Rome Burns: Part III

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There is no proven model for what type of owner most
successfully runs a professional sports team in the long run. There are teams
owned by corporations and investor groups. Some are family owned, sometimes on
their second or third generation running the team. Then there are
owners as individuals who own the team and call all the shots themselves.
Sometimes running the team is their primary profession, sometimes it isn’t.

It’s all over the map. There are no clear best practices to follow.

Daryl Katz is the Owner and Governor of the Edmonton Oilers and the head of the Oilers Entertainment Group. He is also the Chairman of the Katz Group of companies with over 8,500 staff as well as a burgeoning real estate portfolio that will ultimately rival Rexall Drugs in value. He is also overseeing
the construction of an arena, an arena district including two towers and
casino.

So long on dollars, short on expertise and time – what does a guy like Katz do to run his empire most efficiently? He hires executives by the bushel to run
the team and replace the skill sets and time he lacks. Then he trusts the executives to ensure they are hitting their marks with regular reviews and updates. Small business owners
feel they have to do everything themselves. Big business owners know they have
to hire the best people available and make sure they have all the resources
they need to do their jobs.

Now whether or not they do a good job is an entirely
different matter as anyone watching the experts running the Oilers in the last
decade can tell you.

THERE’S THE RUB

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Therein lies the problem for Katz or the owner of any other
company that requires deep knowledge of an area that is not the day to day
mechanics of running the business. You need to rely on experts in that field –
in the nerdy world of the internets we call this “domain knowledge

domain
knowledge
That
knowledge which is specific to an application, as distinguished from general
strategic or control knowledge that is independent of the details of any
particular application.

Condensing that gibberish into English it basically means
“you can be a kickass bakery owner and never have baked a loaf of bread in your
life. As owner you know how to operate the business properly and hire the best
bakers in the world.” It also means that owners don’t make good GMs and GMs don’t become owners. 

Each has their role in the play.

THE PLAN v REALITY

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When Daryl Katz concocted this Oilers master plan long ago,
surely he imagined winning all the time, Kevin Lowe presenting him with the
Cup in his luxury box and bashfully declining all interviews while parades were
held and children named in his honour by the school busload.

He ceratainly wasn’t like, “You know what I’ll do? Drop 210
million on the team, pay Cam Barker 100 trillion dollars for two great years and miss the
playoffs nine consecutive seasons. Then I’ll have the entire city hate me, which
is great considering I am already not the most social guy at the best of times. 

The glares and hatred of my fellow man will keep me warm as I go about my day. Plus I can
conveniently stay off the internet for fear any search will route me to message
boards and articles where I am being called every name under the sun.” 

THE KNOWLEDGE GAP

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Generally speaking if you have 200 odd million lying about
and a burning desire to get lambasted by your hometown citizens as an NHL team
owner you haven’t been spending the bulk of your career learning what makes up
a good powerplay, or how to identify “glue guys” in the room. You can’t draft
players, examine the “Corsis” or the “plus minuses.” You don’t know if Frederic
Chabot would be the ideal goalie coach*

Instead you probably have substantial domain knowledge of
your own – say how to build a company that makes you rich enough to be able to
buy an NHL team at your leisure for example. That billion dollar company that
pays for your hockey team has tons of domain experts on it’s payroll too, be it
Pharmaceuticals and Real Estate like Katz’s operations or running 99.4% of all
the pizza restaurants in the world like Mike Illitch in Detroit. You learn to trust your domain experts as you can’t be everywhere at once in your sprawling business empire as much as your controlling tendencies want you to be. 

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Consequently, there is a gigantic gap between hockey people who have long been in the game and are perfectly suited to running a team and the people who actually have the cash to buy a team. It’s the
case with most franchised businesses – Tim Horton’s managers are rarely able to
buy Tim Horton’s franchises and Tim Horton’s franchisees have rarely worked in
a Tim Horton’s prior to buying a franchise and entering their training program.

One has to think that the NHL franchisee training program
consists of “do you want a franchise?” and “please deposit massive cheque
here.” Hell I bet Tim Horton’s franchisees actually get a lot more training
than someone buying a $200 million franchise. Funny that. So buy a team and you learn on the fly. Or you don’t and your team languishes. 

