BETWEEN THE LINES: MY TAKE

Robin Brownlee
January 20 2014 09:06PM

Daryl Katz's "open letter" to fans of the Edmonton Oilers today has already drawn plenty of reaction from those it was directed at. Fans at the cynical end of the spectrum have dismissed it as a stinking sack of spin meant to buy time and defend the friends he employs.

Others, less jaded by what will officially be eight straight years out of the playoffs April 12, have taken the letter by the reclusive and media-shy Katz as a token of good faith, an olive branch meant to convey that he's just as frustrated as the ticket-buying public -- fans who, officially at least, have sold out Rexall Place for more than 300 straight games.

There are, as you'd expect, many camps of fans and degrees of cynicism and/or believers within those two absolutes, as a quick listen to the radio call-in shows or a scan of fan websites like this one confirm.

I can't pretend to know what motivated Katz to write the letter, or have one of his underlings pen it for him. I'd be guessing. There are, though, several passages that grabbed my attention and I'd like to offer my take on them.

WE'RE IN THIS TOGETHER

"I know this will almost certainly be the eighth consecutive year since we made the playoffs. I hate that fact as much as anyone, but the reality is that this is only year four of the rebuild that started when we drafted Taylor Hall."

Nobody becomes a billionaire without remarkable work ethic, drive to succeed and a competitive streak, so I don't doubt that Katz hates seeing his team flounder ineptly at or near the bottom of the standings yet again, but the "we're in this together" suggestion seems a bit contrived.

Even taking that at face value, it's probably fair to point out that while Katz has "hated" missing the playoffs, the value of the team he bought from the EIG has roughly doubled in value, to about $400 million. Fans, meanwhile, have dug deep for tickets, parking, fast food and souvenirs during the same span. While fans pay handsomely to cheer for a bottom-feeder, the Oilers, as a business venture, have been a financial home run for Katz.

There is, as well, a new downtown arena on the way.

STAY THE COURSE

"The good news, if you can call it that, is that other teams that committed to fundamental rebuilds went through the same kind of droughts over the same kind of time frames, or longer. That doesn’t make it fun for anyone; it just means we have to stay the course."

Not necessarily. The course the Oilers are on, as it stands today, could see the team finish with fewer points than in any of the previous three seasons of the official rebuild (pro-rating points from the shortened 2012-13 campaign).

In 2009-10, the Oilers had 27 wins and 62 points. In 2010-11 it was 25 wins and 62 points, for a second straight 30th-place finish. In 2011-12 the Oilers had 32 wins and 74 points. Last season, they had 19 wins and 45 points (in 48 games). As of today, the Oilers are 15-30-6 for 36 points.

You stay the course if the course plotted produces tangible progress. If not, you re-assess. Citing rebuilds, time-frames and droughts by other teams? Some, like Chicago, endured many leans years and provided fans with a pay-off. Others, to paraphrase Jay Feaster, wandered the desert with no long-term gain for repeated seasons of short-term pain.

ACCOUNTS OVERDUE

"I hear a lot from fans about accountability, so let’s be clear. We are all accountable. That includes me, Kevin, Craig, Dallas, every player who wears our jersey, and every member of our staff. I know Kevin is the target of a lot of personal attacks right now, and that’s really unfortunate."

As I wrote the other day, it seems to me accountability falls on the shoulders of some in hockey operations more heavily than it does on others. There are two groups, split into former Oiler players and Friends of Katz – FOK, if you will – and those who never wore the jersey during the glory days of five Stanley Cups.

Since the Cup final of 2006, now-GM Craig MacTavish was relieved of his duties as head coach, then brought back under outsider Steve Tambellini before being named his successor. Assistant coach Charlie Huddy, purged when MacTavish was "relieved," has moved on.

The coaching carousel – head men, assistants and others – has seen Ralph Krueger, Tom Renney, Pat Quinn, Rob Daum, Billy Moores, Pete Peeters and Brian Ross (video) come and go (Ross and Moores have been retained in the organization in other positions). None are former Oiler players.

