YOU DIDN’T HEAR IT FROM ME, BUT . . .

stauffer1

He who has the best sources wins.

That’s a good rule of thumb in the journalism biz, because as anybody who keeps score knows — I’ve never met a reporter worth a damn who doesn’t keep a running tally — that person breaks the most stories. And, with newspapers dying on the vine because they can’t or won’t keep up with new media that caters to the give-it-to-me-now demands of consumers of information, delivering the goods first is even more important, and harder to do, now.

I’m not surprised, then, there’s much consternation among members of the mainstream media in town since Edmonton Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz sent a text message to 630 CHED radio analyst Bob Stauffer that read: “MacT is not going anywhere.”

When it comes to the Oilers, Stauffer, who abdicated his role as this city’s most outspoken critic as primetime drive show host of Total Sports on TEAM 1260 to become a company man with the rightsholder station, is the most connected guy in town. It’s not close. Stauffer has a hotline wired (and wireless) into the owner’s suite, and there’s no source more reliable when it comes to what’s what than Katz, the guy who signs the cheques.

Judging by what I read when the dailies hit the doorsteps Friday morning, that’s rubbed some of the ink-stained and the TV talking heads — they get most of their information from the morning papers — the wrong way. They can’t get near Katz, but Stauffer, bombastic pisser and moaner-turned fartcatcher, gets a text from the top and delivers the news.

That, clearly, hit a nerve. And it should.

IN THE KNOW

Granted, anybody taking issue with the message MacTavish isn’t going anywhere have cause to wonder why, given how the Oilers have failed to live up to advanced billing. I don’t believe it for a second, but taking issue with the message Katz thumb-typed is fair enough.

As for much of the moaning about how the message was delivered, or suggestions president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe and GM Steve Tambellini have been reduced to puppets, well, that’s dubious. The boss always works the strings, whether they’re visible or not.

I put much of what I read down to envy and simple gravity — as in the downhill flow of dung when sports editors and directors want to know why their aces aren’t raking in their share of the juicy, breaking stuff. And, when it’s been as much of a shutout as it’s been since Stauffer was tormenting MacTavish with daily rants on TEAM 1260, sour pusses abound.

Those who were calling out Katz a year ago, wondering if he was a big hat with no cattle and giving the thumbs down to the likelihood he’d ever wrestle the Oilers from the EIG, can’t get near him now. They’re damn upset about it because the people have a right to know.

THE INSIDE TRACK

Katz has trusted Stauffer for a couple of years, long before he was recruited as the sidekick to Rod Phillips. More than once, Stauffer and I would be on the air at TEAM 1260 and Bob would be doing his obligatory hatchet job on MacTavish when his Blackberry would start vibrating.

“Got to take this,” Stauffer would tell me, so I’d ramble on and stretch whatever point it was I was making while he took the call or read the text. It was, at least a half-dozen times I can remember, Katz on the other end of the line.

Of course, Bob being Bob, he couldn’t resist dropping hints from time to time down at the rink he knew what was what and had it from a good source. A lot of people in our business thought Stauffer was full of crap and wrote it off as bragging and BS.

Often, when Stauffer would go with something on the air without attributing information, listeners dismissed it as wishful thinking, speculation or more bombast. E-mails began, “You’re an idiot . . .” I didn’t need to guess some people toting notepads and cameras at Rexall Place felt the same way.

RULES OF THE GAME

By the time it started to sink in along media row Stauffer wasn’t talking through his ass, he was being courted by Katz and the Oilers to jump ship and join 630 CHED.

Of course, grudging acknowledgment Stauffer was tied into Katz didn’t come without grousing he wasn’t doing his job as a journalist — is any radio drive show host a journalist? — in his final months at TEAM 1260 because he sat on information and didn’t go with everything he knew. It was buddy-buddy stuff, some sniffed. He was too close to Katz. Stauffer wasn’t in-the-know because he’d worked a source. He was getting the goods because he’d kissed backside and done favours by not revealing the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Let’s tell it straight here. If there’s a reporter who hasn’t protected a source by holding back information, by sitting on a story until the time is right or fibbed along the way, they don’t have sources. If a source tells you, “I saw this Friday night in Chicago, but I was coming out of a ripper joint, and if you mention that my wife will kill me, so leave it out,” is there even a question? “Sorry, Joe, that wouldn’t be telling the whole truth, so . . .” Gimme a break.

Do you have any idea how many times I wrote something along the lines of, “When contacted by this reporter, Mr. X refused comment” when it was Mr. X who gave me the drop in the first place? Stauffer worked the angles all reporters do, or should, to develop a pipeline of information. He just landed a bigger fish than most of us manage to get our hooks into. Stauffer got inside, and he did it long before he took the hush money to join 630 CHED.

Those who’d rather wait for press releases to get the goods, those who don’t have a hope of ever sitting down face-to-face with Katz, might not want to admit that, but it’s nonetheless true. All I know is before I left the Oilers beat in 2007, I knew who my competition was. With Dan Barnes writing columns and Jim Matheson focusing on the NHL with his popular Hockey World at The Journal, the guys I had to worry about on the beat were Stauffer and Ryan Rishaug of TSN.