ON PAPER

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On paper Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish are exactly the right
people to run this team. Long time hockey men who have bravely waved the Oilers
banner since the franchise basically started. Smart dudes who won repeatedly at the highest
level as players and have put in many years since retirement in all levels of
the Oilers franchise. And they have already made an indelible mark on Daryl
Katz and are friends away from the rink.

From what I can gather from talking to older Edmontonians and
random people at the bus stop Katz grew up roughly the same age as the 80s Oilers when they were drinking from Lord Stanley’s silver chalice every 12 months
or so. 

Imagine being a young Katz and witnessing all this success in his
twenties. Surely his buddies winning cups at will in his formative years had some impact on the young man before he went out and
took the corporate world by the tail. 

When things came full circle and it was he who was entering into the hockey world with the purchase of the Oilers it seemed a natural fit to keep the same men on who were already running the team. They were already doing the job and seemingly well at that point.

But these same winners, these same close friends for almost 30 years, these same guys who “know a thing or two about winning” have done a spectacular job
of failing Daryl Katz since the day he bought the team. There have been no free agent signings of note, no blockbuster trades bolstering the lineup. Just trip after trip to the Entry Draft and bringing home the best prospect that you get for being worst.

STILL WATER RUNS DEEP

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The ties that bond this crew of the Boys on the Bus seem to be some of the strongest ties one could ever see.
They were exposed to a tremendous amount of success early in their lives as a
team, stuck together then and now and
continue to stick up for one another non stop. 

Gretzky himself was giving the Oilers management glowing praise amidst a nine game losing streak the other night when the Blues unkindly interrupted him by scoring on the hapless Oilers. This from the Greatest player ever who hasn’t even suited up for the team in 26 years.

They are all thick as thieves this crew and this loyalty is what made them one of the best teams in hockey history. (Side bar: know who isn’t thick as thieves and won’t be even speaking to each other in a few years let alone when they are old men? The 2010-2015 Oilers lineups. You watch.)

But when loyalty to the people involved with the team takes priority over success and accountability the machine will surely jam. Thus what we see in our Copper and Blue.

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They say that those who can’t do teach. Perhaps those who can do cannot teach. This is a big problem for the Oilers. Success on the ice as former players seems to have little to do with
success in the boardroom, behind the bench or in the GM’s box. 

Hell the
greatest player of all time (and legitimately one of the best human beings of
all time) ran a 142-161-24 record as an NHL Head Coach in Phoenix. If that doesn’t drive
home the point that not everyone twirling around Northlands Colisuem in the 1980s raising
Cup after Cup will do well as a Coach or Executive nothing will.

That they have been unable to deliver anything resembling a
winning record in a decade is a calamity of epic proportions. The time span of futility goes beyond a rebuild or a bad stretch of player development. This is now stretching into “something is very wrong” territory. 

TPTB are unable to get the job done. They have been at it
too long, with too much frustration and rage. 
Their high expectations of winning haven’t translated into much of
anything in the last 10 years and that is more than enough of a data set to
conclude they are incapable or unable to do the job that is required of them.

And you know it must be killing everyone involved. I’ll bet you one Canadian Dollar that Lowe has probably tried to quit many times and Katz is
having to talk him into staying on the regular. He is an exceptionally proud
man our Kevin and staring failure in the face this many times and being unable
to coax similar levels of output out of kids that you put in when you were their age must
be horrible.

Has the Daryl Katz era of owning the Oilers seen any level
of mild success on the ice? No. Has he kept people in key roles long past their
expiry date? Yes. Have people who left strangely been brought back into the fold? Yes. Has an extensive search for outside talent been conducted when roles become available? No. 

Has Katz been sold a bill of goods by his domain experts for almost 6 years now,
involving long term success at the expense of short term wins? Yes. Has this worked? No.

This will never do. The Oilers have become that team that
the Harlem Globetrotters bring on tour to routinely kick the crap out of. I hate the Generals.

Rome Burns Part l

Rome Burns Part ll


Next up: This tire fire of a team ultimately comes down to the best players on the squad and the leaders. How they have failed spectacularly too. (FUN!)

*Who the hell knows really. Shouldn’t goalies already be
awesome, thus why they are in the NHL?

  • Spoils

    dear MacT. I realize the sky is falling, but please – NO BAD TRADES.

    Step 1. Decide what type of team you want. high scoring, gritty defensive, heavy hitting, fast etc. etc.

