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.

  • Serious Gord

    I’ve got a $450 signed Yakupov that I’ll throw on the ice. I gave all my other jerseys away, but b/c I figured Yak is neither the problem nor likely to be an Oiler for long, I kept it.

    Now if someone has lower bowl tickets, I’m willing to toss that over.

  • Serious Gord

    I always thought ‘public building’ meant a building that was fully funded by taxpayers and owned by the government/public, not private investment.. such as a museum, library, hospital. Maybe I’m wrong though.

    Anyway, with the millions of dollars that Katz put into this new arena.. Are ticket prices expected to rise to cover the owners’ costs?

  • Serious Gord

    Why wait until the off-season to fire Lowe? A new qualified person needs to be brought in ASAP to evaluate the team to make the best possible moves in this off-season when the cap is being raised. Waiting to get rid of Lowe until the off-season likely means another lost season next year because whoever replaces him will be getting up to speed while every other team is making all the moves they want with the Oilers not in the mix. There is nothing useful Lowe can do for this team between now and the off-season. The sooner Lowe is gone the better off the Oilers will be.

      • Serious Gord

        Exactly, they didn’t have a VP of hockey operations before they hired Tambo, so I question if they truly need one, and could at the very least function quite okay for a few months with the position empty.

        I recall KL being asked why he moved to VP from GM on after hours shortly after the change. His answer was basically I have more free time now!!! He didn’t say anything about why it would improve the organization or what his actual duties as VP were.

  • Serious Gord

    One comment I have to make.. Jerseys are so expensive, I wouldn’t say it would even have to be something like that to send a message.

    Oiler shirts, Oiler mitts, Oiler tuques would get the message across as well with a far lower waste in value. As long as it’s not hats as that would send a wrong message of celebration (hat trick).

    Just something to think about before throwing $200 of your hard earned money over the edge!

    • bazmagoo

      What’s with this comment? Pretty oblivious to the reality of the situation. I wonder how big the waiting list for season tickets is though, bet it’s pretty huge. K-dub’s plan isn’t to win this season.

    • 2004Z06

      Throwing something of value is entirely the point! It sends the message that a fan paying hard earned money is fed up and would rather part with 200 bucks than watch this debacle continue to unfold! Throwing a 5 dollar Oilers mitten sends no message at all.

      The real message would be to have half the building empty against the Jets. Lost parking, merchandise, concession, alcohol revenue and the image on tv of a normally sold out building half empty would send a clear message.

      Unfortunately someone will always park their ass in a seat at Rexall.

      The jersey on the ice should be the tip of the iceberg.

      And no one is asking anyone to give up their season tickets. Just boycott one damn game.

    • Bryzarro World

      I used to pay over 10g a year to watch these skating turds until I got my head out of my ass and said goodbye to the Oilers. Do you really think I would care an iota about a $200 jersey that brings nothing but shame and embarrassment along with it?

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    @JJ….the dude sent a strong message to the team, and if most of them didn’t see it, they will have been made aware of it by now. I say kudos to the guy for having the stones to do it !

  • Gerald R. Ford

    boys under the bus should be renamed no braveheart. this group of heartless players need some fire and muscle from their 1st 2 lines right on thru.the skilled youth of gretzky’s era still had the passion and self preservation to have some grit.anderson had his crazy flailing stick,messier charged with reckless abandone,tikkanen slashed and sticked ya,so did linseman and all these guys were top 6 forwards. add in a d that featured smith,beukaboom,muni,jackson…just mean non? then 3rd and 4th line toughness too,sammy ,mcsorley,mcclelland,even hunter’s elbows destroyed.so we’re only this far away from the boys on the bus …ah yes that and goaltending! gooooood luuuuuuuck mac t

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    Thank you Mr. Brownlee. Finally some courage from an ON writer. Jersey Toss and chanting great next steps. What about fan billboards like they did in Denver. “Mr. Katz, the taxpayers of this town have provided you with $100 million dollars, please reciprocate by providing us with NHL hockey”. Other suggestions for a billboard?

