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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#1 Oilbaron
January 20 2014, 09:12PM
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Hold Steve Smith accountable... find a new (apparently defensive) assistant coach!

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#2 Drowning in Oil
January 20 2014, 09:16PM
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Hold the guy who threw his jersey on the ice accountable. He gave up on this team when there were really staring to come around..............

Said nobody ever!!

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#3 RexHolez
January 20 2014, 09:19PM
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Robin Brownlee.... Still telling like it is!

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#4 RexHolez
January 20 2014, 09:20PM
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Just curious... What's the teams record for those 300+ sellouts??

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#5 Jerry
January 20 2014, 09:21PM
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How's that hope and change working for you.

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#6 hallsyoilerforever5
January 20 2014, 09:24PM
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Lowe, Bucky, Smith, Chabot, and the rest of the management need to be accountable. What about Stu Macgregor and the scouts? No gems out of the 1st round of the draft. The organization is full of old boys and its never gonna change. The fact that they're increasing the prices of season tickets is a slap to every loyal oiler fan.

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#7 Tuningout
January 20 2014, 09:25PM
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Mr Brownlee. First piece of writing on this site in a while that left me with nothing left to do but slow clap and nod in agreement. Fair, accurate and some cold hard truths. Bravo sir.

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#8 Don W
January 20 2014, 09:27PM
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I wonder if they do a yearly performance review with the management.

So Kevin, I see that we've had a few setbacks this year - DK

(Strokes his rings) No worries this is all part of the plan, I obviously know a lot about winning - KL

You're right how does a 20% raise sound? Let's go for drinks. - DK

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#9 kale
January 20 2014, 09:27PM
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From my perspective RB your article is a home run. I think they need to get the FOK off the payroll {not all of them but I couldn't resist, the FOK was brilliant}

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#10 Ed in Edmotnon
January 20 2014, 09:29PM
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A good article.

I will disagree with one point though, re whether it is getting personal wrt K Lowe. A read of this site and others would show that, at least for some people, it is getting personal. I just hope things don't get ugly. I fully believe that K Lowe should not remain as POHO, but I also hope that it is a dignified exit.

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#11 Dan
January 20 2014, 09:29PM
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Obviously the PR firm said to Daryl we need to address the fans. This is what they came up with " I feel your pain". Sorry you not fooling anyone. Your record is your record.

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#12 RexHolez
January 20 2014, 09:29PM
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Also... "FOK"(Friends of Katz) is pure gold

#FOK

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#13 Sam
January 20 2014, 09:34PM
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He had delusions of adequacy.

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#14 Max
January 20 2014, 09:35PM
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I'm not convinced. I truly believe if Lowe cares a hoot about the Oilers he will do the decent thing and step aside. As for the 2 assistant coaches and goalie coach? Absolutely disgusting - they have NOT given our youngsters ANY help whatsoever. Right now, I am spitting nails, not because of the team, but because of the blindness of DK and KL. We fans deserve far more than a "hang in there" letter. We need results, small steps even, not backward ones. We need hope and a belief that things WILL change. DKs letter did not address that. I am so desperate for a decent team that I'd sign Ron McLean - hell, he knows hockey, he can skate and he has a pulse. Perhaps he could play D. Not many of the team seem to be able to.

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#15 RexHolez
January 20 2014, 09:36PM
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Tuningout wrote:

Mr Brownlee. First piece of writing on this site in a while that left me with nothing left to do but slow clap and nod in agreement. Fair, accurate and some cold hard truths. Bravo sir.

Lets all slow clap Mr. Brownlee for this one

Clap........Clap.........Clap....Clap..Clap.Clap

Who else speaks for the fans better??

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#16 Sam
January 20 2014, 09:38PM
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Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.

Please go Kevin Lowe.

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#18 DAVE
January 20 2014, 09:42PM
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Jerry wrote:

How's that hope and change working for you.

"Hope and Change", three words that used to inspire people. Now it's just a B.S. catchphrase made by desperate people trying to convince others that they really,really, know what to do about any given problem.

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#19 camdog
January 20 2014, 09:42PM
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@Ed in Edmotnon

You mean you hope things don't get uglier, because this is a Lowe as a pro franchise can sink!

I read a post a few days back about another jersey being tossed on the ice. I don't know if it was a joke or not?

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#20 corky
January 20 2014, 09:46PM
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Good read Robin. Fair and mature view. The backlash this letter has created is showing one positive. That through thick and thin this fanbase lives and dies by this team. Not many other markets would have this loyalty. Unfortunately this loyalty continues to line the pockets of DK.

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#21 RexHolez
January 20 2014, 09:46PM
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why is this not front page on the journal??

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#22 Jay
January 20 2014, 09:49PM
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Jersey Toss night... err, I mean oilers game tomorrow night boys! don't pussy out

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#23 Sketchy
January 20 2014, 09:52PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Agreed.

