Bygones: Comrie comes home

comrie-and-duff

To say I never saw a return to the Edmonton Oilers by Mike Comrie coming is to understate in the extreme — one need only read what I wrote Aug. 19 to see how out to lunch I was on the possibility.

Remember? It was such a ridiculous notion, and for so many reasons, that I wasn’t even going to ask MC about it. It made no sense. Too many bad feelings his first time around, when he could have and should have been the hometown hero but turned his back on the Oilers.

And then there was the fit, or lack of same, given the make-up of the roster as it sits going into training camp. And blah, blah, blah . . . At least one of the local dailies agreed, quoting a team source giving a Comrie encore the thumbs down.

Well, as it stands right now, after a 15-minute, face-to-face conversation I had with Comrie this afternoon, I’ve got to tell you we’d all better get used to the idea of seeing MC in Oilers silks again.

While I’m told there’s no deal done as of now and that there’s at least one other option for Comrie — I believe it’s the Atlanta Thrashers — I’d be willing to wager MC will be an Oiler by noon Friday.

In what stands as a classic case of letting bygones be bygones, Comrie and the Oilers have settled their differences to the point where I believe the ink is a formality and the unlikeliest of do-overs will begin when Comrie reports for training camp physicals Saturday.

I think I’ve got it right this time.

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

If you remember the split between Comrie and the Oilers in 2003, a nasty bit of business that included searing ill-will between Comrie, agent Ritch Winter and then-GM Kevin Lowe, then your reaction to the possibility was likely much the same as mine was Aug. 19.

Like, WTF? How is this even possible? What part of the first time didn’t everybody understand? What’s changed since then? Why would Comrie even entertain returning to a city that’s a hockey fishbowl, a city full of avid fans still pissed that he took a stack of bonus money and blew town by forcing a trade to Philadelphia?

In light of the conversation I had with Comrie, plus others in the last week with various people, I’d like to think I’ve got some insight as to what’s at play here and what’s changed since I was so wrong three weeks ago. So, let’s take a swing at figuring out how and why things have turned 180 degrees since MC waved goodbye six years ago.

BURYING THE HATCHET

First and foremost, the two prime players, Comrie and Lowe, have done some maturing in the six years that have passed.

My sense is that having stepped back from things by moving from GM to president of hockey operations, and with the passage of time, Lowe has grown enough to let go of the bitterness that was obvious in 2003.

Lowe’s as passionate a man as you’ll ever meet, and he took it as a slight to himself and the organization when Comrie started making noise about being unhappy in Edmonton. The reasons why didn’t matter. Lowe played hard-ass, hard-ball back then — a no-holds barred game that included the request Comrie buy his way out of Edmonton with $2.5 million that would get him a ticket to Anaheim. That game is over now. It’s taken six years, but the grudge, and it was a dandy, is gone.

I think it’s safe to say Comrie, who was 22 when the split took place, sees things much differently now as well.

Paint Comrie as a spoiled athlete with a sense of entitlement if you will, but I believe his inability to cope with the pressure of playing in his hometown had as much to do with the simple fact he needed time and space to grow up as anything else. Who doesn’t? The difference is most of us don’t have to do it in the spotlight he was so uncomfortable in.

As is the case with Lowe, the past six years have provided Comrie some perspective. He’s days away from his 29th birthday now. That’s not a free pass. At least I think not.

While Comrie angered fans by never stating specific reasons why he wanted out in 2003, he’s been quite forthright recently as the days have ticked by and camp has approached. He could’ve and should’ve handled some things differently. He’s plead guilty to that.

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT

— As unpopular as Comrie is with some fans, he was well-liked in the dressing room. Everybody remaining from when he last played here — Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Ethan Moreau, Steve Staios and Fernando Pisani — has voiced support privately, and to team management, about a possible return. If Hemsky and Horcoff et al, say they want Comrie back, it’s probably prudent that management listen.

— Owner Daryl Katz wants this to happen.

And, before you trot out the “meddling owner” routine, it’s not altogether unusual for owners to make their wishes known. Many around the NHL do, it’s simply matter of degree — from subtle to all-out arm-twisting.

— Katz and Mike’s dad, Bill, are good friends and I suspect that’s at play here, as well. I think it’s a shame — not to be confused with a hockey decision — Bill Comrie, who has given millions of dollars to charitable causes in this city and been a model citizen, felt compelled to leave town over the level of hostility he felt during the split in 2003.

This is a better city with Bill Comrie in it.

SECOND CHANCES

I don’t know if Comrie’s best years are ahead of him or behind him, but I do know the Oilers aren’t exactly burdened with players who have scored 30 goals in the NHL.

Small players? Yes. Thirty-goal guys? No. I’m still having trouble getting my head around how Pat Quinn is going to fit all these little guys into a line-up that was supposed to get grittier and tougher.

Maybe Comrie on left wing with Horcoff and Hemsky is a start. Maybe Robert Nilsson gets moved. The fit, as I wrote Aug. 19, is something I still don’t necessarily see even if Comrie can bounce back from a bad hip.

My guess, even knowing what we know, is that all Comrie has to do to make good on a second chance is, well, be the Mike Comrie on the ice fans here used to cheer for. It’ll be a rough ride at first, and that’s to be expected, but if he performs, if he delivers the goods, maybe there’s a chance for him to have this town by the tail again.

If Comrie and Lowe can set aside their differences, get around what was and focus on what might be, maybe fans should do likewise and give it a chance.

