FOK: He who signs the cheques makes the rules

mike-and-hilary

As much of a surprise as all this talk about the Edmonton Oilers having an interest in Mike Comrie should be, it isn’t if you allow for the likelihood that owner Daryl Katz has been influencing decisions on the hockey operations side of the business since he took ownership of the team.

That the Oilers are even remotely considering signing Comrie, a UFA, just six seasons after a bitter split with the team and a falling out with then-GM Kevin Lowe, tells me Katz has his fingerprints all over this one.

Katz and Bill Comrie, Mike’s dad, are friends. There’s a relationship and a loyalty at play here, and every intuitive bone in my body leads me to believe that relationship trumps anything that has happened in the past and is what’s driving the possibility Comrie could return. Katz signs the cheques. Katz makes the rules. Katz wants Comrie.

It doesn’t take a vast intellect to conclude Katz’s desire to at least take a look at Comrie has been made clear to Lowe, now the president of hockey operations, and GM Steve Tambellini. I’m guessing neither one of them has said, “Forget it, boss. Leave the hockey decisions to us.”

If you look at some of the decisions made since Katz took ownership of the team, it’s reasonable to conclude there’s every possibility the FOK Era — Friends Of Katz — might set a new standard for favours and nepotism by a franchise that has a history of both.

Not that that’s necessarily, ahem, a bad thing…

Who calls the shots?

This interest in a do-over with Comrie as the hometown-boy-made-good, despite what happened in 2003 and despite the obvious fact the last thing the Oilers need right now is another small forward on the roster, doesn’t add up — I listed them here at ON Aug 19 — if you take Katz out of the mix.

The way things went down with Comrie and agent Ritch Winter back then, notably Lowe’s 11th hour request for $2.5 million that queered a trade with the Anaheim Ducks, Mike couldn’t get out of town fast enough. And Oilers fans, almost in unison, said “Good riddance. Get lost. Bugger off.”

Now, I don’t know if Comrie has as much interest in the Oilers as they have in him because I haven’t asked him and Winter isn’t saying, offering only a “No comment” when I spoke with him briefly on Thursday.

Maybe they’re just playing footsy with Katz and the idea until a better offer comes along. Then again, maybe Comrie, because of the relationship between his family and Katz, really is willing to wipe the slate clean and play here. I’d be lying if I told you I knew.

The way I see it

From where I sit, there’s already been a handful of hockey operations decisions orchestrated or influenced by Katz.

— I think the decision to take Lowe out of the spotlight and the daily firing line, while keeping him on the company payroll by making him president of operations, was done, at least in part, as a favour to a friend.

— I think that Kelly Buchberger, who has a summer home not far from Katz on a lake outside Edmonton, was promoted to Craig MacTavish’s coaching staff, and later survived the purge of MacTavish, Charlie Huddy and Billy Moores, as a favour to a friend.

Of course, the fact MacTavish and the Oilers parted ways might seem to fly in the face of that logic, seeing as MacT and Katz are tight, but I don’t think MacTavish would’ve been shown the door had he voiced any real desire to stay on. Even at the time of the announcement MacTavish was finished here, there was the perception this was a resignation framed as a firing.

— Then, there was the Oilers offering Georges Laraque a four-year contract worth $6 million last summer. This, just a few seasons removed from having MacTavish essentially run Laraque out of town. Laraque and Katz, who works out at a gym partially owned by Big Georges, are friends.

Now, Comrie.

From a PR point of view, there could be some mileage in welcoming Comrie back. A do-over might soften the memory of the hard-line Lowe took with Comrie the first time around. See, Mike’s back. Edmonton is player-friendly.

How it plays out

Given the stated need by Tambellini at the end of last season to make the roster grittier and tougher to play against, I can’t see, from a hockey-ops point of view, how he or Lowe could possibly be on board with a move to add Comrie to the mix. I’d love to jab both of them in the butt with a syringe of truth serum right now.

How does adding Comrie, even at a reasonable salary of, say, $1.5 million, and putting aside his diminishing points totals in recent seasons, address the needs of a roster that includes Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson and Patrick O’Sullivan and has missed the playoffs in three straight seasons?

It doesn’t. But FOK trumps that. If the boss is the one who is pulling the strings, if the guy who signs the cheques is driving the bus, then this isn’t a hockey decision, it’s just another favour to a friend.

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

  • Robin Brownlee wrote:

    I agree Mike isn’t what the Oilers need and I’ve made that abundantly clear. But that doesn’t change the fact there’s interest on both sides on this one. If Matty is using who I think he’s using, and it’s the same guy who told me years ago the Oilers had absolutely NO interest in bringing Bill Ranford back when that’s exactly what was happening, then his “guy” is as out of the loop now as he was then. Doesn’t mean this will come off, but it’s damn sure on the table.

    That's funny because I've been talking about this for the past couple of days, and my thoughts on Matheson's source were that he isn't using factual information to say that this rumor does not have legs. I think he's using logic here by simply stating that it doesn't make sense that the Oil pick him up (and really it doesn't). But like you, I do see that maybe Katz is getting a bit involved in matters normally saved for a General Manager.

