• Dispatches from the Ministry of Truth

    by  • April 17, 2010 • Uncategorized • 9 Comments

    Dan Barnes is usually a little better than he was today:

    In July 2008, when Edmonton billionaire Daryl Katz bought the Oilers for $200 million from the Edmonton Investors Group, they were already a non-playoff team for two seasons. Katz wanted to make an immediate splash and since his money was no object, then-GM Kevin Lowe chased Marian Hossa and lost Curtis Glencross in the process. He chased Jaromir Jagr and was rebuffed.

    At various times he tried to land Zdeno Chara and Paul Kariya, Michael Nylander and Thomas Vanek, managing to generate scorn and derision around the league while creating the impression that no free agent of any repute would set foot in the luxurious home team dressing room at Rexall Place.

    But he was only doing as instructed. It was as if Katz believed in get-rich-quick schemes when in fact he surely had to know how long it took and how hard it was for his family to build its pharmaceutical empire.

    Chara was a free agent in the summer of 2006. Kariya was pursued by the Oilers in 2007. Nylander was pursued by the Oilers in 2007. Vanek was pursued in 2007. Katz bought the team in 2008. He was instructing Lowe prior to then? I’ve got serious doubts about that. The Katz thing seems to be turning into a bit of conventional wisdom – Darryl Katz bought the Oilers and sent the management team out on a whale hunt. I only see two problems with this.

    First, Darryl Katz didn’t own the team when the whale hunts began. The Oilers, famously, went and got a star with Chris Pronger in 2005. When Pronger asked out, Lowe decided that he liked having a star on his team and continued to pursue them. At the end of the 2006-07 season, Lowe made it clear that he was of the view that more money needed to be poured into the team. He said:

    “We had a business plan going into this season based on previous years, ability to perform, based on what our budget is versus – well there was no cap in previous years but this last season – organizationally, ownership has taken direction from management and I’m happy to say that they’ve always been very supportive. From our perspective, management, we’ve had a rethink in the past couple of months, and it’s safe to say that we’ll make a proposal that will allow us to be able to do what we need to do this offseason to make the team better.”

    “As I said earlier, we’re going to redefine what we need to do in terms of the overall business plan and that’s a recommendation to our ownership and they’ve been supportive in the past so I don’t suspect that they won’t be supportive because it makes sense – we proved it two years ago and hopefully we’ll prove it again to them.”

    The Journal broke the story of Katz’ interest on May 5, 2007. Lowe made his comments on April 10, 2007. There are a couple of possible conclusions that I see. First, Lowe was part of an elaborate plot to sway public sentiment against his employers by demanding an increased budget which they presumably would be unwilling to supply. Second, Lowe figured that he could fix the team if he could spend like a sailor on shore leave and Katz’ willingness to let him do so is entirely a coincidence. I’d bet on the second. Nobody who follows the Oilers should be fooled by this: the idea that the team could be improved by spending a pile of money almost certainly came from the President of Hockey Operations.

    Second, the whale hunts aren’t necessarily bad things. If someone phones Tambellini tomorrow and offers him a 2005 Pronger for various B level prospects and Tom Gilbert, Tambo should consider whether that move makes sense in all of the circumstances. It probably would make sense. One of the things I’ve found most aggravating about the post-season coverage of the Oilers is all of the talk about absolutes. This is possibly a philosophical issue but I’m made uneasy by people who think in terms of absolutes, particularly when they’re in charge of things. The only absolute for Oilers management should be winning a Stanley Cup sometime before we’re all dead.

    There are a million and one different ways to accomplish that and you can’t really plan for a lot of them. I doubt that when Lowe was working on his long term plan in 2002, he had “Have a star become available for nothing in 2005 and grab him” on his list. Something happened – entirely because of factors outside of Lowe’s control – and he was in a position to take advantage of it because he had prospects who were attractive to the Blues and a fellow signed to a reasonable deal in the form of Eric Brewer in whom the Blues were also interested.

    You can’t, I don’t think, plan to be successful. You can only control your processes and put yourself in a position to achieve your desired outcome. Tambo, to his credit, seems to be saying that the Oilers processes have been brutal and that he’s going to fix them. I have considerable doubt that he’s going to accomplish that – the Khabibulin signing has signature significance, as far as I’m concerned – but the very fact that he’s raising the Oilers processes as an issue is basically an indictment of everyone who went before him. With all the questions asked of him this week, you’d think that someone would have asked him if he was saying that Kevin Lowe ran this franchise into the ground and, if so, why Kevin Lowe still has a job.


