The Kingdom, The Power and The Glory

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.

-Van Morrison

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:

  1. decided to offload Pronger early instead of late in hopes of getting enough lesser assets to make up for the bomber leaving town.
  2. 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:

  1. Ownership became involved in the decision making
  2. 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.

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15 Responses to "The Kingdom, The Power and The Glory"

  1. Ribs says:

    I have some faith in Kevin Lowe and it’s mostly due to the fact that he is willing to go out and make the team better. He found a way to sign all of those players before the cup run and that is significant. Doors have been shut since then, but I believe if anyone’s going to make the team better, it’s going to be Lowe.

    The Pronger trade hurt. Not because Smid wasn’t a super star or we didn’t get enough back. It was Joffrey Lupul who killed the deal dead. If he was half the player Prendergast and friends made him out to be, we’d be on a very different path right now and the ride would be a whole lot smoother.

    The Smyth ordeal seemed like a clusterfuck from all directions. Smyth wanted a deal done before the season began and Lowe was busy trying to find a players to play alongside Smyth. Smyth was dumb to not know what kind of summer Lowe was looking at, and Lowe was dumb for not telling Smyth his plans for the summer. In the end of this deal Smyth got too much money for what he’s worth and I have to believe the Oilers are better off without him.

    Pitkanen deal looks solid so far. Another significant move to make the team better.

    Penner and the offer sheet looks like Lowe grasping at straws but he really was running out of options. He could have sat it out as Tyler suggested a while back, but that doesn’t make the team any better now. I’m not really looking forward to years of developing prospects that may or may not turn out. That’s why I like Lowe. He makes things happen.

    On a team with no stars and a bunch of drive, things need to happen for this team to move forward.

    I don’t want to comment too much on the Souray signing because we haven’t seen the rewards it may bring or the trouble it could entail. All I know is that I watched a lot of Montreal games last year and Souray was an absolute force. If he can bring what he had last season and still play under MacT’s rules, this signing will be a godsend.

  2. Dennis says:

    ribs, do you still have that TV that you watched the Habs games on?

    Because it would be great if you could tell us what model it was? That must be a magical TV.

    Lain, just more and more excuses. That’s how I read all that. I appreciate the effort but the message that I got was “Lowe’s only a dummy when he thinks he’s doing the right things or the EIG’s telling him to do wrong things.”

    That’s not good enough for him. But it is for a lot of people. And as far the whole “you should be lucky you even have a team”, you can’t tell me that doesn’t still exist.

    Otherwise, Lowe would be fired by now.

  3. Lowetide says:

    Dennis: I think Lowe would have been except for the SC run. That bought him the contract he just signed recently but the level of expectations probably means this season is a bitter pill.

    And might be enough to get him bumped upstairs.

    For me, the decisions that were disagreeable were not signing Smyth summer 06 (although I understand it), and then the Souray and Penner signings.

    Those moves smell to me. Either EIG was trying to get Katz out of the papers or Lowe was deathly afraid the 10M a year would burn a hole in his pocket.

    OR that the Oilers organization is so unpopular among free agents that the Oilers only recourse is to overpay.

    I KNOW your response will be “excuses, excuses” but there’s something about the Souray and Penner signings that runs counter to the rest of the moves.

  4. Dennis says:

    Lain, if Lowe thought Lupul was a player, why wouldn’t he also be so dumb as to think Souray’s a player as well?

  5. Lowetide says:

    Well, the difference is I thought Lupul was a player.

    :-)

  6. Ribs says:

    Dennis, it was a pretty magical TV I guess. I saw Souray bolster his team to 2 points shy of a playoff spot.
    He had 6 game winners and 11 more points than any Oiler. He also magically scored enough power play goals to rank himself second in the entire league in that category surpassing guys with names like Kovalchuk and Heatley.

    But yea, his +/- was 3 worse than Joni Pitkanen last season, so I guess he’s a bum.

  7. Andy Grabia says:

    LT, do you include the Nylander and Vanek deals in the mistakes list? They fell through, but they were part of Lowe’s plan. They have to be put in either one of the categories, don’t they? Same goes for being unaware of an increase in the cap, and letting Hejda go. I’d put them all down as mistakes. Your thoughts?

  8. oilerdiehard says:

    Ribs said…

    Dennis, it was a pretty magical TV I guess. I saw Souray bolster his team to 2 points shy of a playoff spot.

    Habs head coach Guy Carbonneau said much the same thing after Souray signed here. He mentioned that he was a huge part on the ice and in the room in nearly getting that team into a playoff spot.

    Am I the only one who throws up in their mouth a bit at the thought of Bucky taking over as head coach next season? Thanks for the nightmares LT. ;)

  9. godot10 says:

    The offer sheets were a necessity to drive up share of cap money for young star players, and even the competitive balance.

    Or else the Oilers would always be at a disadvantage.

