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 Josh Oiler
January 20 2014, 10:56PM
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You people are way too antsy. Calm down!! Within a couple of years Edmonton Oilers will be at or near the top o the league and Vancouver Canucks will be drafting in the lottery position.

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#2 Josh Oiler
January 20 2014, 11:00PM
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I think Darryl Katz should fire Craig McTavish and appoint himself as the General Manager : ala Jerry Jones!

For all you puck-heads who don't know who Jerry Jones is. The Owner and GM of the Dallas Cowboys!

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#3 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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#4 wintoon
January 21 2014, 06:10AM
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As usual Oilers fans reactions are over the top regarding the Katz letter. Fan are almost as bad as the Leafs, Habs and Canucks fans.

All the whining and crying is ridiculous. Fans are starting to sound like they feel they are entitled to have a good-great team. Wake up. You are not entitled.

In the 80's we got lucky because the Oilers caught lightning in a bottle. Since 2006, when we fluked a Stanley Cup run, we have floundered as a franchise. The fan base has remained intensely loyal but the teams have been horrible. Suck it up princess.

Be patient. Be humble. Stay classy. Allow MacT to reshape this team. Remember the goal is to raise the Stanley Cup not just qualify for the playoffs.

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#5 fasteddy
January 20 2014, 10:39PM
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@etownman

Well said

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#6 Josh Oiler
January 21 2014, 07:03AM
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wintoon wrote:

As usual Oilers fans reactions are over the top regarding the Katz letter. Fan are almost as bad as the Leafs, Habs and Canucks fans.

All the whining and crying is ridiculous. Fans are starting to sound like they feel they are entitled to have a good-great team. Wake up. You are not entitled.

In the 80's we got lucky because the Oilers caught lightning in a bottle. Since 2006, when we fluked a Stanley Cup run, we have floundered as a franchise. The fan base has remained intensely loyal but the teams have been horrible. Suck it up princess.

Be patient. Be humble. Stay classy. Allow MacT to reshape this team. Remember the goal is to raise the Stanley Cup not just qualify for the playoffs.

Look pal, you just don't fluke a Stanley cup finals berth. Not on that level (NHL) . Maybe in your peewee league.

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#7 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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#8 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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#9 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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#10 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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#11 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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#12 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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#13 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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#14 TeddyTurnbuckle
January 21 2014, 12:41AM
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Could be worse, we could be the Islanders who traded their first round pick at the start of the season and will probably finish in the bottom 5. That's why you don't trade the first pick until you are a decent team. The core of this team is 21 years old and people are suprised that we aren't winning yet? Keep drafting top picks and we will pull out of this no matter who is in charge.

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#15 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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#16 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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#17 dcsj
January 21 2014, 05:24AM
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@Serious Gord

Of course Katz isn't feeling financial pain. He has a few shekels, I understand. But it is meaningless to say he's had a windfall because the value of the Oilers is up. If you are a homeowner and you bought your house some time ago most likely the value is higher. So what? Doesn't mean any more cash in your jeans.

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

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#19 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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#20 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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#21 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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#22 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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#23 The Last Big Bear
January 20 2014, 10:40PM
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etownman wrote:

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!

There's also an ongoing discussion in the online Flames community about how there seems to be a reasonably active group of Kevin Lowe fluffers on the Internet.

We don't think they're Flames fans, because they seem to know nothing about hockey. We don't think they're Oilers fans because they seem to know nothing about hockey, and they support Kevin Lowe and current Oilers management.

The only logical explanation is that they're PR shills hired by the Oilers to blow sunshine up their arses, spouting off reassuring platitudes and urging confidence in the brand.

There aren't enough Flames trolls with that much time to be behind all of this. We spam the polls. We don't do ^this^. We do, however, think its HILARIOUS.

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#24 Oasis
January 20 2014, 11:08PM
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Hey Darryl, I just wanted to say thanks for the letter. I can tell that you mean it from the heart. I know you hate the fact that we are the laughingstock of the NHL, but the fact that you have a new arena coming and have pretty much doubled your investment must help with the pain.

I have a letter for you in return, actually eight letters.

Scr-w Y--

Care to buy a vowel?

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#25 **
January 20 2014, 11:29PM
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"FOK, if you will", Mr Bronwlee, was this intentional, or a happy accident?, either way, bravo Sir, bravo!!!!!.