    • HardBoiledOil 1.0

      I hate soccer, but maybe the way that one teams fans all stand up and look away from the game at the same time would get the message across. We are top ten in payroll with 3 first overall picks in the roster. Enough excuses management

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    I think nothing is gonna get Eakins, MacT or Lowe fired. they’ll get to make some major player changes first and they’re hesitant to make such a move. I’m willing to bet that not much changes at all. Maybe a couple Ference type UFA signings in the summer and perhaps a Perron type deal. But hopefully when they suck this time next year this fire Lowe movement will finally get some traction.

    But for the love of all things holy could they atleast throw us a bone and get some new assistant coaches?? WTF

  • If only any of this would result in the fans being provided with NHL calibre hockey.

    This team is 4-5 Major pieces away from being truly competitive and while the jersey toss is exactly what this organization had coming, it isn’t going to result in another gm doing a deal with mact to provide us with the top d man we so desperately need.

    Yak or eberle will be dealt, and it will almost certainly be a mistake.

  • 2004Z06

    I don’t understand why MacTavish and Eakins receive a free pass, again and again. Just listen to the players: to a man they seem baffled by what it is they’re doing. That translates into less committed (if that was even possible), and supposed statistical gains obviously don’t translate into results. Not a week goes by, when “management through negativity” rears its ugly head (people being singled out), and some players, who spoke in glowing terms of Krueger or Renney, must now be reassured they’re “part of the plan” (i.e.: Yakupov). We all know this train wreck could have been avoided, if goal tending had been better early on – self confidence could have taken hold – now, however, it is too late: a fragile group has become even more fragile, and leadership obviously has no answers. This is beyond anybody “deserves more time”, now, this must be the beginning of Rebuild #2: Front Office, Management AND Coaching, regardless of tenure and/or history with the organization …

  • Bryzarro World

    Why not sign me to come back and mentor Yakupov, Belov, Bryzgalov and Buchberger?

    Смотря эту команду вызывает моя жена, чтобы сжечь блины!

        • Serious Gord

          Sorry can’t happen. Clarkson has a limited No Trade clause as well as a No Movement Clause. He turned down a large amount of money from the Oilers to sign for cheaper in Toronto, do you think he would accept a trade to this gong show.

        • Serious Gord

          Why would TO make that trade (even if it were possible in light if clarksons NTC)?

          The leafs are too small up front without clarkson and defensively have already have defensive liabilities like khadri. And they want clear value for one of their goalies – dubnyk sure isn’t that.

    • Zarny

      The Leafs have been interested in Gagner for awhile; and the Oilers have been interested in Gardiner and/or Reimer.

      I think both teams previously balked because they were in the same situation of trying to figure out exactly what they had in these players.

      Clarkson is a terrible idea. If he was only signed for 2-3 years maybe. He’s an undrafted player who spent 3 years in the minors and 3 years on NJ’s 4th line until Elias, Parise and Kovalchuk figured out how to bounce pucks off his a** for one season.

      I liked Clarkson but he is not the type of player who is going to be productive into his 30’s. Given his contract the Oilers should have nothing to do with him.

  • Rdubb

    Katz doesn’t have the GUTS to fire those who NEED TO BE FIRED!!!
    The head needs to be cut off of the snake as they say…then, the Oilers NEED a new scouting staff, any dog can pick a winner with the #1 pick, but other than Eberle, which picks after the top 10 have really panned out in the past 7 or 8yrs? NOT MANY!!!
    Now, go down the list and look @ all the other teams (ok, 25 of the other teams) and look @ their picks from 11 on, and how many of those guys have gone on to play in the NHL & how many of those guys have gone on to be a above average contributors on their teams? A lot more than the Oilers than have had…
    There have been so many “diamonds” in the “ruff” these past 7yrs in the later picks or even in the later rounds…
    Just look @ the past 2 drafts, Edmonton KNEW they NEEDED a goalie in their system and let 3 very good guys slip through their fingers last season, hell, they had an Oil Kings tender they know very good & could have had, but NO…or how many bigger sized guys could have they had, or picking a d-man in the 1st two rounds, sorry…the scouting staff decided to pick smaller guys with skill…time for a new scouting staff too…
    And finally, Eakins MUST BE TOLD that he must get his fingers out of the special teams and allow them to get back to where they had success…
    Just my thoughts though
    PECK

