OBSERVATIONS: THE SIX-RING CIRCUS

Robin Brownlee
November 04 2013 07:22PM

It's not often the aroma inside Rexall Place improves when the Edmonton Oilers move out and the Canadian Finals Rodeo moves in every November, but the smell of horseshit seems like sweet perfume compared to the stench of defeat Oiler fans have endured.

Besides, the CFR will pack up and move on down the road when their gig is done. The Oilers, meanwhile, have been stinking up their barn for seven years on end, and there's no end in sight for fans who, it seems obvious, have been holding their noses long enough.

With the Oilers taking a 3-10-2 record into a four-game road trip that begins against the Florida Panthers Tuesday, I don't have any answers for a season that's already gone sideways and pushed the faithful over the edge. If I did, I'd sell them to Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish and Daryl Katz. They know how to sell a bill of goods. Perhaps they'd buy one.

What I do have, though, is observations and opinions. Mostly random stuff that's been rattling around my head as the odor of ineptitude and losing has heightened. Nothing profound – no MacTavish must trade so-and-so for this-or-that guy. No fire everybody from Lowe to Joe Moss just 15 games into a season that already seems lost.

Fans in what people used to call Oil Country have pretty much covered all those angles with all the venting around here lately, and that's to be expected. This was, after all, supposed to be the season the Oilers finally pushed for a playoff spot, the season fans saw the pay-off for their patience. At the rate they're going, the Oilers could be out of post-season contention earlier than in any season since the 2006 Stanley Cup run.

It's gone desperately wrong . . .

MANAGEMENT

Fans who want to see Lowe sacked aren't going to get their way, at least not now. I'm not saying fans don't deserve to get their way because Lowe has been the architect of the disaster assembled here, even if Steve Tambellini kept a chair warm for MacTavish until he was shown the door. All I'm saying it's highly unlikely to happen.

Firing Lowe now won't change the fortunes of this team in terms of making the playoffs this season, which they won't, or missing them, which they will. Lowe sticking his shoe down his throat with his ill-timed and pompous "six rings" comment in pre-season was the last straw for many fans, but outside the satisfaction of getting that pound of flesh, I don’t see that move making the Oilers better in the short term.

Might Katz give Lowe, a close friend, the option of stepping down next off-season with some face-saving spin attached? Perhaps. I see that possibility only if this season as a whole is an unmitigated disaster – unlikely because, whether you want to hear it or not right now, this group of players is better than the record indicates. It can't stay this bad, can it? I believe it's time for Lowe to go, but Katz hasn't asked me what I think.

As for MacTavish, I suspect he's been humbled somewhat already by finding out it's a lot easier to talk about making bold moves, as he did last summer, than making them. Rookie mistake. His bad. It's better to under-promise and over-deliver than to set yourself up for criticism as he did.

Trying to right that wrong now with the team off the rails, however, might be the worst thing MacTavish could do. Until the team pulls out of the death spiral it's in, there are nothing but sucker deals waiting for him. If you were an NHL general manager, wouldn't you love the opportunity to make a deal with MacTavish right now? I'd be calling him.

I'm not saying MacTavish can't or shouldn't make a significant deal under the right circumstances, just that it's next to impossible to do so for anything approaching fair value in the compromised position he's in right now.

THE COACHES

Like MacTavish, coach Dallas Eakins grabbed everybody's attention early with his no-nonsense "I'll do things my way" approach. He seemed a bit bold for his own good, frankly, given he's a rookie as an NHL head coach. That said, he came in with a definite sense of what he wanted done and it seemed a welcome change from Ralph Krueger.

Tactically? I'm not going to sit in the cheap seats and pretend I know more about drawing up breakouts and defensive systems than Eakins does. It's clear there's been adjustments and nuances the players haven't grasped. The swarm defensive scheme? That probably works better when a team gets a timely save or two when a mistake is made. Just a thought.

As for speculation and questions about whether Eakins has already "lost the room," if that's even a possibility, that's a more damning indictment of the players than of the rookie bench boss. What, a bunch of players who haven't won a damn thing can't be bothered to listen to the message and, more important, act on it when it's delivered? Really? What, pray tell, has this group of players accomplished that would allow them that out? Nothing.

As for talk about canning assistants Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith, that's not something MacTavish should even entertain during the season. Off-season? Perhaps. That should be up to Eakins. Then again, what should happen and what does happen, as we've seen here these last few years, are often distinctly different matters.

THE PLAYERS

Saturday's no-show in a 5-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings was something I didn’t expect. It came as close to team looking like it has quit or didn’t care as anything I've seen in years. It came on the heels of a closed door meeting by the players. If that's not alarming, I don’t know what is.