And I always kept score.

DOWN THE ROAD

As for MacTavish’s future with the Oilers, I’ve got nothing that hasn’t already been written. I suspect Katz’s text was sent with the sole intention of muting what he saw as a distraction with all the speculation about MacT.

When the season is done, MacTavish and the rest of the coaching staff will be evaluated. If the Oilers miss the playoffs, and they will, then don’t be a bit surprised if MacTavish resigns, but stays with the organization. Katz, Lowe and Tambellini will not stand pat. As for details, you’ll know when I do, assuming I can learn this thumb-typing thing.

— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.

  • Robin Brownlee

    Bad Seed wrote:

    @ abdullah the Butcher:
    Yes, we all miss Bob & his self congratulatory tone. Sure he was hard on MacT but I can’t remember him ever going at Kevin Lowe – that guy really deserves a roasting for his dubious moves.
    Gregor’s passable as a successor to Bum Stuffer but at least he’s come down on Lowe from time to time. I don’t remember Bob ever doing it.
    Robin, what’s up with that? Is every media guy in town afraid of Kevin Lowe? Will they be run out of town for criticizing him?

    You're being a bit selective with your memory because Bob did criticize Lowe, although not nearly to the extent with MacTavish.
    I had my moments with Lowe as well, mainly because it drove him nuts when I'd write something I wasn't supposed to know about and that would get him going — we always wanted my sourcc. He didn't much care for me siding with Comrie and Ritch Winter, either, during Mike's last days here, or when I wrote he's at least considered trading Jason Smith etc
    I can't speak for anybody else, but I think this tag about media guys being scared of Lowe is a bit dubious — some people in this town don't ask tough questions of anybody, Lowe included.

  • nickxero

    Great post, Brownlee. Too few people know, let alone question, how media dynamics work in general, let alone in a passionate sports market. Your J-school ethics hypotheticals take me back!

  • Bad Seed

    @ Robin Brownlee:
    I listened to Bob's show most everyday at work & on the drive home & I could count the number of times he criticized Lowe on one hand & still have a few fingers left.
    Here's another thing – they're always talking about players getting a rough ride in this town & ask you – from who? It certainly isn't any media here & I don't think the fans are worse than anywhere else that cares about hockey. When has Lowe ever been questioned about his questionable trades? You'd swear that most of the media worked for the Oiler's rights holder!
    Not to sound like a bootlick but I do enjoy your writing, RB, & I think you do go where others do not. Barnes does occasionally but pulls his foot off the pedal.
    Do you think this team would get away with what they do in Montreal with their media?

  • Librarian Mike

    Bad Seed wrote:

    Do you think this team would get away with what they do in Montreal with their media?

    Based on this season, our team has nothing on the Habs when it comes to drama and sketchiness.

  • swany

    RB did you hear about that PLANED fire Mact rally for 4:00 pm today, that's friggen bush league. No matter how much we want change this is embarasing to say the least. I hope Katz hires a bunch of leg brakers and sends some of the stupidest hockey fans back to the basements, you can't tell me that the players arn't watching this or that UFA's the team wants won't see this it's bad for everything the team wants to do. Get it though your heads people this won't help the Oilers get better, but it might make some players ask to get out of here ie Hemmer.

  • OilDude

    As always Robin,great read and excellent comments from people.In my opinion this team has not been built the right way where's the grit,the toughness,the size.
    Coming out of the lock out with the rule changes and being able to compete with other teams I think KLOWE and his people bought into this crap about smaller skilled forwards and defense were going to make big tough players go the way of the dinosaurs.Well to me it seems this is not the case when you look at teams like Chicago,Columbus,Philly etc. they have a good mix but they also have size and toughness.
    What have the Oilers got, 5 of 6 top forwards all under 6 feet and less than 200 lbs unless Penner is up there but he plays like he's 5' 10" and weights a buck seventy.Where is the Oilers large centre who can dominate down low and handle monster sized defense,they don't have one.The Oilers only have 1 d-man that plays with edge and would break his stick off in someone's ass if he could get away with it and that's Souray,I'm not counting Peckham because he's only played a few games.
    Until this team addresses some of these issues it doesn't matter about the coach or the owner, its about drafting and looking for the players with size and skill who are willing to play with an edge that are going to win you hockey games with a good mixture of smaller skilled guys,but until the Oilers change their outlook on the players they want nothing will change and they will always be 8th to 12th in the standings.
    Sorry if its a little off topic and long winded but I needed to vent.

  • deepoil

    @ ultimateoiler:

    Bob has been Dk's guy all the time….. it has been reported in media circles that Rappin Rodney did not appreciate Morley Scott talking behind his back and was given a two year holiday with pay (chop chop) ….. based on listening to Phillips this year – with most respect I think has lost a step wtih identfication and visual, he is always self correcting himself……. I would like to see Stauffer and karius provide radio play by play and color…… gear down for a younger audience noting the new demo were not even born when the last cup were raised – 18 – 24…..