    • Chainsawz

      BEAUTIFUL! How symbolic can it get, hard working blue color guy working in the north, die hard fan did it out of frustration, not as a joke. Goes to the game as a regulat attendee (tier 1.5) and loves his team. This guy should be cannonized. (ooops truly politically incorrect during the xm….. er holiday season)

  • Serious Gord

    Mr. Brownlee great article picture says it all (old boys club) Many years ago the great Gretzky once commented that the Devils were a “Mickey Mouse organization” I think the shoe in on the other foot now. I feel sorry for you oiler fans for having to see the same cluster every year.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    Standing O for Brownlee!……….for having the balls to write the article that Oilersnation loyalists have been demanding and have deserved to see in print for some time now!

    Well done my man!

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    “Mr. Katz, the taxpayers of this town have provided you with $100 million dollars, …

    Check your math. Because if you think it’s only a $100M giveaway, you’re a bigger sukcer than ost of the people who buy season’s tickets. Or you’re David Staples.
    Not sure which would be sadder.

  • Zarny

    Honestly, it’s time for some to step back from the ledge and take a breath. It’s been comical to watch some fans go from the next dynasty to complete Armageddon in less than 4 months.

    Nothing has actually changed from the start of the season; other than we’ve seen the folly of those who thought a Stanley Cup contender is only made up of a few high draft picks.

    They aren’t. Two years ago, Anh had Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan and still finished 25th. Perspective people.

    Hall, Eberle, Nuge, Yakupov and Schultz remain a very good foundation to build upon but that isn’t a finished product. They are still very young and inexperienced, and how fans feel does nothing to change that fact.

    Through 38 games we’ve seen the perils of not having a top pairing D. We’ve also seen the perils of the top 6 F being too much of the same. The same game plan shutdowns everyone of them…push them to the outside and bump them off the puck. Firing Lowe solves none of this.

    The Oilers can’t wait for Nurse to maybe fill the role in 4-5 years. With an over abundance of small, skilled F one of them is going to have to moved fill the holes on the roster.

    Yes, the player moved will be a very talented forward. Don’t worry, the Oilers have three more just like them.

    Teams that play for the Stanley Cup move picks and prospects for proven NHL players. It’s that time in Edm. The 2014 1st round pick, likely Yak or Eberle as well as some of the prospects (Klefbom or Marincin) will need to be utilized as assets to get the pieces the Oilers are missing.

    • Chainsawz

      There must be some reason the team is doing worse than last year even though the kids are one more year seasoned, improvements like Peron and Gordon from Belanger and Parv….

      I think I’ll stay on this ledge and keep on shouting. I use to love watching the oilers, now its just blah, I miss my passion.

      • Zarny

        First, the team isn’t really doing worse than last year. They finished 24th last year and were falling at the end of those 48 games.

        The kids aren’t one more year seasoned. They played half a season last year.

        Perron is an improvement over Paajarvi but Gordon didn’t replace Belanger…he replaced Horcoff. And that isn’t an upgrade.

        Gagner had a great year last year finishing 31st in league scoring. This year he’s struggled coming back from injury. Your 2C sucking balls has a big effect. Go check out how Van’s struggles parallel Kesler’s injury woes over the last couple of years.

        Meanwhile the 4th line is worse than last year. Most of them literally had no NHL experience at the start of the season.

