THE BOYS UNDER THE BUS

Robin Brownlee
December 22 2013 12:06PM

The latest lump in the truckload of coal the Edmonton Oilers have been shoveling under the Christmas trees of their fans for eight seasons came in Saturday's 6-0 drubbing at the hands of the St. Louis Blues. What an ugly, ugly scene it was.

On a utterly forgettable night for a fallen franchise, scenes from Hockey Night in Canada's telecast showed sections of empty seats with five minutes to play with fans long gone to the parking lot, president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe fidgeting with his cellphone and, finally, an Oiler jersey laying on the ice, tossed there by one of the paying customers.

With HNIC's After Hours segment waiting for Taylor Hall to emerge from a dressing room that remained closed for 10 minutes after the game, the CBC panel filled with a post-mortem on the Oilers, losers of six straight games and dead in the water at 11-24-3.

In the room, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who was supposed to have been a sideshow but instead finds himself having joined one, talked about how the Oilers deserved to be booed. Jordan Eberle talked about being sick of what's happening here. Coach Dallas Eakins, less than half a full season into his tenure behind the bench, said much the same thing.

The blah, blah, blah we've heard before, but that shot of the Oiler jersey cast on the ice like so much trash sticks with me. I've never seen that before, and I've seen a lot in the old rink on Gretzky Drive.

THE WORST OF TIMES?

With the venom being spewed by rightfully frustrated fans and the empty seats I'm seeing, despite more than 300 straight official sell-outs at Rexall Place in the books, this is clearly the worst of times since the oh-so-forgettable early 1990s. Back then, owner Peter Pocklington was selling off what was left of the five-time Stanley Cup champions and letting the rest of the team die on the vine. Lots of crowds under 10,000 back then.

I'm not sure which era was worse – the 1992-93 team captained by current GM Craig MacTavish went 26-50-8 for 60 points – but arguing that is setting the bar woefully low. What I do know is nobody with a functioning brain expected much from the raft of mediocre players on that roster. The expectations now are different, and should be, with the likes of Hall, Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on this edition of the team – any one of them would have been the best player on that pitiful 1992-93 team.

Edmonton's management and its spinners have been selling hope for four seasons since the tear-it-down rebuild "officially" began. Fans, obviously loyal to a fault, have been buying in, filling the rink, purchasing souvenirs, parking and over-priced beer. All to watch a team that's won just 45 of its last 123 home games.

Now, paid for or not, empty seats. And no, as team president Patrick LaForge suggested with a straight face, it's not "brutal weather." Now, that jersey thrown on the ice. Was it deposited there by an over-served patron in a fit of drunken defiance? A long-time season ticket holder sick of what they've seen? Both? No matter, it's trouble.

OVER TO YOU, BOSS

I don't know if we'll ever see attendance sink to the levels of the ugly 1990s – I doubt it – but unless something changes drastically, and in a hurry, we're going to see more empty seats, more jerseys on the ice and, worse, more of the kind of indifference Pocklington cultivated as owner.

Drastic change means starting at the top of hockey operations. That means the dirty deed falls to owner Daryl Katz, who has a management group and coaching and scouting staffs filled with old friends and old Oilers. With his initial investment in the team already showing a tidy profit, according to the latest values published for NHL teams, will Katz be so inclined? Not today or tomorrow – it makes no sense – but this off-season?

I can see an argument for MacTavish and Eakins getting more time to do their jobs. I see no such case for managers, coaches or scouts who have been collecting pay cheques for all or most of this eight-year stretch of futility and frustration. The names we know, and Lowe is the obvious starting point.

Will Katz make those calls this off-season? Will he tell his friends that it's time for them to move along? Will he shake their hands and wish them well? If Katz, for whatever reason, isn't inclined to do that – in a city and for a fan base that's committed to building him a new downtown arena – in the name of finally delivering on the hope he's been selling, what's the message?

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#251 bdiddy18
December 23 2013, 10:02AM
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So Katz Fires Kevin Lowe and the rest of the brass to do what??

Hire Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier ???

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#252 G-Unit
December 23 2013, 10:03AM
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nowuknow wrote:

That Dud(Stauffer) is a jock, so is most of these sport media personals. They are in the business for the money not to unveil the truth, what is wrong with particular company or sport team once they are employed. He is a prime example of everything, what is wrong with society these days. will do or say anything for money.....

