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.