Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Laissez-faire Or Lazy?

The Oilers were one of the final two teams on Spacek's short list and yesterday at about 4:30 p.m. he went the other way. "We were willing to meet the price he was asking for, the money was similar on both sides, but he wanted to go to the other team for one reason or the other. It wasn't a case of he didn't like it here, but when you get to unrestricted and you get to choose your team, a lot of things can come into play. I didn't get the reason why he chose and, to be honest, I'm not very interested in it at this point." -- Oilers Assistant GM Scott Howson in the Edmonton Sun, July 4, 2006
Now I'm really worried.

On one side of the ledger: Pronger, Spacek, Samsonov, Peca. Players with skills and choices, who all made or will make the same decision: to leave the Edmonton Oilers.

On the other side: a 36-year-old goaltender, a hometown playoff hero with minimal regular season record, and an aging enforcer who asked to stay even though he's unwanted. Each was happy to stay, and even happier to collect silly money.

It sure doesn't leave the impression that this is an organization that can attract and retain first-class talent.

When speaking of Spacek's departure last night, Howson was blunt, saying management had been reduced to "Plan F." The deeper we go into the summer signings, the stronger is my impression that no one was back in the home office during the Oilers playoff run getting ready for the negotiations and deadlines.

In a BoA post, Andy tried to calm the Oilogosphere's nerves with a reminder: "A year ago, Oilers fans were freaked that Lowe hadn't made any big moves...Well, Lowe came through. We got more than our fair share of trades and signings this year. I am going to try and keep reminding myself of this fact over the next few days."

Andy's right. But it doesn't answer the question 'Why do none of these guys want to re-sign here, even when the dollars are comparable?'

And what's with the "I'm not very interested" attitude? It's Scott Howson's job to be interested in the players and what will help retain key talent. The Oilers can't afford to not be interested in the reasons players are signing elsewhere.

A week ago we had to listen to Kevin Lowe revealing that he was told by Pronger of his issue(s) mid-year, and that his response was to hope the issues would get sorted out. It's the same story: a laissez-faire approach to people management that risks leaving the Oilers losers in hockey's musical-chairs talentfest.

If one or more of your people have issues that are affecting their work for you, or that will cause them to seek work elsewhere, management should be trying to help them solve their problems, and make the workplace more desirable.

Absent that, let's at least hope the Oil are conducting exit interviews to find out what went wrong: and then doing something to fix it.


At 11:30 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

I become more and more convinced of Lowe's genius every day. These GM's are going to run out of money really soon, and they are going to be hooped. Or what happens if the cap shrinks next year? Why are we all assuming it can ONLY grow?

I don't buy the "no one wants to play in Edmonton" argument. Never have. I could name ten markets as "unlikeable" as Edmonton. And don't forget the towns half these players grew up in.

At 11:52 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

Agreed the money is running out. The virtue of the new system is that the dollars are fixed.

In principle, excess dollars chasing Defencemen leaves less money to spend on the forward lines. Teams with money should be able to assemble extremely competitive second, third and fourth lines for reasonable amounts.

The lack of good information to feed into the decision-making process is maddening.

I'm also willing to believe that management knows the reasons for these departures, but just doesn't want to talk about it. That's okay. But the evidence so far could go either way...and there are strong hints that they either don't know, or aren't making much of an effort to find out/do something about it.
Still love your Hasek idea, even having signed the Rollie contract. It would be a coup, and probably very affordable.

At 8:14 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Given that they lost out on Spacek despite offering similar money to what he's getting from Buffalo ($10 mil over 3 years), I don't understand how this is an example of Kevin Lowe's genius.

What I see is that for the second time in the past couple of weeks, one of Edmonton's top defenseman from last season has opted (or requested) to leave for reasons other than money, which is something that, as Avi said, should be disconcerting to management.

At 10:01 AM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

I doubt that Jaro disliked it here. In fact, my understanding was that he liked it here quite a bit. Maybe it was because Dvorak left. Maybe he wanted to the be the number one guy, and felt that he would always be number two or three here. Maybe he didn't agree all the time with Charlie Huddy or MacT. Who the hell knows? But are we that insecure that we have to flip out everytime a free agent leaves? I mean, he's a free agent. The whole Pronger thing has everyone being paranoid. Not Abboud, because he's a Leafs fan and therefore doesn't count. But I just wish everyone else would relax. We have gone from being Stanley Cup finalists to insecure conspiracy theorists in three weeks. The defence is no worse than it was two years ago, but our goaltending and offence is certainly alot better. And every team in the NHL is going through changes. We have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves.

