OBSERVATIONS: THE SIX-RING CIRCUS

It’s not often the aroma inside Rexall Place improves when the Edmonton Oilers move out and the Canadian Finals Rodeo moves in every November, but the smell of horseshit seems like sweet perfume compared to the stench of defeat Oiler fans have endured.

Besides, the CFR will pack up and move on down the road when their gig is done. The Oilers, meanwhile, have been stinking up their barn for seven years on end, and there’s no end in sight for fans who, it seems obvious, have been holding their noses long enough.

With the Oilers taking a 3-10-2 record into a four-game road trip that begins against the Florida Panthers Tuesday, I don’t have any answers for a season that’s already gone sideways and pushed the faithful over the edge. If I did, I’d sell them to Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish and Daryl Katz. They know how to sell a bill of goods. Perhaps they’d buy one.

What I do have, though, is observations and opinions. Mostly random stuff that’s been rattling around my head as the odor of ineptitude and losing has heightened. Nothing profound – no MacTavish must trade so-and-so for this-or-that guy. No fire everybody from Lowe to Joe Moss just 15 games into a season that already seems lost.

Fans in what people used to call Oil Country have pretty much covered all those angles with all the venting around here lately, and that’s to be expected. This was, after all, supposed to be the season the Oilers finally pushed for a playoff spot, the season fans saw the pay-off for their patience. At the rate they’re going, the Oilers could be out of post-season contention earlier than in any season since the 2006 Stanley Cup run.

It’s gone desperately wrong . . .

MANAGEMENT

Fans who want to see Lowe sacked aren’t going to get their way, at least not now. I’m not saying fans don’t deserve to get their way because Lowe has been the architect of the disaster assembled here, even if Steve Tambellini kept a chair warm for MacTavish until he was shown the door. All I’m saying it’s highly unlikely to happen.

Firing Lowe now won’t change the fortunes of this team in terms of making the playoffs this season, which they won’t, or missing them, which they will. Lowe sticking his shoe down his throat with his ill-timed and pompous "six rings" comment in pre-season was the last straw for many fans, but outside the satisfaction of getting that pound of flesh, I don’t see that move making the Oilers better in the short term.

Might Katz give Lowe, a close friend, the option of stepping down next off-season with some face-saving spin attached? Perhaps. I see that possibility only if this season as a whole is an unmitigated disaster – unlikely because, whether you want to hear it or not right now, this group of players is better than the record indicates. It can’t stay this bad, can it? I believe it’s time for Lowe to go, but Katz hasn’t asked me what I think.

As for MacTavish, I suspect he’s been humbled somewhat already by finding out it’s a lot easier to talk about making bold moves, as he did last summer, than making them. Rookie mistake. His bad. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than to set yourself up for criticism as he did.

Trying to right that wrong now with the team off the rails, however, might be the worst thing MacTavish could do. Until the team pulls out of the death spiral it’s in, there are nothing but sucker deals waiting for him. If you were an NHL general manager, wouldn’t you love the opportunity to make a deal with MacTavish right now? I’d be calling him.

I’m not saying MacTavish can’t or shouldn’t make a significant deal under the right circumstances, just that it’s next to impossible to do so for anything approaching fair value in the compromised position he’s in right now.

THE COACHES

Like MacTavish, coach Dallas Eakins grabbed everybody’s attention early with his no-nonsense "I’ll do things my way" approach. He seemed a bit bold for his own good, frankly, given he’s a rookie as an NHL head coach. That said, he came in with a definite sense of what he wanted done and it seemed a welcome change from Ralph Krueger.

Tactically? I’m not going to sit in the cheap seats and pretend I know more about drawing up breakouts and defensive systems than Eakins does. It’s clear there’s been adjustments and nuances the players haven’t grasped. The swarm defensive scheme? That probably works better when a team gets a timely save or two when a mistake is made. Just a thought.

As for speculation and questions about whether Eakins has already "lost the room," if that’s even a possibility, that’s a more damning indictment of the players than of the rookie bench boss. What, a bunch of players who haven’t won a damn thing can’t be bothered to listen to the message and, more important, act on it when it’s delivered? Really? What, pray tell, has this group of players accomplished that would allow them that out? Nothing.

