Return to glory: sticking it to the little guy

Robin Brownlee
April 23 2010 04:56PM

Ken Lowe sounded every bit the company man I expected he would when I talked to him today, even though, after 21 seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, he's no longer with the firm.

The official line from the Edmonton Oilers today is that Lowe, the team's head athletic therapist and the older brother of president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe, resigned.

By coincidence, pure happenstance, it turns out Lowe "resigned" on the same day the Oilers fired equipment men Barrie Stafford, who'd been with the Oilers for 29 seasons, and Sparky Kulchisky, who'd been loading and unloading equipment for 34 seasons.

"If that's what they're saying, then that's what I'm going to stand by," said Lowe. "The Oilers have been good to me."

Less-than convincing was Lowe in denying he got sacked as part of the April housecleaning by GM Steve Tambellini that claimed assistant GM Kevin Prendergast earlier this week.

What's he supposed to say?

DO SOMETHING

With the Oilers out of the playoffs for four straight seasons and people demanding Tambellini do something, anything, to back up the pulpit-pounding he's treated us to these past two Aprils, nobody can accuse him of sitting on his thumb.

But firing Stafford, who sharpens the skates, mends the equipment and has an eye for the knock-off Rolex watches sold on Time Square in New York? Yes, perhaps the angle-cut on Patrick O'Sullivan's skates was the problem. "Hey, Staffy. These things don't throw enough snow when I go into the corners. Jeezuz."

Kulchisky, who lugs the gear of the Oilers and their opponents to and from the airport, hangs it in the dressing room and knows every cheat area for smoking in every NHL arena? The guy who has been a second father to Joey Moss? What, he was putting the wrong bricks in the gloves of Shawn Horcoff?

And Lowe? Oooh, but all those man games the Oilers have lost to injuries in recent seasons. Maybe there's something there, the speculation goes. I mean, Fernando Pisani got colitis on Lowe's watch. Sheldon Souray busted his hand on Jarome Iginla's big coconut on Lowe's watch. Maybe he gave Mike Comrie mononucleosis. Gimme a break.

Who's next? Moss? Maybe he's filling out the white board in the dressing room wrong. Has his anthem singing slipped a bit, or is it just me? I'm told Moss is safe. I'm told he has a lifetime contract, just like Kevin Lowe. Thanks goodness for that much.

BABY WITH THE BATHWATER

I get the need for change. I get the move to fire Prendergast, who made mistakes at the draft table as chief scout and saw the farm system go to seed on his watch.

When the move to sack Prendergast was made, as ham-handed as it was, I thought maybe Tambellini's next volley might be directed at the scouting staff -- don't be surprised if there's a personnel change or two coming there. What about contract man Rick Olczyk, the other assistant GM? Fans, of course, might suggest, rather strongly, Tambellini aim higher.

Instead, we got Lowe, Stafford and Kulchisky today. It reminds me of six or eight years ago when the Phoenix Coyotes were brutal and instead of turning hockey operations upside down, they fired media man Richie Nairn, who was one of the best in the business.

I'm told there might be jobs waiting for Kulchisky and Stafford within the organization -- likely in helping set up the AHL farm in Oklahoma City -- down the line. Maybe even Lowe, too. They'll meet with the brass next week. In my mind, that doesn't really mitigate these firings in the name of changing the team culture.

How do the moves Tambellini made today make this team better moving forward? They don't. Change for the sake of change? Looks like it to me. Maybe to send a message? If so, then what's the message?

I don't get it.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show 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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#1 Hemmertime
April 23 2010, 07:38PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

DeepOil: Sorry. Had to delete your comment. We don't do free ads for radio shows and your comment contained one.

I want to know the radio show, is it Deep Oil with low transistor driving around in the back of a rape van talking about Roswell Conspiracies? Thats what I picture.

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#2 JohnQPublic
April 23 2010, 09:54PM
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When the winds of change blow through an organization, the fallout is often unpredictable.

The winds of change always create unfair personnel changes. Always.

