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 David S
April 29 2014, 08:38AM
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Wonger wrote:

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

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

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#53 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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#54 S cottV
April 29 2014, 10:54AM
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With Edmonton being one of the most undesireable places for players to naturally want to be here in the first place, the pressure on the Oilers to be in fact and in turn percieved - as being a first class organization is paramount.

Uncertainties about Katz, Lowe, MacT, Eakins, Buchberger, Smith, scouting, a dismal record, our core players etc etc, and it's hard to believe that a significant turnaround is in the cards - in the near future.

To me - it's Katz that has to step up and lead more effectively. He treats the Oilers like it's some kind of on the side hobby and it needs "eye of the tiger" leadership from the very top on down.

If a poll were taken where NHL players ranked all locations in the order of most desirable places to live - we wouldn't do that well.

If another poll ranked the order of teams by player perceptions of how well run each franchise was - we wouldn't do that well.

Thats a big problem, as it relates to a turnaround.

Katz has to take this more seriously. Either lead it the way it needs to be led or sell the franchise to someone who will.

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#55 David S
April 29 2014, 12:04PM
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Wonger wrote:

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

What the...???

Think I just got hammered by the WONGER Stunner!

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#56 Quicksilver ballet
April 29 2014, 02:23PM
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@Zarny

You can't rebuild through the draft and then mortgage the future to win now. ________________________________________________________________________________

But, but but Zarny. You mentioned you wanted to trade the third overall, just to add 10-12 pts to next yrs point totals. That still lands the Oilers in death valley, being that 24th to 20th range.

Have you now seen the light, my brother?

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#57 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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#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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#59 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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#60 Mustangheart
April 29 2014, 10:10AM
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Jayz wrote:

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

I'm sorry, but I would give them all 10 games to show improvement or it's out the door for the lot of them.

If we wait for 30 games, the season is lost yet once again. Use the Flyers for reference.

It's time for Katz to start identifying candidates who can turn the organization around and I don't care if they have Oiler history. Burke is making "BOLD" moves!

Oiler fans have been patient long enough!!

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#61 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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#62 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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#63 Oiler Al
April 29 2014, 11:15AM
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Without going into a encyclopedia rendition of what has transpired with the Oiler organization in the last half dozen years [welcome Katz], pure and simple the results on the ice speaks volumes on its own. There is nothing else to it.

You can continue to spin the rhetoric nine different ways, it just ends up being more BS piled on top of more BS.

If it looks like, smells like a GongShow it must be a Gong show.

Katz is not the answer..... he is the reason.

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#64 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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#65 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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#66 Johnnydapunk
April 29 2014, 11:45AM
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Maybe it's just a misguided hunch, but I bet they have until the new Arena is built to make something happen, so my expectations are pretty non existant for next season at least.

Another point is that I don't think Katz cares so much as the team has doubled in value and he is making money hand over fist. The on ice performance is irrelevant as long as the "off ice" performance is doing well.

It sucks to be an Oil fan .....

(And I hope no one will suggest another team to cheer for as I have tried, and I just can't. It's not the same feeling )

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#67 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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#68 Al Low
April 29 2014, 12:01PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Where in this item does it say low should be fired immediately? Point that out, will you?

The point of the item was and is, is there a broad enough spectrum of opinion and ways of approaching things in this management group?

After eight years out of the playoffs is everybody still nodding in agreement that things are just fine and plans are unfolding as they should?

The last sentence about how everybody is nodding in agreement that things are going as planned is the most infuriarating part about this group and the reason why Oiler fans like myself feel hopeless about the future of this team.

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#69 smiliegirl15
April 29 2014, 01:06PM
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I wonder if Lowe regrets his 6 ring comment?

The fact that Lowe and MacT are such long history friends would be an advantage here. MacT has never been one to roll over so I think he wouldn't be scared, for wont of a better word, to take on Lowe. I think there would be less group think now than with Tambellini, who never had an original thought in his life. You would hope, that with all this familiarity with each other, there would be better discussion because these guys aren't yes men. I certainly don't imagine MacT as anyone's yes man.

Eakins, on the other hand, isn't going anywhere because I believe he is a yes man. I hope he proves me wrong with some new assistant coaches. I won't hold my breath.

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#70 Jackson
April 29 2014, 09:57AM
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This is all you need to know about Kevin Lowe

http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2014/04/24/the-second-least-efficient-team-in-all-north-american-team-sports-here-come-the-oilers/

"This just in from Bloomberg Businessweek, their efficiency rating on which pro sports team do the best at turning dollars spent on salary into wins and championships.

The worst team on the list of 122 NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB teams? The Chicago Cubs.

The Second worst team? The Edmonton Oilers."

Good thing the time span was 5 years if not Oilers would be Last.

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#71 Neil
April 29 2014, 10:01AM
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You can't have one of the worst run team in all of sports without having major problems. How could anyone defend this team

If Oilers were in another city , they would be bankrupt by now.

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#72 Derian Hatcher
April 29 2014, 11:19AM
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When Mac T was hired, this gem of a quesiton was asked by John MacKinnon of the EJ:

“When you talked about Steve coming in under difficult circumstances when he took over the job, part of that, with respect, was he had to clean up the mess that was left already. This group was largely responsible for that mess. How are fans going to be re-assured that the group that left the mess that Tambellini couldn’t quite clean up is now going to be cleaned up by the guys who left the mess to begin with?”

Both MacT and Lowe responded to this question...I won't bore you with the details or Lowe's hissy fit...but does MacKinnon's question still not apply today?

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#73 backup bob
April 29 2014, 01:42PM
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MGT is doing an awesome job. The coach is great. The team is consistent. All is well in Oiler land, with happy thoughts.

Stop picking on these guys you big meanie.

J.Braun

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#74 Guy Lafleur
April 29 2014, 03:01PM
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Is anybody else worried that the Flames are making all the right moves and dominated us this past season ??

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#75 Kr55
April 29 2014, 05:54PM
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MacT joked a while back that the Oilers management group is still paying for the successful teams of the past because of the fan expectation. I disagree. It's the fans who are paying now for those successful teams of the past. We pay for it by having all these overconfident ex-oilers that are permanently behind the curve compared to the rest of the NHL managing the Oilers franchise.

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#76 Pants
April 29 2014, 06:39PM
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To quote George Patton

"If everyone is thinking the same, someone isn't thinking"

Problem is I think no one is thinking

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