As for talk about canning assistants Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith, that’s not something MacTavish should even entertain during the season. Off-season? Perhaps. That should be up to Eakins. Then again, what should happen and what does happen, as we’ve seen here these last few years, are often distinctly different matters.

THE PLAYERS

Saturday’s no-show in a 5-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings was something I didn’t expect. It came as close to team looking like it has quit or didn’t care as anything I’ve seen in years. It came on the heels of a closed door meeting by the players. If that’s not alarming, I don’t know what is.

We’ve talked for a long time about the mix of personnel on this team and how it’s lacking. There’s no question the line-up isn’t put together right. Much of the talk has come in the context of the type of player needed – a banging winger, a big centre, a first-pairing defenseman, a veteran presence who brings some gamesmanship. Fair enough.

What about the mental make-up and character? Are there enough hate-to-lose guys in that dressing room? Enough glue guys? Enough talk-is-cheap-just-bust-your-ass guys? I think not. I don’t see it. I like Andrew Ference as an addition. He knows what it takes to win. Who else does?

And what about the core players? What about Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Have they performed like the Six Million Dollar Men they became when management threw big money at them before their entry level contracts were even done? Rhetorical question. They haven’t.

I get it that locking up Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins long term before the cap went up probably made fiscal sense, but does it make sense for them as players? With fortunes already guaranteed just out of their teens, are they as hungry and driven to succeed as they could be or is life pretty good, win or lose?

I don’t know the answer, but the question is worth asking.

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

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Claiming that wanting to remove Lowe is wanting a pound of flesh is disingenuous. He should be removed because in the dozen years he’s been GM/president the team has gone nowhere. They limped into the playoffs a few times and had a Cinderella run one year. He’s milked that run for too long.

    He should be removed because the position he has is an important one and he has been an arrogant utter failure. Get someone who has no connection to the 80’s Oilers. Get someone who is smart enough to draw the roadmap for an organization that wants to win the Stanley Cup.

  • Alsker

    After the crap that Oilers fans were subjected to on Saturday, I want to see us call up or sign some guys who are looking to crack an NHL job. I don’t care if our talent level goes down, I don’t want to see a team lay down and die without so much as trying to look like they give a damn.

  • Rob...

    I like this article. It’s honest and heartfelt. What else can we do right now other than see things for what they really are and hope that some sort of positive can come out of this? We stay or we go. Maybe we never care again like we have the last 7 or more years. Maybe we just need an emotional vacation so we can come back with fresh enthusiasm. Hockey is a beautiful game. Business turns things like this into profit and we pay the price of the compromise.
    I’m tired of ego-riddled conversations at work where subjectivity is thrown around passionately as fact. Actually no, I should clarify: I don’t enjoy it when all the conversation is negative and all we seem to be doing is trying to more correctly assign blame in a situation we have basically no control over. Perhaps times like these are there to remind us it’s just a game. I feel for all of those who have to make a living solving or documenting this situation because they have to care. Wanye’s article was a testament to someone trying to ease the burden of those who come back to this website for something or someone to make them feel like they aren’t going crazy alone. We care. And this is a good place to say it.
    140 characters can’t come close and Twitter is generally best suited for irony and sarcasm. Facebook is like trying to be heard in an arena full of parroted contrarian opinions. Thanks for the articles, Robin, Wanye, and all of you at the nation. Thank you for OilersNation for being here. I feel a bit better now.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Excellent article. Of course the advice you offer to MacT is exactly what Tambi did for the past number of years and got criticized for, maybe even by you.

    No ex-Oiler should replace Lowe. How about we do a legitimate search and overpay for someone competent to take the job?

    Off topic, is Rocky Thompson the best guy out there to help develop talent in OKC? Just saying.

  • Whitey31

    Yakupov, Hemsky, Dubnyk and a 2nd for Price and Subban. Gagner for Ott+3rd. Klefbom +3rd for M. Staal. 1st for Sean Couturier. Just an example of the many possibilities… if our GM would get off his @$$

    • BleedOil4Life

      when are people going to learn
      this is not nhl 13 for the ps3

      we are in 2nd last. teams will not give us whatever we want for our players…they know we are struggling….they know we want to make changes…its not that simple

      but your deals would be amazing lol

    • vetinari

      If you think that those are all reasonable deals for both sides, we’ll wait right here while you call up the GMs for those teams, pitch those deals and see what their responses are…

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Ive been interested in montreal’s situation with Subban and Markov becoming RFA and UFA respectfully. Subban will want 6-7mil and Markov will ask for 5-6mil, can they really afford both?

