Burke and Lowe: Battle of the Bottom-Feeders

When Brian Burke and Kevin Lowe started in on each other in the summer of 2007, it was a case of two relative hockey heavyweights exchanging verbal haymakers in an over-the-top barrage that filled notepads and polarized fans in Anaheim and Edmonton.

Who’d have guessed then, with Burke and his Ducks coming off a Stanley Cup parade and Lowe’s Oilers one year removed from taking Carolina to Game 7 of the Cup Finals, their spat, since silenced by hall monitor Gary Bettman, would seem more like an NHL version of Bum Fights, a thumb-inside-the-fingers throw down between a couple of weaklings? That’s exactly how it plays today.

Lowe, who started the feud with his $21.25 million offer sheet to Dustin Penner, has since been removed as GM and bounced upstairs as director of hockey operations by friend and owner Daryl Katz. The Oilers are dead-last in the Western Conference as they face Detroit tonight and are looking like locks to miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season.

Burke, of course, has since moved on to Toronto. Burke’s Maple Leafs are again skid marks in the Eastern Conference, sitting in 14th place, as his genius has yet to see the Buds distance themselves from their recurring role as laughing stocks.

Thumbs on the outside, boys.

Fighting Words

A sampling of the verbal hair-pulling and wedgies exchanged by Burke and Lowe down by the bike racks since the Penner offer sheet.

"I will not be announcing whether or not we will match the offer sheet to Dustin Penner. I’m coming back to Anaheim on Sunday and conferring with ownership.

"Kevin Lowe has been in Penticton. I certainly think this could have waited until Monday. I think it was a classless move, timing-wise. I was not notified of this until Dustin Penner’s agent faxed it in. I would have thought Kevin would have notified me. I thought that was gutless.

"I have no problem with offer sheets. They’re part of the CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement]. But in my opinion, Edmonton has offered a mostly inflated salary for a player, and I think it’s an act of desperation for a general manager who is fighting to keep his job."

— Burke, July, 2007

"I just decided that this offer doesn’t make sense. If I believe these salaries don’t make sense and I match, then I’m just as dumb as the team that extended the offer. … We’re going to take the three draft picks and given Kevin’s recent performance, I expect them to be excellent picks.

"My anger isn’t with losing a player, that’s part of the business. I’m annoyed that the offer (dollars) impacts on 30 teams. This is highly inflationary to players in this age group. I’d be shocked if there’s not significant support in that view with my brethren."

— Burke, August 2007

"I’m not in the business of trying to make friends. Never have, never will be … Dustin was on a very short list of players we thought would compliment our hockey club. We see him as a guy who is capable of scoring 20-plus goals and he adds some size to our line-up.

"If Dustin continues to score goals at the clip he has been, at some point in his contract, he’s going to be highly underpaid. That’s a good thing."

— Lowe, August 2007

"If I had run my team into the sewer like that (the Oilers), I wouldn’t have thrown a grenade at the other 29 teams — and my own indirectly."

— Burke, October 2007

"Where do I begin? He’s a moron, first of all. Secondly, he really believes that any news for the NHL is good news. Thirdly, he loves the limelight, and I don’t think anyone in hockey will dispute that. Lastly, he’s in a pathetic hockey market where they can’t get on any page of the newspaper, let alone the front page of the sports, so any of this stuff carries on.

"He’s an underachieving wanna-be in terms of success in the NHL. He won a Stanley Cup? Great. I’ve won six Stanley Cups. You want to count rings? Who cares? It’s just a little pathetic that he carries on."

— Lowe, July 2008

Here and now

Apparently, Burke and Lowe were both right.

The Oilers were unquestionably mediocre with Lowe running the show as GM, despite the eighth-place finish that turned into the unlikely 2006 Cup run. It’s difficult to argue a team sitting in 15th place in the West and pressed up against the salary cap isn’t in the sewer, no?

Lowe, conveniently, has been extracted from the stink he created by being shunted into the background by Katz, who inherited Lowe’s four-year contract extension from the EIG. Katz gave Lowe a soft place to fall and cash his cheques after a dismal 2007-08 season in which the Oilers went 41-35-6 and missed the playoffs for a second straight season.

