ROME BURNS: PART II

 

There is
no question that things are horribly bad right now for the OilersNation.  Some folks are even calling it the worst time
in franchise history – which seems insane given that 1) The Gretzky Trade 2)
SCF 2006 G7. But when you are going through a thing, having other people tell you
that thing isn’t so bad doesn’t help. It makes the thing worse. We are the joke of the league and that makes every self respecting Oilers fan irate.

Before we
delve into my little analysis of Oilers ownership and whether Daryl Katz is “Count
Chocula evil”, give that video I posted at the top a quick gander if you need a
little morale boost. It’s by this Icelandic band I got to watch a few weeks
back called FM Belfast.

I am
trying to listen to only happy music during these dark dark days and Icelandic
people know about making the best of a bad winter every year. All isolated up
there on that island, dark all the time. Yes the Icelandic people are a quirky
bunch, but their girls are super hot and they sell these awesome little hotdogs
that come wrapped in bacon.

COME ON WANYE

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Ahem. Right. Daryl Katz.

A little anecdote from yesteryear: I met
Daryl Katz once for about 45 mins, before he was “DARYL KATZ” and I was just some forgetable punk kid. He was quiet and nice, but
the people we were with outlined his vision to buy the team out of nowhere in polite conversation between strangers. At the time I remember thinking “Damn, this guys’ crew only talks about him — that’s odd”, but my
mind was blown as I watched him roll out every step of his plan exactly as his
posse said he would in the coming years.

It taught me the value of having a master plan and when Katz built that mega mansion on the banks of the North
Saskatchewan in plain view of all that pass by it stands as a testament in my
brain that you can be an Edmontonian and ball out of control without having to
pull up stakes and move to a bigger city.

I often wander around the river valley at all hours of the
day going over various problems. I have found myself staring at his
massive baller shack on many instances and thought, “Look at all those little
houses around his massive house. What a champion. All those fancy pants types
in Valleyview look like ants next to him.” Then I laugh and laugh and look for
more bottles on the ground to return.

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I don’t think the Katz era is going remotely to plan on the
ice. But I also think that it is going exactly to plan off the ice with the
arena and this bodes well for the long term future of the Oilers. And I also don’t think he is nearly as bad of a dude as everyone makes
out. Is he an introvert and a weirdo? Sure. But if you are going to have the
skills and determination to make yourself one of Canada’s richest people some
other categories of personality are going to give. 

He is hardly some sort of
super villain intent on ruining the Oilers and the City of Edmonton and robbing
City Council of it’s pothole fixin’ money for the next 100 years.

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If I persist in saying I like Justin Bieber because he is
Canadian, then there is no way that I would ever hate the most successful
Edmontonian of all time who just happens to own the most important team in all
the world and is building me a new sweet arena to get drunk in until I am
lowered in the ground. The team is beyond terrible – no doubt – but I don’t
think Katz is so bad.

Perhaps we Edmontonians and Oilers fans around the world are
hard wired to hate the Oilers owner after what Peter Pocklington did to the
City in trading Gretzky and dismantling the team. The man should never have had any
reason to sell off that that squadron and the fact it was his other business
ventures failing that required him to sell off the Oilers one by one made all
Oilers fans around the world feel a bit dirty, I think.

Maybe we will always look at the Oilers owner with sidelong glares for what was done to us as we were robbed of the greatest team of all time piece by piece to fund a failing owner’s empire. It’s the stuff of heartbroken legend.

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It’s a thankless job being the owner of the Oilers when you look at it. Especially if your team is the worst team in organized sports since 800 BC. I don’t feel sorry for him but I do recognize he gets crucified on a daily basis around these parts. 

And before you say
“WANYE YOU TIT KATZ IS MAKING MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF DOLLARS A DAY OFF THE
OILERS AND PERSONALLY ROBS ME NIGHTLY IN MY SLEEP AND GOT A FREE ARENA AND WHAT
NOT!” Let me counter:

1)  
Billionaires are always making millions of
dollars a day.
That’s how they became billionaires. We may all hate on that and
want billions of dollars for ourselves or think that only elementary school
teachers deserve that money and that is a valid but secondary debate. As $200
million dollar investments go, there are literally tons of other things Katz could
have done with his money and time that would have exceeded the return he got on
the Oilers. 

Yes he financed the team through that insurance company in Boston so he didn’t put cash in (CIS Group? I’m too lazy to look), but understand that billionaires with growing
companies have all sorts of opportunities to make buckets of cash and don’t
lead to your hometown hating the hell out of you. He still chose to buy the
Oilers and save us from “have not status” forever. It wasn’t the only nor the
easiest way he could rake in the cash.