  • Robin Brownlee

    @ OilDude:
    Good points.
    There's no way this team jumps from nintn or 10th in the standings this season to third or fourth next season if the only moves that are made involve the coaching staff. You've identified several of the shortcomings, most of which have been written about here in the past.

    — To many smallish forwards who are much the same in skill set. How different are O'Sullivan, Nilsson, Cogliano and Gagner.
    — Lack of a nasty shutdown guy who can play minutes in the 3-4 slot. Peckham might become that guy, but not next season.
    — Need an offensive centre with some size. All the size up front on this team, aside from Penner, is with the grinders.

  • Peter Pan

    I like the group of journalists/media we've got here in Edmonton. Terry Jones, except for his love affair with curling, is a great read and usually doesn't hesitate expressing his true thoughts. Tychowski (sp.) is also an entertaining writer, but only over the past couple of years. He's more critical than he used to be. Brownlee is an allstar in terms of getting the scoop early, asking tough questions, and relating to readers better than any other. Barnes is solid, as is Spector, Matheson, Rishaug, Gregor, Stauffer. Joanne Ireland is too blah. Van Diest (sp.) is too factual; lacks opinion and insight. But the worst media guys in town have got to be Principe and Tencer. What pussies! I realize they are basically employees of the Oilers and need to be careful of what they say, but do they have to act like they have a boner during each interview?

  • OilDude

    Robin,listening to you and Gregor the other day about concerts,I agree Blue Oyster Cult was great and some others are The Moody Blues,SuperTramp and I saw AC/DC open for Areosmith in Winnipeg…….. I want to say sometime early eighties I'm thinking. that's when Areosmith was in there heyday of drug abuse and they kinda sucked but AC/DC was awesome

  • Robin Brownlee

    Peter Pan wrote:

    But the worst media guys in town have got to be Principe and Tencer. What pussies! I realize they are basically employees of the Oilers and need to be careful of what they say, but do they have to act like they have a boner during each interview?

    They don't sell themsleves as objective observers. They are part of a production that's intended to package and sell a product.
    Now, if you get Jonesy looking like he's sporting wood when he interviews MacT, well, that's a different story. And a horrible visual, to boot.

  • Harlie

    Robin – do you think Bob is in a bit of hot water from Katz and his text was a bit of an attempt to muzzle him plus grab MacT's back all at the same time? This is what I think and I posted that last night and your column today kinda helps my argument but you don't go into where Stauffer actually stands with Katz now. Can you enlighten? Or maybe i should just listen to today's pregame show and hear if the muzzle is still on.

  • Harlie

    @ Bad Seed:

    One memorable time Bob was roasting KLowe hard and saying that he had him in the next segment. I thought ok here it comes. The good sh!t will come out. But when Lowe did come on Bob's tone totally changed and he lobbed him softballs continuously. Actually I do remember that day now it was when the Team was at the Stollery and KLowe was down there as well. Obviously the scene wasn't right for a head to head but seriously Stauffer was starting to go off getting all excited and then as soon as Kevin was sitting in the chair next to him he totally simmered down. I distinclty remember thinking to myself "wow os he going to go off on KLowe face to face!? But then the change happened and I remember being disappointed." At the same time I ain't no dummie andI probably would have done the same but you got to wonder how much of Bob's shtick was his ability to rant? Or as Brownlee better described him " Stauffer, bombastic pisser and moaner-turned fartcatcherr" 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Dan

    @ Robin Brownlee:

    I know its a longshot, but might a player like, say Nathan Horton be available out of Florida?

    I'd be sniffing around there hard if there was even an inkling of an idea that he would be moved.

    This team could sorely use an Owen Nolan type, a 2nd line gritty vet type.

  • Tyler

    @Dennis: I'd be interested to know how pissed some of those guys were by Lowe basically implying that their job is to print what the Oilers tell them to print. That whole presser, Lowe was basically saying "Why are you guys reporting on the negatives instead of focusing on the positive stuff like the (imaginary) playoff run?"

    If I was a member of the local press corps, even if I was generally docile, that might buy the local team a few days of bad press just so they worried little bit that they might not own me.

    BTW – check out Jonesy's video hit on the Sun site. Fantastic stuff. "Oh hello there – I'm just drinking alone in my basement." It's like a grotesque Mr. Rogers Neighorhood.

    Also: Jones picks up the "Horcoff got that deal because he's Katz' buddy line. References the $7MM too. I'd call him and Spector intellectually dishonest but, having read their writing about the business of hockey before, I think that they're just dumb.

  • Robin Brownlee

    Harlie wrote:

    Robin – do you think Bob is in a bit of hot water from Katz and his text was a bit of an attempt to muzzle him plus grab MacT’s back all at the same time? This is what I think and I posted that last night and your column today kinda helps my argument but you don’t go into where Stauffer actually stands with Katz now. Can you enlighten? Or maybe i should just listen to today’s pregame show and hear if the muzzle is still on.

    No, Bob's not in any hot water with Katz. His text wasn't an attempt to muzzle Bob because he wasn't at the front of the FMNF parade — how could he be as an employee of the team?