Some time ago, I wrote about the concept of marginal dollars/marginal standings points – if you need a refresher on the methodology, take a look there. With the most recent travesty of a season having wrapped up and the most recent assault on the Oilers management, I thought I’d take a look at how the Oilers have done in terms of spending money efficiently over the past four years.
As you might guess from the standings, the Oilers management group has not done well by this metric. They are, by a substantial margin, the worst group in the NHL. Look at the teams immediately above them – these are, with the exception of the Flyers, teams that are almost uniformly regarded as disastrously run and all of them have done a better job with the dollars that they’ve spent in the past four years than have the Oilers. The teams that people like me mock for their managerial ineptitude – the Flyers with their hilarious cap induced goaltending problems, the multi year circus involving the Lightning, the Leafs with deals like Tuukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft and the accidental Jeff Finger signing, the Kings misbegotten plan to play Dan Cloutier – all of these teams have been better at spending their money than the Oilers.
This stuff is just tiresome. In the wake of Souray’s broadside today, I listened to Bob Stauffer’s program to get a sense of what the team’s reaction to all of this was. This was a happy decision on my part, as Stauffer spent much of the program engaging in Oilers apologia, including a bizarre suggestion that Souray went after the Oilers training staff in Spector’s story, a story in which Souray is quoted as emphasizing that managment was after him to play hurt, not the training staff, as well as a statement that “…Ken Lowe was exceptional in keeping daily tabs on Souray’s medical progress.” I didn’t see anything negative in the story about the training staff – I saw a lot about management.
Stauffer’s interaction with the callers included a lot of discussion about Oilers management. One fellow phoned in and suggested that Lowe was arrogant. Stauffer rejected this, saying that Lowe has admitted where he’s made mistakes. I’m not privy to Lowe’s conversations with Stauffer, only those which Stauffer shares with the world on those occasions when I happen to be listening to him on the radio but does this not stop being enough at some point? At some point doesn’t he need to move beyond “acknowledges his mistakes” to “takes active steps to prevent them in the future”?
Lowe might not be the titular head of the organization (although he’s the President of Hockey Operations, whatever relationship vis-a-vis Tambo that might imply) but he’s clearly involved with what the Oilers do. He – and the management group – just look piteously out of their depth. Stauffer mentioned a number of times that they felt like they were just a few players away at various times over the past few years. Clearly, they were wrong about this.
I don’t know how you can blow the call for four years in a row about how good your team is and plausibly claim to be the man to head the department going forward without some compelling evidence that you’ve learned something from the mistakes that you’ve made. Since Lowe got his budget increase in the summer of 2007, we’ve basically witnessed incontrovertible evidence that he has zero idea about how to do things efficiently when he’s not forced to. He – and the rest of the hockey people – see a budget as an amount of money that you’re allowed to spend, rather than an amount that you have available to invest in players who will generate a certain level of return. For all the good the extra money in the budget has done him, he might as well have put it in a barrel and burned it.
We have less information about Tambellini but what we’ve seen so far isn’t particularly promising. The Khabibulin move was both utterly conventional and foreseeably disastrous. I’m not as impressed with his trade deadline as some, if only because the Staios move was dependent on finding a sucker more than anything. We had some tough talk at the end of last season when he was axing Craig MacTavish, which was quickly followed by more of the same. This season’s disaster was presumably a complete surprise to him – you don’t hire Pat Quinn to supervise a rebuilding.
The problem with Oilers’ management, I think, lies with the thought process and approach that they take. I’ve basically laid out a case here for the past four years that they aren’t good at recognizing value, they don’t understand how the CBA works or how to use it to their advantage and that they completely fail to understand the idea that today’s NHL is an efficiency contest that requires a cold blooded, ruthless analysis of how to spend your dollars and make use of the assets that you have.
The route now seems to be the favourite of every new regime – completely starting over. I’m not sure how a regime that’s basically ten years old gets to do this but it is what it is. Say it works though. Say that one of JDD or DD turns out, MPS, Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle, Tyler Seguin/Taylor Hall form a young nucleus that complements Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner up front, and that Shawn Horcoff fronts the best third line in the NHL. Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert and Taylor Chorney provide the offence from the defence while Ladislav Smid and Theo Peckham form a rock solid shutdown pairing. Say it all comes together and four years from now the Oilers win the Stanley Cup.
Management will then have to start making awkward decisions about who to pay, who to let go and how much to pay people. Even if you assume that they can make all of this happen and win the Stanley Cup, is there any reason to think that the current management would be able to make the right financial decisions so as to keep the Oilers at the top? Kevin Lowe’s demonstrated no ability to do this and he’s presumably Tambellini’s mentor in that regard.
Any idiot can manage a hockey team and not screw it up for a few years if the plan is to bottom feed and collect talent through the draft. The real talent lies in making the right decisions in terms of managing the salary cap and the team’s financial commitments as things improve. Nothing in the past ten years makes me think that the current management group are the ones who should be making those decisions. I can’t think of another example where a management group is permitted to run a team into the ground as thoroughly as the Oilers have been run into the ground by the current group, they’ve been given an opportunity to resurrect the team and it’s worked out. If it was up to me, this group wouldn’t be getting that opportunity. Assuming they do, I fully expect them to screw something up while achieving about 65% of what might reasonably be expected.