Dear Mr. Katz,
I’m writing you today because you are open to new ideas, you have vision and wherewithal and you own the Edmonton Oilers. I am not an expert in any field, do not have any special credentials to recommend me and most certainly do not travel in the same circles as you.
What I do have is several thousand man hours of mulling over your hockey team. Even before you owned it, I’d obsess over this line or that pairing and especially fretted away 1992 and 1993 worrying over the Copper and Blue. When you arrived on the scene, I was pretty damn happy. It seemed as though my generation of Oiler fan had taken over the steering wheel and good times were close at hand. Sadly, it has not come to pass in a timely fashion.
I would like to suggest to you that most of what is happening under your administration has been positive. The procurement department is drafting quality talent, the coaching was good and may now be better, the things that may have derailed prospects have been addressed and the organization is in a good place in terms of assets.
I believe the reasons the Oilers are “on the outside looking in” every season are threefold:
- Poor cap management. Mr Lowe is a legend in this town and I for one will cheer him and his efforts on the ice and in the community forever. I well remember being at Christmas bureau breakfasts when a groggy #4 would stroll in despite the fact he’d been in an NHL war the night before. Kevin Lowe is a class act all the way. However, we do find ourselves in a position where the team is close to the cap, has contracts that won’t budge for years and you don’t seem to be in a hurry to buy them out. I’d like to suggest that you offer Ethan Moreau a job this summer that involves coaching, and that you seriously consider asking the management group (Mr. Tambellini, Mr. Lowe, Mr. Prendergast) to trade a few veterans at the deadline.
- Wait and see. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but it seems to me that all of the other NHL teams begin each season with a “set” or “balanced” lineup. They are convinced that every game is a playoff game, beginning opening night. These teams start each game with the best possible lineup and very little leeway for “development” at the NHL level. Every season since 2006 has featured a distinct lack of balance on the Oilers roster to start the season. This year, the team is quite poor in experience and ability at both center and left wing. Points lost in November are just as dear in March and April. I know injuries have also contributed, but no team in the Northwest division spends as much time with “learn on the job” types as the Oilers. Mr. Katz, if this one thing was corrected it is my opinion the club would be more competitive every night and in fact Oiler fans could look forward to the playoffs every spring.
- Duplicate skills. I’m not certain that any coach could develop as many undersized forwards who are unready as the current Edmonton Oilers have at the NHL level. By my count all of Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Gilbert Brule and Robert Nilsson are trying to establish themselves at the NHL level. Also on the roster are NHLers Patrick O’Sullivan and Mike Comrie, whose skills are duplicated by each other and the other young players. Has this ever worked, Mr. Katz? Has a team ever been able to develop this many small players with the same general skill set at the same time? It would seem to me that you’d know a thing or two about planning and implementing (I have no doubt the arena project is going to be breathtaking) so it is with some wonder that I observe this on your watch.
I would like to suggest some reading. Red Wings executive Jim Devellano wrote a book called “The Road to Hockeytown” awhile ago and in it he spends several chapters explaining the painful growth process of that franchise under the ownership of Mike Ilitch. I enjoyed reading it and expect there might be a few lessons for you in there. I mean no disrespect, this is information that can only come from well-meaning ownership determined to win. I think you’ll agree that being open to new ideas and being able to learn from the mistakes of others are both extremely valuable things.
I want to wish you all the best and will of course be watching your progress closely. Please feel free to drop a line once in awhile and would love the opportunity to interview you on these subjects for this blog.
All the best, and God bless.