You know for sure that bag isn’t full of good managerial decisions

Edmonton Oilers president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe is a lot of things.

He’d be quick to remind you that he is a multiple-time NHL All-Star and only slightly less frequent Stanley Cup champion from his time with the team that won so many game in the 1980s.

He’s also an indisputably bad NHL general manager who only got his job because of who he is and what he did for the franchise in the past. He’s the executive on whose watch perhaps the ugliest stretch of futility seen league-wide since the Pittsburgh Penguins of the early 2000s.

And so imagine the absolute balls it must take to stick with the Oilers’ long-time tradition of being a good old boys club in naming his new general manager, and meeting all skepticism leveled at him and his decision — the latest on a long list of those that have been questionable at their absolute best, dating back to right around when he took the Edmonton GMing job, and seems destined to expand in perpetuity like the universe itself — by saying, “I think I know a little bit about winning, if there’s ever a concern.”

The fact of the matter is that, unless Lowe means he knows about what it takes to win in the NHL is roughly on par with the rest of ours, the room should have exploded in paroxysms laughter and knee-slapping. What it takes to win in the NHL is good players, and the Oilers haven’t had that lying about — save for that time they traded next to nothing for Chris Pronger somehow — in a good decade at least.

The facts are these: On this guy’s watch, Edmonton has made the playoffs twice since 2000-01, which is an almost stunning run of futility broken up by, as Lowe would have you remember, a team that was “one period away from winning the Stanley Cup.” The fact that he not only remained employed by the team, but actually got a promotion out of the deal, after the organization finally acknowledged it would blow up the roster just four years after that fateful non-Cup run says a whole hell of a lot about the way it’s been run. The fact that he was able to 86 the guy brought in to keep them competitive and then start the rebuild in earnest (having definitively failed at the one and seemingly on his way to having done so at the other), then replace him with a guy he originally fired as coach… well, it all begins to defy reason at some point.

Obviously a lot of this has to do with the organization itself, and the fanboyism engendered by all the winning of the 1980s — insofar as it gets pretty hard to  name an Oiler besides Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier who won at least a Cup with the team and isn’t still involved with it in some way — and the apparent lack of consequences for this decade-plus of failure. The organization is to some extent complicit in the same thing the Flames have been doing for years, which is constantly reminding people of things that happened seven years ago as if they have any bearing on the 29th- and 30th-place finishes of the last few years. Well, at least Lowe is, because at the end of the day this is a GM hire seemingly predicated on that, and certainly not on MacTavish’s involvement with the actual business of running a hockey team; after his coaching days, he was senior VP of hockey ops for less than a year before getting promoted to the big-time, and the man who will apparently be shepherding him on his new career path is Scott Howson, arguably the second-worst general manager of the last several years behind only Steve Tambellini himself.

I wonder, too, about the extent to which Tambellini’s failure as a guy who wasn’t a lifetime Oiler drove the decision to return to the cronyism that doomed the club in the first place, because while all MacTavish would talk about in his presser was the club’s future, all Lowe did was focus on its past. Leaving aside that we’re not exactly talking glory-days type stuff when he brings up his own managerial track record, you’d think he’d want to distract as much as possible from the fact that he’s been asleep at the switch for years now. It’s been said a lot that Lowe tended to give Tambellini considerable leeway in his dealings, and it’s at least good that he’s smart enough to realize it’s not his job, and perhaps that he’s terrible at it.

But what struck me was that Lowe and MacTavish seemed to be at loggerheads. As an organization, you don’t get to lean on your years of managerial, ahem, expertise while also saying that things will be different and you’re just the guy to do it. They don’t let lawyers who get disbarred be lawyers any more, for example, but in Lowe’s case, they let him step behind the bench and wear a nice black robe. That’s kind of amazing, right? All the losing and he fails up and gets to heft more weight in making ongoing decisions. You have to admire how teflon he’s made himself, at the very least. If MacTavish tanks — and given the quality of his young roster players, he probably won’t, especially if he can bring in even two half-decent NHL defensemen — what position is higher than president of hockey ops to which Lowe can get promoted? Will he get to cut Darryl Katz’s hair?

As with the Oilers’ hilarious foray into pretending to care about advanced stats (all I could think about during the presser was the new Oilers GM looking at a poster for a zone entries study at the MIT Sloane Sports Conference and dismissing it as being “that GVT stuff” without a second thought), all this really seems like is lip service, though you couldn’t say to whom, and playing at having an understanding of why things have gone so horribly wrong.