Kelly Buchberger stayed on after MacTavish was let go and has been an assistant under Krueger, Renney, Quinn and now Dallas Eakins. Smith has been behind the bench since the start of the 2010-11 season. Both were kept on for the arrival of Eakins, who filled the associate's spot with Keith Acton, another former Oiler player.

Kevin Lowe, the lightning rod in the accountability debate, was GM from 2000-2008, then was moved to president of hockey operations by Katz. He's been the one constant at or near the top of the management team since 2000.

As for what Katz referred to as "personal attacks" on Lowe, I'd suggest there's nothing personal about it. Lowe served this franchise long and well as a player. His tenure as a manager has been far less successful. His record speaks for itself and is the basis of the criticism levelled his way.

FLYING THE FLAG

"Kevin is a big part of our organization, and it’s not just the Oilers that value his knowledge and perspective. He is consistently chosen, year after year, to play a leadership role with Hockey Canada. But when it comes down to it, this is Craig MacTavish’s team. He is the GM. He makes the calls, and he is accountable for building a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup -- year in and year out for years to come."

Like Lowe, Tambellini, Renney and Quinn, all fired by the Oilers, have had long tenures with Hockey Canada. Krueger, long the coach of Switzerland's national team, is now a special advisor to Hockey Canada's coaching staff for the Sochi Olympics. So, the relevant connection is . . ?

As for the emphasis this is MacTavish's team, I don't doubt that's true as far as day-to-day operations and decisions go, but there is no denying Lowe still plays a part and has a say in the decision-making process.

That's an unprecedented run at or near the top of a management group for a team that's had as little success as the Oilers have since 2000, no matter how Katz chooses to frame it.

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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#101 Rama Lama
January 21 2014, 09:03AM
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What is 18 inches long and hangs between Katz's legs?............Kevin Lowe's tie!

What is 18 inches long and hangs between Lowe's legs?..........Mac T's tie!

and so on...........unless these guys stop, get off their knees, and talk to the REAL hockey fans, nothing will change.

I'm willing to give Mac T a chance, but no one else.

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#102 oilfanincalgary
January 21 2014, 09:09AM
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Here is how you become a billionaire. Your daddy builds a drug empire and leaves it to you. He is always purported to be a brilliant businessman, seems more like a spoon fed child like brat to me. K Lowe is available to hockey Canada every year because we are never in the playoffs. The S%$T show countinues.

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#103 Mike IA
January 21 2014, 09:38AM
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I'm fine with K Lowe leaving. I agree that most of the assistant coaches should go. The only former oiler I would be interested in seeing return is Charlie Huddy, because he has shown real talent as a coach. Messier et al would just be here for marketing and we've had enough of that.

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#104 GriffCity
January 21 2014, 09:43AM
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@oilfanincalgary

I actually liked the letter from Katz. If nothing else, it does show that he has some wanton desire to own a successful franchise and have happy fans.

What i do not like is what you pointed out in your last excerpt regarding Lowe. Citing his hockey Canada experience as a scapegoat and justifying that his role with the Oilers is validated through such experiences? Feels a lot like grasping at straws to me. Katz had to say something to defend Lowe and I guess that is the best that he could come up with.

The fact of the matter is this - If you are listening Mr.Katz, Nothing about the "attacks" on Lowe were personal, strictly business. Will firing Lowe bring about the immediate changes needed for this club? No, not directly. Indirectly however it will send a message that will resonate with players and coaches alike. That message is that failure will not be accepted for prolonged periods of time. We are all human and bound to make mistakes. Continued mistakes however must be brought to task and it is long overdue that Lowe ante's up.

I do believe Katz that he would rather have a winning club than a losing one but at the end of the day that may require him to actually make some tough executive decisions on his own. Fans will give you more rope to continue to struggle so long as needed changes that are obvious to everyone are made. If not, you may see more and more resentment from fans which will lead to slowly less and less $$. I don't want to see another Jersey laying on the ice.

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#105 vetinari
January 21 2014, 09:43AM
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Most attacks on Kevin Lowe revolve around his record, not his character.