    Sutter’s team is still going backward. Lowe’s team has already turned the corner.

    Don Meehan is giving Sutter the same grief with Phaneuf that he gave Lowe with Smyth.

  10. Lowetide says:

    Andy: I you could, but fact is that if Vanek accepts the deal then they don’t make the Penner offer.

    Bottom line here is that Lowe had upwards of 10M to spend and it appeared as though he wasn’t going to get:

    1. a quality UFA (witness Nylander)
    2. the best RFA (witness Vanek)

    so he spent the money he could on Penner and got the last lucky man standing in Souray.

    No one can reasonably argue the UFA dollars were well spent, and Lowe’s previous m.o. was to trade for players who other teams couldn’t get under contract.

    I suspect he did that with Pitkanen, but couldn’t pull another deal in his favored manner.

    So he looked elsewhere and gladly overpaid.

  11. rickibear says:

    Dennis: We read stats and analyze players and teams. We accept your thoughts on the need to replace Lowe. Show us your organizational analysis and list five realistic options for replacing Lowe. I will scratch Burke and JFJ off the list for you.

  12. pboy says:

    IMO, bumping Lowe upstairs and replacing him with MacT and elevating Bucky would be the worst case scenario. I would MUCH rather them stay with the status quo, if the biggest option would be for the MacT / Bucky junta to take over. In what way would that improve the organization? Bucky has exactly half a season of coaching in the AHL and he’s ready for primetime? There aren’t any former NHL coaches who are chomping at the bit to get back in the game who would be better choices? How about Pat Burns or a guy like Bob Hartley? It always seems like every former Oiler has first crack at our most important jobs and I can’t quite figure out why. Why would anyone consider MacT taking over the reins as GM to be a considerable upgrade over Lowe? What background does MacT have that leads someone to that conclusion? If a Neil Smith or a Pierre Lacroix were being discussed, that would be a different situation entirely. I realize that Lowe was handed the GM job because he was a former Oiler great and MacT was promoted to Head Coach for the same reason but why in the world would the EIG go and make the same move over again and expect different results? That’s the true definition of stupid. BTW I am still in Lowe’s corner but I think a coaching change might be more important than a GM change in the summer.

  13. heed says:

    lowe was screwed regardless what he did. do you honestly think oiler fans would have been happy going into the season with a $35M payroll? the organization as a whole would be crucified. this organizations has been dealing with one pr nightmare after another since the the loss in game 7. seems like the media can’t say the word oiler without putting down the city or the organization these days.

    i’m not going to comment on the penner signing because to be honest i love the guy. yeah his production is not showing on the score sheet but the guy attracts opposing players like flies to shit. he’s got a good attitude and he seems to get along well with the rest of this young group. that doesn’t justify $4M but i think he will become a fan favorite before this contract is up. probably just in time to sign the next one so that when he leaves town everyone can point to him and call him the heart and soul of the club.

    the souray signing was a pr move and nothing else. he may be a local guy but souray definitely has a big city reputation. he makes your mom giggle like a school girl and your wife is probably already scheming to leave you for him. the signing was primarily a move to alleviate all the negative press that surrounded this squad for the last two years. besides i’ve seen that slap shot hit the back of the net twice live and to be honest highlights do not do it justice. the first time i saw it, my buddy and i turned to each other and i swear we were both welling up with tears of joy.

    people say i have blind faith in both mact and lowe…they’re absolutely right. sorry but i will never forget the fact that these two guys have done more for this organization on the ice and off of it than just about anyone.

  14. Dennis says:

    OK, heed, good enough. I’ll just know from now on that when I’m reading anything you say, I’ll know where it comes from.

    Rick, why would you need five candidates when perhaps one was enough? I’m speaking of Howson. Though, perhaps HE was the dummy who didn’t realize the cap was going up between the ’06 and ’07 seasons;)

    Which brings me to my next point.

    Lain, you know I love this blog, but I found it funny that you referenced the last days of Sather in terms of “just happy to have a club” on the day that both papers decided to take Penner to task, all along letting off the guy that signed him. Honest to fuck, no one in management gets a bigger free ride from the media and fans alike than does Lowe. And it bring it back to Howson, who was supposed to be the capologist, why didn’t the “we didn’t know the cap was going up” quote elict cries from the media? That was a quip ripe for ripping and yet no one touched it. And this is why Lowe doesn’t get fired.

    For all the good he did by hiring the right people to run the scouting dept, remember where this team was Before Pronger and remember where we are After Pronger. Throw in Lowe letting 94 walk over 100K a season and now Lowe’s operating under his favorite canopy: the old “we’ll be good in a few years.”

    It’s a smart jug of Kool Aid to mix for sure. You’ve only ever judged every five or six years so who coul ask for more?

  15. Stuart van says:

    Nice prediction Lowetide. A breathe of fresh air in the regime with Tambellini, without too rapid or radical a change in course. I like it.

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