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#26 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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#27 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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#28 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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#29 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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#30 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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#31 Tier2fan
January 20 2014, 10:43PM
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Whatever the issue is mgmt has got to figure it out! That is their job!! Fans are losing respect and dedication to the team, and for that to happen means something is really wrong!! Come on guys! Let's start on a fresh new slate with new ideas and knowledge that isn't from the 80's!! We know you guys once were great players, coaches etc but everyone has once been good at something and isn't no more. Accept and move on to something else. If not there's gonna be a pretty empty downtown arena...

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#32 The Last Big Bear
January 20 2014, 10:45PM
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fasteddy wrote:

Well said

Hey fasteddy, since you are also obviously not a hired plant, and are the kind of Oilers fan who is hardcore enough to be commenting on Oilers-related blog posts in your spare time, why are the players benches on the wrong side of the ice in Rexall?

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#33 Zangetsu
January 20 2014, 11:04PM
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Josh Oiler wrote:

You people are way too antsy. Calm down!! Within a couple of years Edmonton Oilers will be at or near the top o the league and Vancouver Canucks will be drafting in the lottery position.

You can't fool me KLOWE.

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#34 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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#36 RexHolez
January 20 2014, 09:46PM
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why is this not front page on the journal??

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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 6 ring circus
January 20 2014, 10:46PM
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Until some of the FOK's are gone I will not renew my seasons tickets anymore,I have had enough after supporting this franchise for the past 14 years.A letter from Katz or a staged interview with Mactavish and Stauffer isn't going to change my mind,to add insult in Katz's letter he says everyone is accountable in the organization, if that was the case, Lowe and the old boys club wouldn't exist, not after the teams record these past 8 years.

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#39 Tier2fan
January 20 2014, 10:52PM
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@etownman

@etownman

It gets tiresome reading posts like yours suggesting to keep things the way they are! And with a lot of confidence that things will turn around!

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#40 Tier2fan
January 20 2014, 10:59PM
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@Josh Oiler

Buddy.... It's been 8 years... We have a ligit reason to express our concerns! If it had only been 2 years I would agree with you, but almost a decade, yaaaa no!

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#41 Oiler Al
January 20 2014, 11:22PM
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Robin, well done,like always. I like the way you interposed your comments on the Katz letter.It was much needed, as I think the letter was a ..gassy and unmoved write up as Ive ever read.

The letter served really two things, 1. reparative message to the season ticket renwal crowd 2.obuscate the depressing managment record of Kevin Lowe.

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#42 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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#43 Jerry
January 20 2014, 09:21PM
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How's that hope and change working for you.

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#44 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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#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 redhot1
January 20 2014, 10:37PM
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Seems like Katz took notice of the Jersey Toss

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#47 Tuningout
January 20 2014, 11:11PM
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Tier2fan wrote:

Whatever the issue is mgmt has got to figure it out! That is their job!! Fans are losing respect and dedication to the team, and for that to happen means something is really wrong!! Come on guys! Let's start on a fresh new slate with new ideas and knowledge that isn't from the 80's!! We know you guys once were great players, coaches etc but everyone has once been good at something and isn't no more. Accept and move on to something else. If not there's gonna be a pretty empty downtown arena...

For me personally I have completely lost respect and dedication to the Oilers and have happily found other more satisfying ways of spending my entertainment budget.

This isn't a short term break up, even if the team starts winning I simply won't be coming back. The lockout followed by this season has just killed my hockey passion.

I do still read and comment on this site, and watch the odd game on TV (world juniors) and listen to Lowetide, because that still gives me some entertainment. Hearing about Tortarella meltdowns and Katz letters, etc.. still amuses me.

I don't understand season ticket holders. Spending that much money for this product. But that's their choice and I can respect that.

I feel sorry for city of Edmonton taxpayers for having to pay for a new rink that for many will serve no purpose but to spread out the crime in a beleaguered area of the city.

It's too bad the Oilers lost me, but I'm sure there are countless more standing in line waiting to fill my seat.

Avatar
#48 GK1980
January 21 2014, 12:11PM
Trash it!
4
trashes
Cheers
10
cheers

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.

Avatar
#49 RexHolez
January 20 2014, 09:29PM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Cheers
35
cheers

Also... "FOK"(Friends of Katz) is pure gold

#FOK

Avatar
#50 Sam
January 20 2014, 09:38PM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Cheers
22
cheers

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.

Please go Kevin Lowe.

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