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.

  • Mr P

    @ Robin Brownlee:

    Great article, so far the best I have read on the Katz text. Barnes is doing a great job of it as well. Mark Spector just comes off as bitter. Anyway, I heard Stauffer on the post game show the other day and someone mentioned the Ryan Smyth trade, Stauffer said one day he would like to let everyone know the truth of what happened that day. I assume this comes from Satauffers source. Is the Ryan Smyth trade isider info that Stauffer has or is it common knowledge among media? When will the truth come out? All he would say was Ryan said to the players "I messed up boys". What do you know Robyn?

  • RossCreek

    "Sources" are letting me know the Oilers will make a hard pitch for Flyers LW Simon Gagne this off season. Both Lowe & Tambellini were involved with the Olympic teams Gagne was a part of. The Flyers, unable to move Daniel Briere, will instead move Gagne to free up cap space.

  • Sandra

    If Garon was not traded, I think we would have been in the playoffs. At least Roli would have had a break and you never know, Garon might have found his groove down the stretch here, Like last year. and those 4 points where roli was tired he might have had it. One question, what was the roster spot that Garon was taking up used for before the trade deadline?

  • Jon K

    I don't comment here often, but I will chime in to say that these glimpses into the inner workings of mainstream (and I suppose alternative) media are really interesting. Keep up the good work.

  • albundy

    Robin, best piece yet I have read. Fred was great on 1260 but how he can live himself now and his ribs, I just don't know.

    Most of the bloggers are now mentioning why KLOWE is getting away from his performance. He gets promoted instead of fired. Robin, I would really like your views on this because I agree. It's been Kevin Lowe who traded and signed contracts for the current members of this team. How come the media take it so easy on him. He really needs to leave town. Sure Tambo is here now but he can't do anything with Horcoff or Penner. He tried with the 3 headed goalie monster that Lowe created but he might not even have a goalie for next year. Any chance Garon comes back? I really like him as a goalie, right cookie?

    Thanks for your great insight Robin

  • ultimateoiler

    Robin, I'm curious about Bob Stauffer. He was great on Total Sports. He got to criticize the Oilers when the needed this. This most recent situation points to me the lack of freedom he has. Is that the case? I understand that his job in some ways is a dream job. I mean who wouldn't want to work with Rod Philips. The Katz's text itself leaves people like me to speculate that Mr Katz wishes his paying public to be silent about the teams obvious woes and that people in Bob's position do not have discretion to ignore the text. I contend that he has ignore e-mails and texts that didn't suit his former show on the grounds that were too ambiguous or not suitable because of the content being too gross for the public airways.

    As for the Oilers they have to stop compounding their errors with rushing to judgments. I agree with the line of thought that states not only the coach needs to be moved but some players. Which players is going to be hard because the obvious ones such Dustin Penner and Shawn Horcoff aren't possible. So the question begs to be asked who will it be?

  • Librarian Mike

    @ Bad Seed:

    I seem to remember during the whole Comrie thing that Bob was trying to be devil's advocate and take Comrie's side a bit. Granted, I think it's safe to say that most of us were squarely behind Lowe in the 'teach that punk a lesson' camp. The more I think about it, the more I think it was a critical error that will damage this team until he is gone.

  • Bad Seed

    @ 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?

  • Dave

    Brownlee embedded the comment "is any radio drive host a journalist?" into a sentence.
    Although it may have been facetious or the age-old print vs. new media (or new media from 20 years ago) debate sneaking in, I would say NO. A radio drive host is not a journalist.
    A good sports radio host can utilize the tools of the journalist (sources, fact-checking, digging) but they are entertainers first, journalists second.
    Especially in sports.
    They are part of the machinery that provides us our entertainment, somewhere in the journalism spectrum between the Legislative reporter (hard news) and the movie reviewer (cheerleader/critic).

  • Deans

    Another interesting story. You forgot to mention how you used to battle with Principe and Tencer for the big scoops. Ok I'll stop with the potshots from the hidden veil that the internet provides the faceless anonminty to living-in-thier-moms-basement types like myself.

  • deepoil

    As social media now can build or destroy a multi billionaire brand within weeks…. the natives are restless….

    Here is a facebook group that disagree's with the founder of Rexall…… Fire Craig macTavish Facebook Group….