    Step 2. Decide which players are fits and which players are not

    Step 3. Make trades that return the same value as you send away – but with a better fit

    I know this is crazy obvious, but I am honestly afraid these steps are not happening.

    I would rather lose with this team forever than trade away our talent/hope for crap. imagine things getting worse!!!

  • Spoils

    How many “experts” are assisting the Oilers in the “back woods? Apparently Kelly Buchberger is one valuable source kept with the team in some capacity? Is Kelly never meant to be heard or seen again!!? He and other hidden experts probably just order food for management meetings! Bobby Stauffer
    Team Cheer Leader insisted Kelly had other offers to coach.Really?

  • Sevenseven

    Nicholson isnt the answer. When you have your choice of ALL the Canadians, no cap, and all you have to do is sell Team Canada Jerseys, you got an easy gig. Time to snake a great gm from a winning team.

  • Sevenseven

    I’ve had it with this team! Oilersnation is even starting to get redundant to me. I need to pull myself away from this team just so i can retain some of my sanity.

      • moosewacker

        I can’t remember a Oiler game in the last 7 years that actually meant something. I am not talking about the old “we have to beat the Flames”. I mean actually mean something. How sad is that.

        I went to two NFL games this past week and each of them had serious playoff implications. In both games the team I was cheering for lost but I had a great time regardless. Then it came to me………..I had more fun at those two losses then any Oiler game in the last 7 years.

        I can cash in my season tickets for the Oilers and do 5 Nfl trips next year. I can visit 5 new cities and see some sites, eat some local food and drink some craft brews but more than anything I can watch a product that actually means something. I can watch two teams actually go out and put out 100%.

        Now I just need some sucker to take my Oiler tix for next year. Any takers?

        Eff the Oilers

        • moosewacker

          now your talking. We used to drive up from cow town to see oiler games. 2 years ago we quit. We went to 3 NFL games plus to Seattle for a 4 game baseball home stand. We (group of 4 of us retired guys) have never had so much fun. The cost was not much more than the 12 or so oiler games we used to drive up for.

          This year were going to Green Bay and Denver for NFL games plus Arizona for a college football game and 4 baseball games. In 2016 we got Masters tickets.

          I used to love the oilers and started watching them in the WHA days. I am a native Edmontonian but I cant take the “don’t care” attitude of management and also the core players. I watch U of C hockey to get my hockey fix. All in all I spend around $6000.00 a year on other sports and I get to travel as a bonus.

          To H@LL with you Katz, Mac T and especially 6 rings.

  • Deported to Ottawa

    It’s unfortunate that the Oilers have become one of the worst franchises in pro sport.

    The only action that will allow the Oilers to eventually turn the corner is to fire everyone in hockey operations from Lowe on down. Every scout, every associate coach. EVERYONE.

    The franchise needs a total remake and a change in culture. There simply isn’t an area that contributes to the on ice product that displays any level of competence.

    The destruction of the Oilers franchise couldn’t have been more complete if it was planned.

  • Eulers

    I don’t feel like any of these current players are “real Oilers”.

    They just don’t seem to have the “Heart of a Real Oilers”.

    This is going to be sad for a very very long time.

    Where’s that special cigarette..?..I need an illegal smile…

    That’s better

  • Eulers

    If Katz wants to make things right and avoid 10 years since the playoffs then he needs to toss Kevin Lowe today. Hire a new guy to take over the Oilers before the off season and determine if MacT can cut it. Yeah the team sells out every night. Selling the building out has nothing to do with Lowe anyway. Edmonton is the Green Bay Packers of the NHL. Loyal to the core. But STOP RIPPING US OFF KATZ AND DO SOMETHING ALREADY!

  • Sofa King Bad

    Does Kevin Lowe know a thing or two about taking medication? I would guess that he probably does, given the sh!tshow he runs day to day. Maybe that qualifies him to run the Rexall pharmacies, instead. Then DK can still hang with his bud.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    Flash forward 25 years. Wanye is the Domain Expert and new Owner of the Oil. Who does HE hire to be GM and POHO? Jordan Leslie Eberle and Ryan Michael Nugent-Hopkins of course…

    And we will cheer.

  • Zarny

    Sure, on paper Lowe and MacTavish are exactly the right kind of people to run a team. The problem is that in reality they have failed.