Of course, the real chutzpah exhibited by Lowe at the presser was essentially telling every fan who hasn’t bought a ticket the last few years — for whatever reason; probably all the losing—  where they could cram their concerns that he’s horrible at his job. And that, I guess, tells you everything you need to know about this Oilers organization: Everything’s fine until it’s not, but even then the guys who made it not-fine get to make everything fine again. And if you have something to say about it, your stupid ass better buy a ticket first. But then by buying a ticket, you essentially vote with your wallet and give the team no financial incentive whatsoever to change, which is why the Oilers are only now figuring out how bad things have gotten in the first place. If they had somehow lucked into the playoffs this year, which was a very real possibility up until about two weeks ago, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

The way this team is run, the fact that those who’ve run it act as though they’re not one more disastrous personnel decision away from the rink being on fire, and the unmitigated gaul it must take to say fans aren’t entitled to any opinion other than “Taylor Hall No. 1 forever!!!!” suggests that none of this is going to change any time soon. New GM, old GM, doesn’t really matter. It all ends in tears.

Comments (13)

  1. Fantastic article. Something that needed to be said. I also find the fan base here is stuck in the glory years as well, unfortunately, nothing will ever change. City of Champions……..except for the past 20 odd years.

    • Perhaps they should change from “City of Champions” to some symbol like Prince did… and can then be called “The City formerly known as the City of Champions”.

  2. Wait! All better now, Lowe issued an apology, sort of……

  3. I also love how Lowe turned, basically, one fluke season where everyone on the roster played way better than they ever would again into a job for life. John Muckler’s probably calling him for tips on where he went wrong.

  4. As an Oiler fan who has never bought a ticket (doesn’t matter that I don’t live in Edmonton, or pretty much as far from Edmonton as you can get in this country) that comment pissed me off.

    I watched the press conference and listening to alot of the media questions it sounds like they’re not buying this change. Maybe McTavish will be a good GM, I hope so, but it doesn’t sound like they’ll get the usual “its a new GM, give him time” that most GMs get.

    The Oilers need a solid defenseman who can play defense. There have been alot of deals and signings over the years to bring in a guy who could become that guy, but none of them have panned out. I think that cost Tambi his job. Hopefully they can fix that quick, because I think the clock is ticking on Kevin Lowe. I love him for what he did for the team in the 80′s, but his time has to be running out.

    • Just waiting for Katz to start hard balling the city of Edmonton again. Maybe he can get some more public money for his stadium.

  5. Lowe is an @$$. always has been.

    The worst part though is that i have a ton of Oiler fans as friends (it’s terrible) and for the last few days they have been (rightly) complaining about this little boys club style croynism that has taken a hold of the Organization.

    their solution? well next year we will hire Kelly BUCHBERGER as head coach! The fans are part of the problem in Edmonton as they too wont let go of the past.

  6. Lowe will probably replace LaForge. That’s the next logical step.

  7. I’ve been telling everybody for years that Lowe has purposely stack this team for failure so that his job would never be in jeopardy. He refused to bring in big name players for the reason that the club would have been expected to win and if they didn’t then he would be to blame thus putting himself at risk for being fired.So instead he would use the excuse that they never had the finances as some of the successful teams have had. I call bs because as a oiler fan whose tickets are on average over a $100 for cheap seats and have had 5 years of consecutive sell outs it doesn’t add up. So by stacking the club with less then average players, if they made the playoffs he looked like a genius but when they failed the reason was oh well we cant compete with the big clubs and at the same time promoting himself to the highest position within the team so as to never lose his job. Philadelphia was in the exact same situation a few years ago with bobby Clarke until finally someone had enough, well enough is enough Lowe has to go and the oilers have to spend some money on a big name goalie. Nabokov have taken the islanders from bottom dwellers to a playoff team,so it goes to show that winning starts with goal tending

  8. Lowe is essentially a sycophant of Katz’s at this point. He obviously isn’t a good general manager and the Oilers are beginning to dangerously flirt with believing their own reality distortion field. Someone should point that “one period away from a Stanley Cup” was only due to the Vancouver Canucks collapsing in their last three games allowing the Oilers to squeak in. If the Canucks had won one more game, the Oilers wouldn’t have made the playoffs that year. None of Lowe’s squawking compensates for 14 years at the helm with a 2 years of playoffs. How is that good? The other big concern is, why since Lowe made a jackass of himself with the Comrie fiasco and Pronger fiasco do players no longer want to come to Edmonton? Why can’t the Oilers sign anyone? Is there an unwritten word of advice in the league to avoid the Oilers because of Lowe? I am starting to believe the latter ……he is bad news for this club in more ways than one.

  9. When losses mount for years, bottom up firings don’t work in corporations and this is no different. Any business school will teach this. Lowe should have been the first to go before all the changes below him, Katz should have had the guts to fire him. Thats how to affect change. A new President of Hockey Operations would then have the opportunity to rebuild the management and effect change throughout the entire organization, and not wallow in this rebuild for 8 years. For the better one would hope. Katz is to blame, not Lowe. He’s just in over his head, and if he knows about winning as he always refers to, he seems to have forgotten exactly how to get that done.

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