    8200 members and counting
    Event Date Saturday – 4PM LRT Rexall

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/group.php?sid=4287754258de52d1f2d340b5771d388c&gid=35326887923&ref=search

    Sorry no alcohol will be served – byob.
    Signs are not allowed on Northlands Property beware of trespassing charges and EPS.

    On a serious note Rexall Sports could learn from Apple and other brands such as OILER NATION by using TWITTER to gain INSTANT feedback from their client base….

    How Companies Use Twitter to Bolster Their Brands – BusinessWeekHe popped open his Apple (AAPL) Mac, connected to the Web using the free Wi-Fi provided by JetBlue, and used Twitter to share the sighting with pals. …
    http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/sep2008/tc2008095_320491.htm – 52k –

  • Robin Brownlee

    @ abdullah the Butcher:

    Kinda? You're overwhelming me . . .

    Tough questions get asked, and Barnes is one of the people who asks them, whether you agree or not. But the rules of the game, some self-imposed by the MSM and others set by the people and teams being covered, don't necessarily apply to blogs. That's a big difference in working conditions it impacts what is written.
    But whether you're writing for an established daily, doing the 6 p.m. sportscast or writing on a site like this, there's always a balancing act involved.

    If you have a source who is, say, the assistant GM of a team, and you develop trust over the years, chances are you're going to get a lot of inside stuff, break a lot of stories.
    Information is your lifeline, and if that source provides it, chances are some of the J-school ethics you learned will get tested.
    — If he says, "You can't use this but . . ." and gives you something juicy (might even be a test to check you out) and you do use it, chances are that source is burned.
    — When you've got a team official who gives you gold and he's, say, the lead paper clip counter, are you going to be as critical as you should about how paper clips are counted or do you let him slide a bit because he's giving you the inside goods? If you're getting great stuff from somebody are you going to carve them a new one in the name of "the truth" and lose the source? Maybe. Maybe not.
    — If you develop relationships with a player or players on the team and you get "off-the-record stuff regularly that leads to scoops, does he get a break from you when it comes to his on-ice performance? How much of a break?
    — If your source gives you information that the team is bleeding money and is in big trouble but says you can't use it right away, is sitting on the story acceptable? For how long?

    There's lots of stuff that isn't black and white and reporters at MSM outlets have to deal with those kinds of questions every day.

  • abdullah the Butcher

    Great read.

    I think this might be a lesson to all those media ass kissers out there. You know who I mean. The print sports bloggers who for fear of losing access tone things down. A lot!

    It wasn't too long ago that Stauffer was absolutely roasting MacT on his radio show (something that I dearly miss, Gregor for as good as he is, isn't even close).

    Stauffer seemed to always call it like it was. Not with a an agenda, but he rightly or wrongly spoke how he felt.

    More members of the dying fifth estate should take notice. You never hear any pointed or hard questions from "Barnsey", lol (thnx KLo) or MacKinnon.

    I wistfully remember the columns from the old days of Cole and Horton where they put coaches on the spit daily.

    I never thought I would say this Robin, but I kinda miss reading you in print.

    Your blogs are much better written and thought out than the paid media. Maybe that is part of the problem today?

  • deepoil

    Spliff wrote:

