Everyone Hates Edmonton

Jonathan Willis
August 21 2009 11:00AM

There’s a feeling, often voiced around these parts, that free agents don’t want to play for the Edmonton Oilers. The reasons offered are varied – anything form the weather, the nightlife, Kevin Lowe, the travel, Ritch Winter, or even being on an NHLPA blacklist.

It’s overblown.

Mike Comrie really started it all.

When the local product first broke into the league with the Oilers, first as a rookie in midseason and then for the following two years as the Oilers’ de facto first-line centre, he was roundly praised by the fan base.*

After his trade request - for unknown reasons - he was lambasted by that same fan base and saw his reputation run through the mud** locally. Kevin Lowe subsequently dealt him to Anaheim for Corey Perry and a first-round draft pick… only to quash the deal after failing to extort 2.5-million in bonus money from his star centre. Comrie was subsequently dealt to Philadelphia for Jeff Woywitka and the draft pick who turned into Rob Schremp.***

After Comrie followed a string of other rejections – including a ton since the lockout in the form of Mike Peca, Jaroslav Spacek, Michael Nylander, Marian Hossa, Chris Pronger and most recently Dany Heatley.

Back to Comrie. Jim Matheson recently asked Comrie about the perception that nobody wants to play in Edmonton. Here’s what he said:

“I don't think that's true. There's different mentalities to every organization and every city ... everybody has a different situation. Maybe a kid from a small town in Western Canada might not like playing in Manhattan.”

We look at that list of rejections, and we can see that Comrie’s statement rings true. Peca publicly blamed the travel schedule. Spacek supposedly felt the same way. But that’s something that could easily be said about teams like San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary and Dallas – indeed, half the Western Conference.

Michael Nylander, meanwhile, actually agreed to a deal with the Oilers (4 years, 5.5-million per season)**** only to have his wife balk at living in Edmonton, leading him to back out of the deal. For what it’s worth, he now says he’d like to come play in Edmonton.

Marian Hossa turned down a mammoth deal with the Oilers in favour of a one-year contract with Detroit. Many complained that this was another symptom of the problem – ignoring the fact that Hossa also rejected Pittsburgh, a team he’d gone to the Stanley Cup final with the year before. Hossa wanted to win a Stanley Cup more than anything, and his decision to pursue one with Detroit has cost him both on the ice***** and in the pocketbook, as he signed a long-term deal in Chicago for far less money than Edmonton offered a year ago.

Pronger fits into the Nylander category; a player whose personal circumstances dictated a need to live elsewhere. Would things have worked out differently if he’d been in Calgary or Ottawa for 2005-06? It seems doubtful.

Most recently we have the example of Dany Heatley. Heatley, as readers will recall, previously demanded a trade from Atlanta. After being dealt to Ottawa, Heatley had some good years, got a shiny new contract, and then saw things go south this past season. He demanded a trade, and because of his no-trade clause was able to limit the number of teams he would accept being dealt to. Bryan Murray played hardball with him and dealt him to Edmonton, only to have Heatley dig his heels in and refuse a deal.

It really isn’t a reflection on Edmonton – particularly if Heatley didn’t include Edmonton in the list of places he was willing to be moved to.

None of this is to say that the Oilers have difficulty attracting free agents. But the difficulties they have are less connected to a distaste for the city then they are to the team’s lousy record over the last decade – and those difficulties are shared by every other lousy team out there.

Just this summer Atlanta, for example, made a serious play for free agent forward Manny Malhotra – reportedly offering a multi-year contract at 2MM per season. Malhotra, who remains unsigned, declined to make the deal because, well, it’s Atlanta.

Meanwhile Florida – a team blessed with good weather and a decent travel schedule – has seen franchise cornerstones Roberto Luongo and Jay Bouwmeester refuse to sign extensions, and has been forced to deal both of them. The reason? Those two players apparently like the idea of winning more games than they lose.

Besides, it isn’t like the Oilers’ don’t have players who wanted to play for them. Ryan Smyth was shipped out of town after the Oilers wouldn’t pay him 5.5-million per season**** (he later signed with Colorado at a 6.25MM/yr cap hit). Free agents like Petr Sykora, Jan Hejda and Marty Reasoner were put on the back-burner or ignored entirely, and that’s to say nothing of Georges Laraque. Sheldon Souray and Nikolai Kahbibulin both followed the money and signed on as free agents.

