Yet another great effort from the Oilers tonight, this time against a pretty decent Montreal hockey club, and a come from behind win with Dustin Penner tallying the overtime goal. I really ought to be happy, but as much as I appreciate the positive signs we see on the ice, I find myself disgruntled with what’s happening off the ice.
Jason Gregor mentioned the Oilers’ meeting with Quebec city politicians in his game-day article, and I thought he presented it rather nicely:
If this is a scare tactic, it is a stupid one. I understand if the Oilers are frustrated with negotiations regarding a new rink, but meeting with Quebec about relocation; PLEASE. No way in hell Gary Bettman ever lets the Oilers leave Edmonton, and it makes less sense for the Oilers to relocate to Quebec where they have less corporations and 300,000 fewer people. The Oilers should stand up and say the only reason for this meeting is to find out how much federal money Quebec will get from the rink, and ensure that they get the same.
There was some suggestion in the comments section afterward that the media was driving the story, but let’s take a look at some of the key passages from the Sun article:
“We don’t know what to expect from this meeting,” Lowe, a former captain of Quebec City’s junior hockey team, told QMI. “Just the fact that we’re meeting Mayor Labeaume to discuss possibilities, the sky is the limit. Exchanging ideas is the main goal of the meeting.”
A source close to the Oilers says team officials decided to explore relocation options amid opposition in Edmonton to a $1-billion arena that would be partially funded by taxpayers.
The Katz group wants construction to begin in less than 18 months and the source tells QMI that Oilers brass are worried about the slow pace of negotiations. “They even met (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman two weeks ago … if Quebec makes them an offer, they might consider it,” said the source.
Lowe says relocation is not the only option for the Oilers, explaining that team management will also discuss ways to work with Quebec City’s mayor to press Ottawa to chip in for arenas in both cities. “We’re doing all we can, ” said Lowe. “We’re talking to a lot of people, including Mayor Labeaume, to see where we are, where they are and if we can brainstorm together.”
Lowe’s the only person to go on record in the article, and his distinctly unhelpful “the sky is the limit” comment adds some credence to the thrust of the piece. I’d be delighted to know who the unnamed source is (Tyler Dellow’s guess is Lowe himself, based on the David Staples rule that the source talking off the record is often the same person that talked on the record) but given that Karine Gagnon is based out of Quebec City (she’s previously written several English-language articles about a potential return of the Quebec Nordiques) it seems likely that it was one of the participants in the meeting. In any case, I think the most plausible scenario here is that the Oilers leaked the information to get a reaction.
The way Patrick Laforge responded to questions in his “denial” only reinforced that view for me. Again, some of the key quotes:
"The press can be pretty creative…do you need more than that?" said Oilers CEO and President Patrick LaForge.
"We’re both building facilities and we’re both trying to get them off the ground and we have a hockey team and perhaps they don’t here, but there is no reason for that to be drawn together….and we are not planning to move the Oilers at this time," said LaForge.
All Laforge had to say was, “There’s no truth to that report” or “We did not discuss relocation.” Instead, he implied that the press was creating something out of thin air, and said there weren’t any plans to move the Oilers at this time.
Between that sort of very precisely worded statement from Laforge, Lowe’s (either deliberately or otherwise) non-specific comments earlier in the day, and a “source close to the Oilers” saying things off the record, I can’t help but feel that the team is sending mixed signals. Particularly given that this sort of rumour arguably works in the Oilers favour when it comes to negotiating with the city.
As for the rumour itself, I think even an explicit threat of relocation to Quebec City would be difficult to take seriously. The same problems that the Nordiques struggled with – a small market (this is a team that couldn’t sell-out playoff games), limited accessibility to most fans because of the French/English divide (arena announcements were made only in French, that sort of thing) – are still in place. It would be extremely difficult to market the team without the support of Pierre Karl Peladeau, who controls a huge chunk of the Quebec media, and guess what – if there’s a team in Quebec, he wants to own it. Those are major, major hurdles – even if we assume that Katz, with his rather extensive ties to the community, was willing to give up on the team so easily.
I debated not writing anything on this topic, because it’s one I personally find irritating, but after I read Dan Barnes’ piece I couldn’t help but say something. I respect Barnes profoundly, but I’m not inclined to believe that the Oilers organization had nothing to do with the report that came out today. Vague supportive statements from one team president, specific supportive statements from someone off the record, a carefully phrased denial that never denied relocation as a possible subject for discussion (go ahead – reread LaForge’s words: he calls the press creative, says there’s no reason to make the connection made in the article, and says at this time there aren’t any plans, but that’s it) is either incompetence or design, and I’ve never thought of LaForge as incompetent.
Maybe I’m out to lunch – I’d love to see what people in the comments section think – but is it reasonable to believe that someone leaked this story, and Lowe made his vague comments, without any knowledge of the Oilers’ brain trust?
Fun game tonight, another win, and the Oilers are now 2-2-3 without Khabibulin in net, and 4-2 over their last six games. Hemsky’s back in the line-up, and looked pretty darn good in his return, and for the first time this season the on-ice stuff seems to be working.
Let’s enjoy it.