    I know Subban is the #1dman there, and the fans would probably riot, but if I was gm of a last place hockey club Id send them this

    Yak,1st rnd pick,Smid, and maricin

    Overpay? yup! getting that true #1 dman pricless

    its a nice dream I know, but its time for MacT to get creative for this team to succeed, and please don’t keep the draft pick like Dithers.

    That is all, good day people!

    • Fatbob24

      Subban is not all that right now. Sure he won a Norris, for scoring the most goals. Didn’t have anything to do with his defensive skills which is what we really need right now. But he does have grit and attitude, so…toss up.

  • book¡e

    I have a revolutionary idea. Katz should create a Board of Directors of Hockey operations. That way he can bring in Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Anderson, Fuhr, Kurri etc.

    The Lord of the Rings(Lowe) can be promoted to Chairman.

    MacT can be “promoted” to President of Hockey Ops.

    This way Katz can have all the old boys on the payroll and pretending to be his friend.

    Think of all the economic spinoffs this would create. Think of the world class image the city would gain.

  • Fatbob24

    Oilers will make the playoffs-oops reset the bar-Oilers will win a game-oops reset the bar-Oilers will compete-oops reset the bar-Oilers will score a goal-oops reset the bar. A snail just hit his head on the bar.

  • To the poster who brought race into the discussion and the people that support that comment-please return all your oiler merchandise and go cheer for another team-you are disgusting and she be ashamed- i am sure you plan on posting your name since you are such a man!

    • Rob...

      I’d appreciate it if you edited it further, in the same manner you’d edit a ‘fist’ comment, Robin. Something to the effect of: “Katz is greedy… and I’m a goose stepping anti-Semite” if the original comment was anything like I now assume it was.

      Coming late to the party it now just looks like a fairly innocent comment that only the most super-sensitive person could attribute to racism.

  • oilabroad

    I agree with most of what I am reading in the comments but lets just play devils advocate here for a minute… we have all heard that Katz has direct input into the hockey ops (keeping bucky, drafting yak etc), how do you turn around and fire a guy (ie Lowe), when you are the one over riding all of managements decisions?? Maybe the problem is not Lowe, maybe its Katz.

    Someone on here nailed it earlier when they said Katz would never run his other businesses this way, nepotism does not make you money, nor does over riding the decisions of the ‘experts’ you hire to make those decisions.

    Point being, for all we know afro boy is running daddys team, so firing all these guys might sound good on paper, but the problems could be much deeper than we think… my 2 cents

  • Flames fan perspective: hire Feaster, he’s perfect at adding complementary vets and 3rd/4th line types. I may be slightly jesting here, but seriously, where are the Oilers when it comes to acquiring the Ramos and Berras and Corban Knights and Joe Colbornes of the world?

    Not saying that those guys in particular are some sort of franchise-saving solution, far from it, but the Oilers just never seem to be in on adding complementary type players, whether they be from Europe, college or vets.

    I don’t think the Oilers are as bad as almost everyone on here thinks, though I understand the anger and frustration.

    First, you guys are too hard on those young players. They need vets to show them how to be professionals. I don’t think they like losing; you don’t grow up and ascend to that level of hockey by being content and having a love of losing.

    The Oilers seem like an org paralyzed by fear. Scared to death that if they move one of their 1st overalls it will come back to bite them for decades. But you know what, that’s what GMs get paid for. Moving one of those 1st overalls would send one heck of a message too, wouldn’t it? And if you’re getting quality back, which shouldn’t be all that hard to do, then do it.

    Next, the Oilers still have a good crop of top prospects. Move most of them and move a couple of first round picks and bring in some quality vets, especially on D.

    MacT was right about bold moves, not sure if he’s the one to make them, but he was right. A bonafide #1 goalie alone would make a world of difference to the team. Move Yakupov, some prospects and some 1st rounders and the Oilers would be back into contention all while maintaining an extremely talented young core. People have to remember though – Nuge, Eberle, Schultz, etc. are NOT Gretzky, Messier, Coffee, etc. But, they’re still very, very good.