    9 Responses to Dispatches from the Ministry of Truth

    1. April 17, 2010 at

      Chara was a free agent in the summer of 2006. Kariya was pursued by the Oilers in 2007. Nylander was pursued by the Oilers in 2007. Vanek was pursued in 2007. Katz bought the team in 2008.

      Point, set, match.

    2. April 17, 2010 at

      That article was sloppy in a number of respects. For instance:

      “Katz believed in get-rich-quick schemes when in fact he surely had to know how long it took and how hard it was for his family to build its pharmaceutical empire”

      It’s a retail empire; they don’t research or manufacture pharmaceuticals (like, say, Eugene Melnick’s company). It would be accurate to say it’s a “pharmacy” empire. Don’t know why that bugs me so much, but it does.

      Also, there’s this bit of selective list-making:

      “Still up against the salary cap despite off-loading the contracts of Kyle Brodziak, Denis Grebeshkov and Steve Staios.”

      Yeah, thank goodness he was able to offload that cap-killing Brodziak contract.

    3. David Staples
      April 18, 2010 at

      Tambellini has indeed indicted Lowe with his comments, but I think it would show unbelievably poor judgment for him to actually blast Lowe and say his boss should be fired.

      He might be asked such a thing, that’s a fair enough question, but I wouldn’t want a GM so stupid as to insult his boss and his owner running the team.

      P.S. Yes, if the whale is as good as Pronger (and very, very few players a Pronger of 2005-06 — Hossa and Heatley certainly were not), then go for it. But if the so-called whale is an aging and/or banged up Ryan Smyth/Nik Khabibulin/Sheldon Souray/Lubo Visnovsky, that’s not the right whale.

    4. April 18, 2010 at

      Wait…how the hell does he get the timeline that blatantly wrong? I mean, I can accept that *EIG* were ordering the whale hunts in ’07 to stave off the bad PR of the Smyth trade and the Katz bids, but to put all that, even the stuff prior to ’08, up to Katz? No, that’s bullshit.

    5. April 18, 2010 at

      From a business management perspective there is a big difference between planning and preparing.

      Planning is about going after a specific target: what steps do I have to take, in what order, with what resources, using what controls and indicators. The fitness analogy might be training for a marathon.

      Preparing is about being able to deal with whatever comes along; the fitness analogy would be a good blend of stamina, strength, flexibility, balance and speed.

      This management group has been guilty of planning at the expense of preparing. You need some of each; in a business where there are many competitors, you need an identity (simple plan) and a lot of preparation, because you don’t know what the market and your competitors will throw at you.

      Instead what we got was a handful of rifle-shot plans that generally fell through (or worse, were successful, eg NK), and what I can only call “anti-preparation”, the disposal of cheap useful assets for no return along with the acquisition of burdensome contracts.

    6. April 19, 2010 at

      Katz may be the Oilers owner for a couple of seasons. It just seems like forever.

    7. April 19, 2010 at

      Speaking of timelines and getting things wrong, from today’s live chat:

      Dan Barnes:
      Point taken. But Quinn had input on Khabi.

      [Comment From Tyler:]
      Great. So we signed the running out of time goalie to placate the running out of time coach, despite the fact that – even last summer – it was pretty obvious that the team was nowhere near competing. With all due respect to Quinn, what was he going to do if he didn’t get Khabibulin?

      jim matheson:
      Quinn wasn’t even hired when they got khabibulin

      The fuck?

    8. spOILer
      April 20, 2010 at

      What the hell was Matheson smoking there?

    9. dunciano
      April 21, 2010 at

      How does Lowe still have a job here?

      Does anyone else fear his influence on the future of this organization?

      Tambellini had to wrestle control away from Lowe and now finally has control. President of Hockey Ops – Lowe had to be slapped in the face with a runaway last place finish to see that what he had been doing had to change. As evidenced by Tambellini’s repeated comments about, “what this has done has provided the organization clarity”…

      Lowe has to go, he has shown repeatedly that he is not good for the Oilers.

      It’s the future I’m worried about and not the past, that’s why he must go.

      (and of course Pendergast must go – obvious)

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