But don't tell me that he hasn't made the criticisms personal-- when you, unprompted, interject things such as "if it's ever in doubt, I know a little something about winning" and "maybe one other person working in hockey has more Stanley Cups than me" and then separate fans into "tiers", meaning who the team is accountable to-- that to me, opens you to criticism about your character and reputation when you are the one that raises them.

Katz should have hired Ben Scrivens to write the letter-- he's good at defending the love of his life and Lowe is certainly the love of Katz's life.

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#106 GriffCity
January 21 2014, 09:44AM
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Sorry, did not mean to "reply" there.

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#107 D-Unit
January 21 2014, 10:17AM
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Oliveoiler wrote:

Taylor or Tyler - Tyler has a Stanley Cup ring Nuge or Landeskog - Avs way ahead of us in the standings, Landeskog "C" Yak or Murray - Columbus were ALMOST worse than us that year, now look at them - Murray a damned good D man

SCOUTING, POHO, ASSISTANT COACHES, GOALIE COACH ALL MUST GO. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Development, DK and KL can you not understand that????

So, if the Oilers would have drafted Tyler, Edmonton would have won the cup? Or are you saying Taylor would have cost the Bruins the Cup? Or now that Tyler is in Dallas, the Stars will win the cup?

The others, who knows, I don't think either of them put Edmonton a lot ahead of the point we are not now.

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#108 Bushed
January 21 2014, 11:02AM
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oilfanincalgary wrote:

Here is how you become a billionaire. Your daddy builds a drug empire and leaves it to you. He is always purported to be a brilliant businessman, seems more like a spoon fed child like brat to me. K Lowe is available to hockey Canada every year because we are never in the playoffs. The S%$T show countinues.

Not to be a Katz apologist, but get your facts straight.

Katz earned (yes, earned--you can't inherit or buy these) a Law degree at the U of A before taking over his father's "drug empire" of a few Edmonton drug stores and then growing it into a billion-dollar business after years of hard work and smart business decisions, including hiring some very talented managers to help him out.

Hardly what I'd call a spoon-fed brat.

If you want to criticize Katz's Oilers-related business decisions (example: What happened to the promised practice facility at the U of A? Or, why does this current team suck?), that's fair game, but your "spoon fed brat" comment is way off the mark.

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#109 Constance
January 21 2014, 11:31AM
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Brownlee thanks for saying it like it is. There are far too few people in this city with official standing in the media who will do so. I would imagine that you will no longer have access to the Oilers dressing room or interviews though.. but hey man credibility is worth it.

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#110 GK1980
January 21 2014, 12:11PM
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I enjoyed the comment about sending this team to Seattle. We would be better off starting fresh anyways with a replacement club. An expansion draft couldn't be anyworse than what we currently have.

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#111 HOFFFF
January 21 2014, 12:26PM
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This ship hit the iceberg a long time ago. Katz's letter just says there are enough Lifeboats for everybody.

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#112 Chris.
January 21 2014, 04:59PM
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To Oiler Fans Everywhere:

We all thought this was going to be the year the Oilers turned the corner. (We being Kevin, Craig, all the pro-scouts... basically everybody I pay to evaluate talent and have a clue where we are as an organization) Obviously, that hasn't happened, and it hurts. Blah, blah, blah.

I hear a lot from fans about accountability. Blah, blah, blah. Kevin Lowe will be here forever.

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah we are on the right track.

Blah blah blah blah Wear your colors with pride and don't throw them on the ice anymore... blah blah

We value our Tier 1 fans, we hear you, will ignore you, and expect your continued support.

Daryl Katz.

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#113 Joy S. Lee
January 22 2014, 12:11AM
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Slats wrote:

"we're in this together" - according to Forbes the Oilers made double digit profits last year so how about a 15% decrease in ticket prices and food/beer/concession until we make the playoffs and let's be in this "together"

. . .how about that in the open letter!

Um, this one seems to be a consensus. How about that, 44 thumbs up to 0 down. Is that because it MAKES sense? Maybe...at least if it comes to that, the team that brings us "our" team, truly WILL have a vested interest, and might start to move a little more rapidly into this century. Well, either that, or he could always move the team to Seattle. Oh, wait...

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