The point is this: if Edmonton wins games, then it will be an attractive destination for free agents. Detroit, after all, signs whoever they want at below market rate, and it isn’t because of the beauty of the city. If, on the other hand, Edmonton remains mired in mediocrity, there will be no compelling reason for free agents to sign there. That’s really the bottom line.

*For proponents of various theories (“players never have their best seasons in Edmonton”, or “Craig MacTavish is an idiot I wouldn’t hire to coach a Grade 3 ball hockey game”) Mike Comrie has never bettered the 33 goal/60 point season he recorded as a sophomore under MacTavish.  The Oilers remained in the playoff chase to the bitter end with a centre depth chart consisting of Comrie, Marchant, Horcoff, Reasoner and Pittis.  Todd Marchant’s 34 points was the second best total among the centres, and only he and Comrie broke the elusive 23-point barrier.   

 

**One of the least charming attributes of certain portions of the Oilers’ fanbase is its tendency to make up, believe and spread the vilest possible rumours about players who have fallen out of favour.  We saw it with Comrie, we saw it with Pronger and I’m sure we’ll see it again.  It’s not a good thing.

 

***A dodged bullet, that one.  I mean, really, this team almost got stuck with Corey Perry and Anaheim’s 9th overall pick (Ladislav Smid).  Fortunately, the team instead chose to grab Woywitka and the 24th overall pick – a fine decision.  Can you imagine how poorly a 6’3”, goal-scoring winger would fit in the current top six?

 

****If you haven’t caught on yet, footnotes is the theme I’m running with today.  In any case, for everyone complaining about Shawn Horcoff earning 5.5-million per season, imagine how you’d feel if the Oilers had given that money to Nylander instead.  He’s scored 37 and 33 points the last two seasons in Washington.  And since we’re on the subject, wasn’t 5.5-million what Ryan Smyth wanted from the Oilers?  It’s just not a good number for Kevin Lowe.

 

*****I’m struggling to remember who won the 2009 Stanley Cup.

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 OvenChicken8
August 21 2009, 11:08AM
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Good read JW.

And I love the video, the feather weights had a great tilt.

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#2 jayoilfan
August 21 2009, 11:08AM
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interesting take and it seems to be entirely true, It seems Edmontonians have some sort of inferiority complex and are lashing out at players not wanting to come to Edmonton. Luckily I live in Calgary and can distance myself from all that banter and remain above it.

GO OILERS GO! I'll cheer for you nomatter who plays/doesn't play for you.

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#3 Joey Moss
August 21 2009, 11:14AM
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thank you for reminding me what an idiot lowe is. he should have been fired following the comrie debacle - his actions were childish and were not motivated by doing what was best for the team. i have little hope for this team while he is still with the organization.

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#4 viss.99
August 21 2009, 11:22AM
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Good job on this one, I think K-lowe And Pronger really hurt the image of the Oilers as of late, but I still believe it is not the City of Edmonton that is keeping these high price players from not coming, I really think it is the management. And I also refuse to believe that Calgary is a better hockey team city that Edmonton, they have a better team for sure. I hope the Oil brass are seriously working on how to fix this.

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#5 Travis Dakin
August 21 2009, 11:24AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

***A dodged bullet, that one. I mean, really, this team almost got stuck with Corey Perry and Anaheim’s 9th overall pick (Ladislav Smid). Fortunately, the team instead chose to grab Woywitka and the 24th overall pick – a fine decision. Can you imagine how poorly a 6’3”, goal-scoring winger would fit in the current top six?

*Tear*

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#6 jeff
August 21 2009, 11:25AM
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Hey who has signed in Vancouver lately? Sundin that was paid more then anyone could offer and Demitra who is probably the equvilanet of when we had Sykora.

Even Calgary, sure they signed Jbo but his GF sure helped them out there.

Dallas hasn't really signed anyone big and well SJ they signed Blake, but I think for him it was more he liked the area and at his point in his career he was going for a cup.

