GROUPTHINK: ROOM FOR DISSENT?

Robin Brownlee
April 29 2014 12:05AM

Lowe, Kevin

I wonder how many times since 2000 somebody inside the management group of the Edmonton Oilers has looked Kevin Lowe in the eye and offered the opinion that he's absolutely wrong, mistaken or misguided?

Not often, during his tenure as general manager from 2000-08 and as president of hockey operations since 2008, I imagine. Now, with Lowe as POHO, Craig MacTavish as GM, Scott Howson back in the fold as senior VP of hockey operations and new man Bill Scott promoted from Oklahoma City to assistant GM, how much debate and dissent will there be in the hockey-ops decision-making chain moving forward?

How often in hockey management, in management in general, do we hear about the importance of being on the same page? About "teamwork" and like-minded individuals working for a common goal? Sounds reasonable at first blush, no? Be it hockey-operations or running a company that produces widgets, many management groups are built on such principles – consensus by people who, generally speaking, see things as you do, think as you do.

That said, how much of a leap is it for a management group to go from the comfortable harmony of like-mindedness to groupthink, where meaningful dissent is all but absent? The definition of groupthink, from the psychology section of About.com:

Groupthink is a term first used in 1972 by social psychologist Irving L. Janis that refers to a psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group. In many cases, people will set aside their own personal beliefs or adopt the opinion of the rest of the group. People who are opposed to the decisions or overriding opinion of the group as a whole frequently remain quiet, preferring to keep the peace rather than disrupt the uniformity of the crowd.

Given the make-up of the Oilers hockey-ops management group – how it's comprised and how the people in the positions they're in now got there – and the decidedly dismal results fans have endured since 2000, that leap is worth contemplating after eight straight years out of the playoffs.

TIES THAT BIND

Craig MacTavish7

Lowe and MacTavish have known each other since the mid-1980s. They've been teammates, friends and confidants for 30 years. After six years away as GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Howson returned to an organization he first joined in 1994, as GM of the Cape Breton Oilers. Those are the three top three spots on the decision-making totem pole in hockey-ops.

This is the group – Lowe, MacTavish and Howson – that has shaped and will shape the organization. They decide on the coaching staff, the scouting staff and the organizational staff. They make the hires. In doing so, they decide who offers input and information, be it a player development director like Rick Carriere, a member of the scouting staff or an assistant coach.

More than a few hockey men have come and gone in the last decade as far as the top slots in hockey-ops and their hires are concerned: Steve Tambellini, Rick Olczyk, Kevin Prendergast, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, Charlie Huddy and Bill Moores (in, out and in again as senior director of player development), to name eight. Lots of changes in the pro and amateur scouting staffs, too.

Old Boys

The point here isn't to swat at the low-hanging fruit yet again – the Old Boys Club assembled by owner Daryl Katz and the EIG before him, cronyism, friendships trumping qualifications. Fire Lowe. Fire Kelly Buchberger. Fire everybody who has ever worn an Oiler jersey. Blah, blah, blah.

It's to ask, after more than two mostly lean decades since the last Stanley Cup parade, if there's too much "we know a thing or two about winning, if there's ever a question," and not enough debate, dissent and willingness to challenge the status quo and re-think everything from top to bottom within this management group.

I'd suggest answers are long overdue.

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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#51 Quicksilver ballet
April 29 2014, 12:00PM
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That Alex Staylock kid certainly looks like a player. Great mobility and handles the puck with authority. Could be a buying opportunity there if Miller lands in San Jose this summer.

Have to believe there are a number of teams interested in Fasth. He should be sacrificed if it brings (part of a package) the Oil a top pairing blueliner or a 1/2 centerman.

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#52 Wonger
April 29 2014, 08:43AM
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David S wrote:

Because the WONGER knows a little something about CAPS, if there ever was a question.

Wonger knows more about CAPS - than david s. knows about the new math curriculum!!!

