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WWYDW: Do you have a boiling point?

Over the weekend, an Oilers fan named Brett Barrett wrote a blog post centred around a letter he wrote to the organization and the subsequent response he received from Bob Nicholson.

Barrett mentions a handful of things the Oilers have done over the past few years to kill his fandom of the team. After being gifted Connor McDavid in the lottery, Peter Chiarelli dealt away many of the fruits of the Decade of Darkness for underwhelming returns and the team ultimately put together probably its most disappointing season in franchise history in 2017-18. According to Barrett, listening to Chiarelli and Nicholson shrug off the disaster season and what led to it at their post-season press conference was the boiling point for him.

The post received an extremely mixed reaction from the Oilers fan community. Many laughed at Nicholson’s response which referenced the signing of Mikko Koskinen and re-signing of an AHL depth forward Patrick Russell as reasons to believe in Chiarelli’s plan. Many agreed but said that the Oilers were too much of an addiction to kick even despite the negative effects the team has on their mental health. Many also told Barrett to grow up and that he wasn’t a real fan in the first place.

That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday question. Do you have a boiling point? What would the organization have to do in order for you to just give up? If you don’t, what’s the closest you’ve been to letting go? Or have you taken a hiatus from cheering and paying attention?

It’s been a whirlwind decade for this fanbase. I’m not sure any other fanbase in the league has gone through what Oilers fans have gone through since the 2004-05 lockout season.

It all begins with the massive high felt during the 2006 playoff run. After spending the 90s and early 2000s struggling to scrape by as a low-budget team, the Oilers capitalized on the newly-implemented salary cap and acquired Chirs Pronger. He, along with an incredible series of deadline additions like Dwayne Roloson, Jaroslav Spacek, and Sergei Samsonov, helped lead the team on a wild run to the Stanley Cup Final that ended in Game 7 as the Carolina Hurricanes won their first-ever Stanley Cup.

Shortly after that crash was another shot to the chest. Pronger demanded a trade. I don’t know which was more painful. Watching Dwayne Roloson get injured in Game 1 of the Cup Final or seeing that article in the Edmonton Journal saying that Pronger wanted out. Little did we know, though, it was only going to get more painful from there.

Everything after the Pronger trade was a nightmare. The Oilers disappointed heavily in 2006-07. Despite having playoff aspirations with their young core of players who crushed it during the playoff run, the team couldn’t live up to expectations. The lowest point, though, was trading Ryan Smyth, the heart and soul of the team, at the trade deadline because the team wouldn’t pay him what he was worth.

The post-Smyth Oilers lacked an identity. With his departure, the team seemed to lose its endearing, gritty, workman style that made them a nightmare to play against. Decent players with high expectations came and went like a game of musical chairs. Joffrey Lupul, Joni Pitkanen, Erik Cole, Ales Kotalik, Dustin Penner, Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky, Ryan Whitney, and so on were brought in to push the team over the top, but it never happened.

The organization decided it was time for an Oil Change. They tanked in 2009-10 and found their saviour as Taylor Hall became Edmonton’s first-ever No. 1 overall draft pick. They gutted the team and proceeded to build through the draft around Hall. Within a couple years, they loaded the farm with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin, Tyler Pitlick, Nail Yakupov, and Justin Schultz.

This group was never able to pull it together. General manager Craig MacTavish made an honest effort to augment the team with veterans like Andrew Ference, Benoit Pouliot, and Mark Fayne, but it didn’t work. The Oilers continued to put up miserable seasons despite the talent on the roster.

Amidst the issues on the ice, the organization also tested its fans with terrible PR graces away from the game. Darryl Katz threatened to move the team to Seattle in 2012 if his downtown arena deals weren’t met and Kevin Lowe divided the fanbase into two tiers based on whether or not they actually paid for tickets.

Then came the 2015 draft lottery. With an 11.5 percent chance of winning, the third-last Oilers jumped to No. 1 overall and got themselves the golden ticket. Despite having three first overall picks in a row, this would be the one they couldn’t screw up. All the crap everyone had put up with was going to be worth it. After watching Pronger leave, Smyth get dealt at the deadline, the revolving door of mediocrity that followed, the city get bullied by the owner, getting called a Tier 2 fan, and the Hall, Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins core fail to push the team over the top, the gift was Connor McDavid.

Connor McDavid was an Edmonton Oiler. With that, the Old Boys Club got washed out and replaced by Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan, two outsiders with actual pedigree beyond playing on good teams in the 80s were going to steer the ship.

Chiarelli came in and changed the culture quickly. He added Milan Lucic and Andrej Sekera in free agency and picked Cam Talbot from the Rangers for nothing. Some of his moves were controversial and questionable, like dealing Hall for Adam Larsson and acquiring Griffin Reinhart for two top picks, but his decisions helped the Oilers to the playoffs in 2016-17 for the first time in a decade. Still, despite the playoff run, there was a looming worry that Chiarelli wasn’t going to get the most out of the talent he inherited.

