19 March 2007
The Avs are going to Alberta to play the Edmonton Oilers twice this week. This makes me upset and giddy at the same time. I am giddy because Edmonton is a complete wreck and hopefully they will stay that way for 3 more games (they play Vancouver once before getting to the Avs). I am upset because these two franchises could be playing two colossal games that knock one of them out of the race for the playoffs. Instead we are getting two games between going for the playoffs and a team looking forward to golf.
I look at this and say why are the Oilers so bad? They got to game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Sure they were an 8-seed, but they had a core of young players only poised to get better. They are playing in the "New NHL" where they wouldn't lose these players to other bigger budget teams. Yet here they are swamped in mediocrity, again, the same place they were in before the lockout.
Well this season it’s easy to see why…they lost Chris Pronger and they traded away Ryan Smyth which is the difference between an 8-seed and a lottery team. But why did they make these moves? Wasn’t this the type of thing that the lockout was supposed to cure?
Before the lockout the Oilers were, enthusiastically I might add, the poster child for the little franchise who couldn’t. They were constantly losing their good players to other franchises because they couldn’t compete with their big budget big brothers (like the Avalanche). The Oilers were the most vocal team out there in complaining about how they couldn’t compete. This was one of the fundamental reasons for the lockout.
Now here we are after the lockout and one of the Oilers reasons for not signing Smyth was he wanted too much money, and they just couldn’t afford it. Forget for the minute that they were extremely close to having a deal with him, and the difference was basically arguing about semantics. Why couldn’t they afford him? They are $3.5M under the cap. They didn’t get Pronger in the off-season. They had enough to shell out extra money for their supposed face-of-the franchise.
Instead they unceremoniously dealt him to the Islanders. Not only did this ignite the free fall of what has become the Oilers season (remember they were 3 points AHEAD of the Avs when they traded him), but since the trade the Oilers organization has seemed more intent on making sure their fans blame Ryan Smyth instead of the organization for losing him. In doing this they have conducted a smear Blitzkrieg that would make politicians proud. They are saying a lot of bad things about him basically saying he was being unreasonable. My favorite complaint by the organization is that he wouldn’t take a hometown discount. Wait we went through an entire lockout so that small market teams, most notably the Oilers, could offer the same amount of money to their stars as other teams do, now you want your most important (not to mention marketable and liked) player to ALSO take a discount? Shouldn’t the franchise show the franchise player how much he means to the franchise by giving him a little more money than he deserves.
The Oilers also lost Chris Pronger last year, and not for monetary reasons. The Oilers will be the first to point this out any opportunity they get. Sure this wasn’t their fault because Pronger’s wife didn’t want to live in Edmonton, but apparently she talked Nicklas Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Ed Jovanovski, Rob Blake and Bryan McCabe into not wanting to play for Edmonton either. These were all free-agent Defensemen available with the money set aside for trying to resign Pronger.
So put yourselves in the shoes of a potential free agent, being pursued by the Edmonton Oilers. Here’s a franchise that:
² Didn’t make an effort to sign a significant free agent the year after almost winning the cup, but is still under the salary cap
² Championed the cause of the lockout, which cost me a year of my career.
² Just 2 seasons after the lockout asked their most important, celebrated and liked player to take a hometown discount, and whined when it wasn’t given to them.
² Wouldn’t spend market value for their face-of-the franchise player
² Go on to smear the reputation of one of the most liked players in the league, and the guy they were just saying was instrumental to them.
² Give up on a season in which a team behind them in the standings makes a serious playoff push, a year after they made the Cup finals as an 8-seed.
Umm… Why the hell would I ever consider signing with this franchise?
Compare all this to the Avs. They put up the dough for Sakic, the face-of-the-franchise. When they lost talented players, Rob Blake, Adam Foote, Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne to free agency their attitude was «Thank you for your service to the team. We wish we could keep you but understand that this is a business for the players as well as us. We appreciate all your contributions to this franchise. We wish you the best». Never mind that Blake kind up and left to LA. Kariya and Selanne played awful here and then great for future teams. Foote and Forsberg wouldn’t accept hometown discounts.
The Avs treated all of their departures with respect, class and above all professionalism. The Oilers have handled their departures with self-pity, and amateurism. Unfortunate is that this most affects Oilers fans, who are among the best there are. They are smart and passionate, and instead of watching their beloved Oilers play a pseudo-playoffs and battle to catch and pass their hated rival Calgary by beating the not-quite as hated Avalanche they are forced to either begrudgingly cheer against their team so the Avs catch the Flames, or futilely cheer for the Oilers allowing their hated rivals to get into the playoffs.
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