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1/23/12

What now?

Something that keeps coming up as I try to follow the Edmonton Oilers hockey team on a day-to-day basis is that no one is telling the important story or telling it correctly. All we ever hear is that "there is a plan", that whatever that is continues and can justify almost anything in terms of game results, that to deviate would be some kind of utter disaster and that success will come (just ask any of the GMs whose teams walk in and pound the crap out of us).

Now, if sports media guys view their job as to simply report what is said and what's going on, then I suppose that would be okay. The themes above certainly match the official line of management and others associated with the organization. I've never understood the job of a sports columnist this way. They are columnists and as such are supposed to ask questions (both directly and of themselves), then provide insight based on their experience, skill and thoughts. This is not happening. What we are receiving as fans is access journalism. This seeks to maintain an open flow of information from the team at nearly all costs by only going so far when it pertains to supplying information to readers. For somewhat interested fans this would be fine, and is already done admirably by team employees as well as the post-game type reports from each city's correspondent. There is no point to having a gaggle of writers and radio personalities out there saying the same thing. They serve no purpose for the more interested fans out there. The "hard news" will come out without wasting resources by duplicating it 19 times and shying away from what actually needs to be said.

So what if there is a plan? So what if our leadership buys into it? This plan, which went unquestioned from its accidental beginning and flawed premise to the intentional losing we've experienced in order to exploit the NHL's flawed and anti-sport draft lottery system, is showing no signs of leading to only rational goal of winning games, playoff series and the Stanley Cup. If a plan is driving your ship towards the rocks, you do not stick with the plan just because it is the plan. You have to justify yourself and constantly evaluate what is actually happening, whether you were making progress, and whether your premises were right from the very beginning. The answers are quite clearly that the Oilers are adrift as a team, and the starting premises may very well have been wrong. You won't see any of this in the local media. Instead you will see the news that our GM will be getting an extension portrayed as some kind of huge story (rather than being footnoted and then either loudly protested or supported) and justified by a simple and dismissive "why are you surprised? It is the plan."

It is not about being surprised...it is about the fact that everyone seems to know this decision would be wrong except the organization and those tasked with following them in the media. Maybe the media does know it is a bad decision and just won't say, but that is actually worse. If Steve Tambellini, Tom Renney and anyone else has been asked to lose hockey games and didn't turn down the job and walk away, they should be deeply ashamed of themselves as men. I don't know whether that reality is the case or not, but no one is telling me and no one with any supposed sway is asking the question.

No one has been pushed to explain why changing course now would be a disaster. Many (including the media who covers this team) can come up with all kinds of reasons that this is "hard" or, on a lot of days "impossible". That's really pathetic. If you've watched any professional sports with even a modicum of attention you know that this is not true. The excuses that are made for the Oilers not acquiring those they need or those that could possibly help are so numerous it is mind-boggling. You'd think making a trade or signing a third rate free agent were rocket surgery according to these people. If you get them on that point, they move onto the next talking point, which is "one player won't make a difference". What a complete load. The difference is made one player at a time every time and you can improve at any time. How anyone thinking with the least bit of logic can make such a statement is crazy and dismissive.

So, we can't adapt, can't add players because it is hard, and oh by the way, they won't make a difference anyway. We should all just give up and go home then right? Nope, because of "the plan" there is hope! Because of "the plan", we will have unprecedented success that no one has seen in years! It will be long term, but happen overnight (because one guy can't make a difference and there's no point), we know exactly what it looks like already because we've got "the plan" and it will work no matter what. We are guaranteed to win six cups and be the greatest dynasty ever with the same management team that has led us to two straight and possible three straight last place finishes!

I obviously drifted into some supreme hyperbole at the end there, but you get the point I'm trying to make. For dedicated fans who want results and know what a progressing hockey team looks like, this is all a sick fantasy. Even if we wind up having some relative success in the modern NHL, what is that, one or two cups? Maybe? With an extremely narrow window, salary cap restraints and the hope that everyone's healthy and peaks at the right time?

No. That isn't how you do this. That isn't how you plan in sports. You need kicks at the can and as many as you can get. Things can be changed, tweaked, torn down and rebuilt again quickly, players can learn how to win by winning and competing with good teams in a room with a good attitude, strong support and a hell of a lot of dignity and respect for the jersey and what it means.

We are doing this wrong, and odds are it is going to waste around 400 NHL games of times that could have been spent developing something really special. We want a freight train, not an Alfa Romeo. Even if we have success...where will our dignity be then? After THIS. When is this management group going to be forced to show it can do something right, rather than place itself in circumstances where it can't screw up and that is interpreted as success?

This is pretty rambling and I don't do it much anymore, but I needed to get it out there. I just can't believe the static surrounding this team won't stop.

1 comment:

David S said...

Well said LMH!

I agree completely. Develop the young guys, make it a point to instill a winning attitude from the get-go, give them some incentive by challenging for the playoffs and have them learn what it takes to win by experiencing said playoffs.

Fuck this losing until some magical point when we "become" a dynasty. Just doesn't happen. The way we're operating now is a travesty to the very core of competitive sport.