    You say Lowe will not stand pat. Its a surprise he’s standing at all. I found the following that was posted on the web in February 2008:
    “Depending on whom you listen to, Kevin Lowe is either one sharp General Manager, or the cause of what’s wrong with the NHL (just ask Brian Burke).
    Opinions aside, if one is to look at Lowe’s performance since taking the helm of the Edmonton Oilers, you have to wonder how he has managed to retain his job for so long. With that said, in Part One of this series, we will take a look at four of the top ten bloopers Oiler fans have suffered through thanks to the “Lowe Effect.”
    Blooper One
    It would be hard to argue that Brian Burke didn’t complety **** the Oilers in his deal for Chris Pronger.
    At the time, Pronger was a Conn Smythe candidate, and still is one of the elite players in the NHL—who you would think would garner in return another elite player of at least near caliber.
    Not in Edmonton, where we once traded Wayne Gretzky for a bag of pucks.
    Instead, the Ducks sent Lupul and Smid to the Oilers in exchange and a couple draft picks to the Oilers in exchange for Pronger. Lupul of course was shipped out of town at the end of his first season to Philly, and Smid was sent down to the minors for the first part of the season.
    This deal alone should have been enough to close the door on his tenure of GM for the team.
    Can you imagine someone calling Burke and offering the same package for Pronger now?
    Blooper Two
    Ryan Smyth was the heart, soul, and face of the Edmonton Oilers.
    An Alberta boy, who lost his front teeth during the playoff run to the cup—only to return to the ice 20 minutes later, had done everything a player could be asked of for his team.
    Lowe, in all his wisdom, elected to leave negotiations to the last minute and when a deal couldn’t be reached, was forced to ship him out of town to the Islanders over $600,000.
    Granted, the Oilers did get some strong young talent in return—but when your marquee player is shown the door over pocket change, how anxious do you think other stars are going to be to come to Edmonton and build a life here, considering the complete lack of loyalty shown by Oiler management to their aging stars?
    Was Stevie Y. shown the door when his production started to dwindle, is Mike Modano trade bait – is Bordeur mentioned in trader rumours ?
    Blooper Three
    Lowe’s refusal to make a change in his coaching staff has lead the Oilers to another losing season where, unless a miracle happens, they won’t make the playoffs yet again.
    Craig MacTavish has a career record of 223 wins and 202 losses going into the ‘07-’08 season, and will most likely finish below .500 for the year. His refusal to allow players to build line chemistry, and a history of blackballing players, like the talented Rob Schremp, are only part of the problem. MacTavish is a defense first coach, yet works with a GM that has attempted to build a team for speed and offense—a frustrating contradiction that has resulted in a team that never reaches its potential.
    Blooper Four
    Although only time will tell, the Dustin Penner restricted free agent signing could easily go down in NHL history as the worst move by a general manager.
    It’s not that Penner was a bad acquisition, it’s that it cost the Oilers their top three picks in the 2008 draft—one that is touted as one of the most significant drafts in league history.
    With the Oilers struggling in the bottom of the standings, the Ducks are likely to get a top five pick, and with the lottery system in play, will have a one in five chance of getting the number one pick at this years selection, and can pick no worse then fifth.
    Any one of the top five players coming out of this season’s draft could easily be the next Joe Sakic or Mark Messier.”
    Why does KLowe still have a job?

    Another blooper that is the death knell in most UFA's either avoiding Edmonton like the plague or demanding sin money in advance is the lack of professionalism in the Comrie deal.

    Comrie was an RFA and had a right not to play in Edmonton. For some personal reason Lowe crossed the line and used the media against the kid who was bonused
    out for meeting his conditions of his entry contract.

    Instead of letting the kid sit and wait for a deal, Lowe came up with the boondoggle blooper of offering Comrie a ticket out for a buyout cost of (i think) over 2 million dollars.

    Now you have a problem here with the CBA, no player – no union is going to fall for this cheap vindictive action – and there lies the rub….. Lowe let his personal feelings hurt the team and showed his real colors.

    Then the Penner deal comes along which violates all logical thinking in the Comrie saga…. why was Mikey hung out to burn for standing pat on his RFA rights… and then LOWE becomes a turncoat and gives out RFA money himself.

    Maybe he has a medical problem within his personality, as this is the same person wanting his cake and eating it to – cant have both and still hold your head up.

    Result – Edmonton becomes the outpost of the NHL with Lowe in charge with a non spekaing GM and a lame duck coach.

  • OilW30

    I thought the media coverage of the text was a bit odd. Pretty much every report ripped Katz for sending the text, reported that it was a big mistake, etc., etc. Even Pierre McGuire (i.e., a non-local media guy) was saying on Ched last night that Katz "will learn." Learn what? That the media has power and journalists will turn on you if you make them bitter? They are acting as if some self-evident rule of the game was violated, as if everyone will just agree with their spin and see that what Katz did was idiotic.

    Sending a text to stop discussion about MacT may indeed be destined to have the opposite effect, but the real story in all of the reports is this:

    the media is trying to to tell Katz that he can't deal with them in this way, and they're telling him in such a self-righteous way that they're reporting it as if every listener's moral conscience will intstantly recognize the rectitude of their complaints. It's a classic example of media spin affecting the way people perceive reality.

  • Robin Brownlee

    Peter Pan wrote:

    Brownlee:
    When you say you keep/kept score, who would you say “scored” most often?

    I'd rather have other people chime in on that.

  • Robin Brownlee

    @ Spliff:
    More than fair comment, but Lowe's got the buffer of Tambellini between him and past mistakes now that he's stepped back to his new position.

