If what we were looking for was proof that the Edmonton media have teeth, the surest evidence to date was provided in Mark Spector’s column at Sportsnet today.
Unfortunately, the column also seems to confirm that Spector has a personal axe to grind with the team, or more specifically with Daryl Katz. It’s good to remember that it was Spector who quoted an anonymous veteran earlier in the year as saying “first a trade, then maybe the coach” as the solution to the team’s problems; it was also Spector who got Sheldon Souray on record criticizng his coach’s optimistic prediction of a run at the division title this season. Both were good stories, but he went beyond good journalism with his comments today.
Newer, richer and younger, Katz was like a Peter Pocklington with real money.
At least Spector makes no initial pretense that he likes Katz; an immediate comparison to a man more reviled in Edmonton than Chris Pronger is a great way to start. Plus, the man Katz is being compared to is currently bankrupt and is being charged with fraud.
Well, the first full season under Katz is in the books in Oilerville, and some disturbing signs are beginning to emerge. Missing the playoffs is the least of the problems in Edmonton, as signs of a dysfunctional Oakland Raiders-like organization creep to the fore.
Since their last playoff appearance (2002), the Oakland Raiders have gone through 5 different head coaches and put up a combined 24-72 record. By comparison, the Oilers would need to win only 21 games a season for six straight years to match their streak of futility. The majority owner is Al Davis, one of the most controversial owners in any sport; he’s filed multiple lawsuits against the NFL, battled with his fired coaches over the remainder of their contracts (almost to a man they’ve gone on to success elsewhere). 44 years ago Davis was a coach, and by all accounts he pulls the strings from above on his current coaches.
I go into detail here to show how off Spector’s comparison is; there’s a difference between meddling in a team and insisting on total control and to date there’s been nowhere near enough evidence to suggest that Daryl Katz is anywhere near Davis’ level of lunacy.
Moves like signing second-line centres to $7-million deals and backing coaches with cryptic text messages, all from a Howard Hughes-like owner who likes to manage his asset, but leaves others to speak to the fans who sell out his building every night.
As though the Pocklington comparison weren’t enough, Spector moves on to Howard Hughes. The same Howard Hughes who struck and killed a pedestrian with his car, the same Hughes who was a massive financial backer of Donald Nixon – which when discovered led to a political scandal. The financial ties between Hughes and the Nixon family have long been speculated as one of the driving forces behind Watergate.
That probably isn’t what Spector’s getting at though – he’s undoubtedly making reference to Hughes famous reclusiveness later in life, which led to incidents like the one in 1947 where he spent four months exclusively in a film studio, living off of chocolate bars and milk and relieving himself into the empty containers. At this point I think it’s safe to say that these aren’t objective comparisons – Spector has an axe to grind. But let’s skip ahead a little bit in the article.
If a four-year contract extension that averages $6.5 million for Shawn Horcoff — that’s right, Shawn Horcoff — sounds like something cooked up between a player and an owner who also spend time together away from the rink, that’s mighty logical.
It appears that one of my favourite pet peeves about Oilers’ message boards – screwing up contract details – isn’t limited to faceless folks on the internet. You see, Shawn Horcoff never signed a four-year extension averaging 6.5 million a season. He signed a six-year extension averaging 5.5 million a season. And when a respected journalist goes out on a bit of a limb and says that a contract was negotiated not between a player and his G.M., but between a player and the team owner, he damn well better get the details right. Because when he doesn’t it casts doubt on all of his information.
Spector does other things in his column too; he mentions rumours that Katz is far too close with a select group of players, and says that the dressing room is “infested with guys who have lost respect for the coach’s authority.” He calls Horcoff’s and Penner’s deals “two of the ten worst contracts in the NHL” – and while I’m not going to argue that either is an example of good management, that’s hyperbole at it’s finest (off the top of my head the deals given to Brian Rolston, Rick DiPietro, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Wade Redden, Daniel Briere, Ed Jovanovski, Jason Blake and Michael Nylander are ten worse than either Penner’s or Horcoff’s deals).
He may well be right on the factual parts of his article. Unfortunately, I don’t know that I can take him at face value – between the gratuitous shots at Daryl Katz and the obvious factual errors, I just don’t trust everything that Spector’s written today.