2)  
The Oilers aren’t anywhere near the types of
revenues they could be earning if they weren’t assholes and perennial losers on
the ice.
They haven’t sold out all the games in a row for 8 years or whatever
like they tell us. I don’t need to live in Soviet Russia circa 1942 to not
believe the statistics I am being told. I’ve bought tickets seconds before puck drop to test my theory and they are always still tickets available. 

We need to stop patting ourselves on
the back about this fictitious sell out streak — there is undoubtedly an impact
on the bottom line of the Oilers by now because of the hot garbage they have
been forcing us to watch. And good. If the Alberta economy wasn’t booming they
would be feeling the pinch way more from running this team all squirrely. But
hopefully that economic crash doesn’t hit anytime soon.

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Maybe it’s because I read everything on the internet about
the Oilers every day, and twitter and myspace and Tinder and on and on. Also I
wrote the filters that keep the really bad comments off of the Nation and I
will go and read them. The hate that some folk shower on Katz is INSANE –
racist stuff, threats, stuff about his family. Comments that go far beyond
anything sports related. I often read them and think “good God I wouldn’t want
anyone saying that stuff about me.” 

You gotta have a thick skin to be the boss I
suppose.

ROLL CALL: OILERS OWNERS

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How does Katz stack up against the Oilers owners throughout
the years? Let’s take a quick peek.

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Bill Hunter: Granted WHA franchise and traded that to the NHL for the Edmonton Oilers. Built
Rexall Place. Once offered a guy a shopping cart of cash as a signing bonus
(it’s true I read his biography.) Put Edmonton on the North American Sporting
Map. Lived a life so colourful he was known as “Wild Bill.” 

Hero status: Strong

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Peter Pocklington:
built best team in NHL history in record time, dismantled best team ever in
record time. Sold Gretzky for trillions of dollars cash, traded cash for god
knows what. Threatened to move the team time and time again. Ultimately lost
the team to ATB where I think he had pledged the team as collateral on debts and defaulted or something.

Hero status: Mild

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Edmonton Investors
Group:
bought team from ATB keeping the squad from moving to East St.
Louis, Albuquerque or worse. Made do with limited resources in an era where the
New York Rangers would routinely offer 4th line wingers 30000% of
what the Oilers were currently paying. Saved the team from leaving Edmonton. 

Hero status: Extreme

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Daryl Katz: Most
successful Edmontonian of all time. Concocted master plan by where he became
mega rich, then the title sponsor of the arena, then owner of the team buying
the franchise from the EIG for $12 billion dollars. With the stroke of a
platinum pen ended all talk of the Oilers being a “have not” team unable to
spend to the floor of the cap.  Gave the
team an unlimited amount of cash to spend and sat back waiting for his heroes
from the 80s to convert that into a playoff berth. Is still waiting.

Continues running a billion dollar pharmeceutical company
and an almost equally big real estate company which is going to increase
downtown’s footprint by 7000% with a new arena and district of gleaming
buildings, replacing current gravel parking lots, dust and the Baccarat casino
(which still owes me $40 from a suspect shoe in Black Jack from 2005.) 

Hero
status: Moderate
 

FINAL ANALYSIS

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I am not here to be a Daryl Katz apologist. I think that when he mapped out his master plan for owning the Oilers it involved sitting around with his buddies – who have been assuring him they know a thing or to about winning for their entire lives – and celebrating Oilers wins by the bushel. He gave them carte blanche to get the job done and they have failed him miserably.

Like any sports team the Oilers have been plagued by problems year after year. In 2014, we have entirely new problems but they are all based on the product on the ice – arguably the most important part of the business. But we shouldn’t ignore the long term stability we now take for granted: 

  • Financial stability of ownership (check)
  • Single decision maker for better or worse (check)
  • No more “small market/we are poor cousins of the NYR” talk (check)
  • New arena ensuring team won’t leave anytime soon and will
    torture us forever (check)

There are no more systemic business problems surrounding the
Oilers. As shaky as they are on the ice they are equally stable as a business. A business that has a great many employees needing firing in my opinion and need a massive retooling on the ice.

But nothing is going to force them to move or prevent it economically from competing and that is a big step in the right direction.
The product on the ice is god awful garbage but that can ostensibly be fixed
with personnel change. Kevin Lowe may know a thing or two about winning but
Daryl Katz has been more successful at his trade than any of the Boys on the
Bus (except Gretzky) put together. 

I am
interested to see what happens and how he fixes this team. Or maybe he won’t. Who the hell knows at this point? He isn’t the best owner in Oilers history, but he is also far from the worst.

Next up tomorrow: Why won’t Katz just replace everyone? The domain knowledge gap.

From yesterday: Rome Burns: Part I.