At 10:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see what all the hubub is about with regard to Spacek. I don't know how many times he made me yell "Spoke! you plug" at the TV during The Run. And that was playing with Pronger.

I'd really like to see Peca back, but I know that's a pipe dream.

I'm exhausted with all the speculation about who's going where, and also with the alarmists and their inferiority complex biulding theories as to why no one wants to come to etown.

The one thing I'd really like to see in the next few days is MacT getting a new deal.
As Black Dog said, I think things will be OK.

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

Spacek left because he figures the Sabres have a better chance to win the Cup then the Oilers next season.

As simple as that.

I am in agreement with Andy though. I don't think Lowe is a genius necessarily but he has the right attitude. Why would you give LeGG a no-trade clause? Because he likes it here? He is totally a great guy but I'm sorry - 1.2M plus a notrade clause for a guy who played how many minutes in the playoffs?

You can get pretty well anybody - Dvorak will come back if you give him 2M a year. Peca would come back if you paid him as twice as much as anybody.

These guys are all overvalued as a result of the run to the Final.

Jim Rutherford resigned all of his guys after 2002 - he said it was the worst thing he ever did.

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Even though my opinion on this topic apparently doesn't count, I'll weigh in once again.

To use a slightly different angle, as one blogger pointed out at the time of the CBA last year (it might have been Cosh), with the money being more or less equal in most markets, other factors are going to become more important when players are deciding where to sign. Whatever reason was the motivating factor for Spacek, it's important for the Oilers to find that out. No one said that he didn't like it here, but the sooner that the Oilers can determine any trends in what players (and their families) find attractive about either the city, or the organization, and what they don't, then the better off they will be when pitching the Oilers to potential signees.

I don't think most people are freaking out, and certainly Avi wasn't. He was merely pointing out how acting non-plussed about why players are leaving the team could prove to be detrimental to the organization. I agree with him, and the sooner the team figures out how best they can make the team appeal to players, the better off they will be.

Andy, the key points in your last comments were the speculation on why Spacek left. That's exactly the point, we don't know. But as Avi said, it sure as hell should be Scott Howson's business to do his best to find out.

Your blind optimism is admirable, I believe it's also misplaced until we know that Kevin Lowe has some sort of plan in place to move the team forward.

At 10:47 AM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Your blind optimism is admirable, I believe it's also misplaced until we know that Kevin Lowe has some sort of plan in place to move the team forward.

My optimism isn't blind. Kevin Lowe has a pretty good track record as GM, and I don't think he has "lost out" in the free agent season. And I don't buy the "guys don't want to play in Edmonton" argument. This isn't the NBA and players from large urban centres we are talking about. Many of these kids grew up in towns smaller than Mill Woods.

And I like your use of "we" there, fairweather Leafs fan.

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Alex said...

A few points:

• Your use of quotations around 'lost out' is misleading. No one ever said they lost out on the free agent season; I did say that they lost out on Spacek, which they quite literally did, since they were pursuing him and he opted to sign elsewhere.

• As for the argument about whether or not guys want to play in Edmonton, I also indicated that it could be a problem with the organization, not the city? What problem(s), I don't know, but I don't think we can rule it out.

• Call it the Chris Pronger rule, but regardless of where a guy is from, Edmonton may seem like an undesirable location compared to where they have previously played. This is especially true if the guy marries an American - his wife (and kids) may be less inclined, at least initially, to go somewhere they are unfamiliar with. Many of the guys also settle close to their former playing spots, and would like to go back. Rob Blake kept his year-round home in California even after he was dealt to the Avalanche, and unsurprisingly, went back to LA this off-season. Had he received the same offer ($6 mil a year) from Edmonton, I doubt the kid from Simcoe, Ontario would have chosen Edmonton over Los Angeles.

• As for Lowe, he has a good record, but we don't know (we being the public, to avoid confusion) what direction he has planned for the team. Is he waiting for a trade opportunity to try and make another cup run? With the acquisition of Lupul and Smid, is he thinking of this year (and possibly next) as a reloading year before they ice a championship-caliber team around 2008-09? That's what I want to know. If he's looking towards the latter approach, then I'd say he's doing a great job this off-season, but if it's the former, then he's dropped the ball thus far, and better have something else in the works if he wants it to happen.