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#7 Mother Pucker Hockey
August 21 2009, 11:26AM
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Wow Joey, with comments like that you may lose those sweet season tickets behind the bench...

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#8 Lofty
August 21 2009, 11:26AM
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Glencross should be added to your list

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#9 OvenChicken8
August 21 2009, 11:27AM
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So Heatley is a total chump.

After hearing that conference call I don't want him hear at all. 40 goals or not that guy just grinds my gears

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#10 OvenChicken8
August 21 2009, 11:34AM
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I don’t want him hear at all.

lol here* not hear...

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#11 Westcoastoil
August 21 2009, 11:34AM
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It sure would have been nice to watch Comrie play hi sophmore season behind Doug Weight. Another great player that Lowe didn't get value for

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#12 Chester Copperpot
August 21 2009, 11:36AM
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What about Jimmy Carson. Wasn't he the 1st to call Edmonton a hick town?

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#13 JB
August 21 2009, 11:43AM
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Great article, and one that is supported by the fact that Detroit is a festering sinkhole but attracts and retains players like no other team.

Please don't bring up the aborted Comrie to Anaheim deal ever agin. It hurts.

Finally, the best free agent deals the Oilers have ever made has been failed deals, including Nylander and Hossa. The "Big splash" mentality usually backfires and is immediately regretted - see Drury, Chris; Gomez, Scott; Redden, Wade; Briere, Daniel; Campbell, Brian etc.

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#14 Curious
August 21 2009, 11:47AM
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@ OvenChicken8:

Not that I really care but what did Heatley actually say in his press conference? Anything interesting or just mumble jumble canned speech.

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#15 Jonathan Willis
August 21 2009, 11:50AM
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JB wrote:

Redden, Wade

Worst signing of the past decade, easily.

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#16 Jonathan Willis
August 21 2009, 11:51AM
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@ Lofty:

The way I understood it, Glencross took less money to go to Calgary. Then again, I don't recall ever getting a clear explanation of what exactly happened, so I could be wrong there.

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#17 Mike Krushelnyski
August 21 2009, 11:54AM
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Joey Moss wrote:

thank you for reminding me what an idiot lowe is. he should have been fired following the comrie debacle - his actions were childish and were not motivated by doing what was best for the team. i have little hope for this team while he is still with the organization.

If Smyth would have just agreed to the last line of his contract saying "Kevin Lowe's penis is bigger than mine" he could have had his 5.5M. Damn him and his pride.

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#18 Boris
August 21 2009, 11:55AM
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It doesn't matter who calls Edmonton a hick town or what ever name someone calls our city. JW is right, when we win, almost every player will want to play for the Oilers. Just like during the "Glory Years". All we need now if for the current team to step up and win more games and Tambo to get some cap space and the problem will go away....easy right?

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#19 The Menace
August 21 2009, 11:56AM
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I'm so close to taking Heatley off the back of my new Oilers jersey. I really mean it this time.

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#20 tcho
August 21 2009, 12:00PM
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"One of the least charming attributes of certain portions of the Oilers’ fanbase is its tendency to make up, believe and spread the vilest possible rumours about players who have fallen out of favour. We saw it with Comrie, we saw it with Pronger and I’m sure we’ll see it again. It’s not a good thing."

Heartily agreed. We certainly don't add to Edmonton's appeal for players when they see us behaving like this, either. What happens if they do something to fall out of favour?

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#21 ScubaSteve
August 21 2009, 12:04PM
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tcho wrote:

Heartily agreed. We certainly don’t add to Edmonton’s appeal for players when they see us behaving like this, either. What happens if they do something to fall out of favour?

You can't really think that players make decisions based on what the fans will say about them on the interwebs. I'm willing to bet that, outside of the MSM, players very rarely see/hear what fans say or think.

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#22 Bauer83
August 21 2009, 12:27PM
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In regards to Glencross, not that anyone needs to believe me, he would have signed in Edmonton for the same amount had we been willing to at that time. Negotiations were ongoing with Hossa, and the organization felt that Brodziak was there man. Source would be someone in the management team that loves to golf, take it as crap or the truth, your call.

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#23 GJS
August 21 2009, 12:50PM
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Lowe refusing the deal for Perry and the 9th pick makes me SICK.

