April 15, 2010

Edmonton Oilers: The new Mickey Mouse Organisation

Wayne Gretzky's second most famous quote from his days on the ice was when he referred to the New Jersey Devils as a "Mickey Mouse Organization" after the Oilers pummelled the Devils 13-4 in a game during the 1983-84 season. (Note: I consider his best quote to be "I told Mess I wouldn't do this." while crying during the press conference after being sold out of Edmonton) Oh, how the times have changed. Fear not New Jersey Devils, nobody can say that you are a Mickey Mouse organization any longer. The Devils have built up a strong franchise in New Jersey, taking home the Stanley Cup 3 times since 1995 (1995, 2000, 2003) and continuing to put together strong teams in front of future Hall of Famer Marty Brodeur.

Wayne Gretzky's former Edmonton Oilers on the other hand have gone in the other direction. Once the bees knees of the NHL in the 1980s, the franchise has crumbled under (literally) poor ownership, questionable management, underperforming players and most recently, all of the above at once! In a recent interview with Mark Spector, Oilers' defenseman Sheldon Souray not only made public that he wanted to be traded, but also took the opportunity to heavily criticize Oilers management, thus dissuading any and all other all-star players who would have considered Edmonton an option.
So first of all, what an ass hole. Souray, that is. Not only has he screwed over the Oilers, he's gone and done it at the worst possible time. When I first heard about this it enraged me all over again. I was already pissed off at Souray for taking off his wrist guard to fight Iginla and breaking his hand (again!) and later getting said hand infected, eliminating any chance of the Oilers trading him at the trade deadline. But now he's gone and kicked the Oilers while they're down.

The Oilers have, since the mid-90s, been a franchise that nobody wants to play for. At first it was because the Oilers couldn't afford any big players. In the late 90's the Edmonton Investors Group had struggled to put together enough money to keep the Oilers in Edmonton and didn't have any leftover to buy some decent players. Then, after our hero Daryl Katz came in and solved the money issues we thought it would all work out. Unfortunately, our "boy on the bus" Kevin Lowe misinterpreted how all this money could be used and started throwing it at aging NHL stars instead of young NHL stars. Or maybe he was trying to get the league's top players, but none of them wanted to come.

Nobody wants to come to Edmonton because the Oilers really are the new Mickey Mouse organization. The incredible combination of stupidity and uselessness that the Oilers have managed to assemble is astonishing. It truly is an organisation more suited for a theme park.

I'm afraid that fixing this problem is all going to have to start with owner Daryl Katz. Although I'm not of the opinion that firing Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini is the right move right now, I wouldn't give them much rope either. After this summer we should have a good idea if the management team has learned from their mistakes or if we're heading into an endless cycle until more drastic changes are made. Everyone in the Oilogosphere (Oilers blogging world) has seemed to figure out that the solution is to build through the draft. But it takes more than that. You need to build a good organisation. It starts with a good farm team and good coaching, training, scouting and drafting all the way through a player's development process. The Wings are, of course, the perfect example. No players in the Wings' organisation are rushed into the league. They can draft players late (Lidstrom 53rd, Zetterberg 210th, Datsyuk 173rd) because of good scouting and then take their time developing these players through their system eventually becoming the best players in the league. I think we're continuing to see them do this with guys like Jimmy Howard.

With all my rambling, ranting and raving all I realistically expect out of the Oilers is to start to build a solid franchise. Just show the fans some signs that someone in the organisation knows what they're doing and is willing to take the time to do it right. That's all I can ask. But I will ask for it to start now. Right now. June 25th (draft day) and July 1st (Free Agent day) will be our first indications of promise or demise.

The undying Oilers fan that I am, I still have faith, but it is running out. I need proof. Proof of some intelligence in that organisation. As Paul Simon put it "Faith. Faith is an island in the setting sun. Proof, ya, proof's the bottom line for everyone."

And so we wait.

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