        The changes on D were not upgrades. Ference was a good addition but he’s a 4-6 pairing on a contender. Belov, Larsen, Fedun…not upgrades. Literally, not a single Oiler D is good enough to play top pairing min against the best F in the league.

        Oh and Dubnyk was letting in beach balls for 20 games. He played much better last year.

        The problem is that despite this being a new season nothing really changed. The Oilers have the same handful of talented kids as last year and not much more. Some deck chairs were shuffled around but at the end of the day the supporting cast is still a bunch of borderline NHL players and that simply isn’t good enough.

        Stay on the ledge all you want; won’t change anything.

        • Wow thats weak. I’m a tier 2 fan, watching the oilers is as enjoying as watching crash test dummies. I’m glad I’m not spending thousands of dollars year in and year out to watch this. Being on the ledge is the only enjoyment I am getting this year (except Perron, man that guy is fan tas teak)

    • Zarny

      Zarney I agree with what you say mostly……..but what you wrote here is blarney!

      We are constantly being told to be patient. We have received four first round draft picks and still suck? We have brought in ( by my count) 16 new players over the past two years, and we still suck?

      The problem is not bringing in new players……..but bringing in the right supporting players. By that measure all management have failed miserably, including Mac T………he brought in 8 new players and then boldly declared he was handing the team over to the coaching staff, and that he was done.

      Exactly what made him think Belov would help? Exactly what made him think getting the smallest non puck moving defenceman possible ( Ference) would make us bigger and tougher on the back end?? Exactly what made him think bringing in second string goaltenders would help our goaltending situation? You can go down the list and see that how management view hockey players is seriously flawed ……..may I suggest we need outside help?

      We need to start by firing LOWE.

      • Zarny

        Rama…yes we have four 1st round draft picks and still suck because those draft picks aren’t the answer all by themselves. They don’t come with magical pixie dust from a land of unicorns and rainbows.

        Those draft picks can’t carry a team of borderline NHL players. Sorry, but anyone who thought that is naive beyond belief. They are young and inexperienced players.

        Sidney Crosby won the scoring title as a rookie and the Penguins still sucked too. Anh had Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan, Hiller and Fowler 2 years ago and finished 25th.

        A few high draft picks does not a Stanley Cup contender make. It’s that simple. Every contender has a handful of players who are just as good as Edm’s draft picks except they are older and have a better supporting cast.

        The problem is bringing in new players. I don’t care how many players have been brought in over the last two year; they aren’t good enough.

        And yes, that was a failure of management. Hence, Tambo was fired.

        Firing Lowe solves nothing. He isn’t the guy making trades and signing players. The guy who did that was canned last year. And you can’t really expect MacT to fix this roster in a few months.

        Does it suck? Yep, but that’s Tambo’s legacy. Other than a few draft picks he left MacT with nothing.

        MacT didn’t think Ference would make the Oilers bigger and tougher on the back-end. Ference was brought in because he plays hard, plays every game and knows what it takes to win.

        Belov was a gamble because there simply weren’t other options for MacT to sign. There was no big, strong top pairing D last year to bring in.

        In terms of LaBarbera, this was Dubnyk’s year to prove himself. The organization handed him the reigns and showed confidence in him by signing a back-up. He failed miserably. MacT has since addressed that failure by signing Bryzgalov.

        Outside help isn’t going to make Edm a more desired place to play I’m afraid. All-stars aren’t going to suddenly flock to Edm because Ken Holland is GM. It’s silly to even think that.

        The reality is the draft picks are still a good foundation to build upon but the Oilers have to actually build.

        You’re 100% right that players like Ference and Belov aren’t enough. They need a top pairing D or two and they can’t wait for Nurse or any other prospect to fill that roll. They are all 4-5 years away.

        Signing UFA’s is always going to be hard in Edm. That’s just a reality for the NHL’s 28th most popular destination.

        Which means the answers have to come from trades.

        They are going to have to trade one of the kids for a top pairing D. More supporting players like Perron and Ference need to be brought in. That is going to mean picks and prospects like Marincin or Klefbom have to be moved.

