I love inside stories about hockey as much as the next guy and Pat Quinn was telling them on Vancouver radio the other day, including one about his time in Edmonton:
My last job in Edmonton, they had a first round pick there that…at 18 Edmonton had decided that they needed to change their fortunes because they’d pretty much been a bad team for almost 20 years since they won the Cup there. So, he come in and this guy, I could skate faster than him. There was no danger. He still had time where you didn’t have to waive him. So I said, “Y’know, anyone that comes in like that, if you want to get this team back…” because up there the nuts were running the funny farm, that’s really what was wrong with that organization at the time and maybe still is, I don’t know, I said “Send him down. Send him down to the minor league team right now.” We had to expose another player that required waivers, a little wee guy that also played in London but could really skate and I said ‘We won’t lose this guy, we might get something out of it because he was a high pick in a trade after we don’t expose him.’ Well, we sure enough lost him after we did expose him. The other kid stayed there.
The answer to me was “Did you know he’s a first round pick?” I said “Yes, I know he’s a first round pick.” “Well, a first round pick that we should be playing here, he played last year. “He’s in lousy shape. It’s not going to cost you anything. Send a message to this hockey team that you mean something.” They refused to do it.
What an odd story. It seems to be pretty obviously about Sam Gagner (the guy who came to camp and wasn’t in shape) and Rob Schremp (the uh, “little wee guy that also played in London but could really skate”). Readers may recall that Gagner started the season on the fourth line as the glorious JFJ: First Line Power Forward Era dawned.
I’d be interested to know if Gagner really wasn’t in shape or if he was just kind of a crappy skater. I don’t think it’s a secret that skating hasn’t historically been the strongest part of Gagner’s game, although I thought he looked like a markedly better skater last year. Maybe Gagner’s attitude has done a 180 since 2009 – it happens with lots of young guys – but I don’t recall ever hearing that he was a guy who had a tendency to be in poor shape. I’m not opposed to sending guys down who were on the team last year but I’m not sure how much a message it sends to the rest of the team when it just happens to be a guy on a two-way deal who doesn’t require waivers.
In any event, history’s kind of borne out the opinion (which was obvious at the time, which was why Schremp was kind of a punchline prospect) that Rob Schremp can’t play in the NHL and Sam Gagner can. Quinn’s line about the nuts running the funny farm may well be apt – JFJ WAS ON THE FIRST LINE – but I think he’s kind of underselling his own contribution to the dysfunction. There’s probably a great book to be written about the Steve Tambellini years; hopefully somebody writes it some day or, at the very least, it’s an early chapter in a book about the next Oiler dynasty.
h/t: HFAIRFIELDEmail Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org