August 28 2009 11:17AM
As much of a surprise as all this talk about the Edmonton Oilers having an interest in Mike Comrie should be, it isn't if you allow for the likelihood that owner Daryl Katz has been influencing decisions on the hockey operations side of the business since he took ownership of the team.
That the Oilers are even remotely considering signing Comrie, a UFA, just six seasons after a bitter split with the team and a falling out with then-GM Kevin Lowe, tells me Katz has his fingerprints all over this one.
Katz and Bill Comrie, Mike's dad, are friends. There's a relationship and a loyalty at play here, and every intuitive bone in my body leads me to believe that relationship trumps anything that has happened in the past and is what's driving the possibility Comrie could return. Katz signs the cheques. Katz makes the rules. Katz wants Comrie.
It doesn't take a vast intellect to conclude Katz's desire to at least take a look at Comrie has been made clear to Lowe, now the president of hockey operations, and GM Steve Tambellini. I'm guessing neither one of them has said, "Forget it, boss. Leave the hockey decisions to us."
If you look at some of the decisions made since Katz took ownership of the team, it's reasonable to conclude there's every possibility the FOK Era -- Friends Of Katz -- might set a new standard for favours and nepotism by a franchise that has a history of both.
Not that that's necessarily, ahem, a bad thing...
Who calls the shots?
This interest in a do-over with Comrie as the hometown-boy-made-good, despite what happened in 2003 and despite the obvious fact the last thing the Oilers need right now is another small forward on the roster, doesn't add up — I listed them here at ON Aug 19 — if you take Katz out of the mix.
The way things went down with Comrie and agent Ritch Winter back then, notably Lowe's 11th hour request for $2.5 million that queered a trade with the Anaheim Ducks, Mike couldn't get out of town fast enough. And Oilers fans, almost in unison, said "Good riddance. Get lost. Bugger off."
Now, I don't know if Comrie has as much interest in the Oilers as they have in him because I haven't asked him and Winter isn't saying, offering only a "No comment" when I spoke with him briefly on Thursday.
Maybe they're just playing footsy with Katz and the idea until a better offer comes along. Then again, maybe Comrie, because of the relationship between his family and Katz, really is willing to wipe the slate clean and play here. I'd be lying if I told you I knew.
The way I see it
From where I sit, there's already been a handful of hockey operations decisions orchestrated or influenced by Katz.
-- I think the decision to take Lowe out of the spotlight and the daily firing line, while keeping him on the company payroll by making him president of operations, was done, at least in part, as a favour to a friend.
-- I think that Kelly Buchberger, who has a summer home not far from Katz on a lake outside Edmonton, was promoted to Craig MacTavish's coaching staff, and later survived the purge of MacTavish, Charlie Huddy and Billy Moores, as a favour to a friend.
Of course, the fact MacTavish and the Oilers parted ways might seem to fly in the face of that logic, seeing as MacT and Katz are tight, but I don't think MacTavish would've been shown the door had he voiced any real desire to stay on. Even at the time of the announcement MacTavish was finished here, there was the perception this was a resignation framed as a firing.
-- Then, there was the Oilers offering Georges Laraque a four-year contract worth $6 million last summer. This, just a few seasons removed from having MacTavish essentially run Laraque out of town. Laraque and Katz, who works out at a gym partially owned by Big Georges, are friends.
From a PR point of view, there could be some mileage in welcoming Comrie back. A do-over might soften the memory of the hard-line Lowe took with Comrie the first time around. See, Mike's back. Edmonton is player-friendly.
How it plays out
Given the stated need by Tambellini at the end of last season to make the roster grittier and tougher to play against, I can't see, from a hockey-ops point of view, how he or Lowe could possibly be on board with a move to add Comrie to the mix. I'd love to jab both of them in the butt with a syringe of truth serum right now.
How does adding Comrie, even at a reasonable salary of, say, $1.5 million, and putting aside his diminishing points totals in recent seasons, address the needs of a roster that includes Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson and Patrick O'Sullivan and has missed the playoffs in three straight seasons?
It doesn't. But FOK trumps that. If the boss is the one who is pulling the strings, if the guy who signs the cheques is driving the bus, then this isn't a hockey decision, it's just another favour to a friend.
-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.