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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#1 Sam Singh
April 29 2014, 01:54AM
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Yet again Robin Brownlee writes an article without any facts, stats or any god damn sense. We get it, you have a hard on against the management make up of the Oilers. But not giving Mac T a chance to put an imprint on this team is short sighted and lacking any journalism credentials you thought you had. Your main point in your blah blah blah is that all these guys are friends...so what, why are we already painting Mac T as the next Tambellini. He is not Tambo....

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#2 BLAKPOO
April 29 2014, 01:11AM
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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.

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#3 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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#4 Jonsie
April 29 2014, 07:36AM
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You are completely out to lunch if you think that firing Lowe will immediately turn this team around. He is so removed from the decisions it's not going to make a difference. It will simply give some idiots gratification....and accomplish absolutely NOTHING!

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#5 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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#6 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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#7 199.216.95.253(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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#8 Jayz
April 29 2014, 12:38AM
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I truly believe that next year will be much more hopeful and promising than the past year, but if we end up picking in the bottom 5 again I have to think at the very least klowe will be gone . It's a shame because I really think he had a deep passion for the city and team, I just think he lacks the vision to lead us to higher places. I am so nervous for Eakins and mact next year.. Eakins has maybe a 30 game leash to start trending up and MacT a year ... Gl boys go oil

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#9 Time Travelling Sean
April 29 2014, 12:28AM
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What is Messier's job or role on the team? NCAA scouting or something? I forget. Also, I'm pretty sure Lowe has had some ideas that didn't get carried out because of internal dissent.

Also, when Lowe was the GM we were decently competitive, 2000-2006 was pretty decent, and Lowe seemed to have a very good eye at getting good role players, Niinimaa, Peca, Chimera, Brewer and ofc Pronger and Roloson.

Ofc we know the gaffe with Comrie, but that signing bonus may have been his bosses concern and interference then his pride, because iirc, EIG was pretty strapped for cash when it came to the Oilers.

I just think this rebuild has been so sparse, with regards to having absolutely nothing prior to tearing everything down, that it's really prolonging the process, which Lowe should take responsibility for.

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#10 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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#11 Wonger
April 29 2014, 07:48AM
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Sam Singh wrote:

Yet again Robin Brownlee writes an article without any facts, stats or any god damn sense. We get it, you have a hard on against the management make up of the Oilers. But not giving Mac T a chance to put an imprint on this team is short sighted and lacking any journalism credentials you thought you had. Your main point in your blah blah blah is that all these guys are friends...so what, why are we already painting Mac T as the next Tambellini. He is not Tambo....

I agree! MacT has done an excellent job - time for the WONGER to join the Nation!!!!

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#13 Czar
April 29 2014, 12:29AM
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Mr. Brownlee, you abrasive prick, I like your style.

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#14 bwar
April 29 2014, 12:12AM
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tldr; fire Lowe.

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

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#16 Spydyr
April 29 2014, 09:04AM
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It all comes down to experience .The Oilers just do not like to hire experienced people:

1)Katz no experience as an owner of a pro sports team before purchasing the Oilers

2)Lowe no experience in any of the position he has held throughout his climb form assistant coach to POHO.

3)Mac-T no experience as GM.

4)Howson had GM experience but failed.

5)Scott no experience at the NHL level.

6)Eakins no NHL experience as a head coach.

7)The players in the past have been brought to the NHL level prematurely with not enough seasoning in the AHL.

The common thread here is putting people into positions that they are forced to learn on the job instead of hiring experienced people.

Some examples:

1)Katz public handling of the the new arena.

2)Lowe's six ring press conference.

3)Mac-T bold moves and Horcoff and Hemsky comments.

4)Players rushed to the NHL and not able to progress at this level (Sam Gagner) among others.

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#17 Zarny
April 29 2014, 01:34PM
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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?

The question of "why should the group who burned the house down be trusted with the rebuild?" is the question that sent Lowe off on his "six-rings I know about winning" rant at the start the season. And it's certainly a fair question without a definitive answer.

There are numerous examples of franchises that have changed regimes to plot a new direction and done nothing but twist in the wind. Changing management teams guarantees nothing but different names besides job titles.

