I got into the habit during my days covering the Edmonton Oilers beat of taking the middle of July off because it seemed nothing notable ever happened then. The draft is done. The top free agents are picked over. It is, essentially, the NHL’s dog days.
It’s a routine I maintain today, three years removed from the grind of being chief fartcatcher at The Journal and The Sun, an exhausting gig that required 82 games of positive spin during the regular season and then kissing GM Kevin Lowe’s backside for another eighth- or ninth-place finish — one must maintain a seat on the charter and a place in the team buffet line, after all.
When the season and playoffs (when there was any) inevitably wound down, usually by April 15, 2006 notwithstanding, it was time to take dictation and write news releases extolling the virtues of the Oilers off-season signings and trades.
Then came mid-July, and that much-deserved break to recharge and apply Chapstick before beginning preparation for training camp and penning a season preview in which I often picked the Oilers to win the Stanley Cup.
So, being a creature of habit — make no mistake, I’m Melvin Udall from As Good As It Gets — I packed the Magnificent Mrs. B., Michael and Sam into the Family Truckster and headed to Kelowna last weekend to spend seven days not caring about what happened here or in the hockey world in general.
Save for Sam tossing his cookies for the entire 1,100 clicks each way with car sickness and the triple-fatal accident that blocked the Trans-Canada for four hours — ever wonder why they post those "No Passing" signs on narrow and winding stretches? — it was a wonderful break.
So what did I miss while I was gone? And, more importantly (I know you’re asking yourself), what does Brownlee think of what he missed?
On the air
I did pack my laptop so I could keep tabs on goings on and one newsy bit that grabbed my eye was the Oilers news release (who is writing them now?) that Bob Stauffer wasn’t going to be the man to replace Rod Phillips as play-by-play man on 630 CHED.
With spin liberally applied, it was explained Stauffer’s contract as colour analyst was being extended, as opposed to him not getting the play-by-play job. Apparently, the Oilers have decided Stauffer would be best used as a sidekick, in part because they see that job is a better fit with his gig on Oilers Lunch on TEAM 1260, a show the Oilers want Stauffer to grow and improve.
I don’t necessarily buy the line of thinking it’ll be easier for Stauffer to concentrate on Oilers Lunch as an analyst rather than as the play-by-play guy, but if president Patrick LaForge and Allan Watt are serious about improving the scope and reach of the show, that’s a good thing.
Contrary to popular belief, and our friendship aside, I think Stauffer is best suited as the analyst, so the bottom line is the Oilers are making the right call. The guy I feel bad for in this is Kevin Karius. He worked well as the analyst when Stauffer filled in for Phillips this season and I’d like to see him get a shot. They had chemistry together.
I have no idea what the short-list for the job looks like, but I’m guessing LaForge and Watt are savvy enough to pick through the pretenders — "Hey, I’m a TV/radio guy with some profile and I did play-by-play (14 games on community TV in 2001)" — and land somebody with real chops. They’re replacing a hall-of-fame voice in Phillips and they have to get it right.
Please, no lightweights. Fans want and deserve substance and style, thank-you very much.
In no particular order
— I don’t share the angst of some at the possible outcome of Gilbert Brule’s arbitration hearing because I don’t see him getting an award that’s out of line with what I expect him to produce over his next deal.
I’m not of the mind the strides Brule made last season constitutes a one-off. He’s a developing player. If he gets $2 million a season, I’m fine with that. I think we could see a deal before his Aug, 3 hearing.
— I expect new coach Tom Renney to add a third assistant coach to his staff. I think the team should re-visit Rob Daum as the technical guy to complement Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith, but so far, that isn’t in the cards. The Oilers haven’t talked to Daum.
— I enjoyed listening to Allan Mitchell, better known as Lowetide, on the podcast of Oilers Lunch last week. Mitchell’s got an eye for the game and he brings a lot of valuable perspective to what he writes. For my money, he’s a better read than a lot of scribes drawing nice salaries in the MSM.
— I mentioned this in the comments section of a Lowetide item here at ON, but I’ll reiterate here: Tambellini is essentially ticking off the boxes of a template provided him by Daum with the minor league signings he’s made so far this off-season. Now, to find a goaltender…
— I ran into Dany Heatley in Kelowna and we went out and had a few beers and a few laughs …I keed, I keed. I did, however, run into Ryan Getzlaf outside the Paramount Theatre. He’s not coming here, either.
— If you haven’t read Mark Spector’s piece on the Edmonton arena debate on Sportsnet.ca, give it a look. Spec’s bottom line is the real bottom line when it comes to all the back-and-forth.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.