All the blogs, media and ranting fans are getting what they've been on about for years. Change is here and it's messy and sometimes unfair. If you think these things are handled fair and equitably, you simply haven't lived through many of these raise the village culture changes.

You wanted a blow-up, it's here. And it's not done yet.

You can't have your cake and eat it too.

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#3 RossCreekNation
April 23 2010, 10:16PM
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Interesting (read: disrespectful) tweets coming from Milhouse...

-Quit tweeting me about Brownlee. I'm not going to get into a pissing match with him. He was way more time on his hands than me, so he'd win.

-He can write whatever he wants on the web site where he spends all his time or say whatever he wants during his part-time radio gig.

-On a show, by the way, that never came close to beating mine in ratings when we went head to head at night. I used the wrong word. So what?

-I am glad to know, however, that what I'm doing is apparently of such great importance to him/them. Flattered.

-Debating one word in one tweet out of a thousand from a host on a competing station. Geez, wish I woulda caught that radio. Sounds riveting.

Sounds like Dan's throwing down, dragging J-Greg into it, too. Laughable! Can't stand his pompous, holier-than-thou attitude.

Currently engaged in the riveting task of sitting in on the inspection for the house I just bought. Necessary evil, I suppose.

Thanks for that, by the way... nice to see him flaunt the fact he just bought a house. My, what a bigshot... (*rolls eyes*)

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#4 Muji 狗
April 23 2010, 05:25PM
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I was fired from my job today as well :(

Tambellini called me into his office, thanked me for my efforts, and let me go. The worst part is that I don't even work for the Oilers nor live in Edmonton :(

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#5 DoubleJ
April 23 2010, 09:58PM
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No offense, but I work with guys who have been doing the same job for over 20 years and they don't have the effort, care, or pride in the job. Most of them are bitter expect the world and are just their for the pay check. Hoping to be bought out instead of retiring.

I don't know these guys and how good they were at their jobs, but I know my work place would be better off with out all the useless old guys who have "put their time in, so they don't need to work as hard".

New blood means guys who will work their asses off trying to make names for themselves come in happy to be here and appreciate everything given to them.

It can't hurt to move on.

It sure seems you're taking it personally.

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#6 nye
April 23 2010, 10:35PM
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I'm still wondering how this was a 'PR spin move' when the Oilers have said next to nothing about the events with Pendergast or these three.

Silence is the new spin?

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#7 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
April 23 2010, 11:03PM
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So does anyone know how often trainers/equipment staff are let go on other teams?

If it's roughly every 21 - 30, I don't really see what the big deal is.

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#8 SpotTheLoon
April 23 2010, 05:07PM
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Hey Robin,

Great read as usual. I don't understand this move at all. There is no way you can blame back, neck, shoulder and hand surgeries on the training staff. To me, I am pretty stunned at these moves. The only thing that I can think of is it an attempt to change the culture of the organization. But getting rid of these people seems pretty daft if that is the reason behind it. The change in culture from my perspective seems to be one of a shift to a cold, non-caring organization that doesn't care about people who have, by all signs, done their job well for many years. Or maybe the vote of confidence from Souray was the kiss of death. Unless we hear more about the rationale on these moves, I just don't get it.

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#9 Matty31
April 23 2010, 05:08PM
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I dont get it either....it is bad PR too as it looks like the hard working little guys get fired while the upper suits still have a job.

The Oil need to hire one of those PR firms that Hollywood types use. The same ones that got Hugh Grant back on track and Robert Downey Jr. back to the top.

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#10 dawgtoy
April 23 2010, 05:08PM
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I'm at a complete loss as to how these "dismissals" help this hockey club? This is yet another classless act by an organization that seems to be spinning its wheels in an attemp to rebuild. Firing for the sake of firing,and changing what isn't broken. We lose more of the glory that once was the Edmonton Oilers with moves of this nature. One doesn't need to look very hard to see reasons why UFA's have no desire to play here. WHY?