There are very few examples of the same management team leading a new direction because they are usually fired and not given the chance. The Carolina Panthers staying with and succeeding on a new path with Ron Rivera et al is the only example I can think of off the top of my head.

However, the notion of "groupthink" is nothing but unsubstantiated speculation. I highly doubt it is uncommon for someone in the Oilers management group to look Lowe in the eye and tell him they disagree. That's not actually a sin or even serious. People in management groups pretty much disagree to varying degrees on a daily basis. And considering both MacT and Howson have actually been absent from the process for a longer period of time over the last 8 years than involved the notion of "groupthink" seems poor speculation at that.

The reality with disagreements for any franchise/business/project/management group is that at the end of the day you have to find common ground and a common path. You can't push and pull at the same time. You can't rebuild through the draft and mortgage the future to win now.

Power struggles over differing visions is pretty common. As a GM Lowe was very active and very aggressive. Tambo was the complete opposite and when he dithered at last year's trade deadline Lowe fired him and replaced him with a GM who has been very active.

None of that indicates "groupthink" to me. That just tells me Lowe hired the wrong GM to begin with and I have no problem with holding him accountable for that.

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#18 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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#19 Sorensenator
April 29 2014, 10:41AM
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Spydyr wrote:

It all comes down to experience .The Oilers just do not like to hire experienced people:

1)Katz no experience as an owner of a pro sports team before purchasing the Oilers

2)Lowe no experience in any of the position he has held throughout his climb form assistant coach to POHO.

3)Mac-T no experience as GM.

4)Howson had GM experience but failed.

5)Scott no experience at the NHL level.

6)Eakins no NHL experience as a head coach.

7)The players in the past have been brought to the NHL level prematurely with not enough seasoning in the AHL.

The common thread here is putting people into positions that they are forced to learn on the job instead of hiring experienced people.

Some examples:

1)Katz public handling of the the new arena.

2)Lowe's six ring press conference.

3)Mac-T bold moves and Horcoff and Hemsky comments.

4)Players rushed to the NHL and not able to progress at this level (Sam Gagner) among others.

Owners do not require "experience" to own a franchise. All that is required of them is to have a lot of money and a desire for that franchise to keep making money. In Daryl Katz' case, fans continue to go to the games therefore Mr. Katz continues to make money.

I agree with your statement about Lowe, he needs to go.

While MacT does not have experience as a GM, he does have significant experience as a head coach and he has done a reasonable job at solidifying the goaltending and adding pieces that are tough to play against like Perron and Hendricks. He still wants to make bold moves, although maybe he should have mentioned they are very very difficult to come by.

While I believe it was not MacT's best move to go with a rookie coach in Eakins, I believe what this team needs most is consistency. Give Eakins at least half the season next year to work with and see what strides can be made.

Bring an experienced associate coach with some PP experience to help rekindle the powerplay.

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#20 RexHolez
April 29 2014, 12:11AM
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The question I have is how long do these guys have to get it right?

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#21 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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#22 Mike
April 29 2014, 04:31AM
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Classy there Sam singh. No room for idiotic remarks like that on these sites! If u got nothing decent to say or anything to add to the conversation then u should spare us all ur inmature remarks! Grow up buddy!!!

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#23 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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#24 oilcanz
April 29 2014, 12:58AM
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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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#25 vetinari
April 29 2014, 07:06AM
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Good corporate organizations foster and encourage contrary opinions to make sure that they look at all solutions and all possibilities. And the Oilers don't strike me as one of those organizations. Great article. Good dose of reality.

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#26 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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#27 RexHolez
April 29 2014, 12:15AM
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And also what have these guys done in a management position that gives Katz confidence that this group can actually build a winning team??

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#28 Soccer Steve
April 29 2014, 12:54AM
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Thatcher said it best. If you have to say you know a thing or two about winning, you don't.

Does it matter if anyone within the Oilers questions Lowe, et al? We the fans certainly know the end result at this point anyway.

