When do you decide a rebuild has failed?
Then, what do you about it if it has?
In the 2008/09 season, The Dallas Stars finished 12th in the Western Conference with 83 points. There were 3 teams behind them in the standings, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Colorado while the Edmonton Oilers finished 11th with 85 points.
Dallas would go on to be plagued by a bankrupt owner, plummeting attendance and massive financial losses. The Stars would miss the playoffs for the next 4 consecutive seasons hamstrung by financial restraints and a management group that couldn’t get out of its own way.
Enter the Sandman in November 11, 2011. Tom Gaglardi, owner of the Sandman Hotels chain and Moxies restaurants bought the Stars out of bankruptcy and vowed to return the Stars to relevancy.
The Canadian billionaire, based in Vancouver (he had earlier tried to purchase the Canucks), also owns the Texas Stars and part of the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Billionaire owner. √
Based in Vancouver. √
Owns multiple hockey properties. √
Vows to return franchise to its glorious past. √
3 years before Gaglardi took over the Stars, Daryl Katz bought the Edmonton Oilers from the EIG and later the Oklahoma City Barons.
But that’s where the similarities end.
The Stars made the playoffs last season and are considered to be the most improved team in the league this offseason while the Texas Stars are the reigning Calder Cup champions.
At this juncture, I think it’s important to note that 3 of the teams that finished behind the Oilers in that 2008/09 season made the playoffs last season and one of them is still celebrating its second Stanley Cup victory in that time frame.
The other, the Phoenix Coyotes, despite having to play under the darkest of clouds, having a severely limited budget, absolute chaos in ownership and a meagre fan base, has managed to finish ahead of the Oilers every season since and has managed to make the playoffs 3 times.
The Oilers have had none of those issues and, in fact, have very supportive and wealthy ownership, an ability to spend to the cap as required and a rabid fan base that fills the rink every night.
I’m certainly not going to belabour the management ills that the Oilers have suffered over those seasons since they have been analyzed to death but, if I were Daryl Katz, I would certainly be wondering why it is that teams like Los Angeles, Colorado, Dallas and now formerly moribund franchises like Minnesota and Columbus have whizzed by the Oilers in the fast lane and are tasting some success.
I haven’t seen even one pre-season prediction that has the Oilers making the playoffs in 2014/15.
The most optimistic prediction I’ve seen comes from the Hockey Writers who have the Oilers pegged for 10th in the WC.
Sportsnet has the Oilers finishing 24th overall and 12th in the WC.
Bleacher Report expects the Oilers will finish 5th in the Pacific ahead of the Coyotes and Flames and considering the brutal competition in the Central, means they will finish well out of the playoffs.
With what we know right now and the regular season only 10 days away, I expect Sportsnet is likely pretty close to calling it although I think the Flames will give the Oilers all they can handle and, despite all the times I’ve expected the Coyotes to implode, Maloney and Tippett always mange to surprise me.
So, it would seem another season out of the playoffs is a pretty good bet, making it 9 years in the wilderness. Will that be enough to call Katz’s bluff?
So far, he has seemed to be content to allow the Boys on the Bus to drive the vehicle into the ditch and has recently added Mark Messier to the brain trust as an “advisor”.
But you have to imagine there will be a breaking point.
On the weekend, David Staples was pretty strident in calling for Katz to clean house if the Oilers don’t “contend” for the playoffs this season.
Is “contending” for the playoffs enough or will Katz need another season of suckage to admit the Oilers rebuild has failed while other teams like Los Angeles, Dallas, Colorado and Columbus have successfully risen from the ashes in the time Katz has owned the Oilers?
I have no idea what the man’s appetite for failure is so the answer in uncertain but you would have to think, at some point things will tip.
But, what then?
I have a hunch that the reason Mike Babcock has not signed an extension in Detroit is that he is waiting for an opportunity to be a General Manger. Unlike current Oiler GM Craig MacTavish, Babcock has a long, long record of success. His .648 winning percentage behind the bench in Detroit is beyond reproach and he’s been working under some of the best minds in hockey.
Babcock, despite seemingly having been around forever, is only 52 years of age and has the chops, in my opinion, to turn a team around in much the same fashion Jim Nill has done in Dallas.
The only fly in the ointment is that Detroit may not to want to let him leave:
Babcock will begin his 10th season with the Red Wings. He’s been to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in his first nine seasons, won the Stanley Cup in 2008, and went back to the Final in 2009. He also won two Olympic gold medals as coach of Canada.
“The guy’s got an opportunity of a lifetime,” Holland told Pierre LeBrun. “He’s an unrestricted free agent. He’s 52 years of age. His stock isn’t going to get any higher. He’s coming off his second Olympic gold. He was finalist for coach of the year. People feel the job he did last year with our team was as good as he’s done here in a number of years.” Source
It would likely take a massive offer from Katz to pry Babcock out of Detroit and he obviously can’t negotiate with him while he remains under contract there but I would have the Bat Plane fuelled up and ready to go if an opportunity to hire Babcock presents himself.