And finally, on another note, I don't see why you keep bringing up the fact that I cheer for the Leafs. I've never tried to hide my hockey allegiances, and quite frankly, I fail to see what this has to do with anything. I was hoping we would be able to talk about hockey without bringing personal preferences into this. But if you want to keep doing that instead of focusing on the merits/demerits of the approach, be my guest. I just hope that at some point you will explain how long someone has to have abandoned their 'other' favorite team before they become the arbiter of who can or can't support a team. Judging by your words in this thread, my guess is 'less than 6 weeks'.

At 11:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 12:07 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

I take the signing of UFA Daniel Tjarnqvist (3-15-18 in 60 GP) as an indication that Plan F is now in full swing.

At 12:47 PM, Anonymous namflashback said...

heard on the radio that Spacek chose Buffalo so that travel would be less strenuous. don't know their source . . .

MacT is so funny. It's pretty easy to see why it was Plan A, Plan B, then Plan F.

I would guess that they had already in their minds that if the UFA market got silly ($$ and terms) that they would lie low and supplement by trade with partners who need to dump salary. Just like they did for Pronger and Peca.

A pretty decent strategy which may still work quite well. With the big holes left by the Pronger trade -- it looks far more dire than it would have been. If Prongergate hadn't occurred and the Oiler's got 2/3 of the UFA's they were totally interested in, we'd all say -- that's fine.

At 12:54 PM, Anonymous daryl said...

In the past, when a free agent athlete would some somewhere else, we always seemed to get the platitudes about how so-and-so showed committment or someone-famous phoned and extolled the virtues of the new city.

I always discounted all of these things out of hand; like they say, whenever you hear "it's not about the money....", its always the money.

But as its been pointed out here, nowadays, the money is equal, so maybe those platitudes I ignored for years are actually valid things. I notice that Zdeno Chara talked about all the people from Boston phoned him and made an effort to show he was wanted there. When the money is the same, maybe you do have to start thinking of these things I guess.

At 12:58 PM, Anonymous grey wall said...

i confess i don't know the ins and outs of the cba as i grow more disinterested as every tom, dick and jarko ruutu command salaries well in excess of their worth.

i'm wondering wtf is going on and if it relates to the two caps and how they work relative to each other. Don't they pretty much provide an incentive to GMs to sign marquee players to huge long-term contracts given the $44 mm cap and given that the league will only pay out 54%? and incentive for players to get in on the action asap or be left out? as GMs start approaching their individual caps, the pool of money available per UFA is less than it was on July 1.

wouldn't players that didn't sign early in UFA season get screwed? I'm not sure if total player salaries have hit 54% already of last year's revenue, but if they have, wouldn't clubs be getting money back?

i'm sure someone who seems to devote 24/7 to this like certain bloggers can come up with some sort of rational analysis a la nash equilibrium. i'd certainly like to know why its the smart thing to have most of our cap space tied up in marquee talent that you hope gets the cup (hello vancouver and tampa) and pay the rest of your team squat.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Call it the Chris Pronger rule, but regardless of where a guy is from, Edmonton may seem like an undesirable location compared to where they have previously played.

Are you suggesting that Spacek loved Chicago so much that he decided to sign with Buffalo?

And finally, on another note, I don't see why you keep bringing up the fact that I cheer for the Leafs.

You mean a reason other than the fact that you cheer for the Leafs? I thought that would be ample reason. But you aren't happy either way. The Leafs and the Bruins are your two favorite teams, and the Oilers are your third favorite. Yet you haven't stopped bitching about the job the Leafs are doing throwing money around, or the fact the Bruins wasted money on Savard. But now you are going after Lowe. What's he supposed to do, make retarded decisions like they do in two original six cities? The fact is, I am positive Lowe knew why Spacek didn't want to return, in the same way every GM knows that sort of stuff about their free agents every single year. But who cares why he left? He left. Find a guy who wants to play here, and sign him. Tell him we have amazing schools, hospitals, universities, festivals and titty bars for all I care. The fact is, players want to play where the can win, where the money is good, and where they are wanted. In rare circumstances, such as Prongers, a perfect hockey situation and a pretty awesome city aren't enough. Fine. Move along and find someone else. The naval gazing is boring.