    With Lowe addressing the media Thursday, people read into things that he's still the "real" GM, but I's suggest he only took the podium because Katz knows him well and trusted him to handle the situation. Tambellini is the point man for day-to-day hockey ops.

  • Spliff

    You say Lowe will not stand pat. Its a surprise he's standing at all. I found the following that was posted on the web in February 2008:

    "Depending on whom you listen to, Kevin Lowe is either one sharp General Manager, or the cause of what's wrong with the NHL (just ask Brian Burke).

    Opinions aside, if one is to look at Lowe's performance since taking the helm of the Edmonton Oilers, you have to wonder how he has managed to retain his job for so long. With that said, in Part One of this series, we will take a look at four of the top ten bloopers Oiler fans have suffered through thanks to the "Lowe Effect."

    Blooper One

    It would be hard to argue that Brian Burke didn't complety **** the Oilers in his deal for Chris Pronger.

    At the time, Pronger was a Conn Smythe candidate, and still is one of the elite players in the NHL—who you would think would garner in return another elite player of at least near caliber.

    Not in Edmonton, where we once traded Wayne Gretzky for a bag of pucks.

    Instead, the Ducks sent Lupul and Smid to the Oilers in exchange and a couple draft picks to the Oilers in exchange for Pronger. Lupul of course was shipped out of town at the end of his first season to Philly, and Smid was sent down to the minors for the first part of the season.

    This deal alone should have been enough to close the door on his tenure of GM for the team.

    Can you imagine someone calling Burke and offering the same package for Pronger now?

    Blooper Two

    Ryan Smyth was the heart, soul, and face of the Edmonton Oilers.

    An Alberta boy, who lost his front teeth during the playoff run to the cup—only to return to the ice 20 minutes later, had done everything a player could be asked of for his team.

    Lowe, in all his wisdom, elected to leave negotiations to the last minute and when a deal couldn't be reached, was forced to ship him out of town to the Islanders over $600,000.

    Granted, the Oilers did get some strong young talent in return—but when your marquee player is shown the door over pocket change, how anxious do you think other stars are going to be to come to Edmonton and build a life here, considering the complete lack of loyalty shown by Oiler management to their aging stars?

    Was Stevie Y. shown the door when his production started to dwindle, is Mike Modano trade bait – is Bordeur mentioned in trader rumours ?

    Blooper Three

    Lowe's refusal to make a change in his coaching staff has lead the Oilers to another losing season where, unless a miracle happens, they won't make the playoffs yet again.

    Craig MacTavish has a career record of 223 wins and 202 losses going into the '07-'08 season, and will most likely finish below .500 for the year. His refusal to allow players to build line chemistry, and a history of blackballing players, like the talented Rob Schremp, are only part of the problem. MacTavish is a defense first coach, yet works with a GM that has attempted to build a team for speed and offense—a frustrating contradiction that has resulted in a team that never reaches its potential.

    Blooper Four

    Although only time will tell, the Dustin Penner restricted free agent signing could easily go down in NHL history as the worst move by a general manager.

    It's not that Penner was a bad acquisition, it's that it cost the Oilers their top three picks in the 2008 draft—one that is touted as one of the most significant drafts in league history.

    With the Oilers struggling in the bottom of the standings, the Ducks are likely to get a top five pick, and with the lottery system in play, will have a one in five chance of getting the number one pick at this years selection, and can pick no worse then fifth.

    Any one of the top five players coming out of this season's draft could easily be the next Joe Sakic or Mark Messier."

    Why does KLowe still have a job?

  • Peter Pan

    @ Robin:

    As always, great stuff. Stauffer was awesome Talk Radio when he was on 1260. Gregor has been a worthy replacement.

    Question:
    If MacT was no longer the coach, do you feel Bucky would be a possible candidate as a replacement? Please say no.

  • Robin Brownlee

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    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.
    I’m not really sure how to take this – were Ireland/Tychowski/Jones not a particularly formidable trio when it came to breaking stories?
    And just in general, thanks for expanding on the Stauffer/Katz relationship – I for one love reading about this kind of stuff.

    I was at The Sun at the time I'm referring to, so I was working with TJ and Rob T and, thus, wasn't competing with them.

  • 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.

    I'm not really sure how to take this – were Ireland/Tychowski/Jones not a particularly formidable trio when it came to breaking stories?

    And just in general, thanks for expanding on the Stauffer/Katz relationship – I for one love reading about this kind of stuff.