January 18 2010 12:48PM
Anyone who has spent any time around Oilers Nation over the past few months know about the Dive For Five, The Fall For Hall, Don’t Win For Seguin, Foul For Fowler and the various other names used to express a desire for the Oilers to lost a lot and end up with a high-end draft pick.
Well, over at TSN, Dave Hodge is quietly raging at all the Oilers fans who support any of the above programs.
My thumb is down to the Taylor Hall sweepstakes, which do exist in spite of the fact that Toronto isn't involved. Usually, we're accused of paying too much attention to the issue of "tanking" to get a number one draft pick, because it's a Toronto issue, but now, it's an Edmonton issue where Hall is concerned, and they are following it in Edmonton. It's easy to find a so-called Oilers fan who was happy with Saturday's loss in San Jose because it kept the Oilers only two points ahead of last-place Carolina. I say this every year - the NHL should pick the draft order out of a hat containing the names of all 14 non-playoff teams - no advantage to finishing last, no need to wonder how hard the 30th-place team is trying to avoid 29th place.
I can get behind the general idea that the worst team in the league shouldn’t get the best pick, for the sake of competitive integrity. I also understand that from a business perspective, the NHL needs to be able to sell hope to fans in Atlanta, Tampa Bay, New York, and until recently Pittsburgh and Chicago. But that isn’t the issue.
I take issue with a reporter like Hodge implying that someone is less of a fan because he or she approves of losing for a first round pick. The Oilers this season, and every season since 2006, have been blessed with a combination of injuries and managerial incompetence. That combination of blessings, up until now, has resulted in a delightful combination of no playoff appearances and no lottery picks, locking the Oilers into a loop of ineptitude, like this:
1. Manager puts together a poor team -> 2. Team struggles to stay in the playoff chase -> 3. Manager sells at the deadline -> 4. Team falls, but not into the lottery -> 5. Team gets good, not great pick -> 6. See 1. -> 7. See 2. -> 8. Having traded pick back in step 6, Manager does not much -> 9. See 4. -> 10. Other team gets good, not great, pick -> 11. See 1. -> 12. Manager is promoted, replaced by another manager satisfied with the poor team -> 13. See 2. -> 14. Manager buys and sells at deadline -> 15. Team See 4. -> 16. See 5. -> 17. See 1. -> 18. ???
What can break the loop? Steps two, four and five are all derivative of steps one and three; they’re effects, not causes. Steps one and three are controlled by the manager. It all goes back to the manager.
But there’s hope. Let’s pretend, for a moment, that the manager spent all of last season evaluating the team. Let’s pretend that he went out over the summer and spent all the money he possibly could chasing free agents. Let’s pretend that he had high expectations – playoffs, at least – for his team out of training camp. Now, let’s pretend that despite his best efforts to ice a playoff team, he ices a spectacular failure; his prize acquisition ends up on the injured list (as he has every season since the lockout), his inability to fill simple holes at centre and on the penalty kill comes back to haunt him and aided by some injuries to injury-prone players, he finds his team is the worst in the conference.
Obviously, it would be nicer to break the cycle by putting together a good team, but given the track record of the people involved that seems unlikely. But the pattern we’ve described could result in a pair of wonderful changes: the acquisition a top-end talent through the draft, and the dismissal of the managers involved.
That’s the dream. A management reset and a franchise talent.
And I don’t care what Dave Hodge has to say about it. Because there’s no rule that says fans can’t look at the long-term picture. There's no disloyalty involved; it's just that sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better.