Editor, White Cover Magazine
You know that much-overused (and sometimes incorrect) line, “It’s not personal. It’s business.”
Well, the Edmonton Oilers could learn a lot from it. Both Alberta teams, really. It’s always seemed like the Flames and the Oil believe the only ones to hire are the ones from their backyard, from their past, or from their families. To hold onto your job as a coach, general manager, or player of either one of the Wild Rose Country’s only NHL clubs, you have to have won a Cup in either city.
How else can you explain the firing of now-former general manager Steve Tambellini, especially since Kevin Lowe still holds his position as president of hockey operations?
They replaced Tamby with former Oiler player and coach Craig MacTavish, of course. Mac T’s been in Edmonton before, and for a long time. He won a few Cups, like, 20 or 30 years ago.
The Oilers knew what they were doing then. They don’t anymore.
Just listen to this trade of Q & A between Edmonton Journal columnist John MacKinnon and Lowe from Monday’s press conference, courtesy of the EJ:
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 who go to the games and support, we spend a lot of time talking to them, delivering our message. I would, uh, I think it’s safe to say that half the general managers in the National Hockey League would trade their roster for our roster right now. And in terms of the group that messed things up (voice rising) you’re talking about the group that had the team one period away from winning the Stanley Cup.”
John MacKinnon: “Seven years ago.”
Lowe: “And you know the cycle of that. You know we chased the dream a few years for our fanbase. Like a lot of teams do. And then at some point in that time frame we realized that’s a bad plan and we made a change. We’re finishing year three of that plan. Now you say to me you’re getting impatient after three years?”
MacKinnon: “It’s not me. It’s the fans that are getting impatient.”
Lowe: “And lastly (talking loudly now) I’ll say that there’s one other guy in hockey today that is still working in the game that has won more Stanley Cups than me. So I think I know a little bit about winning, if there’s ever a concern.”
Have you ever seen a more imposing example of industrial grade denial?
Even in the video above, listen to MacTavish blubber on about how the Oilers are paying for the five Stanley Cups the Oilers won. He alludes to the cyclical nature of the sport and how you always follow a lot of winning with a little bit of losing.
It’s as if the entire management group forgets just how long ago their glory days were. It’s been 23 years since the Oilers last won the Stanley Cup. It’s been 25 years since Gretzky was last an Oiler. It’s been a very long time since either Lowe or MacTavish played in the NHL, and even longer since they were a part of that Oiler dynasty.
If I’m an Oiler fan — and, I really don’t mind them at all — I got even more worried watching that farce of a press conference today. I’ve just realized that everyone in charge of my favourite hockey team has as much value as Tim McGraw’s character from Friday Night Lights.
Lowe and Mac T aren’t just getting jobs because of something they did a quarter century ago. They actually believe in themselves because of it.
This is a team that still has Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff on their books. Lowe has his job seemingly because he’s always been an Oiler — except for all those years when he wasn’t — even though he no doubt had a hand in or approved in every move Tambellini made as general manager.
Lowe also bobbled two successive offer sheets to then-restricted free agents Dustin Penner and Thomas Vanek. One worked out, and it was a terrible experiment. The second didn’t work out, and Lowe got lucky with that one. Without Vanek, the Oilers saved themselves some very vital draft picks and prospects — draft picks and prospects who are no the only reason this team has a heart beat, even if it’s restricted to life support and a hospital bed.
In fact, Lowe’s been around for all of Edmonton’s recent years, and don’t go thinking he’s some kind of mad genius because of a flukey playoff run in 2006.
The Flames, for their part, have just stopped turning to anyone with the last name Sutter. They seem to think everyone from Alberta should be a Flame, and they’ve been playing pre-Lockout hockey ever since the Lockout.
(And, I’m talking about the 2006 Lockout.)
Say what you will about the Leafs, the Canucks, or the Senators (and the Jets), but at least they seem to draft and sign players because of how well they play hockey, not because of where their birth certificate is issued.
Even the Habs have finally gotten over drafting players just based on whether they’re bilingual — a tactic that hasn’t worked out since before Guy LaFleur was a Viagra spokesperson — and now they’re finally fighting for a Stanley Cup. Their captain (Brian Gionta) is American, their best two rookies are from British Columbia and the United States (Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk) and their goaltender is from a small town in Western Canada (Carey Price).
The Habs have finally stopped listening to their fans, at last realizing that democracy isn’t at its best when it’s truly a democracy.
The Oilers and Flames, meanwhile, continue to talk about their futures without any concept of what a future is (although I’ll give Calgary a lot of credit for finally trading Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester).
Sure, Edmonton’s had some success lately with No. 1 picks like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov, and Lowe is no doubt pretty proud of himself (“I think it’s safe to say that half the general managers in the National Hockey League would trade their roster for our roster right now”).
Of course, they had to finish last — or second last — every year to get those picks, and all three of them were consensus Number Ones.
That’s not called skill. It’s a silver lining.
When this season’s over, the province of Alberta will have gone playoff-less since 2009.
That’s not Tambellini’s fault. It’s Alberta’s.