There was validity to that anxiety. The Oilers struggled mightily in 2017-18 and ultimately ended up missing the playoffs. The team clearly lacked scoring depth behind Connor McDavid and the blueline that Chiarelli paid a high price to assemble simply didn’t live up to expectations. After the season, Bob Nicholson, as pointed out in Barrett’s post, validated Chiarelli’s work and said the organization had full faith in his plan.

The Oilers have lost a lot of fans along the path of the Decade of Darkness. Whether it was poor management and an ugly on-ice product or insult from the actions and words of Katz and Lowe, people got pushed away from cheering for the Oilers. I imagine many came crawling back due to the advent of Connor McDavid but even more got pushed away when it became evident that management, the same old story, could find a way to mess it up.

As I mentioned earlier, nobody in the NHL has gone through what Oilers fans have the past 12 years. I’ll give an honourable mention shoutout to fans of the Ottawa Senators who watched their team reach the Eastern Conference Final in 2017 and then watched it totally fall apart over the next year, but what Oilers fans have endured over such a long stretch is incredible.

I commend those fans who have stuck by the team through thick and thin. The Oilers are blessed to have such a ridiculously good, loyal, and passionate fanbase that they probably don’t deserve. That said, I also empathize with those fans who have let go, or, at least the fans who have stepped back and gone on a break. Cheering for a team is supposed to give you a positive release from the stresses of life. If it isn’t doing that for you, you absolutely should step away. Everyone is different and everyone likes to consume entertainment in different ways.

So, let’s circle back to the original WWYDW question. What’s your boiling point? Do you even have one? Have you been close to getting there at any point? Or are you all-in for life no matter what? 

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  • Spaceman Spiff

    It’s not clear to me if this guy was a season ticketholder or not. If he wasn’t, it’s a bit weird to write a letter to the Oilers throwing his metaphorical jersey onto the ice. But, alas and alack…

    I don’t have much of a problem with a fan voting with his feet or his heart or his head and deciding he’s had enough of the Oilers or NHL hockey or whatever. It’s his right as a consumer.

    Make no mistake, that’s all of us really are in this, people. We can talk about a fandom and loyalty and all of that but at the end of the day, we’re consumers of a product. That’s why, a few years ago, I took no offense to Kevin Lowe’s labelling of fans being in Tier 1 or Tier 2 or other tiers. The truth is, those distinctions do better to describe any fandom than anything else. Some people are emotionally invested in the team. Some people are financially invested in the team. Some are both. And everyone gets to decide how much and when it’s time to pull the plug.

    What this guy did isn’t much different than a disgruntled Chevy pickup owner ranting about never buying another GM product in his life because he was tired of it breaking down. Or an iPhone user declaring he was switching to Samsung. Or whatever.

    But I don’t have to agree with his reasoning.

    The problem I have is giving this guy electronic ink. I’m a former newspaper reporter, so I do understand that, sometimes, you’re forced to do stories on what people are talking about (i.e. like the weather or the price of gasoline on a long weekend) versus what you think is a real story.

    But I hope the folks at ON understand that providing a platform to thin-skinned fans who opt to cut-and-run when the going gets rough tends to be a slippery slope. You’re only helping encourage the jersey-tossers and that’s a sub-species of fan that needs to go the way of the Do-Do.

    I don’t want to sound like an old guy or turn this into a generational rant, but a few things in his manifesto caught my eye:
    – He compared running an NHL team in real life to running an NHL team in a video game.
    – He wrote his letter in April – before the draft, before July 1.
    – He gave all of his Oilers stuff to his parents.

    To me, those are signs that he’s a young guy who:
    – Despite his insistence of the contrary, thinks that success should come as instantly and as easy as making trades in NHL 2018.
    – Couldn’t be bothered to be patient or wait to see how the franchise would respond.
    – Doesn’t have the courage of his convictions to light his Oilers stuff on fire and go all the way.

    To me, he sounds like one of those “win-or-tie” fans that Steve Shutt talked about in the 1970s in Montreal. Should the skies clear and the sun shine again, I’m sure he’ll be heading over to his parents’ house to retrieve his stuff or, better yet, running out to buy more of it on Whyte Avenue in May and June. Bandwagon jumper. Instant gratification.

    Again, that’s his right as a consumer. But if he considers himself to be more than that, I hope he understands how rash and foolish he’s being. On one hand, if you’re at a point in your life when your sports team’s machinations are getting inside your head to a point that you’re willing to cut-and-run at the first sign things go sideways, you probably do need to choose a new hobby. But if you’re choosing a new team … well … then you’re a fair-weather fan, my friend. And that’s the worst kind. No one will mourn your defection.

    • The Future Never Comes

      I’ve been sitting here watching dreadful hockey for the last 13 years, watching 75% AHL rosters on an NHL team, L.A pin us in our zone for periods at a time, Watching Nikitan make 5 million when he’s not even an NHL regular, us draft and develop players like Petry and Cogliano for the other teams taking, the BOTB club have zero clue how to run a non laughable franchise, and rebuilds 1,2,3,4. Is that enough patience for you there bud? You want me to wait 30 years until I have dentures and can’t even pick up a cold one because it’s to heavy? What should I wait for, my coffin to be decked out with a 60 inch surround sound getup for my skeleton to watch the games 6 feet under?