a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Sunday, 2 February 2014

02/02/14 The Case Against Lowe

Despite the years of Edmonton Oilers ineptitude, there are still some corners of "Oil Country" that don't believe that Kevin Lowe is the problem. Here are the reasons why Lowe really does need to go.

In Daryl Katz's unpopular letter to Oilers fans, he mentioned that "other teams that committed to fundamental rebuilds went through the same kind of [playoff] droughts over the same kind of time frames, or longer." But I'm afraid that's just not the case.

The Oilers will miss the playoffs for the eighth straight year this season, which is one of the longest streaks of ineptitude of all time. Granted, there are more teams in the NHL than in the past, but only eight other teams in history have ever missed the post season for eight straight years. Unless things turn around enormously next season, their ninth straight year out of the playoffs will put them in a group with only the Colorado Rockies, New Jersey Devils, California Golden Seals, Cleveland Barons, Minnesota North Stars, and Florida Panthers.

But this is only year four of the rebuild, right? Not really.

In March of 2007, Lowe sent a letter to fans (oh, those Oilers and their one-sided letters) which made it clear that the team was rebuilding around Robert Nilsson, Ryan O'Marra, MA Pouliot, JF Jacques, Zach Stortini, Kyle Brodziak and Rob Schremp - all of whom have been traded or are otherwise out of the organization. Not mentioned were Devan Dubnyk and Andrew Cogliano, both of whom have since been traded.

Roster turnover is normal, but of all the members of the 2007-08 Edmonton Oilers, only Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner are still on the team and both are rumored to be on the way out.

Of course, some of the players that Lowe acquired were good ones who could indeed help a team win, but they were traded by Steve Tambellini. But Lowe recently confirmed that he's involved in the decision making process when it comes to player movement. So even though Steve Tambellini traded some of Lowe's good players, it's difficult to believe that he did it without the man who obtained them knowing about it.

And Lowe could be his own worst enemy when it came to the players he brought in. Sheldon Souray had a rocky time in Edmonton, but was a good player during and after his time with the Oilers. Unfortunately, the man who signed him also apparently challenged him to play through an injury. Management soured on Souray and punitively - pointlessly - loaned him to Hershey of the AHL before buying him out. Souray warned that "players who leave town are skipping out with a smile on their face."

But wait! There's more!

It's hard to believe that Kevin Lowe didn't know exactly what he was doing when he hired Craig MacTavish as Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations on June 11, 2012. When Steve Tambellini was fired on April 15th, 2013, MacTavish was named as new general manager that same day, apparently without much consideration for other, more experienced candidates.

The hiring of MacTavish signaled a lack of confidence in the Tambellini regime, but it took almost a calendar year for the latter to finally be removed from his post. This, despite a long history of being absolutely terrible at his job while under the watchful eye of the President of Hockey Ops.

Tambellini was the sacrificial lamb which allowed the organization to outwardly say that they weren't going to accept any more losing, all the while keeping roughly the same hierarchy intact.

Interestingly, it allowed for the argument that you can't keep firing people because the organization needs some continuity to succeed. Dallas Eakins is an interesting example of this, as the rookie GM hired a rookie coach of his own choosing to steer the team. Now, in spite of the failings of the coach, his position is almost unassailable. MacTavish, too, is protected by the fact that the organization just fired a general manager.

The jury is still out on Craig MacTavish and his work, but Kevin Lowe presided over all the years Tambellini spent dismantling this team, and he watched - and participated! - as Tambo fumbled around trying to put it back together. Lowe hired two former associates and friends - MacTavish and Scott Howson - to help him right the ship, instead of men with long histories of successful management. Lowe rebuilt the Oilers with rookies and draft picks after 2007, and then watched as that rebuild was rebuilt by Tambellini.

MacTavish, whatever his failings have been, is now saddled with rebuilding the rebuilt rebuild that Tambellini and Lowe left him with. Four years out of the playoffs is fine for a rebuilding franchise, but spending the fourth year in 29th or 30th place is absolutely unacceptable.

It's almost impossible to believe that any management group which produced this level of on-ice failure would remain in place. And yet here we are.



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