    I think there's substantial reason to think this could happen, whether or not it should happen. And well, it's too bad if it does. That $1.3M sure would have looked a lot better if it were spent on… ohhh, I won't got there again.

  • Robin Brownlee

    I don't dismiss anything Matty says because he's been around this team twice as long as I have and he's not often wrong. That said, you can get vastly different stories from people within the same organization. If you or anybody else is thinking, "Yeah, sure," I'll give you an example.

    A fews seasons back when the Oilers were looking for a puck-moving defenceman and Matty and I were both on the sniff trying to find out who it was, we got different stories.
    I kept hearing one name and Matty kept hearing another, which always makes me nervous. This went on for about three weeks and we both had a lot of fun razzing the other guy about who was right as we kept dropping the names of our guys in the paper.
    January comes around and we're in Los Angeles. We get the heads-up from the PR guy that the Oilers have a trade to announce. It's Dick Tarnstrom, which is the guy Matty had all along. Now I'm crazy mad, thinking my source is a brainless tool. Matty just smiles. "I told you," he said.
    About 45 minutes later, the team announces another trade. It's Jaroslav Spacek, who was my guy all along. We both looked at each other, like, WTF? Same team, two sources, both of us right. True story.

  • Shifty203

    Racki wrote:

    Robin Brownlee wrote:
    I agree Mike isn’t what the Oilers need and I’ve made that abundantly clear. But that doesn’t change the fact there’s interest on both sides on this one. If Matty is using who I think he’s using, and it’s the same guy who told me years ago the Oilers had absolutely NO interest in bringing Bill Ranford back when that’s exactly what was happening, then his “guy” is as out of the loop now as he was then. Doesn’t mean this will come off, but it’s damn sure on the table.

    That’s funny because I’ve been talking about this for the past couple of days, and my thoughts on Matheson’s source were that he isn’t using factual information to say that this rumor does not have legs. I think he’s using logic here by simply stating that it doesn’t make sense that the Oil pick him up (and really it doesn’t). But like you, I do see that maybe Katz is getting a bit involved in matters normally saved for a General Manager.
    I think there’s substantial reason to think this could happen, whether or not it should happen. And well, it’s too bad if it does. That $1.3M sure would have looked a lot better if it were spent on… ohhh, I won’t got there again.

    Matheson does have a quote, however, the quote says ain't twice. Now I don't know the managers personally, but they usually sound like well spoken people. If the source uses the word ain't, I am led to believe his source is a stoner stick boy.

  • Joey Moss wrote:

    @ Shifty203:
    or perhaps a certain brain damaged assistant coach?

    I'm going with the guy who used to dance to Cotton Eye Joe. You gotta think he's moved into scouting by now… Yeah, that's Matty's source. Yeah.

  • Robin Brownlee

    MattL wrote:

    Joey Moss wrote:
    @ Shifty203:
    or perhaps a certain brain damaged assistant coach?
    I’m going with the guy who used to dance to Cotton Eye Joe. You gotta think he’s moved into scouting by now… Yeah, that’s Matty’s source. Yeah.

    Let's not get goofy here. Matty's not the type to use weak sources. He doesn't get info from a friend of a friend of the guy who used to wash Igor Ulanov's caddy at Bubbles.
    On this one, though, his source either isn't in on the Comrie talks or isn't telling him the truth.

  • Librarian Mike

    Robin Brownlee wrote:

    On this one, though, his source either isn’t in on the Comrie talks or isn’t telling him the truth.

    …not in on the Comrie talks…Aha, so it's Tambellini then?

  • @ Robin Brownlee:

    I was kidding, I'd never knock Matty. Dude is a Hall of Famer. I grew up with both Jim Matheson and Cam Cole in the same local paper. One of the best hockey analysts, and one of the best all-time sports writers.

    But seriously, which one of the Oilers' upper management uses "ain't" with any kind of regularity? "Ain't" is more of a Calgary thing, ain't it?

  • KenL

    humantorch wrote:

    KenL wrote:

    Surely he can speak up and remind Katz the former ownership group never interfered with Lowe during his watch and they got to game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.

    Really? You don’t think there was ANY pressure from the ownership group to land a big-ticket UFA (Souray) and burn draft picks on an RFA offer sheet (Penner) when the smart move would have been to rebuild and stockpile picks?

    Actually I don't. That was all Lowe baby.

    And for clarification, I don't have any issues with Bob Stauffer being the Oilers color man, nor how he got the job. As Brownlee pointed out, Bobby paid his dues a million times over to get to where he is. And he would be an excellent replacement if and/when Rod Phillips retires.

    What I was saying is that Bobby's talents are wasted in his new position. He was the only honest sports talk show host willing to call it like it is, and own up to his mistakes when he was wrong.

    Unlike his replacement, who seems more interested in talking to guests than callers, I find no joy in listening to the Team 1260's drive home show anymore. Gregor lacks Bobby's encyclopedia mind, humor, and humility that allowed him to be a fan favorite.

    Katz might had thought he was doing Bobby a favor, but it's the listening public that lost. I think the Team's recent ratings and make over is reflective of this.