Lowe has been given the benefit of every doubt by this organization, and that's a reflection of his contribution to it and love of it as a player and coach/manager who has been a proud Oiler since the day he was drafted.

I'd say, given the results since 2000, he's been rewarded for that loyalty and that currency, in my mind, has all been spent. That doesn't, of course, mean Katz sees it that way.

can we just appoint Robin as POHO already??

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#24 RexHolez
January 20 2014, 09:53PM
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Lets not forget what makes this fan base the best!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_ghwXLBnVo&list=PLwYhBklvCNDWS2_8oOiodaJ8h27xtEekR

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#25 Rotten Ron
January 20 2014, 09:56PM
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I for one don't believe he had anything to do with this letter other than telling someone to do it for him. The letters a joke.Hold a press conference, answer questions from someone you're not paying. I've spend $200,000+ on season tickets since 1992-93 to present, started with three seats now down to two. I'm really struggling with giving this man any more of my money.I'm not a wealthy person, it's love of a game and a team that makes it worth putting off using money on more practical things. I'm also a city of Edmonton tax payer, it sickens me this man hasn't had the decency to address the citizens of the city in the whole arena negotiation. Fine,he's not a public person. That can excuse not addressing me the guy buying tickets, but when the city is handing 100's of millions of tax payers money to a man he damn well better answer to the people.A propaganda campain by his own paid press, certain writers (one rhymed with Maples)and in my opinion politicans (who's pro Katz behavior if they weren't profiting was puzzling to say the least) won over the public who had their love of hockey blind them to how the only one profiting will be Mr. Katz. The Seattle trip was disgusting, keeping Lowe is worse.

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#26 Show me da Money
January 20 2014, 09:57PM
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RexHolez wrote:

why is this not front page on the journal??

Err, cause maybe that was ages ago?

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It seems like everytime oiler management makes a public statement all it does is infuriate the crap out of me. They're like laxative. The first thing I thought of after reading the letter was "I wonder if he even read it before he signed it?"

Who needs to diet? At the rate they're going, I'm gonna be super lean by the end of the season.

PS that was a great read, thanks

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#28 Jay
January 20 2014, 09:58PM
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camdog wrote:

You mean you hope things don't get uglier, because this is a Lowe as a pro franchise can sink!

I read a post a few days back about another jersey being tossed on the ice. I don't know if it was a joke or not?

it was no joke! im gonna post on the GDB tomorrow and let the likes/trashs decide wether she goes over... gotta love the new social media!

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#29 Show me da Money
January 20 2014, 09:59PM
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Public relations is something that Katz and company fail miserably at.

How Dary Katz operates his hockey operations define nepotism to the letter!

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#30 RexHolez
January 20 2014, 10:05PM
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obviously, how the team responds to a letter from their owner apologizing to its fan base for being so sh!tty will be the deciding factor.

Nuckleheads are coming off that brawl in Calgary and they'll be ready to go! it can go 1 of 2 ways. We'll either see a passionate hard fought game that will prove that this team truly isn't as bad as the record shows.... or the knuckleheads will stomp all over them and the game will be shut down to clear all the jerseys off the ice! don't miss this one!

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#31 Smokey
January 20 2014, 10:05PM
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There was no point to Katz statements. It accomplished nothing. Fanbase wants a sacrifice and Katz laid a deuce on the Rexall alter. Fans will merely use it like a punchline and reference it everytime the Oilers get bent over by a bigger and meaner western conference foe.

The Ol' Lowe is revered by Hockey Canada and we thats suppose to escuse incompetance. Give me a break.

I'd of rather Katz said he a pompous rich drug lord who is smarter then thou and he will do as he wishes. I could respect true honesty. My BS meter is going off.

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#32 Oliveoiler
January 20 2014, 10:09PM
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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????

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#33 Zangetsu
January 20 2014, 10:10PM
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seem to remember Lowe as being noted as a bad GM. http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/14786-The-Hockey-News-GM-rankings.html

Thats the only year I can find, but I remember there being several years of him being ranked at or near DFL. Sure some of it is eastern bias, but you don't get ranked near the bottom if you know how to win. My favourite part of that whole interview was when lowe said something to the effect of; we chased it for a few years, but that didn't work, so we decided to try something else. Are you kidding me? As GM, you have to have a plan from day 1, or at the very least a policy. The only cure for the franchise as I see it is to cut off the head and burn the body. Shoot 'em all and let God sort them out. HEY HO LOWE MUST GO!

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#34 Zangetsu
January 20 2014, 10:12PM
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Does anybody watch Tosh.0? We should write a response letter on twitter to Katz, just like Daniel does during Twitten BY.