    Their “plan” was to rebuild through the draft. When they made that decision they already had Eberle and Hall was in the bag. Over the last 5 years their plan has only added 4 additional players (Nuge, Yak, Marincin, Klefbom) and 2 are only part-time so far.

    Meanwhile, they spent 3 years adding no one. Literally. At least MacT has added ~ 6 players via UFA/trade over the last two off-seasons but the math still only adds up to half a roster.

    Burning the house down isn’t necessarily wrongheaded, but it takes a long, long time to build if you are simply going to wait for draft picks. Chi made the playoffs once in 10 years while they rebuilt. LA was a similar story. If Lowe et al thought they were going to build quicker than that while doing nothing but waiting for draft picks they were fools. So either they knew it would take longer and lied to fans or they have proven themselves incompetent.

    Either way, they’ve completely run out of excuses.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    Flash forward 25 years. Wanye is the Domain Expert and new Owner of the Oil. Who does HE hire to be GM and POHO? Jordan Leslie Eberle and Ryan Michael Nugent-Hopkins of course…

    And we will cheer.

  • Zarny

    Wow, once I saw the NewAgeSystem like length of this article I was a bit apprehensive and had my high speed reading glasses on. This is very well written and makes total sense. Also, great to see our fearless leader calling out the Oil’s fearfull leader!

    PS – Hey Wanye, can you get your pal Zuckerberg to talk to Stauffer’s pal Katz and get this show back on the road already??

  • Zarny

    Pardon me Jason, I am using your column to express my thoughts on a Mark Spector comments. And he nailed it right on, my sentiment exactly! All along I’ve been trying to tell anyone who would listen, that we should get rid of the culprit(s) that causes all this mess OIL ‘s in, FROM Katz down to the last pro scouts they have. And to complete the rebuild 2015 : Send all their young guns down to the minors, let them re-develop a year or two (if it’s not too late for some). What the hay, The Oil’s been mired in the bottom for 7 years, two more is not going to make much difference to the fans; Hopefully, with an extra two top picks, in two extra years, they can place a competitive team on ice again…. One can always hope…..

  • Sean17

    I had to scroll up to realize this was written by Wanye?! I thought it was one of the more legit writers on here. Hope all these clear thoughts didn’t hurt your brain.

  • moosewacker

    Hockey is like Soccer, the general rule of thumb is that the ex players that do well in coaching and management are humble grinders that had to work their arses off every day to make the show, and relied on the coaches and trainers to make it. Often the guys that bounced around from team to team.

    In reality the only thing that Lowe and McT learnt from their days playing with the oilers is that Gretzky and Messier make for a really good team. You can’t apply that to anything else.
    Quinn was a journeyman defenceman who plied his trade on many teams and had to work hard and pay attention to everything to have a chance.

  • Joe Mamma

    Let me tell you a story about our fearless leader, Mr. Kevin Lowe.

    The year I believe was 1997 or 98, and I was still just a poor single teen dad, and was working in a crappy kids play place on the weekends trying to make an extra buck.

    One day to my absolute delight, I checked the list of birthday parties coming in and saw a name that jumped right off the page… Curtis Joseph. I asked the boss what he knew about it, and lo and behold, it was a birthday party for Cujo’s daughter. I was so excited. Sure enough, around 4 that afternoon, in walked a pile of oilers players and their families. Cujo, Bob Essensa, Bill Guerin, Bill Huard, Kelly Buchberger, and, you guessed it… Kevin Lowe. Man, was I star struck. But I also realized that this was a family event for these guys, so I did my best to just play it cool and treat them like anyone else.

    Well, right after they had finished eating pizza, Cujo came out and asked me if I could get his daughter’s cake out of the freezer and get it ready. I smiled a big smile and said “sure thing Cujo!” and he laughed. When I brought it back out, I told him how big a fan I was, and that I really hoped things would work out with his contract negotiations and that he would stay in Edmonton (unfortunately he signed in T.O. that summer), but that I wished him all the best either way. That led us to having a long conversation about the Dallas series and such, just standing there with his daughter’s cake melting lol. Super nice guy, and it actually took his wife coming out and giving him the icy stare to cut our chat short. As he walked back to the room, he said it was obvious I was a huge fan, and that he appreciated everyone giving them their space and not bugging them while they had his daughter’s party. So he said “listen bud, if you want to grab something that we can sign for you, when we’re done with cake and presents I’d be happy to, and I’m sure the rest of the guys would be too.” I was ecstatic.