  • not to nitpick but you are beyond wrong when you infer that billionaires can find other investments that net them +240million over 8 years. thats an absurd percentage of growth. absurd. as in, there is not many better deals that owning a hockey team. it is widely accepted that owning a hockey team is both fiscally benificial (nhl clubs are notorious for not being subjected to any sort of fiscal scrutiny) and personally rewarding (real-life hockey cards). i stopped reading after your effort dropped of the preverbial cliff.

    • Answering this would require me to know the financial ins and outs of a private company like Rexall The returns on the Oilers are no different than any other mid performing company with revenues of 80-110 million annually. There are no opportunities to scale the business, no opportunities for innovation or making them greatly more efficient through proper management on the business side.

      I’d go on with what I think but given your dismissive attitude you have probably already stopped reading. I’ll just say it’s a shame you didn’t read the whole thing. You seem open minded and willing to entertain theories that may not be your own. Go tell Norm Green owning an NHL team is a license to print money

  • camdog

    Kevin Lowe

    “We have two types of fans: we have paying customers and we have people that watch the game that we still care about but certainly the people that go to the games and support we spend a lot of time talking to them, delivering our message.”

    Kevin Lowe

  • camdog

    I have an original 2007 #44 Sheldon Souray white jersey purchased the day they went on sale (1st period intermission of first home game 2007-08) for sale. Very clean, no rips, tears or holes, etc. Paid $275 at the time. Looking for a six pack of PC beer or best offer. Or a mint condition Kevin Lowe O-PEE-CHE Rookie card.

  • camdog

    Katz is maybe the best owner yet.

    Love Wild Bill for bringing pro hockey to Edmonton, but those were some poorly run bad teams we were watching.

    Never liked Puck, Gainers strike and the Gretzky sale are still a bit sour in my mouth.

    I appreciated the EIG, but that is not way to run a pro team for the long run.

    Good on Katz, bought the team, spends to the cap, new arena, leaves the hockey guys to make the hockey decisions. I wish he had different hockey’s in charge.

    • Derzie

      There really is no evidence to suggest he “leaves the hockey guys to make the hockey decisions”. This hairbrained scheme of putting together a fast, skilled team that would dipsy-doodle around the other teams was obviously a huge mistake, and I suspect that decision was made at a slumber party at Katz’s house.

      Even if I’m wrong about Katz leaving the hockey decisions to the “hockey guys”, he has the worst “hockey guys” in the league.

      The point is he runs the Oilers like a treehouse rather than a half a billion dollar business.

  • camdog

    http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Hockey/NHL/Edmonton/2012/09/25/20232616.html

    “I’m not involved with the NHL, I’m really not. It’s just one of those things where I was invited to go to a football game and I said why not. Any official capacity is absolutely zero. I have no stake or claim in any team in the NHL whatsoever. Went there to enjoy a football game.”

    The only person that had a genuine apology over the Seattle fiasco was Gretzky. Shame this group brought him through the mud the way they did.

  • Derzie

    This entry in the Burning series is why the futility at Northlands has lasted as long as it has. Accepting fate. Afraid of losing what you have. “We’ve been burned so badly that our new overlord must be respected so we don’t get burned again, amen”. The periods of pain experienced in Edmonton coincide with the Winnipeg jettison, the Rico Fata young guns era down south and general demise due to the weakness of the Canadian dollar. They are at risk of happening again when the fiscal circumstances arise. Until then, the Oil print money. No danger of a bolting owner.
    Sure Katz could choose to spend money elsewhere but guys with egos love sports teams to add to their collection of stuff. The fact that it is a wedge to grow a massive drug and real estate empire is a nice key to the plan. Katz is no more or less evil than anyone who makes that much money (they aren’t giving it away to deserving nice guys). That said, those around him should give him some options. Don’t make him fire his heroes. Those heroes should step aside. Reassign themselves. Hire an outside consultant for some help. Or not.

  • Derzie

    @wanye

    I agree with most of your points. I agree he didn’t intend on this team sucking worse than any team ever. I don’t buy the theory that since the team is making money Katz doesn’t care about wins (if this team makes money now, imagine how much it would make if they WEREN’T a laughing stock).

    But where I disagree is your point on stability. I would rather have a team that made the playoffs semi-regularly but didn’t have a guaranteed 780 area code than have a permanently horrible team that was guaranteed to stay in Edmonton. What good is spending to the cap when the money is being incompetently spent?

    I’m with you that Katz probably isn’t evil (even if his kid does look like Beastly from Care Bears). He wanted to be the guy that brought Lord Stanley’s mug back to Edmonton. I believe that.

    But if Katz and Lowe are a package deal, then I’d rather have the EIG.

  • taz115

    Holy chit. Wayne, they got to u didn’t they. Wait, are u even real, did u ever really exist? R u secretly K Lowe in disguise? That’s why u won’t let us know ur real identity, it’s all part of the master plan isn’t it? Clever girl…