MacKinnon: Daryl Katz’s open letter, closed mind
Edmonton Oilers owner vows to stay the course in spite of team’s dismal performance
EDMONTON — Owner Daryl Katz says he shares your pain, Oilers fans, but on close reading of his open letter on Monday, he makes no apology that the NHL club’s bottom-feeding plight is as chronically painful as it is.
You were expecting what — heads to roll? A housecleaning? A major trade involving one of the team’s corps of skill players? A rebate to season ticketholders as the team stumbles to an eighth straight non-playoff finish?
Let’s not lose our heads here. Katz does not easily bend to the wishes of the fans, or anyone else, come to think of it.
Sure, Katz took out full-page ads in Sept. 2012 to apologize for some negotiating hardball with Edmonton City Council, a grandstand play in which he threatened to move the team to Seattle. That spasm of humility was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?
And yes, club president Kevin Lowe had to issue a video apology to fans and subscribers last April after he ill-advisedly divided them into “two types” — paying customers, and mere fans. Oopsy!
Yes, Katz texted too soon back in Spring 2009 when, agitated about rumours that then-head coach Craig MacTavish would be dismissed, he fired off a “MacTavish isn’t going anywhere!” message to one of the club’s broadcasters, during the pre-game show, at that.
Katz didn’t apologize for that, either. MacTavish did step down as coach, but only after a visit to Katz’s house to say it was for the best of all concerned.
In the current situation, Katz has not gone all John Tortorella about his team’s 15-30-6 won-lost record, not that it would do any good to storm his own team’s locker-room and deliver a rant.
The Vancouver Canucks head coach, called on the NHL carpet Monday for trying to get into the Calgary Flames locker-room between periods on Saturday night, almost certainly will be issuing an apology of his own for his latest anger management failure and subsequent suspension. West Coast problems.
No, in delivering his “Letter from Daryl Katz to Oilers Fans” on Monday, the owner was jumping to the aid of Lowe, the target of much abuse, largely for sins committed when he was the team’s general manager, an office he vacated in July 2008.
“I know Kevin is the target of a lot of personal attacks right now, and that’s really unfortunate,” Katz’s message reads. “Kevin is a big part of our organization and it’s not just the Oilers that value his knowledge and perspective.
“He is consistently chosen, year after year, to play a leadership role with Hockey Canada. But when it comes down to it, this is Craig MacTavish’s team. He is the GM. He makes the calls, and he is accountable for building a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup — year-in and year-out for years to come.”
Some fans, and more than a few cynics, might read that as putting a ‘kick-me’ sign on the Oilers GM. Not a chance. Katz was just trying to take the heat off Lowe.
MacTavish is the architect of the team’s timeless rebuild now, but his tenure only started last April. Dallas Eakins, the head coach he hired, is on a four-year contract. They’re not going anywhere.
To reinforce his belief in his GM, Katz enumerated many of MacTavish’s player acquisitions, such as Boyd Gordon, Andrew Ference, Anton Belov, Ilya Bryzgalov, David Perron, Ben Scrivens and Matt Hendricks.
“And we’re not done,” Katz wrote, cautioning that the club is not inclined to make any rash trades to appease the fans in the present, not if it jeopardizes the future of a club built around Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz.
“That’s our vision. We are committed to it — and we’re confident that we are on the right track,” Katz wrote.
As the losses pile up, as the non-playoff seasons track toward eight by season’s end, and perhaps 10, in the end, an increasingly jaded fan base has tired of empty promises. Katz’s ‘right track’ looks like a rut, if not a trench to many of them.
Realistically, the fans have two choices: suffer along with this rebuild; or, in effect, cancel their Oilers subscriptions. But many fans are as loyal to the Oilers as Katz is to MacTavish and Lowe. Love hurts, as both Gram Parsons and Nazareth sang back in the day.
The fans now know that Katz, the beneficiary of TV rights riches beyond his own dreams, is not taking this team anywhere. So, Edmonton fans will not have to suffer what fans of the Quebec Nordiques fans did in the 1990s, watching the components of a champion assembled just before the team itself decamped to Denver, where the Avalanche would win two Stanley Cups.
The Oilers liken the suffering they and their fans are enduring to that of the Pittsburgh Penguins or Chicago Blackhawks. Those two franchises were dead in the water, but underwent radical rebuilds and now are among the league’s elite, winning three of the last five Stanley Cup championships between them.
In Edmonton, ‘be patient and you will be rewarded’ has been the Oilers message to fans since before the lockout of 2004-05. So far, the only rewards are the bittersweet memories of ‘06 and the as-yet unfulfilled promise of the current team’s youthful core.
At best, Katz’s ‘stay-the-course’ message provides no comfort to fans whose patience has been abused for years. At worst, it dumps more salt on their emotional wounds.
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