At 1:59 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

GW:I notice that Zdeno Chara talked about all the people from Boston phoned him and made an effort to show he was wanted there. When the money is the same, maybe you do have to start thinking of these things I guess.

Chara sure did notice that -- and he complained that the Senators didn't phone him once during the period leading up to July 1st. When everyone offers the same money, the little things not only matter, they become the only things that matter.

AG: But who cares why [Spacek] left? He left....Fine. Move along and find someone else. The naval [sic] gazing is boring.

Aha! I've found someone who agrees with Howson.

Although Alex raised the 'living in Edmonton' theory, I did not. My argument was that good management should be taking an interest in the factors that will help them attract and retain talent. That's not navel gazing, that's self-awareness and good hr management.

I'm not even that strong a proponent of Spacek as a contributor. I panic when he touches the puck. But it's clear Lowe wanted him back...and that he was unable to close the deal.

Hopefully the cash-flush Oil are on the verge of signing a wave of forward-line talent that will make the cap-huggers cringe when they send out their replacement-level third and fourth lines.

At 3:28 PM, Blogger Alex said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Alex said...

But you aren't happy either way.

It's not an either/or situation. Like I said in my last comment, Lowe's performance this off-season depends on what direction he's planning to take the team in. As it stands now, this team is worse off in the short-term (on paper) than the one that stepped on the ice for Game 7 of the Finals. That is, unless you like a top four defensive group of Smith, Staios, Greene, and Bergeron.

However, if he's building with an eye towards 2008/09/10, then he has done a good job of it by clearing up cap space and acquiring young players and draft picks.

What's he supposed to do, make retarded decisions like they do in two original six cities?

Andy, do you like the Chara signing? Because if you don't, it's worth noting that Lowe offered similar money.

At 3:57 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

That's not navel gazing, that's self-awareness and good hr management.

I meant fans navel-gazing, not management. I just think this whole thing has spun out of insecurity. And I don't mean your post, but rather the general sense of malaise in Oilers fans right now.

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Leafs and the Bruins are your two favorite teams, and the Oilers are your third favorite.

THAT is ridiculous. Sports bigamist! You should change your handle to BigLove

At 4:57 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Sports bigamist!

Oh, that's nothing. The guy cheered for the Yankees at one point in his life.

At 11:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you switch teams with your mood? You sign up early. The Gretz trade broke my 9 year old heart. I'll always love Greg Lloyd, Mookie Wilson and Joe Carter, hate everything to do with basketball and the Eskimos, and bleed oil from September to June, and green and white from June to November.

At 10:21 AM, Blogger Alex said...


While I see your point about 'signing up ealry', I don't agree that these allegiances have to be lifelong. Our values and beliefs aren't set in stone as 8 year-olds, so why should our favorite sports teams be? With that being said, I still feel an affinity for Grant Fuhr, my first sports idol, and I would probably lose it if I ever met Larry Bird, Joe Montana, or Steve Young. But I don't see why the fact that I was an Oilers fan before anything else precludes me from ever cheering for another hockey team.

As Chuck Klosterman said:

When people ask me who my favorite NFL team is, I always say, "The 1978 Dallas Cowboys." I still have some interest in that particular franchise, but I don't feel any loyalty to the organization; I mean, it's not like I'm a stockholder. Nobody asked me about firing Tom Landry. Nobody consulted with me about the acquisition of Drew Bledsoe.

I explained some of my history as a sports fan in one of my earliest posts. The more I think about it, I don't have a problem cheering for different hockey teams because hockey is probably my fourth favorite sport, maybe third depending on how I feel about basketball at a given time. I don't feel as passionately about any hockey team as I do about the Red Sox, Celtics, Pats, or 49ers. The only other sport where I have dual allegiances is football, which I explained in my post, though I suspect I would throw the Patriots under the bus in about 2 seconds if they ever faced off with the 49ers in a Super Bowl (just like Andy would throw the Titans or Ravens, his 'other' favorite teams under the bus if they played the Eagles).

Speaking of Andy, maybe he can get this thread back on topic by dropping the sophistry and answering my 2 day-old question to him about Kevin Lowe pursuing Zdeno Chara.

At 6:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read the Klosterman article, couldn't agree less. I didn't say it precludes you, I'm just saying you might be a bandwagoneer, that's all.


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