The other day, Kevin Lowe was interviewed on the Oilers’ site by Morley Scott. Dennis suggested I give it a listen and this morning was my chance.
The most interesting question came from a fan, asking about MacT being fired (having lost the room). Landon’s question was answered by Lowe in typical fashion, expressing understanding about the frustration over the most recent loss (it was the dreadful CGY game), but standing by his coach.
Lowe said “there’s no question we’re back in a rebuilding situation”, which seems incredible based on how close this team is to the salary cap. The Oilers spending to the cap depends on the local ecomony, the EIG, and the fanbase. All three of those things have to be pumping in rhythm to get to the mammoth number we’re talking about here, and for most of us there is the realization that the close to $50M being spent now may not be repeated next year (or ever). To hear that the Oilers are rebuilding in a $50M season (capwise) is a tough pill. As frustrating as dealing Doug Weight was, THIS is worse. A $50M rebuild?
Among other things:
- Lowe said they won’t be taking anyone off the waiver wire because they’re at the 50 man roster. “At the end of the year we have a number of guys on one-year contracts, and like every year there will be some changes. We need to get down to 47, 48 contracts so we do have the flexibility.” It sounds like EDM isn’t going to be watching the waiver wire this season. I don’t have to 50-man list handy, but dropping someone would seem to be a simple thing to do. It sends a message about the lack of urgency associated with this season. The Oilers organization is not terribly concerned with where they finish in the standings this season. Come out to the game, lay your money down. Have a beer, check out the local talent, drive safely. This is an organization extremely confident in their relationship, to the point where it can be reasonably argued they are pissing off a large portion of the fanbase with this kind of comment. I cannot argue it any other way.
- Lowe said “finding some combination with the lines where the guys get some chemistry” is the key to improving the offense. “We’ve changed a lot of bodies on our team this year, half of the team is completely different.” Lowe went on to say half of the new guys have no experience. Spot on. This team lacks experience pretty much everywhere but G. The veteran talent base of this team deserves better, that a few more veterans on the roster would make winning more commonplace. It isn’t going to happen.
- “Guys are going to have to score goals or we’re going to have to make changes.” 15 minutes into the interview Lowe states the obvious. I think the Oilers should have made at least two moves by now (veteran RW, Mike Johnson-type, and a steady Dman with maybe a little better qualifications than Rourke), but clearly goals for is an issue. However, based on the comments above, “we’re going to have to make changes” might mean driving a different route to work as opposed to anything substantial.
- Lowe believes the team needs to shoot more, and talked at length about Ales Hemsky shooting more. He called out Torres, Stoll and Penner specifically as guys who need to score more goals.
- Penner: “He’s a good fella, a good person and a good hockey talent.” Penner is a guy who we should think of in terms of being a contributing player one year from now. He seems to be suffering from the same transition difficulty that affected Joffrey Lupul, with the understanding his skill set is more complete and he has shown signs of being an extremely useful player.
- Team toughness: “When we had BG around, Regehr was still hitting Ales Hemsky. No heavyweight should is going to deter Regehr from hitting Ales Hemsky the way he does. Our team toughness is all in the medical room right now.” The Oilers need a gnat, a guy who causes some commotion. They also need to run the other guy’s best players more. I remember reading a story years ago about a young Chicago player doing something filthy during a shift and getting crap from Bobby Hull when he got to the bench. Hull knew his next shift was going to be more troublesome. Did Alex Tanguay feel the same way after the Regehr hit on Hemsky? Don’t bother to answer, we already know.
- Jacques & Pouliot: “I’d hoped that he was a little further along in his development, he is the type of guy who could step in and play with some team toughness. I would have hoped that Marc Pouliot was a little farther along, he helps with the team toughness.” I have literally no idea what he’s talking about. Lowe clearly sees the game better than I do, so Pouliot’s toughness must come from things not easily seen. Jacques is a guy I’m still rooting for as a fan, but does appear to be less than he appears.
- Stortini: “I’d rather develop Stortini where he can play 12-14 minutes a night and be effective.” How many guys are they developing up front this season, anyway? Cogliano, Gagner, Stortini, Nilsson, who have I missed? Have the Oilers ever successfully developed 4 forwards who were basically rookies in one season? If they did, it was 79-82 and the guys coming in were a helluva lot better.
- “I’m not happy with what I see in terms of our team. We’re trying to develop some goal scoring and some gritty guys and that team is a team that can win a championship.” You can see the thinking on Lowe’s part here, that I agree with wholeheartedly. Gagner, Cogliano, Hemsky, Torres, Horcoff, Penner, Stoll and some others is a nice little group of talent. However, it’ll be two years before these guys get back to the nice little 05-06 window of underpaid young veterans this team boasted not so long ago. Is that what he’s looking for?
- Are we rebuilding? “Need to remind people we were at G7 of the SCF two years ago, and a lot of teams can’t boast that. I like to think we’re in between, I don’t think you need to be in a position where you have to rebuild totally. We added players this summer to make a statement that we’re not going to be a complete rebuilding. We have to take ourselves off the mode where we’re trying to win today, we’re not trying to win today.” By “win today” he means the Stanley of course. Lowe’s strategy appears to be based on some kind of “scorched earth” policy that came to him moments before or after the Pronger deal. Either that or he really did think that he could trade Pronger for kids, not sign Smyth, and attract impact UFA’s here with extra loot. That would be a “miscalculation” based on how things have rolled out since G7, SCF.
- Will you make a trade before Christmas? “You always seem to get calls when you have guys struggling, they want to pick your pocket. We’re not going to sit back and not do anything, we have to be careful it’s right deal. Until we get all our guys back and let them play for awhile and see what our group can do, it’s really unfair to assess this team the way it sits right now.” There’s no urgency at all. Lowe is taking a risk in that the fans are going to get a little restless when Anaheim picks higher than they do, but he’s probably right in the fact that he can spin this to the masses. June 2008 talking points might be something like “well, you might have 20 guys on the internet typing madly from their basements while eating Cheesies that the world is ending because we’re drafting 12 slots below Anaheim, but my scouts say it’s a deep draft.” It’ll be effective.
I found the interview to be satisfying. Kevin Lowe gave honest answers and his point of view up to the moment. Fans have to decide if they buy in, and there’s little doubt most will without even really thinking about it.
When Glen Sather was going through the motions in the 90s, I always felt the big issues surrounding the team were things like “who’s at lunch with Bruce MacGregor and Slats” and “which member of the print media will be told why we’re going to miss the playoffs”. It’s a far more interesting team now than it was then.
But it isn’t an organization focused on winning. $50 million bucks from the pockets of the fanbase for “wait till next year.”
Shame on them.