It is painful listening to some of the radio talking heads that can't put a proper sentence together. Maybe go to school and learn how to be a radio host. The only decision the organization made that wasn't old boys network was when they brought in Jack Michaels. Could you imagine listening to mouth-full-of-marbles stumble through an entire broadcast. UGH!!!

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#253 G-Unit
December 23 2013, 10:08AM
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bazmagoo wrote:

Why do you hate soccer? Have you ever played as an adult? Just curious.

The term hate is overused and I apologise for using it. It has always seemed strange how rabid those fans are, regardless of how terrible their team might be for years......Wait a minute......Familiar ring to it

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#254 -30-
December 23 2013, 10:10AM
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A mouthful of marbles? LOL

That's exactly what I thought or at the very least a swollen tongue and a mouthful of saliva. :)

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#255 tileguy
December 23 2013, 10:11AM
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NsxZero wrote:

Wow Jones actually found the guy that threw his jersey on the ice. Ladies and Gentleman our hero, Curtis Goyetche.

http://www.edmontonsun.com/2013/12/22/jones-oilers-fan-shows-frustration-by-throwing-jersey-on-the-ice

BEAUTIFUL! How symbolic can it get, hard working blue color guy working in the north, die hard fan did it out of frustration, not as a joke. Goes to the game as a regulat attendee (tier 1.5) and loves his team. This guy should be cannonized. (ooops truly politically incorrect during the xm..... er holiday season)

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#256 Zarny
December 23 2013, 10:26AM
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Honestly, it's time for some to step back from the ledge and take a breath. It's been comical to watch some fans go from the next dynasty to complete Armageddon in less than 4 months.

Nothing has actually changed from the start of the season; other than we've seen the folly of those who thought a Stanley Cup contender is only made up of a few high draft picks.

They aren't. Two years ago, Anh had Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan and still finished 25th. Perspective people.

Hall, Eberle, Nuge, Yakupov and Schultz remain a very good foundation to build upon but that isn't a finished product. They are still very young and inexperienced, and how fans feel does nothing to change that fact.

Through 38 games we've seen the perils of not having a top pairing D. We've also seen the perils of the top 6 F being too much of the same. The same game plan shutdowns everyone of them...push them to the outside and bump them off the puck. Firing Lowe solves none of this.

The Oilers can't wait for Nurse to maybe fill the role in 4-5 years. With an over abundance of small, skilled F one of them is going to have to moved fill the holes on the roster.

Yes, the player moved will be a very talented forward. Don't worry, the Oilers have three more just like them.

Teams that play for the Stanley Cup move picks and prospects for proven NHL players. It's that time in Edm. The 2014 1st round pick, likely Yak or Eberle as well as some of the prospects (Klefbom or Marincin) will need to be utilized as assets to get the pieces the Oilers are missing.

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#257 tileguy
December 23 2013, 10:31AM
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@Zarny

There must be some reason the team is doing worse than last year even though the kids are one more year seasoned, improvements like Peron and Gordon from Belanger and Parv....

I think I'll stay on this ledge and keep on shouting. I use to love watching the oilers, now its just blah, I miss my passion.

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#258 Zarny
December 23 2013, 10:35AM
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JJ wrote:

Reports say Leafs are interested in Gagner.. Thoughts on a Clarkson for Gagner swap?

The Leafs have been interested in Gagner for awhile; and the Oilers have been interested in Gardiner and/or Reimer.

I think both teams previously balked because they were in the same situation of trying to figure out exactly what they had in these players.

Clarkson is a terrible idea. If he was only signed for 2-3 years maybe. He's an undrafted player who spent 3 years in the minors and 3 years on NJ's 4th line until Elias, Parise and Kovalchuk figured out how to bounce pucks off his a** for one season.

I liked Clarkson but he is not the type of player who is going to be productive into his 30's. Given his contract the Oilers should have nothing to do with him.

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#259 Rama Lama
December 23 2013, 10:45AM
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Zarny wrote:

Honestly, it's time for some to step back from the ledge and take a breath. It's been comical to watch some fans go from the next dynasty to complete Armageddon in less than 4 months.

