When a team is as profoundly flawed as the Edmonton Oilers are, symbolism only goes so far. Still, as I watched the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Oilers 6-4 for fun Saturday, I couldn’t help but think a little bit couldn’t hurt right now.
Every time CBC’s camera’s panned the Oilers brass box at the Air Canada Centre to show president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe, GM Steve Tambellini and scout Morey Gare in various degrees of chagrin over the embarrassment that is their hockey club, I thought about what Lowe should do now that 30th place is secure.
His resignation aside (won’t happen, no matter how much evidence there is that it should), Lowe could at least make a symbolic gesture between now and training camp next year. Call it a move signifying this franchise is looking to the future instead of clinging to fading glories of the past. A passing of the torch, if you will.
Assuming the NHL draft lottery doesn’t go sideways, the Oilers keep the No. 1 pick in June and they select Taylor Hall — I believe he’s the guy they want just a tick ahead of centre Tyler Seguin — Lowe should tell equipment man Lyle Kulchisky to pull his No. 4 jersey out of mothballs.
Then, Lowe should give it to the kid.
Pass it on
Hall wears No. 4 for the Windsor Spitfires, and it’s a number he’s worn for Team Canada in international competition. While an oldtimer like me thinks that’s a goofy choice for a forward, it’s Hall’s digit of choice, at least in recent seasons — he wore No. 19 for several seasons before graduating to the OHL.
It’s also, as everybody knows, the number Lowe wore during his playing career with the Oilers. Lowe, the first ever player drafted by the Oilers, is the only player to wear it here. That should change.
While Lowe’s jersey has never been officially retired by the Oilers, let’s just say it hasn’t been available to other players since he hung up his skates. Sparky’s never pulled No. 4 off the rack and said, "Here, kid. Try this on for size." Same with Mark Messier’s No. 11, which hangs in the rafters at Rexall Place, Al Hamilton’s No. 3 and, of course, No. 99.
Call it a sign of reverence and respect, and there’s certainly a place for that, but numbers worn by Messier and Lowe were never made available even before they were officially retired, although others worn by great Edmonton players have been.
A new era
Glenn Anderson is in the Hall of Fame, but he’s shared his No. 9 with Bill Guerin, Mike Watt, Ralph Intranuovo, Shayne Corson, Bernie Nicholls and Jim Harrison.
Likewise Grant Fuhr, who shared No. 31 with Curtis Joseph, Fred Brathwaite and Eddie Mio. Jarri Kurri’s No. 17 has been worn by Scott Thornton, Cam Connor and Rem Murray, who gave it up when the great Finn’s linen was lifted to the rafters.
Obviously, Lowe offering his number to Hall won’t fill the holes on the roster. It won’t make the goaltending or the penalty killing better. It won’t convince anybody to take Ethan Moreau, like a buy-out might. It won’t make Shawn Horcoff’s contract a bargain or change the fact this team has missed the playoffs for four straight seasons.
But, as symbolism goes, having the first player ever drafted by the Oilers pass on his number to a kid who has a chance to be this franchise’s next great player could signify a real change in philosophy.
By letting go of a dusty convention, Lowe could show fans this is an organization willing to resist clinging to a reverence for the now-distant Boys on the Bus era and embrace the promise of the future.
That’s long overdue.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.