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#53 Wonger
April 29 2014, 10:38AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Wonger: Will James be along today to second your nomination for ON entry? He believes you often make a lot of sense, despite the CAPS.

No sir! Have a good day! Bye for now! Wonger!

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#54 I am the Liquor
April 29 2014, 11:52AM
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BLAKPOO wrote:

Which answers are long overdue?

Your statements allege a lack of individual thought within the management group, based on what?

The fact they were teammates and share an employer?

I have friends I've known for 20 years, and we constantly argue about everything from music, women, politics ... even what to pick up at the liquor store. A few of us are die hard Oilers fans, and all want the team to do better, but our tenure as friends no way implies that we have the same opinion of how this team needs to be fixed.

To assume everyone in management thinks alike, or are all towing the "6 Ring Circus Wagon", is also to assume that these fiercely competitive, prideful men are putting aside their personal nature and professional credibility to kiss their boss' ass.

Highly unlikely, and completely unfounded.

Mactavish said one of the reasons for hiring Eakins was that they shared the same philosophy in regards to the game.

It seems reasonable to assume that this group that has more or less stuck together despite years of failure likely doesnt butt heads too often.

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#55 oilcanz
April 29 2014, 12:59AM
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ex-frickin-zactly

...and you could add-any challenge will be met with an emotional outburst that is often ill considered ie. Mike Comrie trade, Ryan Smyth trade, Tambellini hiring and then firing, the John McKinnon question etc...........

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#56 Kevin
April 29 2014, 01:36AM
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Lowe = 💤💤💤 Kafz = 💤💤💤 Mact = 🌈☀️ Eakins and coaching staff = duh duh duh duh?

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#57 Sam Singh
April 29 2014, 02:02AM
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Czar wrote:

Mr. Brownlee, you abrasive prick, I like your style.

Edited by Nation Editor. Have a great day!

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#58 j
April 29 2014, 09:04AM
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If the Oilers win the division in 5 years are Lowe, Howson and MacT suddenly exonerated of past sins? It takes great vision and strong leadership to put a winning team together but it also takes a tremendous amount of luck, timing, and the hated 'intangibles'. Detroit wandered in the desert for many years before Linstrom and Stevie Y landed on the doorstep. As noted in the thread, I hope the team's executive share a vision but argue about the details all day long because the details change every month of every season. There is no singular template for success.

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#60 BLAKPOO
April 29 2014, 01:51PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Exactly.

Can this team plot a new direction led by the same people who over the course of the last decade or more brought it to where it is now?

At what point over the last decade has Mactavish been responsible for the Oilers' roster?

Seems to me he just took the job last year, and has made some pretty significant upgrades to this team since then.

Sure, Lowe is a common denominator, but to assume that his tenure with the organization is the reason we are failing is also to assume that he is DIRECTLY responsible for every roster/coaching/employee decision made since 2006.

Personally, I think that's ridiculous.

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#61 Half
April 29 2014, 05:21PM
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The Oilers are in an unfortunate situation and the people who got them there don't appear to be the ones that will get them out. Its like everyone has Stockholm Syndrome....and are hostage to each other's group think. Its bizarre. I know I am checking out as a fan...and have been once since they joined the WHA in 1972. Oh well. Good thing I moved away and no longer spend 10's of thousands on season tickets and am only a tier 2 fan.

Its interesting to see Rome burn from a distance though. Everyone with the matches and torches though is sayings, its not me. Its him.

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#62 199.216.95.253(69)
April 29 2014, 08:30AM
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MacT and Eakins are both doing a good job and are important pieces to the future of Oiler organization!

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#63 A-Mc
April 29 2014, 09:48AM
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There have been lots of Troll bait comments this season by Mr Brownlee.

He must get a chuckle out of how some people get so fired up at the mention of KLowe.

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#64 dave
April 29 2014, 11:23AM
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I wish ON had an edit function. Anyway, for Eakins to not have an assistant coach without head coaching experience is not very good.