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#11 dawgtoy
April 23 2010, 05:11PM
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This video speaks volumes! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dE5pJ11VPHE

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#12 swany
April 23 2010, 05:16PM
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Robin, could this be the last cut from the past, no more hearing about all the cups. I can't see any other reason except for that. We all wanted the "I remember the 80's" to be gone. With the sacking of Lowe that leads me to believe that Tambo is really in charge. So we have a new coaching staff, new GM and now new trainers exceta. NO MORE PAST look to the future. There can't be any other reason.

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#13 Matt Henderson
April 23 2010, 05:29PM
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How 'bout a statement of intent to buy out O'Sullivan and Nilson, or that the team is going to let Buchberger walk and hire someone that has a real history of coaching. Heck, the Oil Kings have an opening, he can coach there.

I can understand Lowe being let go on some level, but the equipment guys? Are the Oilers really going to foster a blue collar attitude in the dressing room by sacking the blue collar workers that prep the dressing room?

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#15 Jonathan Willis
April 23 2010, 05:32PM
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@Robin Brownlee

Has there been any explanation for the firings that you've heard, Robin?

Or is the organization keeping totally quiet with the journalists too?

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#17 DanHnatiuk
April 23 2010, 05:38PM
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If the cars engine doesnt work does it really fix anything to change the tires?

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#18 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
April 23 2010, 05:38PM
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something sure stinks, and it aint just the taco bell i had for lunch working its way through the bowels.

part of me almost wishes tambo included joey moss in the house cleaning. i would be first in line with my old red titan hockey stick to lay the beats to mr.tambo as he is hung via his short and curlies from the gretzky statue.

firing for the sake of firing? sure seems like it to me.

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#19 Pajamah
April 23 2010, 05:43PM
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I'm going all Canuck fan on everyone here, but I think in some secret way, the Oilersnation is like the stone cutters, who run the Oilers behind closed doors, just to keep things interesting with daily goings on

I like having something Oiler related to read this time of year

edit: Canuck fan.......or madjam

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#20 jono
April 23 2010, 05:48PM
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I have zero access to the players dressing room etc, but is there not a possibility of people who "do their jobs" just fine but still poison the atmosphere? I manage people and have come across many of the "poison pills" - the secretary who has been here through three bosses and gossips and gabs to and about everyone but is incredibly efficient.

I don't know, call me devils advocate and tell me I am wrong, but there are times when the skills to do the job are far less important the attitude with which it is done. What supervisor has not had to ask capable people to move along because they did not have the heart for it anymore?

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#21 BarryS
April 23 2010, 05:50PM
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The guy who worked at the local service station isn't there any more, so what? Sorry, its not earth shattering three guys got the sack today. I doubt they were the only three guys in Edmonton fired this week. I feel sorry for them as people, long time habits now have to change, but the world won't change because they lost their jobs. I know they were friends of your's but a little perspective please. You're no longer at the papers you worked for and I'm no longer at the place I worked thirteen years for and last I looked they are all still in business. Life goes on and so will there's. This is not news. Twenty thousand auto workers losing their jobs is news, not this,

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#23 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
April 23 2010, 05:53PM
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BarryS wrote:

The guy who worked at the local service station isn't there any more, so what? Sorry, its not earth shattering three guys got the sack today. I doubt they were the only three guys in Edmonton fired this week. I feel sorry for them as people, long time habits now have to change, but the world won't change because they lost their jobs. I know they were friends of your's but a little perspective please. You're no longer at the papers you worked for and I'm no longer at the place I worked thirteen years for and last I looked they are all still in business. Life goes on and so will there's. This is not news. Twenty thousand auto workers losing their jobs is news, not this,

not news yet you take the time to read and comment?

thanks for playing

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#24 BarryS
April 23 2010, 05:55PM
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this site is not a news forum, its a complaint forum,so I complain about some of the posts.

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#25 BarryS
April 23 2010, 05:55PM
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double post.

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#26 Sandra Blood
April 23 2010, 05:55PM
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Nice to see you pissed Brownlee, demand answers for the fans. We don't want to see this team turn into the "old Boys club" from the Canucks. That is a worst fate than having Lowe talk about his first goal again.

