Daryl's open letter - A tier two fan's rebuttal

Dale MacMillan

Dear Daryl,

Thank you very much for taking the time to write to us, the fans, even tier two fans like me. Sure, I don’t have seasons tickets as I live in another province now, but it is nice to see someone in your marketing department figured out that we tier two fans do spend money on the Oilers (I have two Oilers jerseys, my wife has one, and my kids each have Oiler gear, and I have even exported one to my nephew in South America).

But, I am afraid your letter misses the mark. You see, I never thought this was the year the team would turn the corner. The year started when your team hired a new General Manager, Sr. Vice President, Hockey Operations, and a new Head Coach, both without a structured, competitive process to ensure that you selected the best candidate. Instead the GM and SVP roles went to friends of Kevin Lowe. The rookie GM then decided to hire a rookie head coach on an apparent whim, rather than pursuing an experienced Head Coach like Lindy Ruff to help guide a team with a young core in need of direction and experience. The team also inexplicably decided to retain a crew of Assistant Coaches that helped preside over the worst record in hockey during their tenures. That two of these assistant coaches are also friends of Kevin Lowe makes the optics even worse. That these people are also perceived to be personal friends of yours only makes matters worse.

We then headed into a summer that main stream media pundits and quality bloggers alike were saying was likely to be the best buyers market in the cap era due to the reduction in the salary cap for this season. I saw some good moves (David Perron trade, Boyd Gordon signing, Shawn Horcoff trade) but I saw some horrific moves including the term given to Andrew Ference, and the signings of Jesse Joensuu, Will Acton, Ryan Hamilton, and Denis Grebeshkov, and the waiver wire pick ups of Steve MacIntyre and Luke Gazdic resulting in a team spending to the cap, using almost all its contract spots, and still having a fundamentally flawed roster. I watched as players that could have filled material holes in the Oilers roster like Mikhail Grabovski, Tom Gilbert, Ron Hainsey, Mason Raymond, and Brad Boyes went the entire summer without contracts. I watched Craig MacTavish ignore the glaring hole at centre created by the Nugent-Hopkins injury and the risk if another centre got injured go unaddressed. I saw a team that entered the off season without a top defensive pairing and strong third line left winger enter the new season without a top defensive pairing, a strong third line left winger, and short two top centres.

Because I am a fan, I read a number of sources for information on the Oilers, and many of those sources identified the same holes, and the same opportunities missed to leverage this unique free agent market to help the organization move out of the current phase of the rebuild into the one where the team becomes competitive. Not necessarily a play-off team, but a team that would be in the mix.

Instead I got Craig MacTavish telling us that grit without skill would not move the needle in Edmonton, and then sign and claim now less than four players incapable of delivering any offence at the NHL level. I got to hear him on Jason Gregor’s show saying he was satisfied with the roster he had assembled and that it would be competitive. I didn’t believe it then, and their current track record is nothing more than a confirmation of that belief.

I am very concerned about your comment on the level of "activity" in the organization as an indicator of progress. The wrong kind of "activity" can be as destructive or more destructive than the lack of activity we saw during Steve Tambellini’s tenure. Signing for long shot players like Grebeshkov, Acton, Hamilton, and Joensuu when your roster requires proven NHL veterans is activity, but not positive activity. Signing Ference and trading for Matt Hendricks and expecting them to play higher in the line up than their history indicates they are capable of is not positive activity.

While I certainly appreciate your concept of not sacrificing the future for a short term fix, I fear this is being used by your management team as an excuse for taking prudent risks to address roster needs. Your current team has three quality right wingers in Eberle, Yakupov, and Hemsky – four if you count Gagner – and a gaping hole on defence. There will likely be no strong under 35 top pairing defenders on this summer’s free agent market so for the team to be successful, trades from areas of depth are required. I have no faith in this management team to make the moves necessary.

Since you brought up accountability, can you please clarify what this means in the Oilers organization? As a consultant, I get to work with lots of different organizations and almost without fail, accountability means that if you consistently fail to meet a reasonable performance standard, or if you show in the early days you are not up to the task when promoted, you are let go. By the first method, Kevin Lowe, Steve Smith, Kelly Buchberger, and Fredrick Chabot have failed to meet even an average performance standard over the last eight years, or since their tenure began. Why are they still employed? How long does the failure have to continue before they are truly held accountable? That Craig Mactavish could so badly read the needs of the team and the quality of the roster he had assembled suggests he is not ready to handle the challenges of the current role. Perhaps if the franchise was performing well, you could afford for him to learn on the job. But now, at this point, that is a risk no reasonable organization would take. What are the performance goals you have set for MacTavish? How many of these goals does he have to miss before he is held accountable? We know he missed this years stated goal of competing for a play-off spot.

As for personal attacks on Kevin Lowe, I am sure there have been some. Any comments on his personal life are regrettable and inappropriate. But we must separate these kinds of attacks from valid criticism. Kevin Lowe has presided over the worst performing organization in his industry during the last eight years. In no other industry would a president deliver that kind of performance and retain his job. It is his track record that I see being "attacked", along with his understanding of his customer group – us fans, both tiers. By far this is the majority of the so called attacks on Lowe, and these are fair under the circumstances. They are prudent. They are warranted. And they will and should continue until Lowe steps down or is fired.

I understand your "vision statement", but after eight years of abject failure, a vision statement is no longer enough for me, and many other fans, to buy in. We are past the point of generalities. It is time for more specifics. We need milestones and need to know if these are not met, management will pay the price for failing to meet them.

So, in summary, Daryl, I really don’t think you hear us. We have lost faith in this management team. They do not deserve more of our patience or our support. They are losing us as fans. You are losing us as fans by protecting your friends rather than bringing in professional management.

So, let’s keep up the dialogue. I hope your next letter is more substantial.

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