Nothing has actually changed from the start of the season; other than we've seen the folly of those who thought a Stanley Cup contender is only made up of a few high draft picks.

They aren't. Two years ago, Anh had Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan and still finished 25th. Perspective people.

Hall, Eberle, Nuge, Yakupov and Schultz remain a very good foundation to build upon but that isn't a finished product. They are still very young and inexperienced, and how fans feel does nothing to change that fact.

Through 38 games we've seen the perils of not having a top pairing D. We've also seen the perils of the top 6 F being too much of the same. The same game plan shutdowns everyone of them...push them to the outside and bump them off the puck. Firing Lowe solves none of this.

The Oilers can't wait for Nurse to maybe fill the role in 4-5 years. With an over abundance of small, skilled F one of them is going to have to moved fill the holes on the roster.

Yes, the player moved will be a very talented forward. Don't worry, the Oilers have three more just like them.

Teams that play for the Stanley Cup move picks and prospects for proven NHL players. It's that time in Edm. The 2014 1st round pick, likely Yak or Eberle as well as some of the prospects (Klefbom or Marincin) will need to be utilized as assets to get the pieces the Oilers are missing.

Zarney I agree with what you say mostly........but what you wrote here is blarney!

We are constantly being told to be patient. We have received four first round draft picks and still suck? We have brought in ( by my count) 16 new players over the past two years, and we still suck?

The problem is not bringing in new players........but bringing in the right supporting players. By that measure all management have failed miserably, including Mac T.........he brought in 8 new players and then boldly declared he was handing the team over to the coaching staff, and that he was done.

Exactly what made him think Belov would help? Exactly what made him think getting the smallest non puck moving defenceman possible ( Ference) would make us bigger and tougher on the back end?? Exactly what made him think bringing in second string goaltenders would help our goaltending situation? You can go down the list and see that how management view hockey players is seriously flawed ........may I suggest we need outside help?

We need to start by firing LOWE.

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#260 Zarny
December 23 2013, 10:53AM
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tileguy wrote:

There must be some reason the team is doing worse than last year even though the kids are one more year seasoned, improvements like Peron and Gordon from Belanger and Parv....

I think I'll stay on this ledge and keep on shouting. I use to love watching the oilers, now its just blah, I miss my passion.

First, the team isn't really doing worse than last year. They finished 24th last year and were falling at the end of those 48 games.

The kids aren't one more year seasoned. They played half a season last year.

Perron is an improvement over Paajarvi but Gordon didn't replace Belanger...he replaced Horcoff. And that isn't an upgrade.

Gagner had a great year last year finishing 31st in league scoring. This year he's struggled coming back from injury. Your 2C sucking balls has a big effect. Go check out how Van's struggles parallel Kesler's injury woes over the last couple of years.

Meanwhile the 4th line is worse than last year. Most of them literally had no NHL experience at the start of the season.

The changes on D were not upgrades. Ference was a good addition but he's a 4-6 pairing on a contender. Belov, Larsen, Fedun...not upgrades. Literally, not a single Oiler D is good enough to play top pairing min against the best F in the league.

Oh and Dubnyk was letting in beach balls for 20 games. He played much better last year.

The problem is that despite this being a new season nothing really changed. The Oilers have the same handful of talented kids as last year and not much more. Some deck chairs were shuffled around but at the end of the day the supporting cast is still a bunch of borderline NHL players and that simply isn't good enough.

Stay on the ledge all you want; won't change anything.

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#261 Grill_apprentice
December 23 2013, 11:02AM
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I am neither a Tier 1 through Tier 3 fan. I do watch the occasional game on one of the high def channels but I do not hesitate to change the channel or in case the game was PVRd delete the recording if the game is boring or poor performance or lack of effort.

My casual observation about all North America professional sports including hockey is that they are missing a system of relegation and promotion. Teams with poor performance are rewarded with high draft picks instead of being relegated to the next lower division. There is no incentive to compete.

Whether you like soccer (football) or not, teams competing in leagues like the English Premier League have a huge financial incentive to do what ever it takes to stay in the league, if a team gets relegated they lose significant amount of TV revenue. Bottom 3 teams get relegated to division 2. While top 3 in division 2 get promoted and bottom 3 get relegated to division 3 etc. Contrast that to North American Sports were poor performing teams are not only allowed to stay in a league, nut are rewarded with high draft picks. Instead of competing and earning your way into the top league. Worse in North America you can buy your way into a league by buying a franchise or expansion.