Cleaning up the mess falls to Steve Tambellini, in his second season of inhaling the methane of deals done by Lowe, who bungled at the contract table after the brains of the front office, assistant GM Scott Howson, was hired by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Lowe, hindsight tells us, was way too heavy on both terms and dollars in contracts he handed out after the summer of 2006. Maybe it was those six Stanley Cup rings weighing down his right hand.

Lowe overpaid Fernando Pisani for eight weeks of great hockey in the 2006 post-season. He tossed stupid money, in both terms and amount, at Shawn Horcoff. He overpaid for Sheldon Souray. All this, we know.

A fine mess

When it comes to the Oilers, Lowe’s heart has always been in the right place. There’s no questioning that. His head, at least in the business end of the job, is another matter.

— Contracts for Pisani, Horcoff and Souray aside, Lowe and former coach Craig MacTavish couldn’t seem to get on the same page in terms of defining how the Oilers would play and the players it would take to get the job done after the summer of 2006. There was a disconnect.

— With distinct challenges in attracting free agents to Edmonton, Lowe was put in the position of having to overpay to compete, and that played into some of his mistakes.

— Lowe was prone to chasing marquee names, like Marian Hossa or Jaromir Jagr. That’s not necessarily a problem, unless it happens at the expense of lesser but necessary priorities — hello, Petr Sykora, Curtis Glencross and Jan Hejda, to name three. Again, all this, we know.

Today, with the Oilers having just 24 points in the standings, Tambellini has a handful of contracts he can’t trade and new coach Pat Quinn has a roster full of players struggling with injuries and, it seems, indifference.

Of course, things aren’t any better in Hogtown, where Burke’s Maple Leafs look like sure bets to hand over a 2010 Entry Draft Lottery pick to Boston. Thanks to Bettman, we’re not hearing much from Burke or Lowe.

Then again, what could either one of them possibly say now?

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

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I have a question we have assistant GM's and such and that is Prendgrast. Now I have a feely he worked on the Minard and Arsene deals, but why couldn't he look at working on those plug signings?

    How hard is it to ask Tambo "who should we go after and what is the max we should give them".

  • HansBaurMesserschmittWatson

    I'll tell you what Burke would say: "I came from a team who won a cup that I built and the team I have now in Toronto is yes, not doing very well, but I am building it well for the future (case in point the trade I made today) and I am also smashing my head against the cap roof.". What can Lowe say? "I overpaid a bunch of players who had one good year or one good playoff, saw the mis-direction it was causing and slowly backed into Pres of Hockey Ops (AKA the bomb shelter) and plucked some poor unsuspecting fool outta the Vancouver organization using my good relationship with this guy to sucker him into this mess so that I could keep the pay cheques coming in with this club bcuz no fool in the right mind would hire me with any other team.". That's what I imagine Burke and Lowe would say now!

      • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

        That's only because they have no need for the room. Toskala and Blake would be with the Marlies tomorrow if they wanted the space, but Burke realizes that putting guys in the minors to have cap room does very little. He rather showcase them and maybe trade them.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Kinda an out there theory. Do we take on Sopel in hopes of building a good relationship with Chicago for when they are willing to move others in the off-season?

    I just wonder even if he ends up sucking if next year we waive him, is it worth the risk?

  • Oilitsinyoutogive

    good read Brownlee but we still have one up on our friends in t-dot, at least we get our draft pick for sucking. I hope Toronto gets the first over-all pick this year.

  • Hemmercules

    I still think Lowe is the puppet master for the most part. Going after Heatly so hard, signing Bulin to a horrible contract, comments like "we want to see what we have", it all just reeks of Klowe if you ask me. Tambo knows what he has and it's probably giving him an ulcer.

    How many more years does Klowe have on his contract btw???

      • Hemmercules

        Just sounded like a Lowe comment to me, my opinion only. I seem to remember him and Mact saying something similar when the Oil were smashed with injuries a couple years ago. I don't think Lowe was too active, he just went after the wrong fish sometimes.

    • Travis Dakin

      Actually my contention is that cap space is better than an NHL player when that player doesn't improve the team. (That's not a shot at O'Sullivan as a player, it's a comment about how he fits on this team)

      Hasn't your wife or mother ever told you that you shouldn't let your money burn a hole in your pocket? I think that sentiment should be applied to GMing in a salary cap world.

      Let's look at the state of the Oilers, they weren't very good when they shipped Cole out at the deadline and O'Sullivan wasn't the type of player that they needed to get significantly better when they dealt for him.