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#27 Sandra Blood
April 23 2010, 05:56PM
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Maybe the ice crew at Rexall is next?

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#28 -30-
April 23 2010, 05:58PM
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Now Tambo can concentrate all his efforts on getting that high priced free agent TRAINER this summer.

Seriously, is this a move of desperation on Tambellini's part or is this part of a "culture" change at the Oil?

If it's the latter, when are Bucky and Kevin Lowe going to get dropped?

Two steps forward. Three steps back.

-30-

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#30 Librarian Mike
April 23 2010, 06:04PM
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Gassing the training staff that's been here for decades...~Yeah, that will reel in the big-time talent...~

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#31 jono
April 23 2010, 06:04PM
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Thanks for the insight Robin, I very much appreciate your view into the organization. I guess I keep trying to find the silver lining that suggests there is hope... or logic... or something that might suggest the mighty oil are trending the right direction.

So pointless firing it is... awesome.

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#32 Hemmertime
April 23 2010, 06:06PM
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Our trainers didn't give massage with "release". Next candidate to be found in the local downtown area.

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#33 Librarian Mike
April 23 2010, 06:07PM
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Hemmertime wrote:

Our trainers didn't give massage with "release". Next candidate to be found in the local downtown area.

Hopefully the #1 pick will give us the 'happy ending' we need...

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#34 Petr's Jofa
April 23 2010, 06:07PM
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Sparky Kulchisky 34 years Barrie Stafford 29 years Ken Lowe 21 years

I'm curious how old these guys are. They've all been with the team forever and I assume that they had some experience before they joined. Could these guys just be headed to retirement or less stress positions now that their contracts are up?

TSN Quote is:

"Also, head medical trainer Ken Lowe is stepping down from his position after 21 years, while Barrie Stafford and Lyle Kulchisky of the training staff are leaving their positions."

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#35 BarryS
April 23 2010, 06:08PM
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@Robin Brownlee

Well the way the world works nowadays, if they were fired without cause then no doubt there will be law suits and such for wrongful dismissal. If they are offered replacement places then what's the problem?

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#37 BarryS
April 23 2010, 06:26PM
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@Robin Brownlee

I agree with you they likely didn't deserve to be treated this way. Also don't know a way to fire a person, if they were fired, without hurting feelings all round. Also glad I never had a job where the world knows I'm fired almost before I do, which seems to be how its done nowadays.

Don't think Tambo was the source of the rumours and haven't heard or read of him saying anything much about the changes at all, so where's the spin? Spin is an active thing and the Oilers don't seem to be saying anything.>/p>

The Oilers got more problems than firing guys, the rumours and leaks are a far greater problem for the organization than maybe firing the wrong people. Somebody in the organization seems to have issues with the new management.

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#38 Sandra Blood
April 23 2010, 06:36PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

The problem is they didn't deserve to be treated this way. They aren't the problem. They're being cut out of the herd so people will say, "Look, Tambellini is making the changes he promised" in a PR spin move.

What part of that escapes you? And just because that's how its done "nowadays," doesn't make it right.

All fans know it's not the problem. In your view Mr. Brownlee, what is the problem? What changes would you make if you are are in the GM shoes. Contrary to what you believe, I really respect and enjoy your blogs.

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#39 Chris.
April 23 2010, 06:39PM
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You can't hold tradition in great esteem and at the same time spit in the eye of it when it suits you. That's exactly what the Oilers are doing by firing employees who had NOTHING to do with the lousy management and hockey operations decisions that have made this team a laughing stock.

Welcome to the dark side Brownlee! Before today, your criticism of hockey operations and Oiler management in general has been much more veiled... It's funny how anger acts as a kind of truth serum.

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#40 tuzzer
April 23 2010, 06:56PM
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Anyone ever think that being with the organization this long things just got stagnant. I mean these guys are old and yes have devoted their lives to the team, but having said that I know what it is like to work with a guy with old ideas, who has done things the same way ALL the time. Sometimes these people are not open to doing things a different way or keeping up with new and ever changing ways of doing things, for example ken lowe and new and emerging therapeutic techniques. Im not saying Im just saying...ya its a shame that three guys that have been with the organization are gone...but maybe...just maybe it was time to move along!!!

