Yesterday Darryl Katz had an interview with Bob Stauffer put up on the Edmonton Oilers website. Darryl Katz hasn't had a lot to say to fans of the Oilers since he purchased the team and has almost never addressed the hockey operations side of ownership in a public forum. Granted, Mr. Stauffer didn't exactly ask the tough questions - this
platform interview came on Katz's terms - but it nonetheless seems to me that a detailed look at what he had to say is in order. Whether we like it or not, what he had to say today is where we're going.
After the jump I'm going to have Katz's transcribed comments and I'll bold the comments that I think are most significant and then offering a little bit of commentary.
The Assessment of the Edmonton Oilers:
"Clearly, without a doubt this has been an enormously tough year for the Oilers, for my personally, for our management for our coaches, and most of all for our fans. I have to say, from where we're sitting, we view our fans as having been incredibly loyal and supportive. We're entering a very important time for the organization's history and it's an opportunity for us now to kind of let you know where we are and where we're going. You know, Bob, that I've been an Oilers fan for a lot longer than I've been an owner of the team and I'm not at all happy with how the team has performed. It's no fun for anybody. Most of all, though, this experience has been no fun for our fans. I know it, our management knows it and our players know it. I think it's important to know that I'm extremely passionate about winning. Last place is somewhere I never thought we would be and it's completely unacceptable. We - myself personally and we as an organization - are in this for the long haul and over the long haul I really like what I see. We have a great young core with a tonne more talent coming along. I look at a team like Chicago and I see what happened with their young talent in a few short years and we as an organization are keenly aware of where we are and what our objectives are moving forward."
There are three things that I think were really emphasized here. Darryl Katz is a fan and as a fan he understands how we, as fans, feel. He appreciates us and cares about us. To be honest, that's probably one of the biggest reasons he gave the interview at all. A few weeks ago Bruce wrote a frustrated piece about the lack of communication coming from the organization. Don Waddell had just had a Thrashers' Town Hall Meeting with season ticket holders to address the direction of the franchise after the Ilya Kovalchuk trade. This is what Bruce had to say:
"What also isn't working, at least not for me, is the lack of communication between the team's builders and its fans. In this area the club could learn a lesson from Don Waddell of all people, by making an effort to reach out to its long-suffering supporters and address the state of the franchise."
I think this interview is largely to let the Bruce's of the world know that every part of the Oilers organization hears him ("I know it, our management knows it and our players know it") and that Darryl Katz, in particular, can relate to his concerns. Was it effective in doing that? I guess we'll need to ask Bruce. I can't imagine it hurt.
The second thing that Darryl Katz wanted to get across was that he cares a lot about winning. The fans of this city are used to the owner(s) of the team caring a whole lot more about money and having the NHL in Edmonton than about winning. Peter Pocklington didn't see Wayne Gretzky to the L.A. Kings because he wanted to win. Doug Weight didn't get traded to St. Louis so that the Oilers could win more games. These were financial decisions. With Katz trying to take tax dollars for Katzotopia he probably realizes that it could look like he really just cares about money. The message here is that what Katz is focused on, is winning. He's not trying to flip the team for an investment win. He's in it for the long haul and he wants to win.
The third theme is that fixing this team is going to take a long time. Bob Stauffer introduced the question by talking about the decade of bad in Detroit when Mike Ilitch took over. Katz talks about the team having a "young core," "the long haul," and compared this club to Chicago's team that was able to rise from the ashes in "a few short years." The Chicago comparison could have been fantastic if he made a self/Steve-deprecating remark about Chicago's need to overcome a really stupid contract given to Nikolai Khabibulin. I understand why he can't do that, but I think it would have made his "I understand how the fans feel" a lot more credible. At any rate, he's pleading for time to sort through the mess. It's looking like a rebuild and it will look even more like a rebuild as the interview continues.
How Important is Drafting and Development in Acquiring Elite Players:
"Well Bob, to me it's absolutely crucial. My understanding from Kevin and Steve is that we've had very successful drafts over the past few years. Clearly we'll be opportunistic if we have a chance to upgrade our talent but, there's no question, the draft and development are absolutely a focus under our ownership and the fact is that rebuilding takes time and in fact it's only possible to rebuild if you have a loyal fanbase who are prepared to stick with that strategy. Many teams in the league don't have the opportunity to rebuild and I think, as I said, it's only because of the fanbase, that we have the opportunity to take this step and that's exactly what we're going to do."
Some of the themes from the first section are picked up again in this answer and the path for the future is made explicit: rebuild. And a rebuild is not something to fear, it's an "opportunity." It's a good thing and it's not something every team can do. Sure, there may or may not be a payoff in the near future and yes there are other strategies out there but the rebuilding strategy is one that the Oilers can try because of the loyalty of their fans. The fans are their enablers.
A second thing I wanted to draw out is that Darryl Katz seems to trust the people he's got in place. Bob Stauffer described the "new" coach and the "new" general manager in his opening. Now we have Katz putting his trust in the draft assessment of Steve Tambellini and Kevin Lowe. Earlier this season Guy Flaming suggested the scouting staff might be on the hot seat. The sense I get here is that this isn't the case. One guy who might be though is Kevin Prender-about-to-be-gassed.
Can Steve Tambellini Do Anything he Wants to Improve the Roster:
"Yes. There's absolutely no question that Tamby has the complete green light to do whatever he thinks is necessary to rebuild the hockey club. Not withstanding all the injuries, what we have today is not working, that's clear. So, I expect, and we should all expect, to see some changes."
This little answer is somewhat comforting. It seems he's decided not to blame injuries for the team's failure. Thus, there will be some real changes to the roster. Hooray! I understood Tamby's "free reign" to extend exactly as far as it stays on point. You want to send Moreau to the minors? Sure, but explain to me how it helps our rebuilding process. The transactions need to fit into the plan. If they stick with this, it could actually work out.
Can the Oilers Learn from Other Small-Market Organizations:
(This is the last section before they start discussing Katzotopia and conclude with another "thank you" message to the fans, so it will be the last section that I transcribe.)
"There's no question. I think learning starts with understanding that last place is absolutely unacceptable to all of us. We need to do better at all levels of the organization and I'm confident we will. Drafting and development in a salary cap era has to be a huge part of any team's strategy and that's absolutely what we're focused on."
I didn't really like this answer. I thought the phrase "salary cap era" was used more to sound knowledgeable than it was to convey something meaningful and that's kind of annoying. There's really nothing in this answer that's taken from other organizations. Drafting and development are important? Yes, but it's not as though the only teams who feel that way are the ones playing in small markets. It came across as a bit of a nothing question to me. On the other hand, Katz stayed on message. Draft. Develop. Rebuild.