Daryl Katz wrote an open letter to Oilers fans today. It was completely lacking in substance and only the most deeply faithful among the believers will be heartened by this. Though Ben hates fisking, there's just too much material here to resist:
To Oilers Fans Everywhere:
Really though, just the first-tier fans.
We all thought this was going to be the year the Oilers turned the corner.
I really hope by "we all", you're mean you, Kevin Lowe, the muppets you call sports writers and Adrian Dater. No one else except for the fans still committed to gargling with grape Flavor Aid thought this. The legions of fans that write regularly about your team continually pointed out the holes in your lineup, coaching staff, organization and management team. We're still doing that, by the way.
Obviously, that hasn’t happened, and it hurts. It’s frustrating – for all of us. For our fans, for our players and staff, and for everyone in our community who shares a common bond around a game, a team and a city that we love.
Now that you've got the appeal to emotion out of the way...
I know this will almost certainly be the eighth consecutive year since we made the playoffs. I hate that fact as much as anyone, but the reality is that this is only year four of the rebuild that started when we drafted Taylor Hall.
And year 8 of the rebuild that started when Kevin Lowe sold Chris Pronger for "five assets" and Ryan Smyth for Ryan O'Marra and sold the Peter Pan fanbase on a "kid line" of Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson. It's also year 7 of the rebuild that started when Lowe chased big names all over the Northland, but landed Sheldon Souray, Joni Pitkanen and Dustin Penner. Just because Lowe started a third rebuild doesn't mean you get to hand-wave away the first two.
And "only year four"? You've now wasted the entry-level contracts of Hall, Hopkins and Eberle, trashed the defense and the team is actually worse than when you began the third rebuild. You've got one more year of Yakupov's ELC to burn off before this team should be sent off to a beach in Mozambique to be cut apart for salvage.
The good news, if you can call it that, is that other teams that committed to fundamental rebuilds went through the same kind of droughts over the same kind of time frames, or longer. That doesn’t make it fun for anyone; it just means we have to stay the course.
The bad news, and it's very bad news for fans, is that other teams that committed to fundamental rebuilds went through the same kind of droughts over the same kind of time frames, or longer. The Thrashers, Blue Jackets, Panthers, and Islanders are all still wandering in the desert. But to compare the Oilers current version of the rebuild to those teams is UTTERLY FATUOUS.
Yes, we hoped
And here is the core of the problem. Hope is for children writing letters to Santa and drunken interns on Friday nights. Successful franchises aren't run on hope. Yet, year after year, the Edmonton Oilers continue to manage their organization based on hope. They hope that injuries won't affect them. They hope that young players will be able to play way above their head. They hope that recent acquisitions will succeed in roles they've never been able to succeed in before. They hope that lack of depth won't be a problem. They hope they can hope their way out of the basement and into the playoffs.
Successful franchises plan for the worst and build their rosters and organizations accordingly. They don't throw things together and rely on the divine. Successful franchises don't run on hope. Does Rexall roll out additions to it's rewards programs hoping that it will drive in-store conversions, or are the programs well-planned through research, testing and execution, built with contingencies and back-up plans should they go wrong?
and expected to be better this year – there’s no question about that. But we’ve also been more active than any team I can think of in rebuilding our organization from bottom to top by supporting player development in OKC and Bakersfield, revamping our scouting organization, naming a new GM and a new coach,
Who took an entire training camp, pre-season and 10 games to realize that the personnel he had on his team couldn't run his system.
signing free agents like Justin Schultz,
And hoping he could play top four minutes while the fans watched in vain as he was shellacked in his rookie season. Rather than plan for Schultz to play bottom-pairing minutes and work into the second pair in his second season, he was handed his position and eventually promoted to first-pairing minutes, where he's been...what's worse than shellacked?
A player with a history of playing second and third minutes while taking defensive faceoffs and killing penalties has succeeded in playing second and third minutes while taking defensive faceoffs and killing penalties. Uncanny.
and hoping that a 4/5 defenseman on a team loaded with two-way players could come in and play 3/4 minutes on a team loaded with floaters and never-beens. His utter failures in the 3/4 role were bad enough, but since his promotion to the top pairing, he's been an absolute disaster. Does the team just hope that he can turn it around at age 34?
Anton Belov and Ilya Bryzgalov, and trading for players like David Perron,
Full stop. Don't laud any additional tra...
and now Ben Scrivens
He's a backup goaltender. They're commoditized now. Landing one is not an accomplishment for any other management team.
and Matt Hendricks.
A savvy owner, one who understands the game and the cap doesn't pat his management team on the back for Matt Hendricks. If backup goaltenders are commoditized, 4th line grinders are pork bellies futures. They're everywhere, yet your management team traded for one who is signed for three more years at more than $1 million per season over his actual value. It's your money to throw away, but because of the salary cap, Hendricks and his $1.8 million takes up a spot that an otherwise useful player would occupy.
And we’re not done.
Why even write this? You're not done? What does that even mean? You're the man in charge of the 29th team in a 30 team league and the worst team in the league for 8 years. Did you start yet?