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#262 Hangin@Bangin
December 23 2013, 11:04AM
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Another game lost, another game booed off the ice. Saturday's complete debacle started out somewhat promising with a team out of the gate looking like they wanted to compete and give the Blues a game. Instead the team that was cast off the ice to a plethera of boo birds and a now famous Hemsky sweater finished looking like a group that would be hard pressed to succeed at the AHL level. While most NHL clubs hold a certain distinction of pride, the Oilers fold up almost immediately when they go down even 1. Now as apparent that it is there are problems from the top down , the locker room of 20 men has to come together with an us against the world meantality and start to attempt to prove the naysayers and doubters wrong rather than totally verifiying their opinions on this dismal club. These players didn't get to an elite level by fluke, giving up isn't in there DNA or at least it wasn't before K Lowe had a hand in there once promising careers. A team with so much promise and hope now looks like a group of cast off's who would sooner bury there head in the mud then show up nightly with an honest effort. There is no question that K Lowe and Mac T don't have a winner on the ice but there is no excuse for games like Saturday. This is your job and you are paid well to do it no matter what cards your dealt. If you want to give up on your career then call up Alex Plante and get on the next plane to Austria, I am sure he could use a roomate.

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#263 Zarny
December 23 2013, 11:28AM
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Rama Lama wrote:

Zarney I agree with what you say mostly........but what you wrote here is blarney!

We are constantly being told to be patient. We have received four first round draft picks and still suck? We have brought in ( by my count) 16 new players over the past two years, and we still suck?

The problem is not bringing in new players........but bringing in the right supporting players. By that measure all management have failed miserably, including Mac T.........he brought in 8 new players and then boldly declared he was handing the team over to the coaching staff, and that he was done.

Exactly what made him think Belov would help? Exactly what made him think getting the smallest non puck moving defenceman possible ( Ference) would make us bigger and tougher on the back end?? Exactly what made him think bringing in second string goaltenders would help our goaltending situation? You can go down the list and see that how management view hockey players is seriously flawed ........may I suggest we need outside help?

We need to start by firing LOWE.

Rama...yes we have four 1st round draft picks and still suck because those draft picks aren't the answer all by themselves. They don't come with magical pixie dust from a land of unicorns and rainbows.

Those draft picks can't carry a team of borderline NHL players. Sorry, but anyone who thought that is naive beyond belief. They are young and inexperienced players.

Sidney Crosby won the scoring title as a rookie and the Penguins still sucked too. Anh had Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan, Hiller and Fowler 2 years ago and finished 25th.

A few high draft picks does not a Stanley Cup contender make. It's that simple. Every contender has a handful of players who are just as good as Edm's draft picks except they are older and have a better supporting cast.

The problem is bringing in new players. I don't care how many players have been brought in over the last two year; they aren't good enough.

And yes, that was a failure of management. Hence, Tambo was fired.

Firing Lowe solves nothing. He isn't the guy making trades and signing players. The guy who did that was canned last year. And you can't really expect MacT to fix this roster in a few months.

Does it suck? Yep, but that's Tambo's legacy. Other than a few draft picks he left MacT with nothing.

MacT didn't think Ference would make the Oilers bigger and tougher on the back-end. Ference was brought in because he plays hard, plays every game and knows what it takes to win.

Belov was a gamble because there simply weren't other options for MacT to sign. There was no big, strong top pairing D last year to bring in.

In terms of LaBarbera, this was Dubnyk's year to prove himself. The organization handed him the reigns and showed confidence in him by signing a back-up. He failed miserably. MacT has since addressed that failure by signing Bryzgalov.

Outside help isn't going to make Edm a more desired place to play I'm afraid. All-stars aren't going to suddenly flock to Edm because Ken Holland is GM. It's silly to even think that.

The reality is the draft picks are still a good foundation to build upon but the Oilers have to actually build.

You're 100% right that players like Ference and Belov aren't enough. They need a top pairing D or two and they can't wait for Nurse or any other prospect to fill that roll. They are all 4-5 years away.

Signing UFA's is always going to be hard in Edm. That's just a reality for the NHL's 28th most popular destination.