    I didn’t have any oilers gear with me, so I just found a piece of paper and pen. I waited until they were done in the room and the kids were off in the jungle gym, and then whenever they didn’t seem too busy I asked them all one by one if they would sign it for me. All of them were really nice about it, and made small talk with me the whole time. Bucky was really awesome too, and we chatted for about 15 minutes afterwards. Then, last but not least, I approached Kevin Lowe. I was the most nervous about that because he was one of the boys on the bus, a true Edmonton legend, and I was still young enough and still such a die hard fan that I was in awe. So I walked up to him when he wasn’t busy talking with one of the other players. I was a little bit behind him to his right, so I said “Excuse me, Mr. Lowe, I hate to trouble you, but I am a huge fan and I was hoping…” I made it about that far when, he turned toward me, and this look of absolute disgust and disdain crossed his face. “Piss off.” That was his response, and he turned and stormed off. I hate to admit it, not being a little kid (I was 18 or 19), but I was actually pretty crushed. Here was one of my childhood heroes, and he had just treated me like a turd on his boot and completely embarrassed me in front of the other Oilers that were standing there. Cujo saw the whole thing, and on his way out he was thanking me for all the help with the party and said “and by the way, sorry about Kevin. He’s kind of a prick.” Made me laugh, and it cheered me up quite a bit. But from that day forward I lost respect for Kevin Lowe. Not as a player, but as a person. I realized then that the guy is a bit of an arrogant jerk, and he’s done nothing but prove it in his time in upper management. He thinks he’s above the little guy, and so no one should be surprised by the two-tier fan comments or the “something about winning” comments when anyone dared to challenge his record as GM and POHO.

    Writing this actually bothered me a bit, because it made me realize just how much my feelings have changed about this team through the past decade. How much my absolute passion for this team has been cut down and squashed by this utter failure of an organization. I was just such a rabid Oilers nut, and I literally never missed a game. I had oilers jerseys, oilers hats, oilers coffee mugs, t-shirts, bumper stickers, you name it. I never had the money to go to games much, but I was always loud and proud whenever I managed to get a ticket. Hell, one of my first memories was sitting on my dad’s lap watching the Oiler game. So this team was more to me than just a local sports team. It was part of the fabric of my family, my friends, and my city.

    And now? I’m just completely apathetic about this team. I don’t watch the games any more. I don’t buy merchandise. My jerseys are tucked away in my closet collecting dust. I’m not that poor single dad any more, and could go to all the games I want. But frankly, I wouldn’t go to a game now if they paid me.

    Come to think of it, I couldn’t even tell you what happened to that piece of paper that all those great (and even the not so great) Oilers signed for me all those years ago. And do you know what the worst part is?

    That doesn’t even really bother me.

    Kind of sad, when you think about it.

    • Joe Mamma

      Funny how those things stick with you huh?

      Messier did almost the exact same thing to me when I was a kid. We where playing at rexal for a fun game, and every single oiler made sure to talk to every kid, and sign things.

      Messier walked through the crowd of us kids with a pissed off look, grabbed a random pen, waved it at a random piece of paper (barely touching it), then was gone. He was fully bumping through the crowd of kids like he had to take a sh’t (maybe he did, who knows? Lol)

    • I just read this comment. This is kind of sad, at least CuJo was a beauty. Hopefully the Oilers will regain your fandom one day homie, sounds like you were one of the good ones.

      RESPECT

  • Amazing article and comments! I’m a Leafs fan but I always loved the Oilers. Your team may be down and out but as fans you are amazing. Always were an always will be.

    It’s pretty tragic what’s happening in Edmonton. I think you’re bang on – the old boys’ club made a mess of it – they didn’t cash in on their assets when they had a chance and went for the ‘draft high rebuild’ which is not working simply because the kids were thrown onto the NHL ice too early, came in arrogant and entitled, and have developed a ‘culture of losing’… The vets that were brought in are not great players with serious pedigrees and the high draft picks have no reason to listen to them or respect them.

    I was wondering if maybe sacrificing next year’s first pick and one of the stars (Hall) for two older but great players (E. Staal or Seabrook or Mike Richards types come to mind) and a bunch of promising but not elite prospects that will work hard and show the entitled high draft pics that you have ‘how it’s done’ wouldn’t be a solution? Not that your management will do it… Any thoughts on that idea?