THE BOYS UNDER THE BUS

The latest lump in the truckload of coal the Edmonton Oilers have been shoveling under the Christmas trees of their fans for eight seasons came in Saturday’s 6-0 drubbing at the hands of the St. Louis Blues. What an ugly, ugly scene it was.

On a utterly forgettable night for a fallen franchise, scenes from Hockey Night in Canada’s telecast showed sections of empty seats with five minutes to play with fans long gone to the parking lot, president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe fidgeting with his cellphone and, finally, an Oiler jersey laying on the ice, tossed there by one of the paying customers.

With HNIC’s After Hours segment waiting for Taylor Hall to emerge from a dressing room that remained closed for 10 minutes after the game, the CBC panel filled with a post-mortem on the Oilers, losers of six straight games and dead in the water at 11-24-3.

In the room, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who was supposed to have been a sideshow but instead finds himself having joined one, talked about how the Oilers deserved to be booed. Jordan Eberle talked about being sick of what’s happening here. Coach Dallas Eakins, less than half a full season into his tenure behind the bench, said much the same thing.

The blah, blah, blah we’ve heard before, but that shot of the Oiler jersey cast on the ice like so much trash sticks with me. I’ve never seen that before, and I’ve seen a lot in the old rink on Gretzky Drive.

THE WORST OF TIMES?

With the venom being spewed by rightfully frustrated fans and the empty seats I’m seeing, despite more than 300 straight official sell-outs at Rexall Place in the books, this is clearly the worst of times since the oh-so-forgettable early 1990s. Back then, owner Peter Pocklington was selling off what was left of the five-time Stanley Cup champions and letting the rest of the team die on the vine. Lots of crowds under 10,000 back then.

I’m not sure which era was worse – the 1992-93 team captained by current GM Craig MacTavish went 26-50-8 for 60 points – but arguing that is setting the bar woefully low. What I do know is nobody with a functioning brain expected much from the raft of mediocre players on that roster. The expectations now are different, and should be, with the likes of Hall, Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on this edition of the team – any one of them would have been the best player on that pitiful 1992-93 team.

Edmonton’s management and its spinners have been selling hope for four seasons since the tear-it-down rebuild "officially" began. Fans, obviously loyal to a fault, have been buying in, filling the rink, purchasing souvenirs, parking and over-priced beer. All to watch a team that’s won just 45 of its last 123 home games.

Now, paid for or not, empty seats. And no, as team president Patrick LaForge suggested with a straight face, it’s not "brutal weather." Now, that jersey thrown on the ice. Was it deposited there by an over-served patron in a fit of drunken defiance? A long-time season ticket holder sick of what they’ve seen? Both? No matter, it’s trouble.

OVER TO YOU, BOSS

I don’t know if we’ll ever see attendance sink to the levels of the ugly 1990s – I doubt it – but unless something changes drastically, and in a hurry, we’re going to see more empty seats, more jerseys on the ice and, worse, more of the kind of indifference Pocklington cultivated as owner.

Drastic change means starting at the top of hockey operations. That means the dirty deed falls to owner Daryl Katz, who has a management group and coaching and scouting staffs filled with old friends and old Oilers. With his initial investment in the team already showing a tidy profit, according to the latest values published for NHL teams, will Katz be so inclined? Not today or tomorrow – it makes no sense – but this off-season?

I can see an argument for MacTavish and Eakins getting more time to do their jobs. I see no such case for managers, coaches or scouts who have been collecting pay cheques for all or most of this eight-year stretch of futility and frustration. The names we know, and Lowe is the obvious starting point.

Will Katz make those calls this off-season? Will he tell his friends that it’s time for them to move along? Will he shake their hands and wish them well? If Katz, for whatever reason, isn’t inclined to do that – in a city and for a fan base that’s committed to building him a new downtown arena – in the name of finally delivering on the hope he’s been selling, what’s the message?

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

  • james_dean

    hall and Perron and Nurse are the only ones that stay,time for a trade(multiple)fire klowe,let Mact stay as gm he has not had enough time yet,see what he can trade our first,eberle,yaks,klefbom and such for.please get rid of belov,ganger and perty even for a bag of pucks!

  • Slapshot

    Robin, the best dam write up in a long time by anyone here at ON.

    No more spinning stories of the great 5 year rebuild. Rebuild means improving some year by year… this is not the case. Don’t need to look at charts and stats spins all day long…
    This is a terribly built team, every fan can see that except the management and some of the shrinking scribes within the Edmonton media.

    Robin, thanks for calling it out… Katz is the only guy that can start the real rebuild and turn this train wreck around… IT HAS TO START RIGHT AT THE TOP…

    At this point I am not evern sure if MacT is the right guy for the GM, never mind getting down to the coaching.