We've talked for a long time about the mix of personnel on this team and how it's lacking. There's no question the line-up isn't put together right. Much of the talk has come in the context of the type of player needed – a banging winger, a big centre, a first-pairing defenseman, a veteran presence who brings some gamesmanship. Fair enough.

What about the mental make-up and character? Are there enough hate-to-lose guys in that dressing room? Enough glue guys? Enough talk-is-cheap-just-bust-your-ass guys? I think not. I don't see it. I like Andrew Ference as an addition. He knows what it takes to win. Who else does?

And what about the core players? What about Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Have they performed like the Six Million Dollar Men they became when management threw big money at them before their entry level contracts were even done? Rhetorical question. They haven't.

I get it that locking up Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins long term before the cap went up probably made fiscal sense, but does it make sense for them as players? With fortunes already guaranteed just out of their teens, are they as hungry and driven to succeed as they could be or is life pretty good, win or lose?

I don't know the answer, but the question is worth asking.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 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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#151 forsoothed
November 05 2013, 11:13AM
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All of this hand-wringing and complaining by fans isn't going to mean jack squat to Oilers management until the first game that doesn't sell out.

Unfortunately, until then we're all just full of hot air.

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#152 oilbaron
November 05 2013, 11:15AM
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Anyone else confunsed by all this love for Petry? It looked like he was directly responsible for at least 2 of Detroit's goals. Sure he's creating chances, but he isn't exactly preventing a whole lot

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#154 Tikkanese
November 05 2013, 11:26AM
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oilbaron wrote:

Anyone else confunsed by all this love for Petry? It looked like he was directly responsible for at least 2 of Detroit's goals. Sure he's creating chances, but he isn't exactly preventing a whole lot

I'm confused as well. Not only responsible for two against by Detroit, but also directly responisble for two against by Toronto.

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#155 2004Z06
November 05 2013, 11:32AM
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Greg wrote:

as a fan this is a desperate cry to let Klowe go. Please!!! i'm bagging. i can't take it anymore, uncle, mercy, whatever. please let him go. just don't let him try to "fix" this. he's done enough. we all know that he's the one who calls all the shots for the GM anyways, weather it's Tambilini or McTavish its all Lowe. please let him go.

Did you sign the petition? Do you boycott games?

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#156 forsoothed
November 05 2013, 11:43AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

This comment requires a Chris Farley impression, no?

I try to read all Internet comments with a Chris Farley impression - it makes life easier.

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#157 WayneG
November 05 2013, 01:32PM
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The core issue are nepotism and mismanagement. The team has been managed (for the most part) by ex-Oiler players in the misguided thought that this will endear the fans to the club. NEWS FLASH: NO OILER FAN GIVES A CRAP about Lowe or MacT. Fire them at some point before the start of next season.

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#158 WayneG
November 05 2013, 01:39PM
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@The Big Dummy

Moving forward both MacT AND Lowe need to be removed from the organization. They've done nothing but lose. Its time for entirely new management. The fans are tired of both of their acts. Both need to go.

There isn't enough of a body of work to comment on Eakins and he didn't put the roster together. Lowe and MacT did. So Eakins gets a pass for now.

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#159 wayneG
November 05 2013, 01:43PM
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@sizzay

Wake up! That's Sather throwing Lowe and MacT a bone so they aren't completely embarrased run out of town. They should take any deal for Yak that is reasonable and move on. Yak is Semin in a smaller body. Flash & dash and takes all your cash but puts your record in the trash.

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#160 2004Z06
November 05 2013, 02:00PM
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Anyone else notice the irony of the advertisement on the boards in the box. "Stanley" something this group will never see.....I am sure there is a "tool" reference in their too.

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#161 Oiler Al
November 05 2013, 03:18PM
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Very accurate write up Robin. I am sure that Lowe and Company must be aware the fan base has gone totally kookoo on the team and management. No remarks from them, they jump on the plane for 4 games and hide in the press box, while there is anarchy on the streets of Edmonton.

No much can be said at this point on Robins commentary, its all be said over 160 replys.!

But one point to bring up.. is honestly MacT didn't do enough this past summer. No saying he didn't try, but this is a results business, where you pay executives millions per year.

Yes Ference at best # 3-4 Dman and Gordon a face off specialist [ same as Arco at one tenth the price], were upgrades but not game changing players.

Could not fix the goal tending, grit on the front and back end, and most importantly fixing the center position, sorry love the guy but Gagner is not a $4.5 million second line center.