        I can appreciate why fans are frustrated; but it isn’t Armageddon. There is a path forward but this is a marathon not a sprint. And everyone yelling about running out of patience with a bunch of kids who have played 1-3 seasons of hockey is absurd. Let me grab my shocked face that a handful of draft picks with less than 200 games experience struggled.

  • Zarny

    I am neither a Tier 1 through Tier 3 fan. I do watch the occasional game on one of the high def channels but I do not hesitate to change the channel or in case the game was PVRd delete the recording if the game is boring or poor performance or lack of effort.

    My casual observation about all North America professional sports including hockey is that they are missing a system of relegation and promotion. Teams with poor performance are rewarded with high draft picks instead of being relegated to the next lower division. There is no incentive to compete.

    Whether you like soccer (football) or not, teams competing in leagues like the English Premier League have a huge financial incentive to do what ever it takes to stay in the league, if a team gets relegated they lose significant amount of TV revenue. Bottom 3 teams get relegated to division 2. While top 3 in division 2 get promoted and bottom 3 get relegated to division 3 etc. Contrast that to North American Sports were poor performing teams are not only allowed to stay in a league, nut are rewarded with high draft picks. Instead of competing and earning your way into the top league. Worse in North America you can buy your way into a league by buying a franchise or expansion.

  • Zarny

    Another game lost, another game booed off the ice. Saturday’s complete debacle started out somewhat promising with a team out of the gate looking like they wanted to compete and give the Blues a game. Instead the team that was cast off the ice to a plethera of boo birds and a now famous Hemsky sweater finished looking like a group that would be hard pressed to succeed at the AHL level. While most NHL clubs hold a certain distinction of pride, the Oilers fold up almost immediately when they go down even 1. Now as apparent that it is there are problems from the top down , the locker room of 20 men has to come together with an us against the world meantality and start to attempt to prove the naysayers and doubters wrong rather than totally verifiying their opinions on this dismal club. These players didn’t get to an elite level by fluke, giving up isn’t in there DNA or at least it wasn’t before K Lowe had a hand in there once promising careers. A team with so much promise and hope now looks like a group of cast off’s who would sooner bury there head in the mud then show up nightly with an honest effort. There is no question that K Lowe and Mac T don’t have a winner on the ice but there is no excuse for games like Saturday. This is your job and you are paid well to do it no matter what cards your dealt. If you want to give up on your career then call up Alex Plante and get on the next plane to Austria, I am sure he could use a roomate.

  • Zarny

    Yeah, I’m defending Tambellini here. To all those who think he was free to make his own calls, think again. A proper general manager in this league has carte blanche to change his team how he sees fit. Lowe vacated the general manager’s seat for the President of Hockey Operations, but Tambellini never got that carte blanche to make his own deals.

    I watched Sportsnet’s Oil Change at trade deadline day a couple years ago and saw this in action. Every time Tamby had a trade he could have made he apparently had to run it by Lowe, who on most of them said no. How is a GM supposed to improve the team if he has to ask the board of directors every time he wants to trade a guy? Like it or not, the responsibility for the mess is at Lowe’s feet. The best way to fix it would be to fire Lowe and let MacT do that which they hired him for. But good luck getting Katz to go that way.

  • The War Amp Champ

    Love how t’d up Eakins got about the guy who tossed his jersey on the ice. Maybe it would be nice if he directed such emotion towards the guys PAID to wear them are doing rather then what the guys PAYING to wear them are doing. “Its my jersey it can fly if I want to” Also I hear Dkatz and 6Rings pulled the guy aside and talked to him for some length. I wonder what was said, or better yet what was offered to this guy. # Rexall brand anti depressant migrain pills

  • The War Amp Champ

    One more quick note, so its cool to throw your hat on the ice after a hat trick. So how many poor games in a row completes the flat trick and thus making it a.o.k to toss such jersey? If its anywhere from 3 games to 8 seasons?