Which means the answers have to come from trades.

They are going to have to trade one of the kids for a top pairing D. More supporting players like Perron and Ference need to be brought in. That is going to mean picks and prospects like Marincin or Klefbom have to be moved.

I can appreciate why fans are frustrated; but it isn't Armageddon. There is a path forward but this is a marathon not a sprint. And everyone yelling about running out of patience with a bunch of kids who have played 1-3 seasons of hockey is absurd. Let me grab my shocked face that a handful of draft picks with less than 200 games experience struggled.

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#264 Rod from Viking
December 23 2013, 01:26PM
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Serious Gord wrote:

I think here is a lot of truth to what you say. I also think that he puts me on because I don't (Often) mess it up and stammer and drift and repeat what others have to say.

Gord, practice makes perfect and you get a lot of practice(lol) if he ever let me on I would probably be one of those blubbering, nervous stammerers(is that a word)"Merry Christmas"

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#265 Gravey
December 23 2013, 01:41PM
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Yeah, I'm defending Tambellini here. To all those who think he was free to make his own calls, think again. A proper general manager in this league has carte blanche to change his team how he sees fit. Lowe vacated the general manager's seat for the President of Hockey Operations, but Tambellini never got that carte blanche to make his own deals.

I watched Sportsnet's Oil Change at trade deadline day a couple years ago and saw this in action. Every time Tamby had a trade he could have made he apparently had to run it by Lowe, who on most of them said no. How is a GM supposed to improve the team if he has to ask the board of directors every time he wants to trade a guy? Like it or not, the responsibility for the mess is at Lowe's feet. The best way to fix it would be to fire Lowe and let MacT do that which they hired him for. But good luck getting Katz to go that way.

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#266 Towersofdub
December 23 2013, 02:52PM
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I like the idea that MacT can just trade anyone off his roster for anyone else he feels the team needs,regardless of whether the other team is interested in making the trade. It seems so easy on here.

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#267 tileguy
December 23 2013, 03:06PM
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Zarny wrote:

First, the team isn't really doing worse than last year. They finished 24th last year and were falling at the end of those 48 games.

The kids aren't one more year seasoned. They played half a season last year.

Perron is an improvement over Paajarvi but Gordon didn't replace Belanger...he replaced Horcoff. And that isn't an upgrade.

Gagner had a great year last year finishing 31st in league scoring. This year he's struggled coming back from injury. Your 2C sucking balls has a big effect. Go check out how Van's struggles parallel Kesler's injury woes over the last couple of years.

Meanwhile the 4th line is worse than last year. Most of them literally had no NHL experience at the start of the season.

The changes on D were not upgrades. Ference was a good addition but he's a 4-6 pairing on a contender. Belov, Larsen, Fedun...not upgrades. Literally, not a single Oiler D is good enough to play top pairing min against the best F in the league.

Oh and Dubnyk was letting in beach balls for 20 games. He played much better last year.

The problem is that despite this being a new season nothing really changed. The Oilers have the same handful of talented kids as last year and not much more. Some deck chairs were shuffled around but at the end of the day the supporting cast is still a bunch of borderline NHL players and that simply isn't good enough.

Stay on the ledge all you want; won't change anything.

Wow thats weak. I'm a tier 2 fan, watching the oilers is as enjoying as watching crash test dummies. I'm glad I'm not spending thousands of dollars year in and year out to watch this. Being on the ledge is the only enjoyment I am getting this year (except Perron, man that guy is fan tas teak)

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#268 The War Amp Champ
December 24 2013, 06:53AM
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Love how t'd up Eakins got about the guy who tossed his jersey on the ice. Maybe it would be nice if he directed such emotion towards the guys PAID to wear them are doing rather then what the guys PAYING to wear them are doing. "Its my jersey it can fly if I want to" Also I hear Dkatz and 6Rings pulled the guy aside and talked to him for some length. I wonder what was said, or better yet what was offered to this guy. # Rexall brand anti depressant migrain pills

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#269 The War Amp Champ
December 24 2013, 07:04AM
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One more quick note, so its cool to throw your hat on the ice after a hat trick. So how many poor games in a row completes the flat trick and thus making it a.o.k to toss such jersey? If its anywhere from 3 games to 8 seasons?

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