enough about the personnel that he sends messages via text (at least it is positive sign than not). The media take of it is that it "undermines" his staff' s ability to do their job effectively and so on. Give me a break. It is obvious from Kevin Lowe's rant to Stauffer about Burke, Katz text messaging, and or MacT's frustration after a loss that these guys are passionate about the success of the team and when they are struggling; things can become heated-purely human nature.

We have to remember this team is a very young team and coupled with the fact that they live in this fishbowl hockey town, they will have their share of growing pains. If certain players on the team does not follow MacT's game plan because of their inexperience and somewhat lacking of patience, then this all will contribute to them hitting the panic button more often than not during frenzied plays.

Remember the emerging Oilers of the 80-mid 84 when they cannot play well to Sather/Muckler game plan and faltered big games esp in playoffs, it took awhile for the team to mature and played with skill combined with strategy. During that playoff, they beat the Islanders to win the mug. Paraphrasing Sather's comments-"They used to win on sheer talant alone and that got them only so far but when they started to follow the game plan, the combination proved well with 5 Stanleys..."

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#62 Rick
April 04 2009, 10:53AM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Spector's delivery may grate on you, the incorrect details of Horcoff's contract (he has made the same reference before which I am pretty sure is a case of looking at NHLnumbers and the way that site doesn't show more than 4 years down the road without expanding the grid) and his agenda, real or percieved, may be clear to you as well. That's all fair in establishing a personal opinion on the writer himself.

BUT, like him or hate him, he has always been pretty good at his job and if he is going to print with the idea that Horcoff's contract was Katz's doing more than KLowe's then that has to be the most concerning thing to spring forward out of this weeks soap opera.

Quite frankly despite all the issues the Oilers have right now there was atleast a glimmer of hope that there was room for change and aquiring the right hockey guy in one position or another would turn things around.

After the nugget that Spector broke yesterday I am left thinking that because it is unlikley for an owner to change his ways, it doesn't mean much to have the right people in place if they don't have carte blanche authority in their decision making.

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#63 Jonathan Willis
April 04 2009, 11:13AM
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@ Rick:

It's concerning for sure, and something to keep an eye on. After all, supposedly Katz made a contract offer to Laraque in the summer, so this isn't the first time something like this has been reported.

On the other hand, Spector's obvious distaste for Katz is something that needs to be kept in mind.

Which is why the title references a "grain of salt" rather than a garbage can.

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#64 Deans
April 04 2009, 11:35AM
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Jonathan, In your opinion were does Spectors distaste for Katz come from?

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#65 Jonathan Willis
April 04 2009, 11:40AM
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@ Deans:

No idea.

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#66 OilDude
April 04 2009, 12:43PM
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Good article Johnathan when i read Spector's piece I was a little put off about his facts as well,for some reason he does have an axe to grind.Maybe because Stauffer got the job as the color guy.

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#67 Kent
April 04 2009, 01:02PM
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Rick wrote:

@ Jonathan Willis: Spector’s delivery may grate on you, the incorrect details of Horcoff’s contract (he has made the same reference before which I am pretty sure is a case of looking at NHLnumbers and the way that site doesn’t show more than 4 years down the road without expanding the grid) and his agenda, real or percieved, may be clear to you as well.

Actually, NHLnumbers does show more down the road. The graph is expandable if you click the small, whitish arrows that appear just below the "12/13 salary" header.

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#68 Colin-FMNF
April 04 2009, 01:37PM
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@ albundy:

Oh I have no problems with him being traded as long as we get back something worth it. I do have a problem with people saying he sucks, he has probably( not 100% Willis could probably tell you forsure) the best goals/60 on the team.

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#69 Colin-FMNF
April 04 2009, 01:39PM
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@ Deans:

Ran over his dog?????

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#70 kingsblade
April 04 2009, 01:49PM
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Kent wrote:

Rick wrote: @ Jonathan Willis: Spector’s delivery may grate on you, the incorrect details of Horcoff’s contract (he has made the same reference before which I am pretty sure is a case of looking at NHLnumbers and the way that site doesn’t show more than 4 years down the road without expanding the grid) and his agenda, real or percieved, may be clear to you as well. Actually, NHLnumbers does show more down the road. The graph is expandable if you click the small, whitish arrows that appear just below the “12/13 salary” header.

Thats the point isn't it. He calls himself a journalist but he can't even be bothered to expand the chart before reciting so-called facts. Good to see he spends so much time making sure his information is accurate.

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#71 kingsblade
April 04 2009, 01:56PM
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As for the Horcoff-Katz thing...

The entirety of Spector's evidence is the claim that it "sounds like" the kind of deal an owner would cook up with his buddy player.

He spends an entire article calling Katz a meddler on par with Al Davis yet his evidence is a single text message sent in frustration. Seriously???

For the past 6 months everyone has been complaining about how Katz seems unwilling to do anything and now a single ill-conceived message means he is Al Davis?

Spector is a worthless hack who regularly spouts off with nothing to support it but his personal feelings.

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#72 David S
April 04 2009, 02:11PM
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Deans wrote:

Jonathan, In your opinion were does Spectors distaste for Katz come from?

I'd guess Katz's almost Howard Hughes reclusiveness has alot to do with it. He seems to trust few people and Spector isn't one of them. I'd bet that text to Katz made him cry. Not sure why, but some media guys figure it's their right to speak to whoever they want. They get downright girlish if they don't get their way.

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#73 David S
April 04 2009, 02:12PM
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Jeez. "I'd bet that text to Stauffer made him cry."

Edit feature will be a great upgrade.

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#74 Zamboni Driver
April 04 2009, 02:31PM
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I'd actually RATHER have the writers not trying to be best pals with the 'braintrust' - there are plenty who are the polar opposite.

For every Spector (who, btw, was writing for a NATIONAL audience), there is Stauffer, for every Barnes, there's Staples and his rose coloured glasses, for every TJ, there's "I just love those boys so much" Ireland.

This was well argued Jon, other than any defence of Horcoff's contact. It tops ANY of those, hands down. Iginla money for a faceoff guy? That contract alone could kill the Oilers when the salary cap comes down.

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