      So what's the point in committing the dough? Where is the direction? The plan?

      They were left with a situation where they still weren't a very good team AND had no room under the cap to improve after that.

      Obviously cap space doesn't help the team on the ice as long as you have it, but it allows you to take advantage of an opportunity to improve when or should it arrive.

      A good example is Chicago's situation, wouldn't it have been nice to try and cash in on their cap problems by being able to take on some salary?

      Your original comment was – "Really highlights how overboard fans have gotten with their cap "analysis""

      Well I wouldn't call it overboard but in a sense you're right in that it shouldn't necessarily be the fans that are worried about cap analysis.

      Mind you a GM absolutely needs to be concerned about it and plan his future accordingly…Tambellini hasn't done it and as of today we seem to be left with two absolutes;

      1) This team simply isn't very good.
      2) This team is in no position to help itself get better.

        • Travis Dakin

          I don't know if I would say fairly easy but I agree that there are enough examples out there to show it is possible.

          The example that isn't out there is one showing that Tambellini specifically has the ability to do it. Which ties in with my objection to him needlessly pressing the team up against the cap in the first place.

          • Bucknuck

            Rick, Cap room is a good thing if you have a move you really want to make which adds it.

            When Tambellini got O'Sullivan for Cole it was better than just letting Cole go. If we really need the cap room for some reason, Tambo can trade O'sullivan for draft picks and get the caproom he needs.

            It's like saying it's better to give away an asset than get paid for it. I don't get it.

          • Travis Dakin

            Or he could have traded Cole for just picks instead.

            I get the sentiment that Tambellini can just trade O'Sullivan (or someone else) for draft picks to solve the problem but up to this point he has not shown the ability to get that done.

            Until that changes, I will keep harping because right now the only viable plan I can see in the Oilers future is starting with the lottery pick next spring. As it sits today, they can't take on salary now or even next summer for free agency.

  • I would be OK with doing nothing if it felt like it was part of an overall strategy for this team.

    It really feels like everything this club does is a reaction to something else happening, and they aren't dictating anything.

    If I ran my job like that, I wouldn't have one.

  • Jason Gregor

    @ Barry S

    I think you missed the spirit of my post.

    My post was a rebuttle to the "woe is me we couldn't do anything anyways because of the cap" posts that pop up dozens of times a day.

    The reality is that many teams with as tighter or tighter caps as the Oilers added players, both superstars and role players.

    Like I said, it wasn't the cap. It was an inability or unwillingness to do anything (and within the relm of inability would be players not wanting to come like you mentioned)

    • BarryS

      Hard as it is to admit, I think inability has more to do with it than unwillingness. I find it hard to believe, Lowe, Tambelinni, or Katz, wouldn't bite the bullet on an existing contract or two, better than what's here was really available.

    • Jason Gregor

      Why do you use five players, Gaborik, Hossa, (who were UFAs) Pronger, Heatley and Bouwmeester (who DIDN'T want to be here).

      That is a ridiculous argument.

      To say the Oilers didn't try when they had an agreed to trade with Ottawa is perplexing.

      Why not took at the teams they went to.

      Chicago…Top end team.
      Philly…Top end team.
      San Jose…Top end team.
      Calgary…Division winning team.
      NYR…Average team, great city.

      The reason UFAs don't come here is because the team isn't close to winning. WHy would an older guy commit to that?

      It wasn't a lack of try by Tambellini, rather he is dealing from a position of weakness because his team isn't a contender. Become one and they will get some free agents.

      • Travis Dakin

        I didn't say they didn't try, I said they didn't try OR they tried and didn't accomplish.

        Anyways, my point was that it wasn't the SALARY CAP (not yelling…. don't know how to bold) that kept the team from aquiring players, and I used those 5 guys (I know some were trades some were FA's) to show how teams with tight caps (like we were/are) were able to add players.

        ie other high salary teams added top players so you should then conclude that it WASNT the cap that kept us from doing it (because others could).

        I also a talked about role players too, so I don't know if the contender status flys for that group.

  • Jmask5

    You know a lot of people rip on Edmonton for not signing any high price FAs but the truth is no Canadian team has signed any high price over the past few years. Its not like guys are lining up to go to Toronto. They had to overpay to get a guy like Komasarek. I don't know about you but I'd rather have Souray.