    I hate to throw out another Calgary name, but firing Lowe and hiring Burke (or even better, Jim Nill had he agreed to go there) before we got him would have been a solid thing to do IMO. So, fear not, an astute GM could turn the Oiles fortunes around in just a half season.

    • oilabroad

      It’s refreshing to see an unemotional evaluation of the Oil’s problems. Especially from a Flamer who isn’t just giddy and dancing on the grave in early Nov.

      Re a few points you make

      I don’t think the Oil have not been interested in complimentary players. However the ones they have brought in have either:

      not been effective eg. Eager, Belanger, Petrell etc. Poor judgement of player’s abilities by the brain trust;

      working out okay (the exeption) Arcabello, Belov ;

      a disaster i.e. Grebeshkov; or

      injured Joensuu, Hamilton and Pitlick.

      I agree that there is a fear in our town about moving a young gun and not getting full value for them. Any rational analysis of the Oil results in the conclusion, that even if everyone turns out well, moves will be inevitable. No team would be able to afford a succession of high end picks all playing well and demanding salaries in accordance. The fear is not just with Oil management but with the fan base and perhaps most of all with the media.

      When the Oil move a young gun, the question that needs to be asked is not whether the young gun might go on to be a super star somewhere else, but if what the Oil are getting back is of enough value to them and whether it makes them better.

  • oilabroad

    I’m as frustrated as any Oiler fan but sweet jeebuz, admit that wanting Lowe fired is more about looking for a pound of flesh and appeasing a frustrated fanbase than actually positively affecting the on-ice product.

    Seriously, nobody outside the organization actually knows what affect Lowe has on making trades and personnel choices. The same fans who call MacT arrogant also believe that Lowe is the ‘hidden puppet master’ behind the scenes. If MacT was so arrogant, do you really think he’d let Lowe make all the decisions?!?

    Along those lines…

    Katz is a ‘fanboy’! Yet he also doesn’t care about the team!

    Eakins is an egomaniac! But he’d also let the ownership group tell him what to do as far as assistants!

    Every so-called Oiler fan who comes on here and calls my home ‘deadmonton’ and calls the Oilers a joke can go find another frackin team to cheer for!

  • outdoorzguy

    It’s game night!! Everybody put on your jersey (that put $$$ in the pocket of Katz) and head to the game to fill the building again. Your hope is that after a dozen or so years of mediocrity things will miraculously turn around tonight. A win will sure change the attitude of the fans. What a great team we have, things are heading down the right path now with a win. We might win, more realistically we’ll lose.But keep going to the games and buying the jerseys because sooner or later things will get better and we all want to be on that band wagon when it happens. But this is a bad team. It’s not capable of doing anything even resembling success as this team. It’s poorly managed. The ownership is absent. As long as the Katz pockets fill up with our hard money nothing will change. Its been like that for a decade. But maybe tonight. Maybe. This could be the night we become great. But if it doesn’t happen, just leave the building like lemmings and hope for the next game to be that magical moment. Sooner or later it will happen. Won’t it??

  • I have been one of the most vocal opponents to Eakins system…….not for any measure except one.

    Have any players flourished under his leadership? Any?
    Have any players regressed under his leadership? I would contend every player including his spokeperson Andrew Ference.

    I understand that he is only 15 games into the season, but if there was even one player that looks like they are off and running, I would cut him some slack. I personally like his style and swagger but I hold him most accountable for running the bench.

    If we start all of a sudden winning and can sustain a game from start to finish, then I will think his systems are worth pursuing.

    Right now I only see a team that stopped playing for him. Sports can be a brutal game.

  • vetinari

    All of this hand-wringing and complaining by fans isn’t going to mean jack squat to Oilers management until the first game that doesn’t sell out.

    Unfortunately, until then we’re all just full of hot air.

  • vetinari

    Anyone else confunsed by all this love for Petry? It looked like he was directly responsible for at least 2 of Detroit’s goals. Sure he’s creating chances, but he isn’t exactly preventing a whole lot

  • DSF

    The core issue are nepotism and mismanagement. The team has been managed (for the most part) by ex-Oiler players in the misguided thought that this will endear the fans to the club. NEWS FLASH: NO OILER FAN GIVES A CRAP about Lowe or MacT. Fire them at some point before the start of next season.

  • 2004Z06

    Anyone else notice the irony of the advertisement on the boards in the box. “Stanley” something this group will never see…..I am sure there is a “tool” reference in their too.