But I can also tell you that we are not going to sacrifice the future by doing something short-term. Those days are over and they’re not coming back. If we’re going to rebuild, we want to do it right and we only want to do it once.
And back to this again. The team is on it's third rebuild - you're on your second. And in the sporting world, "short-term" is 2ish years. The Oilers have been banging away at the third rebuild for four years, and again they're worse than they were when they began.
I hear a lot from fans about accountability, so let’s be clear. We are all accountable. That includes me, Kevin, Craig, Dallas, every player who wears our jersey, and every member of our staff.
You don't say anything here - this is meaningless. "Believe me, I'm accountable." How? Being accountable means more than becoming friends with old star athletes by giving them and their cronies long-term employment. It means understanding what happens in the rink, behind the scenes and in the media. Accountability is not hiding out for years, occasionally surfacing to threaten the city, then popping up with the kids to make the 1st overall pick and disappearing again.
While you watched from afar, your management team allowed good players, and by all accounts from their teammates and sports writers in other cities, good people to take the fall for their failures. Craig MacTavish the coach got Kyle Brodziak exiled to Minnesota. Pat Quinn made Lubomir Visnovsky his patsy. Steve Tambellini watched with an awkward smile as Dustin Penner, Tom Gilbert, and Shawn Horcoff were all booed out of town. None of them stepped in to take the blame and resign. Nothing about your ownership in absentia signals accountability for eight years of the worst franchise in professional sports.
I know Kevin is the target of a lot of personal attacks right now, and that’s really unfortunate.
Yes, it's unfortunate that Kevin is the target of personal attacks, but "...I know a little about winning," made the entire thing personal. If he didn't want his person questioned, he should have kept quiet on his expertise in winning while lording over a franchise with a .390 winning percentage since 2006-07. It would have been hard for anyone to question his person had he admitted he was out of his element and graciously stepped aside.
Eddie Arcaro was an amazing jockey, but trusting him to run a $100 million horse farm and racing enterprise was madness. Terry Bradshaw won four Super Bowls, but owners weren't jumping at the opportunity to hand him the keys to an NFL franchise. Kevin Lowe isn't capable of running a successful franchise in the cap era. Own it, be accountable for it, don't talk about your accomplishments from 20 years ago, while pretending the last 8 don't exist.
Kevin is a big part of our organization, and it’s not just the Oilers that value his knowledge and perspective. He is consistently chosen, year after year, to play a leadership role with Hockey Canada.
Running an organization that gets to pick a team from the most talented pool of players in the world is a cherry gig. It's like lauding Mike Krzyzewski for winning medals with Team USA Basketball. The ability to build an international team from an open pool has little, almost nothing, in common from building a franchise in a capped league with multi-level franchises. Applauding his international work while he falls flat on his face is like Steve Tambellini explaining that he made a trade because Nick Schultz played at the World Championships.
But when it comes down to it, this is Craig MacTavish’s team. He is the GM. He makes the calls, and he is accountable
It's extremely difficult to believe this, mostly because Kevin Lowe is ubiquitous. He's front-and-center at General Manager meetings, he takes press conferences, he's in every scene of your own hand-produced documentary series. If this is MacTavish's team, you could help make that more believable by removing Lowe from the spotlight. Ask him to spend more time in Hockey Canada's offices, for example.
for building a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup -- year in and year out for years to come. That’s our vision. We are committed to it -- and we’re confident that we are on the right track.
That's not a vision. You didn't write anything meaningful anywhere in this letter. This letter says "we've done stuff, we're ignoring how bad we've been, we're committed to the long term, which I'm not going to specify, but long-term is more than four years and we will compete." Nothing here defines any sort of vision.
Our fans have been incredibly patient and supportive. At the same time, we know there’s a lot of frustration and we are asking you to hang in there while we fight through this and put the next few pieces of the team in place.
More hand-waving. Wait? How long? What pieces? Why should the fans trust the management team in their third rebuild to fix it before 4th general manager, 6th coach and 4th rebuild?
Is there a plan? What is it, even in generalities? Or is it more hope? Draft Ekblad, keep Nurse on the big club next season, overpay Halak, and Iginla or Moulson and continue operations as normal, flailing around like a Timbits goalie?
Nothing the Oilers have done this season, and nothing in this letter suggests otherwise. It's like "MACT isn't going anywhere!" all over again.
I’ll tell you this, despite everything, we all wear our Oilers colours with the same pride now as we ever have, and as we will when we’re back on top. We hope you’ll do the same.
The appeal to emotion was out of the way back at the beginning, no need to go back to it again, though I'd have tried something about drinking your beer from the same mug, or screaming yourself hoarse for the teams of the 80s. Those go over really well with hockey fans.
We value our fans, we hear you,
You value the fans and the gate revenue and as long as...
and we appreciate your support.
exactly. As long as the arena sells out, there is no impetus for change. Your President of Operations said so himself. His primary concern is ensuring the arena is filled and the coffers are filled.
Owner in absentia, buddy with The Boys on the Bus