  • Jmask5

    Calgary traded for JBo and I think he felt pressured to sign with them. Or maybe they knew he would sign with them. But if they knew that then why bother giving up anything to negotiate with him before hand. And as for Cammeller he was offered 6 million after 1 great season. Who wouldn't take that.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      The trade was a technicality, sure it gave them a leg up but common.

      I highly doubt he gave up his key contract year because he felt pressured.

      Also, Cammy has had a couple really strong seasons and a handful of decent seasons.

  • Brocktw

    I remeber when Lowe first became GM of the club. He came out publicly and laid out his plan for everyone to see. It was simple, sell high, buy low. Weather the storm, build a young team that will be ready to come together once the CBA comes due and a salary cap is put in place. "2004" was the catch phrase, wait for the level playing field and then we can compete.

    Hard decisions were made. Bill Guerin was traded for picks and kids . This was while him and his linemates (Weight & Smyth), were considered the best line in the league. Fan favorites such as Mike Grier and Yanni Ninima(?)were sent away. Doug Weight was given to the Blues, the Oil could not afford him. Like it or not, the plan was in place and it was followed. Budget first, wins second. I didn't like it, but, their was no denying Lowe was doing what he said had to be done.

    Trade deadlines came and went. Every year we would say good bye to players entering the peaks of their careers and welcome in kids, most of them never heard of. Sometimes we would get a Torres, sometimes a Bobby Allen. And sure enough at every press confrence the same story was told, wait till "2004" when the playing field is level, the Oil will once again compete.

    Somethings happened during those years, defensive checkers like Todd Marchant left us and guys like Horcoff and Pisani took up their ice time. Young wingers Hemsky & Smyth were becoming bona fide stars. Jason Smyth, Steve Staios, Eric Brewer, were given ample time on the blue line to learn on the fly. The plan was falling into place "2004" was starting to look promising.

    Then in a what seemed like an eternity, 2004 came and the league locked out the players. Lowes plan was going to be tested, the five years were up. He promised us a winner, as soon as the league fixed their CBA, and the CBA was fixed. With the end of the lockout it was do-or-die time. We were givers for way to long, now it was time to take. For so long it was budget first, win second. Now their was no excuse. Win and only win, no more excuses.

    In came Pronger, out went really no-one. In came Peca, again no-one really left us. Great moves by Lowe. The team barely made the playoffs the first year after the lock-out. Lowe tweaked the roster here, and filled a hole their. MacT took a team that had not won or been expected to win and got it all the way to game 7 of the finals. One great glove save away from cup number 6.

    I really thought Lowe was the best GM in the game. To give us a 5-year plan witch was very hard as a fan to swallow. Follow that said plan to a tee. And in the end deliver. Wow! this Kevin Lowe, what a guy, I would let him run my company.

    Summer 2006, Pronger-gate hit us. FCP publicly asked for a trade. His wife could not get a tan here in february. No big deal get him out of here, buy low sell high. Right? Wrong, buy low sell high was no longer the plan. "2004" had come and gone. We were no longer a farm team for other "big market" clubs. We were now "big-market", right? Right?

    Did the plan fail? No the plan was a huge success. The failure comes after the success, witch so often happens. All the hardships over come, now their is nothing but smooth sailing. Right? Wrong, after every goal reached there has to be a new goal in sight and a plan to get their. This managment team has not had a plan since the day Pronger asked for a trade. Roster moves that contradict themselves (Comrie). Contracts that lack foresight (Horcoff). Valuable roster players allowed to walk (Hedja / Glencross). Holes that are not filled (center / D / special teams). I can sit here all day. Everytime managment is questioned on their motives, the same answer is given. We are waiting and seeing what we have.

    What is the plan? Are we rebuilding? Are we trying to compete? Are we going to be big and tough or highly skilled? Were does managment forsee us in five years? How are we going to get their? Does anyone know?

    Please Tambo call a press conference, give us a plan. A 5-year goal and a path to get us their. This wait and see aproach is getting old. If everytime Glenncross scores on us, we know that it is part of a master plan, it will be alot easier for us to swallow.

    I can handle losing, for the greater good. But I have a hard time excepting the fact that until we have a plan their is going to be nothing but losing in the future. I find myself missing the pre-2004 days. The time that this org had direction.