THE CULTURE OF LOSING

"And lastly, I’ll say that there’s one other guy in hockey today that is still working in the game that has won more Stanley Cups than me. So I think I know a little bit about winning, if there’s ever a concern."

Well, yes, as fans of the Edmonton Oilers will tell you after watching their team miss the playoffs for seven straight seasons, there is a concern — one inflamed by the defiant words of president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe during an exchange with reporters this pre-season.

Lowe, of course, did nothing but win as a member of the Oilers. Lowe won five Stanley Cups in Edmonton, the first two coming by the time he was 25 after making the playoffs in his first six NHL seasons. He won another with the New York Rangers in 1994. Lowe knows about winning, to be sure.

It’s quite a different matter when you look at the core of the 2013-14 edition of the Oilers, a group assembled during the seven seasons the team has been on the outside looking in since reaching the 2006 Stanley Cup final. It’s a span, counting the first 14 games this season, in which the team has won just 217 of the 554 games played since.

Seven years out. Back-to-back last-place finishes. The only thing the Oilers have won since leaving Carolina in June of 2007 after a Game 7 loss is the NHL Entry Draft lottery, getting Nail Yakupov with their third consecutive first overall pick.

The glory days are a distant memory. The last Cup celebration in 1990 came before some of the Oilers wearing Edmonton silks now, those hailed as the future of this franchise’s return to contention, were born. Those players have done nothing, it seems, but lose.

LONG TIME GONE

Taylor Hall, 21, wasn’t born when Lowe and the post-Wayne Gretzky Oilers won Edmonton’s fifth Cup. Neither was Jordan Eberle, 23, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Yakupov, both just 20.

Hall, in his fourth season, has played 180 regular season games without a taste of the playoffs after winning back-to-back Memorial Cups with the Windsor Spitfires. Eberle, who also broke into the NHL in 2010-11, has played 209 games. Nugent-Hopkins, in this third season, has played 114 games, while Yakupov, in his second season, is at just 60.

Beyond the youngest and biggest names on the marquee, Sam Gagner, 24, in his seventh season, has 415 games in the books without so much as a playoff game. Ladislav Smid, 27, has 471 games in eight seasons. Jeff Petry, 25, has played 170 games with the Oilers, none in the post-season.

Then, there’s Ales Hemsky. Long the most offensively gifted player in Edmonton before the wave of kids arrived and injuries slowed him, Hemsky, now 30, was part of the 2006 Stanley Cup team that came within a game of making it six Cups for the Oilers. He’s played 400 of the 554 games since.

THE ROAD AHEAD

With so much rich and proud history in the rear-view mirror and mostly defeat and disappointment for this franchise since 2006, is any of the above significant here and now? I think so – how can it not be? — although I’ve got no way to prove it, nothing I can put my finger on with certainty.

I can’t help but think about what GM Craig MacTavish said last off-season when he was talking about the possibility of moving captain Shawn Horcoff, which he did, and Hemsky.

"Both players are really at a similar crossroads," he said. "Sometimes change is good for both the organization and the player. At the same time they’re valuable players, and we’re not in a position where we’re going to be able to move them without getting something substantial in return.

"When you have been in an environment like Edmonton has had over the last little while you start, as a veteran — and maybe it’s just subconsciously — you start to lose your belief in your ability to win. Given the history with these players…"

When I juxtapose the comments by Lowe and MacTavish, it seems obvious to me one, Lowe, is somewhat detached and out of touch with the players in the dressing room today, while the other, MacTavish, fully understands the toll taken on players here these last seven years.

I wonder if any of them, be they the baby faces like Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov or more seasoned veterans like Gagner, Smid and Hemsky, are at or are approaching the kind of crossroads MacTavish spoke of. With it looking very much like it’ll be eight straight years of losing, of being out of the playoffs yet again, I’d wager some are.

That possibility should send a shiver down your spine.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Lowe has effectively shielded himself from criticism by elevating himself to President of Hockey Operations……….which effectively means , ” please don’t hold me responsible for the losing team record I’m in management “.

    I personally think MacT has a better handle on hockey and non-hockey related issues than Lowe ever has. He hit one home run ( signing Chris Pronger) and has been riding that 2006 cup run ever since.

    We all know that opposing teams will not give us players that we overtly covet. I like the fact that Mac T recognizes that and that drafting heavier skilled players seems to be far more prominent under his management.

    I like what Regier is doing, proactively dumping non-performing or aging players, for draft picks ?

    Robin, do you feel it is too early for us to start doing the same?

  • Serious Gord

    If ‘he of the six rings’ is so driven to win you would think
    by now he’d have got his crap together and built an organization that was at the very least competitive. I don’t know what your vantage point is but I don’t think you and many Oiler fans are on the same book let alone the same page.

  • Serious Gord

    I long for the days when Stauffer was a staunch critic of the Oil and Tencer was a bandage you wore on your limbs, not a local radio star.

    SG, Gregor’s recent article in the Journal and his recent rants on the radio and around here on ON have been the closest thing we have seen from the local media calling for KLoew to be accountable.

