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The Oilers, the NHL, and Optics.


What do the Oilers, the Canadiens, the NHL, business, Patrick Roy, and politics all have in common?

They are all influenced by optics.

After reading flarwick's very on-point "Chiarelli: The INs and OUTs", it had me thinking about this subject that I have commented on in the past. But, the more I see the Oilers struggle, the more that I felt this deserves a full article, rather than a lengthy reply. I've wondered about how or even whether the Oilers can be turned around; the most common answer I've heard from fans, is that the owner is the only one who can make those changes, and that it is up to him to make that change. And I fully agree with their assessment.

Now, what does this have to do with optics, you ask? Simply put, a person's perception of a team, the NHL, business, politician, or even political party, is crucially important to how well it does. There are thousands upon thousands of examples of this in every day life. For example, have you ever been to a restaurant, where they serve you bad food, or provide bad service? Has that ever made you never want to come back? If that's the case, then that means you have a bad reputation for that restaurant.

However, not going to a restaurant anymore won't affect a restaurant that much. But, if you felt particularly upset at that restaurant, and decided to post a review on Yelp or Google Maps, then a number of other people, some of whom have never been to the restaurant before, would see the reviews, believe the words as a potentially valuable opinion, and decide to not go anymore. That means that the image of the restaurant - the optics of how people see the restaurant - would change. It can also be called reputation, and reputation means everything in many things in life, even in friendships and relationships.

As stated, this happens in many areas; politicians can say or do something terrible or unpopular, and lose an election. Multiple politicians could lead to the party being voted out. Businesses can go bankrupt by having too many negative reviews. The Arizona Coyotes struggle to keep fans partially due to the region in which they are based, but also because the team hasn't been competitive for years, and that is due to its ugly ownership situation. Everyone boos Gary Bettman during every presentation of the Stanley Cup, because they hate a lot of the decisions he has made. And the Oilers themselves are losing fans all over the place, and have caused viewing numbers, merchandise numbers, and home game tickets, to drop dramatically, all because of a completely dysfunctional management team, and an owner who isn't involved nearly enough with the operations of their team.

I also mentioned Patrick Roy, for a very important reason, and it goes back to an infamous day on December 2nd, 1995, which everyone likely is aware of. During a game between his team, the Montreal Canadiens, and the Red Wings, the team was bombing horribly, and Patrick Roy, one of the best goalies in history, was being left out to dry. It is said that Roy and his new coach, Mario Tremblay, hated each other, and he felt that Tremblay hung himself out to dry. When he was finally pulled, he walked up to the team President, Ronald Corey, and declared that "This is my last game in Montreal."

It was. After being suspended by his team, soon after he was treaded to the Colorado Avalanche, along with their team captain, for a trade which was later described at the most one-sided trade in NHL history. And the rest, as they say, is history, and Roy even got two more cups out of it.

So, what does this have to do with reputation? Well, after what happened, this severely shook up the confidence of their fans, and also led to an extended mediocrity streak, where they never reached the second round of the NHL playoffs for 15 years, and missed the playoffs entirely for four of the first ten seasons. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but it's easy to assume that their profitability tanked shortly after, until they finally regained some of their luster.

Now, back to the Oilers, and the point of this article.

I've been following The Copper & Blue since the start of last season, when I started to follow hockey far more closely. I've read a number of the articles from a number of the editors here, and I've noticed a common trend, which I all agree with, which goes along something like this:

- McLellan can't coach, and doesn't know how to structure lines, or keep lines relatively predictable. Also, the "L" defense.

- Chiarelli can't make a profitable trade if his life depended on it.

- The Oilers best players are overworked, dramatically increasing their chances of injury.

- The goaltending is awful, because the management hasn't put enough effort into getting a good starting goalie, and they overwork the one they already have.

- The owner is unwilling or uninterested in changing the status quo.

The biggest problem right now, is that the team has fallen into the trap of mediocrity, to the point where the team won't improve without major changes, but is doing just well enough that no one will lose their jobs, and where fans are placated enough where they will tolerate it without completely jumping ship. It would take a major event to commence a major shakeup, akin to the one that the Toronto Maple Leafs did when they sacked pretty much everyone except the kitchen sink (not sure on the kitchen sink), and are now a solid contender.

But, what would make that shakeup? Though you could say a terrible year could start it, last year should have by all rights been that year, yet they all kept their jobs. Unfortunately, sometimes people need to push for it.

For example, how often have you heard of CBC Go Public bringing up someone's issue to the news, and forcing a politician or business to quickly make up and provide a solution? This is the sort of situation that may have to happen here. It can happen in one of two ways; the players, or the fans.

In the case of the players, if Connor McDavid were to one day pull a Patrick Roy - because he fears his trade value, and his best years to win a cup, are evaporating - and quit playing, and demand a trade... I can see a massive shakeup from the top-down, because they realized that their best player is calling it quits. It would also make the management look horrible to the fans.

A less self-centered version, is something that I've never seen before with a hockey team, but happens all the time in business - a strike. If the players got together, and decided that they felt that management does not have their best interests at heart, they could all collectively go on strike, demanding a change of management, or a trade. Such a situation would not only affect the management and ownership, but there's a very strong chance that the NHL itself would be under heavy scrutiny, and be forced to intervene. What that intervention could mean, I'm not sure, but it would have ramifications across the entire NHL, let it be good or bad.

The final option, is the fans themselves. The fans have one of the most powerful weapons in their arsenal: money. They can simply choose to not spend it anymore. But, the chances of that happening as a collective decision, is very slim. Instead, I could very easily see fans themselves make some sort of disruptive protest that would force an interruption of a game; one I can think of at the top of my head, is that, during a play, that fans start throwing their jersies onto the ice, and leaving en-masse. Such a demonstration would not only be caught on a national broadcast, but it would send a very clear, and very embarrassing message to the ownership: "We are done with you."

The fact is, the best way to stir change, is to make a statement. Something that won't physically hurt anyone - or put yourself into legal trouble, for that matter - but something embarrassing enough to force changes. I hope that the players themselves make this statement, but, if they won't, it is up to us, the fans, to show that we won't tolerate being used as a license to print money anymore. We deserve better, and, to be frank, so do our players. Sometimes, we need to fight for them, as much as they fight for our team on the ice.