At the end roster is filled with a bunch of AHL players and cronies of Eakins. Bringing back Eager, and getting Gadzik did nothing to improve the team.

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#162 jordan starr
November 05 2013, 03:53PM
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http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/edmonton-oilers-managment-group-darryl-katz-enforce-their-message-of-accountability-and-hold-kevin-lowe-responsible-for-this-debacle-of-a-season-either-resigning-or-fired?sign_only=fe

SIGN THE PETITION. LOWE NEEDS TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE. 4 COACHES 1 GM AND A TON OF PLAYERS GONE BUT THE 1 CONSTANT IS LOWE AND HES STILL PROSPERING RECEIVING A BIG CHEQUE. WHEN WILL KATZ REALIZE LOWE NEEDS TO GO. WE CANT TRAdE PLAYERS BUT WE CAN LET OUR VOICE BE HEARD.

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#163 Harry
November 05 2013, 04:03PM
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Robin,

First of all thank you for calling a spade a spade and not insulting the fanbase with rediculous advanced stats and shoulda coulda woulda talk.

Secondly, if this group is made up of the wrong players how can MacT not make a roster player type move? I just want to grab him and scream at the top of my lungs "DO YOUR GOD DAMN JOB MAN!!" I know hes been working the phone but who gives a rats ass make a frikin deal!!!

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#165 Zarny
November 05 2013, 04:17PM
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As always good observations by LT. Playoffs are lots but the situation isn't as dire as some make it out to be.

Right or wrong, Katz won't fire anyone this year. Lowe sold Katz on a 6 yr plan and we're only starting yr 4. It wouldn't make a difference anyway...the problem is on the ice.

I'm not a fan of Kevin Lowe's, but to be fair he was baited into the 6 rings comment.

Lowe and MacT were asked a fair question...why should the group who torpedoed a Cup contender be trusted with the rebuild?

To Lowe's credit he admitted that he chased the dream for a few years after 2006. Sutter did the same thing in Cgy. They were so close.

When it became obvious that without Pronger no amount of duct tape would get the Oilers back to the Cup Lowe sold Katz on his 6 yr plan. And I think that is where the disconnect is between Lowe/Katz etc and Oiler fans.

Lowe responds to a comment by asking "are you getting impatient?"

I think most Oilers fans would say yes; but not Lowe et al. I don't think they really count those first few years of losing because they were "chasing the dream" after 2006. I'm not sure how it makes a difference but in their mind it does.

Kevin Lowe undoubtedly knows about winning; he brought in the right players and added ridiculous depth for the 2006 Cup run.

What I find ironic is the Oilers current biggest weakness is a complete and utter lack of depth.

The rebuild strategy seems to be throw the kids to the wolves and when they're ready add depth. So far that isn't working.

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#166 Ed in Edmonton
November 05 2013, 04:29PM
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Zarny wrote:

As always good observations by LT. Playoffs are lots but the situation isn't as dire as some make it out to be.

Right or wrong, Katz won't fire anyone this year. Lowe sold Katz on a 6 yr plan and we're only starting yr 4. It wouldn't make a difference anyway...the problem is on the ice.

I'm not a fan of Kevin Lowe's, but to be fair he was baited into the 6 rings comment.

Lowe and MacT were asked a fair question...why should the group who torpedoed a Cup contender be trusted with the rebuild?

To Lowe's credit he admitted that he chased the dream for a few years after 2006. Sutter did the same thing in Cgy. They were so close.

When it became obvious that without Pronger no amount of duct tape would get the Oilers back to the Cup Lowe sold Katz on his 6 yr plan. And I think that is where the disconnect is between Lowe/Katz etc and Oiler fans.

Lowe responds to a comment by asking "are you getting impatient?"

I think most Oilers fans would say yes; but not Lowe et al. I don't think they really count those first few years of losing because they were "chasing the dream" after 2006. I'm not sure how it makes a difference but in their mind it does.

Kevin Lowe undoubtedly knows about winning; he brought in the right players and added ridiculous depth for the 2006 Cup run.

What I find ironic is the Oilers current biggest weakness is a complete and utter lack of depth.

The rebuild strategy seems to be throw the kids to the wolves and when they're ready add depth. So far that isn't working.

Lowes' 6 rings comments were wrong on so many levels that is mind boggling that anyone with any management acumen would have uttered it. You give him an excuse of being "baited into it". What kind of questions was he expecting at a media availability about firing his GM? The question was totally predictable. If he was unprepared for it, that speaks volumes about his ability to do his job.

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