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#35 RexHolez
January 20 2014, 10:13PM
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Show me da Money wrote:

Err, cause maybe that was ages ago?

ages ago like the last time anyone cared about this team is what I was going for big guy

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#36 He Who Knows
January 20 2014, 10:13PM
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I was waiting for your take on the "Katz Letter" and you did not disappoint my friend. The Oilers continue to make a mockery of the fan base since Katz took over. Numbers and results do not lie, the team is a colossal failure under his regime. He still thinks that telling the fans to be patient and stay the course will give him more time. Yeah good luck with that. The Katz Letter looks like another PR nightmare for the Oil. Arrogance can be accepted if there is success to back it up. Stan Bowman or Ray Shero can strut around flipping people off if they chose to because their rebuilds were met with Stanley Cup wins. The Oilers are rebuilding within a rebuild. That doesn't even sound right.

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#37 Alsker
January 20 2014, 10:13PM
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Did Klown write this letter? Sure seemed like his blatant arrogance coming thru, alas two peas in a pod, I guess. You'd have thought history would have taught the Oil that in this town: public opinion matters. Just ask Peter Puck. So Katz shields 6rings from our ire. Who works for who?

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#38 jim
January 20 2014, 10:15PM
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Sequel to 'Boys on the Bus"

'Meet the 'FOKers"........'

get on that Aquila Productions

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#39 Serious Gord
January 20 2014, 10:17PM
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The letter and the fans and staples and now robins (and other journos?) reaction is pretty clear:

The attempt at misdirection and putting the accountability going forward on the newly appointed MacT in order to buy yet more time and grace from the fanbase has failed.

Miserably.

Just like everything else this management group has done in regard to public relations (and on the ice). Perhaps they should fire their PR guy.

Oh wait!! He's a FOK too.

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#40 Conky
January 20 2014, 10:19PM
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People that keep buying season's tickets are suckers. If you went to a top restaurant and paid $500 for a meal that was awful, you wouldn't go back, would you? Why do you keep paying $500 a week or two times a week for the cr@# you are served at Rexall?

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#41 etownman
January 20 2014, 10:20PM
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I agree totally with Katz's view of when this rebuild truly started! We're 3 1/2 years into Hall's tenure with the club & I believe MacT is the man who will change the fortunes of the Oilers! It gets tiresome reading these blogs that sounds like someone has a vendetta!

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#42 bullship
January 20 2014, 10:22PM
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That letter sounds like it should be copywrited by bullship press.

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#43 Oilcruzer
January 20 2014, 10:23PM
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RexHolez wrote:

why is this not front page on the journal??

Pretty clear why.

When you are not the top sport in town, you can't pick and choose whether Brooksie gets dressing room access, or deny him those those special privileges. They'll say "fine", and not send anyone.

In Edmonton, Brownlee speaks his mind knowing it's to his detriment.

Look at Stauffer and when did he last call out management?

This was a crap year to make deals however. There's a small pass given there. It doesn't excuse the moves attempted and thankfully failed in past years, nor does it excuse the failure to build out from the Goal and Defense and Centre, and ensure there is size or at the very least a durable player who wins battles in the top 9 F and top 4 D.

Drafting wingers and small centres works in ball hockey.

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#44 Sketchy
January 20 2014, 10:23PM
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there's a reason why the school board doesn't let the "boys on the bus" actually drive the bus

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#45 Tuningout
January 20 2014, 10:25PM
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Jay wrote:

it was no joke! im gonna post on the GDB tomorrow and let the likes/trashs decide wether she goes over... gotta love the new social media!

Jersey toss has been done. It won't get the same media coverage unless it's more. IMO

After reading this I think I'd prefer to hear a crowd chant of "get FOK out".

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#46 TayLordBalls
January 20 2014, 10:29PM
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KL make a note: Lesson in business - manage expectations...

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#47 Serious Gord
January 20 2014, 10:30PM
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TayLordBalls wrote:

KL make a note: Lesson in business - manage expectations...

Bingo.

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#48 The Last Big Bear
January 20 2014, 10:32PM
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Any show of support in an online poll which is in favour of Kevin Lowe and/or the current management direction of the Oilers, has been brought to you by Flames fans.

Many of us make a point in voting whenever we see one of these surveys. It just seems like the media has been so hard on you and your team this season, it's only fair that we show out support to our Alberta neighbors.

You're welcome.

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#49 Jay
January 20 2014, 10:33PM
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Tuningout wrote:

Jersey toss has been done. It won't get the same media coverage unless it's more. IMO

After reading this I think I'd prefer to hear a crowd chant of "get FOK out".

1 man cant start a chant but 1 man can throw a jersey

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#50 dcsj
January 20 2014, 10:35PM
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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

Ah, I'm not sure about that statement. Unless he's using them as leverage in some kind of loan, an increase of value (of uncertain real dollars) is meaningless. It only means something when you sell.

So this statement seems only to stir up class warfare, has no real bearing on the state of the Oilers.

I get that it is frustrating to follow the Oilers these days. Winning is way better than this. I've been a fan since day one, when Wild Bill Hunter announced the new team in the new league.

But let's be real here - supposed gain in equity is meaningless at this point. It only has meaning when you are selling and have a willing buyer willing to pay the price.

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