    I still believe that if KLowe was removed it may not make a difference on the ice so other than optics I’m not sure the relevance of the move.

    I am in agreement that if KLowe gets his walking papers then many others in the Org should as well. I’m looking at Howson, Smith, Cheeseburger, and maybe even MacT, Eakins and Acton.

    Change is good right? Just ask 2 term Obama who Clinton likens to a lucky dog with two peens.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    So Lowe loves winning and is borderline obsessive over it.

    Great.

    So he’s not lacking motivation nor integrity, only competence.

    Still, looking for thoughts on this:

    The Avs have a very similar team on paper to the Oil. Terrible D, great young forwards, questionable goaltending.
    Why are they doing so much better? Is Roy that much superior to Eakins?

  • crobar

    I don’t have any rings except my wedding ring but somehow I do know a little something about building a winning team. Most of it is common sense. For instance, you can’t have a team full of little soft skilled players. If the Oil of the 80’s had been made up of 20 Wayne Gretzky’s they would not have won a cup. This team has been soft for years and continued to draft and sign soft players year after year. Nobody fears the Oilers. They’re the easiest team in the NHL to play against. Then they went and gave the kids huge contracts already when they haven’t proven themselves. It’s human nature that when you get the big bucks your give a sh*t level drops. But the Oil just handed out the money again the same way they did to everyone after the lucky 2006 cup run.
    Can you believe we are this bad and the team is capped out already? What a joke. Compare the best 4 forwards salaries on any other NHL team right now and then be prepared to puke. For what the Oil are going to pay Hall, Ebs, Nuge and Gags next year you could have Toews, Kane, Sharp, and Hossa for the same price level. Who would you rather have? And if you say the 4 Oilers kids you basically know nothing about hockey and how to build a winner. You could have Kopitar, Carter, Brown, and Richards for that price. You could have Krejci, Bergeron, Lucic, and Iginla for less money. Now the Oilers have dug another hole that will take years to get out of. Unless Mac T can work some magic this is going to be ugly for years to come, and I doubt he will be able to work much magic considering trades are hard to come by and he is a rookie GM.

    Want to make the fan base happy Katz? Dismiss every former Oiler in the front office not named Joey Moss and spend your money on intelligent hockey minds. Since the Lowe regime began there have been a long list of available, experienced, proven hockey managers and coaches we could have grabbed along the way but here we sit with Six Rings, Howsen, Mac T (again), Bucky, Smith, and Eakins.

    Oilers fans have every right to be fed up.

    This is a mess.

    • reaperfunkss

      Couldn’t have said it better myself.

      This team is as soft as butter. Every game it’s men against boys. The Hanzal forearm shiver to Petry’s face was a prime example. And not one of these ladies did anything about it.

      If I see Yakupov or Hall try to skate through 2 defenders again I will vomit. Eberle needs to realize he isn’t playing in the all-star game and make the simple play.

      I’ve had enough.

    • Zarny

      I don’t disagree with your sentiment; but also consider it’s human nature for the expectations of big contracts to overwhelm players.

      There is no question that today the 4 Oilers kids are not at the same level as Toews, Kane, Sharp and Hossa. But that’s not surprising. You’re talking about a much more experienced group of men.

      I think there are a few things to consider.

      You can’t have Krejci, Bergeron, Lucic and Iginla. Bos has them. Ditto for Toews, Kane, Sharp and Hossa. Can’t have them. Chi won’t give them up.

      You have to find your own players. The anticipation is that Hall, Eberle, Nuge and Yakupov can get to that level.

      That’s not unreasonable. Hall was only 5 pt behind Kane last year. He beat Toews. Ebs had 76 pt in 78 games. Nuge had 52 pt in 62 games as a rookie. You’re right they haven’t proven exactly how good they can be but they’ve proven to be very good.

      And capping them all at $6M long term mitigates risk.

      Hall was on pace for 91 pts last year. That’s better than Tavares’ 3rd year. Nuge and Yak have only played 114 and 60 games.

      It’s entirely possible that 1 or 2 might not quite live up to $6M/yr but they won’t be far off. And it’s entirely possible 1 or 2 could be real bargains at $6M/yr in 2-3 years.

      For a city like Edm which is one rung above Buffalo for least desired free agent destination that’s not a bad bet. And even if you had to trade them all totally doable.

  • Johnnydapunk

    Brownlee, you write a great article, which pretty much defines that the responsiblity should reside with the “man at the top” which would be Lowe, who is the only one that has been here throughout the 7 years of losing.

    He is responsible for CRONY INC. as stands today.In a losing enviromnent, he brings back
    the likes of Howson, MacT, Buchberger, Smith the very same players that drove this bus into the ditch in the first place.

    He can be driven,loyal to the Logo etc, but that makes him not a great NHL team builder.Anyone with an ounce of hockey knowledge will tell you , that you cant build a NHL team solely on the blades of teens/or barely and expect play offs and cups. He’s done this twice now since the
    06 run., with failure.

