EDMONTON - In the newspaper business, building relationships is vital.
You try to treat people with dignity and respect so they will give you a quote when you need it the most.
Bluntly, you’re there to do a job — not to win a popularity contest. You don’t become comfortable chums with the people you write about.
Moreover, when you’re around the same group of people over extended periods of time, friendships form.
I broke the unwritten law.
Here’s my disclaimer: Edmonton Oilers president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe has been a friend — a very good friend, in fact — for close to 30 years.
I met Lowe shortly after he came to Edmonton in 1979 as a rookie defenceman with the Oilers. I really got to know him starting in the mid-1980s, when I covered the Christmas Bureau for the Journal.
The Christmas Bureau is a festive charity that provides a Christmas meal for Edmontonians who can’t afford one.
Lowe loves Christmas and served as Bureau’s honorary chairman.
I was waiting for my cab for more than half an hour following a Bureau event in 1986 when Lowe walked by me. He offered to give me a ride back to the office, and that’s when our friendship really started.
After Lowe retired as a player, we enjoyed many times together: Christmas Eve gatherings, boating in the summers, birthday parties, funerals, a bite and a beverage every few months.
During those times, we often reminisced about the Oilers’ glory days, when they were Stanley Cup champions.
Lowe ended every conversation with the same creed: a steadfast determination to develop a championship team so a new generation of Edmontonians can experience the magic of a Stanley Cup victory.
Through all the years I have known him, I have seen Lowe’s integrity and honour come through in spades.
But those traits, unfortunately, don’t always win hockey games. The Oilers are heading toward an eighth season out of the playoffs. Their last playoff appearance was in 2006, when they reached Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
Lowe became the team’s general manager in 2000, then president of hockey operations in 2008.
Despite top draft picks and other moves since then, the Oilers have struggled.
Oilers fans are perhaps yelling more for change at the top of the organization than they are at a questionable offside call at a game at Rexall Place.
As fans, that’s their right.
There are several camps in hockey-crazed Edmonton — social media and road signs among them — demanding Lowe be fired or quit.
These are unsettling time in Edmonton and the Oilers. When things go awry, sometimes the domino effect comes into play as negativity and frustration manifests itself in various ways.
There is no doubt in my mind Lowe feels the heat and sees the frustration.
But through our time together, I can safely say he is one of the most competitive men I have ever met. He will undoubtedly use the criticism against him as motivation.
Perhaps the reason he has not stepped aside from his position is he firmly believes he can win the battle and put the Oilers on the right track.
People who have passion and a plan should be allowed patience and understanding.
Personal friends included.
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