Paging Oilers' brain trust -- anybody home?


Big news has been commonplace around the NHL over the past 7 days. Several major trades have gone down, involving Dion Phaneuf, J.-S. Giguere, Olli Jokinen, Ilya Kovalchuk, more than a dozen other NHLers, a couple of prospects, and a handful of draft picks. It's particularly interesting to see the response in Atlanta, where the inability to come to terms with Kovalchuk and the star's subsequent departure resulted in direct dialogue between the club's ownership/management with season ticket holders in advance of yesterday's home game against Florida. The Falconer, our SBN colleague at Bird Watchers Anonymous, provides a detailed report of yesterday's town hall meeting which is well worth the read. I'll quote just a snippet from the intro:

I expected a Thrashers Townhall full of Season Ticket Holders in full revolt. I expected someone might stand up and rip up their tickets and throw them down in disgust. I expect to hear calls for the GM to be fired and new ownership. I expected to yell "show him the money!"

Instead I witnessed a spirited and rather honest-back-and-forth between fans, GM and ownership. I heard a surprisingly candid and mature discussion about the state of the team from both fans and management. From the fans I heard anger and frustration, but also a recognition that their is more than one way to build a hockey team. From management I heard both the GM and owner take their lumps and admit that "we've made mistakes" but also pledge that "we're here to win hockey games and we're committed to accomplishing that goal." There was a lot less salesmanship and a lot more plain speaking than I expected.

It's interesting to compare that situation in Atlanta to the one here in Edmonton. Not only are there no trades happening, there seems to be very little in the way of discourse from the team's ownership and management to its fan base. Occasional sound bites such as Steve Tambellini asserting "We're very confident!" do little to raise the confidence of this Oiler fan, given the sorry plight of this, the worst ever Oilers club. Buried deep in last place overall, 7 points behind the dregs of the east and fully 15 points behind the second worst team in the Western Conference. 3 wins in the last 25 games. Way too many dreadful performances like last night's 3-0 shellacking in Denver.  

So what's the plan, Steve? Kevin? Daryl? How about a town hall meeting with your own fans to give us some idea of how the team plans to address its many problems? This fan has questions from goal through the blueline and all three forward positions, about too many bloated contracts for underperforming players and the cap hell that has resulted, about leadership and team togetherness, about nowhere near enough prime-of-career players, about the club's continuing dreadful performance on the penalty kill and the faceoff dot, about too many smurfs and too many soft players, about the dreadful state of the farm team, and on and on it goes. The questions inevitably extend to coaching and management of this sorry crew, and why the rebuilding process is still going in reverse four years removed from the Oilers' last playoff appearance.

The closest thing I've heard to "answers" to some of these many questions came in an interview Tambellini did during the Hawks broadcast on TSN a couple weeks ago, in which he provided the following somewhat garbled pearls of wisdom:

"I'm trying to make sure that one, this dressing room remains accountable to their play. They have an obligation, our coaches our management, we have an obligation to put forth the very best effort possible every single night. ... Right now, my focus and my message to the people here is that you focus on this game now."

Agreed that the best effort every night is an obligation, so where the hell is it? Sure wasn't on display last night, or last time out in Denver, or in Calgary last Saturday, or ... or ... So where is the accountability in the dressing room, or is that just more lip service?

"At this point I think you'd have to be wide open and listening to any type of offer that's coming forward at this time. We know we're in a spot where changes, if not made prior to the deadline, that we'll have to make going forward with this hockey club."

Well we're listening, that's great. Of course Tambo still needs a little time to evaluate, having only been hired two years ago or was it last week? As usual, there are no specifics of what kind of changes have to be made. And while we're busy evaluating, potential trading chips like Sheldon Souray and Steve Staios are incurring new injuries to further reduce their market value. Not all of this is Tambellini's fault, mind, but sitting on our hands is rather definitively Not working.

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.

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