Pulling it off would be one helluva story, no?

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

  • Matthew Hanson

    @ Matthew Hanson:
    @ Matthew Hanson:
    The reason why is that we already have too many small of players on our team, and how does this honestly help our PK.(which a lot of people are talking about anyways) Plus what happens if Mike Comrie actually does suck this season, from Heatley to Comrie, that is just sad my friends.

  • The Menace

    @ scorecoff hemmercules:
    I'm with you. Mike's going to play his a$$ off this year to earn a contract for next year. He doesn't want to go through another off season with no one knocking on his door. I like this signing, I just wonder where everyone's going to go.

  • Ender the Dragon

    dyckster wrote:

    This may have been discussed before, but does anyone think Quinn/Renney had any input with respect to this signing?

    The only hope I still cling to is that they didn't (Tambo either) and they're mad as hell. That's the only thing I have left . . .

    Oh, who am I kidding. This is one small step sideways for man, one giant leap sideways for Oilerkind. We ain't worse; we just ain't better, either.

  • kingsblade

    Ender the Dragon wrote:

    @ kingsblade:
    If you’re talking about rolling 2 scoring lines, a checking line, and a goon/energy line, that’s pretty much every team in the NHL. Why all the detail on what kind of minutes? Why not just write:
    Penner – Gagner – Hemsky
    Cogliano – Comrie – Nilsson
    O’Sullivan – Horcoff – Pisani
    Moreau – Pouliot – Brule – Jacques – Stortini
    Done.

    If you actually read the post you might have caught the part where I suggest that the Horcoff line is NOT a checking line.

    If the most constructive comment you have stems from ignoring an important part of my post and making an inapplicable asinine comment then please don't bother.

    Done.

  • Tull

    Brownstreak,

    As much as I love giving you the gears – and I do love it – I have to give credit where it is due.

    You called it early, you kept with the story, and you broke it. You might not care about earning respect, but you got it from me now.

    I just don't understand what this move accomplishes. It doesn't allow the younger guys to develop, it doesn't push you over the top to a playoff team, and it doesn't address Tambellini's claim to get tougher and grittier. I don't see the logic.

  • The Menace

    ronaldo wrote:

    Matthew Hanson wrote:
    @ Matthew Hanson:
    @ Matthew Hanson:
    How many of you are there????

    I think he's the little one that plays the drums on Mmmbop.

  • Ender the Dragon

    @ kingsblade:
    I'm not trying to be an asshat; I just don't understand what you're proposing. You say you'd run the Horcoff line 'in any and all situations' but then go on to say that you'd run your two scoring lines 'against weaker minutes whenever possible', with Comrie's line playing 'the easiest minutes available'. When I suggested that sounded like you'd be looking at who was out there, determining the strength of the opposition, and then putting out the appropriate line (ie. line-matching), you said that it wasn't.

    Again, I'm not interested in picking a fight or sparring; you asked for comments and feedback. I just need to understand how you propose Quinn distribute 60 minutes between these four lines.

  • Mr. Hawk E

    If Mike Comrie doesn't work out, why don't we hire a couple of guys from the Stars on Ice,

    Oh yes and to my Buddy The Menace, I just want to tell you in all honesty I never met you but damn you seem sexy to me!!!! Hey want a cherry.

  • RossCreek

    Mr. Hawk E wrote:

    Oh yes and to my Buddy The Menace, I just want to tell you in all honesty I never met you but damn you seem sexy to me!!!! Hey want a cherry.

    Ummm….. what kind of sight is this?
    *checks to see if mom is reading over your shoulder*

  • kingsblade

    Ender the Dragon wrote:

    When I suggested that sounded like you’d be looking at who was out there, determining the strength of the opposition, and then putting out the appropriate line (ie. line-matching), you said that it wasn’t.

    You suggested no such thing. You suggested that my post required "extreme" line matching. I responded that it did not require extreme line matching, and reasoned further that it did not, because the important element of the matching merely required using the Horcoff line in tough minutes.

    Please tell me where I denied line matching? I explicitly encouraged line matching while denying my suggestion to be an extreme example.

    We have quotes from Quinn which suggest he is willing to match lines if necessary. There is plenty of reason to believe that he would be very much in favor of having a similar line to rely on when necessary.

  • Butch

    jeff wrote:

    @ Butch:
    In E-Town

    Hey Jeff, I'm a NY'er but bleed the Copper & Blue (even though I want them to go back to the old colors) & I'm also a Rangers fan.

    I'm an adopted Edmontonian & come out there a couple of times a season. I have a lot of great friend out there. And DAMN the Women are hot as hell there! haha

  • The Menace

    Mr. Hawk E wrote:

    Oh yes and to my Buddy The Menace, I just want to tell you in all honesty I never met you but damn you seem sexy to me!!!! Hey want a cherry.

    I'm not sure where this came from, but frankly, I'm not surprised. My only surprise is that it has taken someone this long to state this publiclly.
    *bows modestly

  • Ender the Dragon

    @ kingsblade:
    So we're arguing semantics; fine, I withdraw the word extreme. I don't care that much. It's a fine theory. I just don't see Quinn adopting it as a system is all. Maybe he'll surprise me.

  • kingsblade

    @ Ender the Dragon:
    It isn't really just semantics when the addition of that word entirely changes the implication of you statement. Please don't pretend I am being unreasonable in thinking that the two statements are vastly different.