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#24 cableguy
August 21 2009, 12:58PM
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ScubaSteve wrote:

You can’t really think that players make decisions based on what the fans will say about them on the interwebs. I’m willing to bet that, outside of the MSM, players very rarely see/hear what fans say or think.

you are kidding yourself if you think the fans dont play a role in a players decision.

you think players keep things like getting boo'd in restaraunts to themselves?

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#25 416oil
August 21 2009, 12:58PM
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Hey JW wouldn't you ask for a trade from Atlanta after your reckless driving killed a teammate? you can't really blame him from asking to leave that situation

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#26 J Mcreedy
August 21 2009, 01:06PM
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Being a die hard Oiler fan and have lived in Edmonton for 14 years, the copper and blue runs deep in my veins. I love the city with all my heart and can not say enough good things about about the U of A Hospital, Edmonton Eskimos, or Whyte Ave. The shear adreneline that ran through me every game before the puck dropped on the 2007 cup run. My long nights at Mo's never missing 1 game all that time. Fans are the first problem- One night while enjoying ribs at on Calgary Trail my wife pointed out Ryan Smyth and his young family well I looked over and was pretty impressed however I left him alone. Not like the other at least 6 different people who came right up while he had a face full of ribs and asked for his autograph. His wife was not impressed. Or how about a local media writing How can Jason Arnott be a first line center when he can't even father his own child...NICE.. Or a certain guy named Jason G who on a radio program referred to Dwayne Roloson just after the cup run as "Who would want the Oilers garbage. As a fan these things all hurt me but not quite as much as when a player, players wife says they do not want to come to my beloved Edmonton. Unfortunately good players do not always make good General Managers, we were snowed on the Pronger Deal and should of demanded Getzlaf. Go Oilers Go!

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#27 BigE57
August 21 2009, 01:14PM
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@ JB:

That seems to make sense regarding big splash free agent acquisitions. In fact, I'm sitting here trying to think of a successful signing where the guy came in and made a huge splash.

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#28 oilman007
August 21 2009, 01:15PM
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1) The botched Comrie deal is painful beyond belief. Imagine if we already had Perry and Smid when the Pronger trade went down, we could have subbed Lupul for Getzlaf and called it fair.

2) As I recall Glencross told anybody willing to listen that he wanted to sign with the Oilers but they thought they were getting Hossa and didn't have room for him.

3) Comment 13 by JB sums up my thoughts exactly if, management spent more time fixing the holes instead of gunning for overrated pipe dreams, we'd have a stellar team that these UFA's would actually want to come and play for at a decent price.

4) Whether or not we need Heatley or some other 40 goal scorer is fair game for debate but if the team got a solid 3rd line checking centre, and a shut-down defencemen to fill our blatant holes, maybe the new coaching could do there job and motivate our plethora of top six forwards to actually score by committee.

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#29 Jonathan Willis
August 21 2009, 01:18PM
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@ 416oil:

True enough.

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#30 Brent G.
August 21 2009, 01:20PM
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*puts up hand* I hate Edmonton!

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#31 jeff
August 21 2009, 01:23PM
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oilman007 wrote:

3) Comment 13 by JB sums up my thoughts exactly if, management spent more time fixing the holes instead of gunning for overrated pipe dreams, we’d have a stellar team that these UFA’s would actually want to come and play for at a decent price. blockquote> I've gotten the feeling since the lockout finished that Lowe's priority was to get a top flight scorer and d-man via free agency. So we picked up Souray, but still no scorer. It now appears that Tambo is trying the same, but while doing this they are making the organization look like a bigger joke.
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#32 jeff
August 21 2009, 01:23PM
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Apparently I have no idea how to shorten quoted comments.

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#33 J.L.
August 21 2009, 01:37PM
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No wonder Rob Schremp is such a polarizing player. Karma has passed down the line.

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#34 Antony Ta
August 21 2009, 01:37PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

A dodged bullet, that one. I mean, really, this team almost got stuck with Corey Perry and Anaheim’s 9th overall pick (Ladislav Smid). Fortunately, the team instead chose to grab Woywitka and the 24th overall pick – a fine decision. Can you imagine how poorly a 6’3”, goal-scoring winger would fit in the current top six?