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#41 Truth
April 23 2010, 07:05PM
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Stafford got fired cause his damn nephew kept making the team look bad. This is a FAMILY organization, and if your family isnt on board, neither are you.

Makes me wish Tambo's kid could get better so he would get canned too.

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#43 Hemmertime
April 23 2010, 07:32PM
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@BarryS

In response to you calling it not news I disagree. It might not be major news or CNN worthy, however its OILERS news. On an Oilers fan-site. So... this is exactly what we come to read.

I've read articles on the curvature of Jagr's stick, like 1000 word articles - this is kinda bigger news than that.

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#44 RossCreekNation
April 23 2010, 07:33PM
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I don't think these moves were necessarily made based on performance.

For years now, some people have been saying "out with the old boys club", and "enough with the trip down memory lane", or "let's move on from the glory years", etc. If I'm not mistaken, even some players have said it (didn't Souray say something along these lines?). These guys had all been around since "The Boys On The Bus" days, and while they may do an exemplary job and quite likely didn't 'deserve' to be fired, I don't think you can truly fault the organization for turning the page (perhaps the way in which the did it, though).

Frankly, these guys were a constant reminder of the 80's. I'm sure they could each write a book with great stories from back in the day, but this organization is clearly trying to distance itself from the past. They've got the 1st overall pick and they're trying to create a new image - one that does not rely upon yesteryear. Rightly or wrongly, that may lead to some unpopular decisions.

**SIDENOTE: This Buf-Bos game with an interesting ending that saw Miller shed the mits... temper's flared, but nothin much ensued.

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#45 Hemmertime
April 23 2010, 07:43PM
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@RossCreekNation

I can't see these retirees being huge reminders of the 80s. At least nothing compared to the five Stanley Cup replicas being the first thing you see walking into the dressing room... the banners hanging from rafters, the constant reminders in the arena (dented door with stickers on it for each playoff win), any one of these is a bigger reminder than the guy who put your equipment into your stall. Unless Ol' Sparky was saying "You're good, but your no Messier. Ill sharpen your skates like players with TALENT like..." his termination seems retarded. Its like firing the janitor for your stock dropping 5 points.

I also want to know if any other team has ever fired their trainer (I thought Lowe lauded as one of the best in the league) and skate sharpener after a 30th place finish.

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#47 Bob Loblaw
April 23 2010, 07:58PM
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I'm sure there is an explanation out there. I just can't see Tambo firing three guys for the sake of firing them.

My best guess is that the Oilers' dressing room culture, being what it is, needs improvement. If employees are contributing to a negative culture, that might be a reason to let them go.

Just a guess. As Robin commented, finding out the truth would require people in the organization to answer some questions.

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#48 RossCreekNation
April 23 2010, 07:58PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Nope. We'd probably run that.

It was Milhouse, no doubt in response to me correcting him on his characterization that a Journal columnist had "leaked" a story -- I pointed out that's what reporters and columnists do -- on Gregor's show yesterday.

Haha... my special powers let me see what deepoil said to danny boy... props, dude, lol

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#49 nye
April 23 2010, 08:06PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

The problem is they didn't deserve to be treated this way. They aren't the problem. They're being cut out of the herd so people will say, "Look, Tambellini is making the changes he promised" in a PR spin move.

What part of that escapes you? And just because that's how its done "nowadays," doesn't make it right.

When was the press conference, Robin?

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#50 SkinnyD
April 23 2010, 08:21PM
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I can't seem to find a release from the Oilers about this. Can someone post a link if there is one?

I'm curious, because it's being called a firing, and yet all involved are apparently still going to be on the payroll in different parts of the organization. That's not firing - that's re-assigning. Which would mean management simply wants new blood in those positions - and that's their prerogative.

They fired Prendergast, without a doubt. But this is different, isn't it?

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