    • Serious Gord

      MacT is not the right guy for the job and neither is Eakins. They need an experienced NHL coach here, like a Hitchcock or someone of that ilk. They also require an experience GM without a question. The only way to start fixing this disaster is to fire everyone from K Lowe down. Only one that should be left standing is Joey Moss and start from the bottom and build a respectable coaching staff and management team. Who watched Eakins yesterday at the game, never moved never talked just stood there like a lost sheep. Sorry Dallas that little boy had it right YOU SUCK. This team was much more competitive under Krueger and Renney and they both got fired. Hmmm go figure

      • Batfink

        I have to agree. Ever since Kevin Lowe has been here it has been a struggle. Katz trying to surround himself with his old Oiler buddies from the glory days is not the answer. AS much as he would love to win a cup with them. it will never happen. Lots of hockey people have been available but LOwe is carful to hire people he can control. Brian Burke, Ken Hitchkock, Sutter. I have been a die hard fan for 40 years and it is sad to see this happen. I use to be really affected by the oilers winning and losing but now I am not even watching most of the games. I can’t imagine how fans that are spending 100.00 to go watch live. I am in total disgust with the effort by the players but these guys got to this level because they could play. Our managent and coaching is destroying them. Please Mr Katz run this team the way you know you should. Start with getting rid of Kevin Lowe. You wouldn’t put up with this if this was Rexall and you surely didn’t build success by hiring friends

  • Renegade

    I am starting to think that Katz wants to relocate the team. He has demonstrated that by going over to Seattle. Why else would he let this team go on the way it is?

  • I mentioned to a buddy last night. A jersey on the ice, wow.
    Haven’t seen that since that playoffs loss by the flames in Calgary
    When that iggy jersey got tossed.
    That guy did it with a lot of dramatics. Ran down to the glass and in a fit of indignation ripped the silks off and tossed it over the glass. Big cheer from the few remajning flames fans who witnessed it too.

    The Oilers are a sad sad state of affairs to be sure. Completely broken. And now embarrassing themselves by running their mouths on the ice and disrespecting their opponents… Good stuff lads… Top shelf.

  • Hard to fathom how bad this team really is.

    As for the up arrows being spewed out by JW, LT, and Tyler Dellow… Take a look at how we’ve stacked up against western teams this year compared to last year… We are every bit as bad.

    Sure, when you include the games against the east our scoring chance numbers are up a bit, our corsi and Fenwick are showing improvement… But we didn’t get to play against eastern teams last year.

    We are every bit as bad this year as we were last year.
    It’s not the coaching, it is the mix of players on the roster.

    When you have all your top forwards on the ice playing the exact same role, it will never work.

    I’m a patient guy, and at this point I really don’t care if we keep tanking. Ekblad, Nurse, and Mcdavid can end up being the future. Hall, Ebs, Nuge, Jultz, and Yak can play the roles of depth veterans for all I care.

    If the right deal comes along for one of Eberle, Yak, Hall, Nuge, Jultz, Hemsky, Gags, or Perron, then by all means make the trade, but only if it makes sense.

    What’s one more year of losing if it means getting Mcdavid, the kind of player that comes along every 5-10 years?

    Times like these will reveal the true character of our young core. If they dig deep and fight tooth and nail right to the bitter end of this season great. If they start to whine and complain, and start asking to be traded then their true colors will show and I say ship em out.

    • The Real Scuba Steve

      Brownlee you beautiful bastard… BULLSEYE! It’s happening… The chain reaction of events finally gathering momentum just as Donald Sutherlands Black Ops character in JFK opined. There is no stopping the momentum of what is now happening. Kevin Lowe will go, whether he knows it right now or not. The beginning of the final chapter was his incredulous Press Conference announcing MacT’s hire. Last night will be remembered (the sweater), and will prove to be the ultimate undoing of The Man In the Molded Micron’s. RIP Mr. Lowe. You Sir, are no longer welcome in this town. Thank you for a good year in 2006, but you’re expiry date is now past due.

    • THRNHJE

      What makes you think coaching is not part of the problem as well? Sure, the mix of player is not ideal, but this is by no means a 29th place team. I think the coaching has been every bit as bad as the GMing and the goaltending and everything else. There is so many things wrong with this franchise, that I can’t see playoffs next year either.

      RB, best Oilers related read of 2013.

      • Not that I have much good to say about Eakins, but when the coaching changes every year and the results stay the same, it leads me to believe that coaching is far from the biggest factor.

        Hope Nurse doesnt make the team next year, I don’t want him exposed to this mess until he’s fully ready to make the jump.

        He’s having a great season in SOO.

        The Greyhounds own official Twitter account also responded saying that Russon’s report waswithout merit. ”Nurse is captain, team is 1st place, kid is PPG (point per game) vs best QOC (quality of competition) in league. Please help provide that info to fan base of Oilers

  • Arius Mumin

    Keep the jerseys on the ice coming.

    Instead those expensive beers Rexall will be known for serving “jerseys on ice”.

    If anyone wants to sell me some lower bowl seats, I will go and throw both my Smyth and Hemsky jerseys on the ice at the next home game.

  • Jay Gray

    I find myself saying a couple times a year ‘this is a low point’

    Couldn’t be any more factual than today. Kudos to the man who threw his jersey on the ice. I nearly did that exact thing at a game I attended last year, but my frugal nature took over and I still have my #19 J. Schultz hanging in my closet.