Hilarious.

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#35 thashiznit
August 21 2009, 01:52PM
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Great article Mr. Willis.

Maybe you should forward this to all the members in the NHLPA!

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#36 The Menace
August 21 2009, 01:56PM
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J Mcreedy wrote:

The shear adreneline that ran through me every game before the puck dropped on the 2007 cup run. My long nights at Mo’s never missing 1 game all that time.

I enjoyed a lot of beer during that time, so I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but I'm pretty sure you're talking about 2006.

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#37 jeanshorts
August 21 2009, 02:03PM
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Best article ever Willis. Thank you! How many star players did Tampa sign in their first four or five years? How about Anaheim? They had to draft number 1 and number 2 players, groom them into superstars, and then finally attract high profile guys to come help them win a cup. It's not rocket science. Players chase cups and money. Edmonton didn't have the money before. And now we are no where near a cup.

I'm starting to believe the people that keep throwing out the "no one wants to play in Edmonton because it's crappy and cold" are fat, pimply, lonely virgins living in their parents basements and just hate life in general. Either that or they're from Calgary, which is probably the same thing.

And those footnotes where hilarious.

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#38 Clarkenstein
August 21 2009, 02:22PM
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Message to Kevin Lowe:

"Kevin you've had a nice run in our town and you're now a very wealthy man. Would you kindly consider re-locating to another... make that... ANY other city in our solar system. It is going to take almost a generation to repair the damage you've done to the Oiler organization. I am happy to offer up the first $100 to help with moving expenses."

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#39 The Villain
August 21 2009, 02:24PM
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Excellent Read Willis..

I almost forgot what a great year K-lown had in 2003....

-Doesnt trade for Perry for Comrie -Doesnt draft Parise

Hindisight I suppose. But still pisses me RIGHT off

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#40 The Villain
August 21 2009, 02:25PM
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Pardon the spelling errors in the previous post...my rage got the best of me.

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#41 Joe8919
August 21 2009, 02:26PM
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"After his trade request - for unknown reasons"

You been living on Pluto the last decade? I think it's pretty obvious what Comrie's reasons were. The guy couldn't even put gas in his car without the star-struck losers in Deadmonton converging on him and making his life miserable. So Comrie led the way for all these other notable players not wanting to play or live in your city? Gimme a break...and give your head a shake.

I think it's hilarious, if it weren't so sad, that we keep seeing these articles (from Deadmontonians) proclaiming the fact that the recent string of players not wanting to play in the city has less to do with the city and more to do with other factors. Or more comically that Comrie's trade-request opened the door for everyone else.

Face it - the city sucks...it's Western Canada's version of Hamilton...it's dreary, depressing and dull.

Sorry to break it to ya...actually no I'm not.

HAHA!!!!!!!

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#42 AlbertaRanger
August 21 2009, 02:29PM
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Wow! Jonathan, that's very well said.

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#43 jeanshorts
August 21 2009, 02:30PM
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@ Joe8919:

Don't you have a sheep to sneak up behind or something? Or a cousin to hit on?

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#44 The Menace
August 21 2009, 02:31PM
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jeanshorts wrote:

I’m starting to believe the people that keep throwing out the “no one wants to play in Edmonton because it’s crappy and cold” are fat, pimply, lonely virgins living in their parents basements and just hate life in general. Either that or they’re from Calgary, which is probably the same thing.

we're not all lonely. at least, not all the time... *sniff

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#45 hatesmyjob
August 21 2009, 02:34PM
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I dont get this organization. It is becoming so difficult to be a true fan when there is so much hype for a fantastic season and the they constantly disappoint.

I think this coaching change is a good move but only one step in the right direction.

And as for players i.e. Hemsky. A team shouldn't have to build around one player. That "superstar" should automatically make whom ever plays wih them beter.

For example Look at Pouliot he is a plug on the Oilers, but look how he palyed with Crosby....

So should that theory be true... it is llokat Iggy's line or any other superstar forward.

And one more thing, what kind of idiot drafts Steve Kelly before Iginla and Doan.