  • Johnnydapunk

    The one thing that firing KLowe could bring albeit in an indirect way is a bit of a wake up call to the rest of the Management and coaching staff that they have to be accountable for the results, which I don’t think they feel that they are. You have Eakins benching players to make sure they are accountable for their actions and his big mantra is accountability, but the management don’t seem to have to worry as old 6Rings seems to be keeping everything the way it is.

    Personally, I am alright with what Eakins is doing, he has a bunch of young players who were used to being the stars and not have to worry about playing a complete game as they were the “scoring heroes” in junior. They need to learn to play a complete game and I think that Eakins is the man to teach them that as he has had experience in developing players. I don’t think the Oil Have had that type of coach in ages. Eakins will also make mistakes as it is also his first year as an NHL coach, but he will also learn.

    My expectations are insanely low so I’m not overtly worked up about the lack of results and I will be shocked and impressed if they actually make the playoffs.

    It could also be that I remember as a small child watching the Oilers and how they were the best team in the world, they were the gods of hockey. Rules were changed because the Oil were so dominant. Those times made me so happy and those memories also make me happy. Fans from Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa or Winnipeg have never had a team like the Oilers, Fans from Toronto and Montreal did, but you’re going back 50 some years to find teams that were as dominant as the Oil were in the mid 80s. All of that makes me still feel alright to be an Oiler fan, and I know the winning will come someday soon.

  • Serious Gord

    I love reading the articles by Brownlee and Gregor on this site. Kevin Lowe is a buffoon, I could care less about his passion, actually he can shove his passion where the sun don’t shine. Burke was not kidding when he said Lowe put this organization in the gutter or something along those lines. Smith and his burger pal can also shove it. Katz buying the team was a mistake. EIG would have held Lowe accountable and kicked him out of town years ago. Jock sniffers do not make for good owners. Ask Sabres fans. Pegula is the Katz east. I digress, until next time, suck it Lowe.

  • reaperfunkss

    How to get traded from a NHL team.

    Play Hard and get into fights so you still have value, then take penalty’s at the important times during the game.

    I’m sure I forgot some more steps just go ask Souray, Moreau, Stoll, Green.

  • Slapshot

    Danny Maciocia and Kevin Lowe are to blame for ruining Edmonton’s once great and proud sports franchises!!!Unfortunately for Eskimos and Oiler’s fans, it will be years before both these teams recover from managements stupidity and ego’s!!!

  • BLAKPOO

    Daryl Katz is a guy who is doing nothing but being taken to the cleaners. His President (Lowe) and Mctavish (GM) are spending his money with no regard for results. He should run drug stores not hockey clubs. Clearly these guys are telling him something that keeps both of them on the payroll. They should be gone by now, and within another 10 games at this rate Eakins should go too.
    The players can only do what they can. If they are not talented enough, don’t have the competitiveness to play in the NHL, or lack the experience to ice a good team night in, night out, its not their fault.
    Its up to management to decide who should play on this team and apparently they have most of it wrong. It starts at the top, Katz needs some balls and needs to get involved, or they’ll bankrupt him. Already he’s paying $6 mil a year to three guys who cannot justify that kind of salary.
    Then you have a defence corp that looks like they should still be in the AHL or ECHL. They are that bad, Ference included. Sad. No, wait. Pathetic is the word.

  • Zarny

    I have to disagree that Colorado and edmonton are “very similar”. The huge difference is there strength at centre. We have so called very talented wingers, which is the least important position in hockey. The avs have there strength at centre.
    I feel so unlucky to have drafted first for three years in a row and only getting one centre.
    I didn’t think the oilers were going to make the playoffs. I didn’t think they did enough to address the d situation or the centre issues.
    No reason to rush into trading anyone now. We are what we are, which is a very bad hockey team with very little depth.

  • crobar

    Ownership is very much to blame for the mess in Edmonton. Katz needs to hold his BFFs accountable. Lowe needs to resign. MacT and Eakins should have never been brought in. We need some experience and not of the Kevin Lowe variety. We need manaagement and coaching winners that have proven something — Guys that have actually won something on an NHL level. Boy, what I would give to see the 2006 team take the ice over the high-end talent in Edmonton right now. Hell, I’d even take the low budget teams that were continually knocked out by Dallas in the late 90’s and early 2000’s (which i admit Kevin did well in constructing). It’s tough to swallow for us die-hard Oil fans but the Boys on the Bus Part 2 business model just isn’t working out. And, Lowe needs to do the right thing and step aside, at this point. He’s done a terrible job and fan resentment is going to hit a fever pitch at this point. And, it’s about time. This organization’s taken advantage of an excessively loyal fanbase for way too long.

  • Johnnydapunk

    You know there’s a scroll button that you can easily use to move onto the next article. If you don’t like his articles I’ll show you how to use it. I for one enjoy Robin’s view and musings

  • BLAKPOO

    Congrats on your “Drunkest Man on the Internet” award.

    I’m not sure what this quote is supposed to mean, but right now it’s more entertaining than Oilers hockey.