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#65 madjam
April 29 2014, 07:10AM
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Everyone likes to cheer for an underdog and that's what we have produced for the fans . That's the attraction of running a poor team , and draws fans back to see the few times those upsets can/do happen . Sad that this franchise has been reduced to this level for so long , yet enough fans thrive on this type of entertainment . So , in a twisted way , this franchise is still quite successful . Sort of like reverse psychology here - futility reins supreme .

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#66 etownman
April 29 2014, 08:01AM
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@Time Travelling Sean

Good post, too often these bloggers take things out of context, with no history behind decisions & lump everything together. I enjoyed your thoughts.

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#67 Shredder
April 29 2014, 08:55AM
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The Oilers who dominated the 80's now running their old franchise versus the Avalanche who dominated the 90's and 2000's running their old franchise...

Who is the better management team?

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#68 Kevin
April 29 2014, 01:38AM
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Lowe = 💤💤💤 Kafz = 💤💤💤 Mact = 🌈☀️ Eakins and coaching staff = duh duh duh duh?

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#69 Bald Old Man
April 29 2014, 10:12AM
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I do agree that some of the hiring of the Oilers Management has come from the thought process of "Do you remember Scott, worked here about 6 years ago. He's looking for a hockey job. Let's talk to him."

The fact it though, both MacT and Howson left the organization and went out and respectively work on other projects (MBA-MacT; GM CLB-Howson). They each worked for other institutions, with other individuals with differing opinions and points of view. You can't say that all that experience and situations they were exposed to when they were away from the Oilers, did not change their perspectives and how they approach situations.

People grow, especially when change is thrust upon them. I think KLowe is the common denominator, to the past, but I don't see MacT or Howson rolling over and not having a firm, concrete opinions that they are passionate about and willing to hold on to.

My point-MacT and Howson are not he same people they were during their previous tenure. This is a new era in Oilers management.

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#70 Oiler Country
April 29 2014, 03:36PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

This organization is long overdue for a biotch slapping.

Bruce Urban could just be the guy to do it. Since the Rush aren't allowed their banners to hang in Rexall 365 a year. Would it be too much to ask the Oiler ancient memory banners be removed for the Edmonton Rush on game nights? Rush banners should hang in their place.

Since they are a paying client.

No wonder Katz is a billionaire. Everything is given to him on a silver platter.

Sounds like you are upset at Katz being a billionaire.

As for the banners... you are on point. They should get equal time in the building they rent to play in.

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#71 Wonger
April 29 2014, 10:39AM
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baggedmilk wrote:

Maybe James has a cousin that could chime in?

No cousins or aliases today! Take care and have a great day! Wonger!

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#72 baggedmilk
April 29 2014, 10:23AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Wonger: Will James be along today to second your nomination for ON entry? He believes you often make a lot of sense, despite the CAPS.

Maybe James has a cousin that could chime in?

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#73 Lochenzo
April 29 2014, 10:53AM
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Groupthink is more natural than you think though. It's safer to employ groupthink because if you're wrong, then everybody is wrong with you. Much easier to excuse that error. If you're an outlier and you're also wrong, that's a direct blow to your ego and your credibility.

Let's look at an Oilers' example of thinking outside the box. Barry Fraser, chief scout of the Oilers through the 80's and 90's. Credited with building the foundation of the Oilers' dynasty. Also faulted for some very bad picks for his non-consensus picks in the late 80's and 90's. It would have been "safer" to follow the consensus and his reputation wouldn't have been stained.

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#74 oilnik
April 29 2014, 06:44AM
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Thanks, Robin. Now I have to listen to Pearl Jam (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

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#75 Czar
April 29 2014, 10:33AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Right you are.

Except he didn't include Rick Carrier, another WTF hire.

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#76 Dave
April 29 2014, 11:19AM
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http://99u.com/workbook/16104/be-the-dumbest-person-in-the-room

Most likely not true in the Oilers ca

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