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#46 wax for my stick
August 21 2009, 02:35PM
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i agree with most of this article, its a good read. edmonton isn't really a great place but it isnt bad either. Theres some nice areas in the city but it seems like for every nice place in the city, theres a slummy part of the city to go with it but its like that in alot of citys and towns in north america. as for the climate, its cold every where you go in canada with the exception of southren b.c.

**One of the least charming attributes of certain portions of the Oilers’ fanbase is its tendency to make up, believe and spread the vilest possible rumours about players who have fallen out of favour. We saw it with Comrie, we saw it with Pronger and I’m sure we’ll see it again. It’s not a good thing.

I totally agree with this point the most, weather the rumours are true or not, i think we should be thinking about other things instead of worrying about somebodys personal life away from the team

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#47 Gerald R. Ford
August 21 2009, 02:36PM
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I dunno...I agree with the article, for the most part. Except that, as someone else said, I think it started with Jimmy Carson, not Comrie. Or maybe the seeds were planted with Coffey's holdout.

Anyway, I don't think the situation is as dire as some fans feel, in terms of everyone just "hating" Edmonton. But, I also don't feel it's as cut and dry as "the bottom line", in terms of wins and losses. For example, the Detroit situation, which every media guy in town loves to cite in support of the "Just win, baby!" theory, isn't really THAT valid, I think. Sure, they PLAY in Detroit, but they LIVE in pristine, affluent suburbs like Grosse Pointe, which are TOTALLY different than the city. Their families never have to be exposed to the darker aspects of life in Murder City, save for the ride to The Joe in their armor-plated Hummers.

I think the truth, as in most things in life, is somewhere in between. Some players DO hate the thought of playing here, and others have more logistical, practical concerns that could possibly be addressed by more organizational success. The trick is to sort 'em out, and do the best to accommodate the more reasonable players, where possible.

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#48 Jodes
August 21 2009, 02:37PM
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Joe8919 wrote:

“After his trade request - for unknown reasons” You been living on Pluto the last decade? I think it’s pretty obvious what Comrie’s reasons were. The guy couldn’t even put gas in his car without the star-struck losers in Deadmonton converging on him and making his life miserable. So Comrie led the way for all these other notable players not wanting to play or live in your city? Gimme a break…and give your head a shake. I think it’s hilarious, if it weren’t so sad, that we keep seeing these articles (from Deadmontonians) proclaiming the fact that the recent string of players not wanting to play in the city has less to do with the city and more to do with other factors. Or more comically that Comrie’s trade-request opened the door for everyone else. Face it - the city sucks…it’s Western Canada’s version of Hamilton…it’s dreary, depressing and dull. Sorry to break it to ya…actually no I’m not. HAHA!!!!!!!

Then obviously you've never lived in Winnipeg..

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#49 Bettman4pm
August 21 2009, 02:38PM
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Amusing-

I find it amusing that people get so self conscious and have such an inferiority complex about players not wanting to be in Edmonton that people seem to need to write articles about it on a consistant basis. This is just another one of these vain attempts at trying to make people in this city feel good about themselves by trashing other hockey markets where some players may not want to play. The hilarious thing of course is that Oiler fans love taking their shots at the likes of Nashville, Tampa, Atlanta, etc by calling those places bad hockey markets where noone wants to play, but at the same time get all offended when rival fans return the gesture. The thing is however that people in many other markets do not care about what Oiler fans think about their city/team and do not have the time of day to respond to their childish insults. The fact that fans here are so easily offended by even the smallest of slights and take things so personally is the very reason why mainstream media types often take their shots at Edmonton - it sells papers and gets ratings. People in this city need to get over themselves if they want this to stop.

It is also amusing that several players who will be playing for Canada at the Olympics are 'good Canadian boys' who do not want anything to do with Edmonton. Examples include Bouwmeester, Heatley, Pronger. There are several other players who would rather live in the US than ever play in Canada. Personally I would much rather see the likes of Gilbert, Grebeshkov, or Hemsky win gold medals for their countries than see Canada win anything.

Avatar
#50 OprahsSandwich
August 21 2009, 02:40PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
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props

@Joe8919

I might be reaching here but is Joe8919 supposed to be Joe1989, like the year the Flamers won the cup?

I wonder who you cheer for?

Beat it, puke!

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