  • 2004Z06

    Very accurate write up Robin. I am sure that Lowe and Company must be aware the fan base has gone totally kookoo on the team and management. No remarks from them, they jump on the plane for 4 games and hide in the press box, while there is anarchy on the streets of Edmonton.

    No much can be said at this point on Robins commentary, its all be said over 160 replys.!

    But one point to bring up.. is honestly MacT didn’t do enough this past summer. No saying he didn’t try, but this is a results business, where you pay executives millions per year.

    Yes Ference at best # 3-4 Dman and Gordon a face off specialist [ same as Arco at one tenth the price], were upgrades but not game changing players.

    Could not fix the goal tending, grit on the front and back end, and most importantly fixing the center position, sorry love the guy
    but Gagner is not a $4.5 million second line center.

    At the end roster is filled with a bunch of AHL
    players and cronies of Eakins. Bringing back Eager, and getting Gadzik did nothing to improve the team.

  • 2004Z06

    http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/edmonton-oilers-managment-group-darryl-katz-enforce-their-message-of-accountability-and-hold-kevin-lowe-responsible-for-this-debacle-of-a-season-either-resigning-or-fired?sign_only=fe

    SIGN THE PETITION. LOWE NEEDS TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE. 4 COACHES 1 GM AND A TON OF PLAYERS GONE BUT THE 1 CONSTANT IS LOWE AND HES STILL PROSPERING RECEIVING A BIG CHEQUE. WHEN WILL KATZ REALIZE LOWE NEEDS TO GO. WE CANT TRAdE PLAYERS BUT WE CAN LET OUR VOICE BE HEARD.

    • If you actually want this petition to be taken half-seriously, a few tips:

      — Spell the owner’s name correctly. It’s “Daryl,” not “Darryl.”

      — Correct the grammar and spelling mistakes in the introduction.

      — When you have a comment section on the page and you have people who sign up give their reasons for doing so, removing comments like “Kevin Lowe is a f*cking idiot” will help the cause, not hinder it.

      Right now, your page looks like the half-assed effort of a bunch of people goofing off and killing time.

  • 2004Z06

    Robin,

    First of all thank you for calling a spade a spade and not insulting the fanbase with rediculous advanced stats and shoulda coulda woulda talk.

    Secondly, if this group is made up of the wrong players how can MacT not make a roster player type move? I just want to grab him and scream at the top of my lungs “DO YOUR GOD DAMN JOB MAN!!” I know hes been working the phone but who gives a rats ass make a frikin deal!!!

  • Zarny

    As always good observations by LT. Playoffs are lots but the situation isn’t as dire as some make it out to be.

    Right or wrong, Katz won’t fire anyone this year. Lowe sold Katz on a 6 yr plan and we’re only starting yr 4. It wouldn’t make a difference anyway…the problem is on the ice.

    I’m not a fan of Kevin Lowe’s, but to be fair he was baited into the 6 rings comment.

    Lowe and MacT were asked a fair question…why should the group who torpedoed a Cup contender be trusted with the rebuild?

    To Lowe’s credit he admitted that he chased the dream for a few years after 2006. Sutter did the same thing in Cgy. They were so close.

    When it became obvious that without Pronger no amount of duct tape would get the Oilers back to the Cup Lowe sold Katz on his 6 yr plan. And I think that is where the disconnect is between Lowe/Katz etc and Oiler fans.

    Lowe responds to a comment by asking “are you getting impatient?”

    I think most Oilers fans would say yes; but not Lowe et al. I don’t think they really count those first few years of losing because they were “chasing the dream” after 2006. I’m not sure how it makes a difference but in their mind it does.

    Kevin Lowe undoubtedly knows about winning; he brought in the right players and added ridiculous depth for the 2006 Cup run.

    What I find ironic is the Oilers current biggest weakness is a complete and utter lack of depth.

    The rebuild strategy seems to be throw the kids to the wolves and when they’re ready add depth. So far that isn’t working.

    • Lowes’ 6 rings comments were wrong on so many levels that is mind boggling that anyone with any management acumen would have uttered it. You give him an excuse of being “baited into it”. What kind of questions was he expecting at a media availability about firing his GM? The question was totally predictable. If he was unprepared for it, that speaks volumes about his ability to do his job.