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#29 snorkboink
April 29 2014, 06:39AM
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Watching the Playoffs gives the best indicator of the miss direction the management of the Oilers have taken. You watch the Kings and Sharks series and one can't imagine ever competing with either. The philosophy of Big Strong and Hockey sense seemed to be learned by some as the Oilers draft clones of a 80's ghosts with the hope of out scoring opposition 10-8. With a new building being build and the price to see this product rises, one must stand up and shout "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore"

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#30 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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#31 Rick
April 29 2014, 08:13AM
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Lowe has been part of the problem and not part of the solution. At the end of the day he wants to make money. He knows the results, If he had honour he would resign for real.

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#32 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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#33 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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#34 The Real Scuba Steve
April 29 2014, 05:41AM
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How many VP of hockey operations and assiants to G.M.'s does this team need?

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#35 madjam
April 29 2014, 06:42AM
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There is no need to change the structure so long as sellouts abound/ remain - bottom line . We are the model of consistency - albeit cellar dweller for most of this millennium . Katz has yet to build a decent team here as yet , but he is at least successful in selling out the building despite a poor team .

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#36 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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#38 mayorblaine
April 29 2014, 06:39AM
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i've no problem with the concept of groupthink, if the group has a legitimate plan for success. clearly whatever manner of "think" they've stumbled upon isn't designed for creating a successful franchise.

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#39 El Pindo
April 29 2014, 08:56AM
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Oh Brownlee, don't you realize just further handicapped your chances of ever working for the Oilers?? Not only did you not play for them within the golden 8 year window, you have now posed a questions about whether we have the right management group!

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#41 Quicksilver ballet
April 29 2014, 09:56AM
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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.

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#42 He Who Knows
April 29 2014, 10:21AM
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Good article Brownlee. The Oilers upper brass don't have a clue on how to run a successful blueprint for a professional hockey team. This all falls on the owner because he allows for this product to be put out there. I can guarantee you that if EIG was still holding the fort, Lowe and the rest of the old cats would have been fired years ago because the bottom line for EIG was playoffs and turn a profit each season. There was internal pressure on the hockey ops guys the whole time and not so much about entitlements. The organization changed from being a world class one to a shady one.

The NHL needs to intervene and find a more suitable owner, which ofcourse won't happen since Charles Wang still owns a team.

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#43 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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#44 pelhem grenville
April 29 2014, 04:19AM
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...get to Katz Robin...he's the one with ALL the answers you say are long overdue...short of staking out places where he dines or cornering him in a hallway of an office building somewhere he IS the only one that can account for ALL THIS...good luck with that!

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#45 -30-
April 29 2014, 08:40AM
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It's not just hockey ops that have this problem.

Through all the different publishers or managing editors that good ole EJ has suffered through over the last few years there was one constant. Every new head had a purging within a couple of years.

Clear out the old wood and bring in the new. Rinse and repeat with each successive M.E.

The difference here from the Edmonton Journal is that instead of changing the head they are changing from the neck down so essentially NOTHING changes.

For as much as we hear that things will be different and that MacTavish is his own man I really doubt it.

Katz is a brilliant businessman but sucks as an NHL owner.

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#46 DisappointedFan
April 29 2014, 09:12AM
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Brownlee,

Thanks for informing me there is an avid Nation reader at work..things you learn, now I need to find this guy. Old Retired Guy looking at you.

But in all honesty, if you read my response to BaggedMilk I'm just curious about if the experience at Rexall has actually been a muffled censored environment as was suggested by Old Retired Guy. Since I don't frequently attend games but watch them all on tv I don't see the up close acts or displays that might occur.

For example, at a Canucks game I was at just after Torts got suspended there were Canucks fans with "FREE TORTS" signs, but nothing really from Oil fans.

And if there is an actual censorship issue in Rexall would this not be something that the media would talk about?

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#47 Brad 21
April 29 2014, 09:22AM
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You guys have it all wrong. Katz's kid is calling all the shots 6 rings just passes down the orders. The most embarrassing part is that as hard as Garth Snow has tried to destroy the Islanders they still finished higher then us in the standings and John Tavares was injured for most of the season. Now that's embarrassing.

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#49 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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#50 Ambassador humantorch
April 29 2014, 01:09AM
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I truly believe that next year will be much more hopeful and promising than the past year

... said every Oilers fan every year for the last decade.

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