    Mac-T and Eakins need to be given time to sort this out, but in the meantime I believe it’s time to go in another direction as far as the scouting staff is concerned. The shine has wore off on the ‘Magnificent Bastard’.

  • Good read RB.

    This team is a bloody mess!

    I’m at a loss as to where you would even start to fix this?

    Defense, Offense, Goal ,Owner, POHO , Management, Coach , Assistant Coach’s, Amateur scouts, Pro Scouts………….

    It’s all a nightmare, I mean, where do you start fixing this?

  • D

    I was one of those that shelled out quite a few dollars in the mid 1990s to sit in an arena with less than 10,000 fans. That was a sad era, especially with Pocklington threatening to move the team all the time, despite the fact that he was the direct cause of the fans staying away.

    I’ll give Katz credit for opening his wallet and trying to bring consistently elite hockey back to Edmonton. I hope whatever moves he makes next, they’re well thought out and aren’t any that will cause regrets a few years from now.

  • Jay Gray

    Also one last point. Hall look scared to initiate last night, and has for a lot of the season. Where’s his fire to jab somebody back once and a while. Take a stick, give a stick. Wrestle with somebody. He needs to look over at Perron and realize that not every agitating moment will end in a fight.

    The Oilers need to get in the “Christmas Spirit”. More GIVING and less RECEIVING!

    The jersey on the ice was “PRICELESS”. It speaks to so oilers fans on so many levels! Whats a $200 jersey if your giving up your $200 a seat ticket for every game. Small price to pay imo…

  • vetinari

    Firing KLowe would be a very welcoming gesture by Katz and would send a much needed message of hope, for the Oilers faithful.

    I for a second do not believe that the players have mailed it in……..it’s just they are all the same types of players. Every media, pundit, fans have said that the OIlers need to get tougher, meaner, and bigger………Mac T should have done more in the offseason……rookie GM mistake.

    Next year should be entertaining…….please Santa let it be that way.

    • Slapshot

      Do you really think MacT is trading from a position of strength? Of course there is teams out there willing to trade you a Heatley for that kid Eberle or Nurse! Maybe it’s not the best example but I’m sure you get my intent!

      A lot of bad contracts are up after this year, Hemsky, Smyth, N. Schultz, Eager, Dubnyk etc, that is the point where I’ll start judging MacT & his scouts! Lot’s of draftees to come through the system yet & trades to be made! Of course this is the wrong mix of players & I’m positive MacT recognizes this but it would be far more foolish to panick & start dumping the skill just to appease the media, bloggers & part time fans!

      • Serious Gord

        He too has to be held accountable……..he added a bunch of players that have added NOTHING to the overall small equation.

        Except Perron, nothing Mac T did in the offseason has really helped us. Now I for one will give him another shot this upcoming summer, but he had better do something special. If that means moving one of our talented hobbits, so be it.

        Trading our top draft pick, IMHO, would be stupid and probably do nothing for us long term. Signing some UFA’s and overpaying is probably our only option, as long as they are not like Clarkson……..we dodged a bullet there.

  • vetinari

    I think it’s “Trade Time”. Show the fan base that a bold move has been made, for a top defencemen, or that rugged kick his own teamates arse when there playing like crap forward. The trade will hurt but hopefully heal the Oilers Longterm!

  • vetinari

    I posted in this in the previous thread and it is just as appropriate here—

    Take a lesson from “Breaking Bad”: “No more half measures…”

    Katz:

    There are problems with your management team.

    There are problems with your mix of coaches and assistant coaches.

    There are problems with the current roster of players and how they relate to the coaches.

    Where do you want to start because the ball is in your court?

    I suppose that as long as this investment continues to make you money, there is no incentive for you to change business practices.

    I only hope that you get to feel the pain that we all do in some small way, whether it’s a fan boycott for all games from February to the end of the year, or some other collective action by the fans (anyone have management’s e-mail addresses?).

    Just a little piece of free advice for you, Mr. Katz– when your management team is the basically the one that got you into this mess, maybe you should hire a consultant from outside of the organization to do a review of what’s currently wrong from top to bottom… but that would only be needed if you actually thought that there was a problem and that the problem needed to be fixed.

  • Rdubb

    FLA the rat toss
    DET octopus
    EDM the jersey

    I congratulate whoever made that statement last night. We’ve all ranted till we’ve been blue in the face. I knew way to get a message across? Let’s hope someone, anyone, is listening…

    • Sevenseven

      Kevin Lowe was the one who disbanded our AHL franchise, and farmed out all of our players to other systems. Does anyone really thing a competing nhl team would play our players ahead of theirs. Strike one. Then he had to nerve to say fans that didn’t go to game didn’t matter. Strike 2. His stanley cup ring comment Strike 3. I think MacT deserves a chance to right the ship, this is a guy who quit, left to get a degree, worked for TSN, and coached for another organization. He deserves a chance to right the ship. Kevin Lowe’s arrogance alone should get him fired, Hey Kevin…The 80’s are gone, what have you done for us lately!!!!