It’s easy to describe the leaves in the Autumn
And it’s oh so easy in the Spring
But down through January and February
it’s a very different thing.
On and on and on,
through the winter of our discontent.
When the wind blows up the collar
and the ears are frostbitten too
Didn’t I come to bring you a sense of wonder
Didn’t I come to lift your fiery vision
Didn’t I come to bring you a sense of wonder.
In the final days of the Sather administration, the media and the fanbase had been beaten down to the point where every day was grey. We had been threatened with abandonment, we had been told that we should be happy a team was even here. We had been told making the playoffs was a high water mark, an ideal season.
Glen Sather was a hero, a man who somehow got enough out of the sputtering engine to hold it together, and the great unwashed were simply going overboard in asking why the draft picks never worked out, and why teams in other towns of similar size seemed to be able to keep their players.
This was the backdrop that allowed Kevin Lowe to arrive in the GM’s chair representing a breath of fresh air. I had reached the point where the expectations were zero. Had the Oilers gone to the 2000 draft and declined to make picks because Slats and Bruce MacGregor were unable to get up in time it would have been only a little more disappointing than the Doan-Kelly draft, the Satan trade, the Graves giveaway.
We were lost together, since about 1991.
Kevin Lowe didn’t have a wealth of front office experience, and definitely had a few early bumps in the road. He dealt Roman Hamrlik for Eric Brewer, Josh Green and the pick that turned into Brad Winchester right off the bat and that trade represents pretty much all of his pre-lockout deals. Short term pain for hopeful gain long term.
I’ve always felt he did pretty well in these deals, picking up Eric Brewer or Jochen Hecht or Raffi Torres while sending better, more veteran players away. He wasn’t in a position of strength and certainly keeping Hamrlik, Weight and Niinimaa would have been the better way but based on the realities in front of him Lowe did as well as could be expected overall and in fact flat out won some of these deals.
After the lockout, Lowe was sitting on a very nice one year window. He had several quality players with some NHL experience and a very low pricetag, and a stunning six who made well under value.
He added Chris Pronger and Michael Peca, plus had a deadly deadline that brought in Roloson, Spaceck, Tarnstrom and Samsonov. Those moves added to MacT’s brilliant coaching (especially the Red Wing win) got them all the way to G7, SCF.
It is at this point where Oiler fans divided and I wonder if anything short of Lowe’s firing or a Stanley win will bring us back together. From my point of view, Lowe:
- decided to offload Pronger early instead of late in hopes of getting enough lesser assets to make up for the bomber leaving town.
- decided to sign the veterans who shone brightly in the Stanley run, players like Roloson, Pisani, Hemsky, Horcoff.
I suspect his hope was to sign enough quality on defense to be able to compete for the final playoff spot in 06-07. He added Tjarnqvist but didn’t get Markov and the Oilers spent the season chasing NHL players during the NHL season. If there are more frustrating things to watch, I personally have not seen them.
The Oilers not only didn’t have Pronger, they also had nothing that could compare to the stunning six who had helped so much the previous season. The year became a shambles, and in another town Lowe would have been fired. In Edmonton, the memories of the Stanley’s and the 7AM Christmas Bureau breakfasts attended by Lowe meant a longer tether than in other towns.
This past summer lacked clarity, which I think probably means:
- Ownership became involved in the decision making
- Kevin Lowe’s time as GM is nearing an end.
Quoting the David Staples blogosphere story: “We’ll get better again,” Mitchell says of the team. “I’m convinced of it. The dollar is great, this economy is great and Kevin Lowe is no idiot. He’ll figure it out.”
In a post below, Dennis asked me to explain this quote, which I think perfectly reflects the split among Oilers fans. Some see Kevin Lowe as a GM unable to make able decisions, a willing victim, a man bound by fate to take a bad beat.
Others among us feel that Lowe’s track record is a little stronger than that despite a two year run of bizarre moves. This would include the Pronger deal (which I liked at the time), the Smyth trade (which I also liked with the understanding that they should have signed him in the summer of 2006), the Penner and Souray signings.
A side story is just how much the EIG was involved in the Penner and Souray signings, and how much input coach MacTavish had in the summer procurement. I think we may be close to a shuffle (as early as this spring) that may see the Oilers move Lowe upstairs, appoint MacTavish GM and put Kelly Buchberger or Charlie Huddy in the head coaching chair.
Either way, I don’t think Kevin Lowe is an idiot. He’s made some expensive choices, and the organization seems to be elevating prospects in a way that tests reason (Stortini’s role this early in his career, as an example).
Words and phrases like “apologist”, “man love”, “crushing” and others are sure to be found soon in the comments section of this post. Which is fair, because there’s no real middle ground here.
I think Kevin Lowe has made some mistakes since summer 2006, including:
- not getting more NHL D talent on the team before dealing Pronger for a not ready for prime time Smid.
- thinking he could address need early in the 06-07 season.
- signing Penner to the offer sheet.
- signing Souray for a long term, high end salary that has cap hit implications.
- once again not getting enough NHL players.
This past summer, he had some positives:
- managed to get a few bargains this season (Cogliano, Brodziak, Gilbert).
- picked up a nice young defender in Pitkanen.
- signed Garon to a good value deal.
I can see the Oilers going another direction in the summertime. I do think that he’ll figure it out given time, adjust for the fact that you need more NHL veterans at training camp, sign the rfa’s before he can be exposed to an offer sheet and deal off the guys who are more famous than they are useful.
If he doesn’t, he’s going to be bumped upstairs. Even if that happens, I don’t think he’s an idiot. He’s more of a gambler than I thought he was, though. And that’ll probably be what gets him named president of hockey operations in May.