Contrary to popular opinion; the Oilers front office is not full of incompetent fools. Arrogant, untrustworthy, two faced liars maybe, but not incompetent, and not fools. It pains me to say it, but when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers, the only fools are the fans and the media. The people who converse back and forth over a studio console or a bar room table all have been fooled. Fooled into thinking that this team being this bad again is an accident. Fooled into thinking that they know more about what this team needs than MacT and K-Lowe. Fooled into thinking that the rebuild was over. It's becoming more and more obvious that it has been the plan all along to ice a terrible team...again, and draft first overall...again.
Now, I'm just a lowly 2nd tier fan who doesn't live in Edmonton. I'm not a part of the organization, nor am I privy to any insider information. I am as much an outsider as there ever was, but I am not an idiot. I am convinced that this failure of a season is intentional and I refuse to be emotionally invested in this team or its lack of real action during a stretch of play that sees them lose 19 of 20 games. You can't tell me that K-Lowe and Co. didn't know back in 2013 that this season would turn out this way. You can not ACCIDENTLY be worse than 3 teams that are openly trying to be the worst teams in the NHL(Buffalo, Carolina and Florida). You have to TRY to be this bad. You have to PLAN to be this bad.
Now, I don't have anything that even resembles evidence to back up my statements, but I have something better. I have a theory. A theory that it is all a conspiracy. And the theory goes something like this... Obviously the Oilers management would have held meetings two summers ago to discuss when and where the 12/13 season fell off the rails. At these meetings, the question had to be asked whether or not the team had a realistic shot of competing in 13/14 or 14/15, and what changes needed to be made in order to do so. Realizing the daunting task that was before them, and knowing it was entirely possible that all their hard work could result in the team still missing the 2015 playoffs, somebody undoubtedly put forth the following proposal. Should we A) Bust our asses scouting, drafting, and recruiting top talent, knowing there is still a good chance we miss the playoffs and draft in the middle of the pack, and thereby further alienating our 1st tier fan base? Or B) Tank a couple more seasons (yet again), absolutely infuriate our entire fan base and all intelligent members of the media, and quite possibly the NHL Board of Governors, but get a chance at drafting the "Once in a Generation Prospect" Connor McDavid or the consolation prize Eichel? Well...no rocket scientists needed, we know the route they took.
Here's where it gets tricky. Firstly, the bus to the bottom of the NHL standings would be full of other NHL bottom feeders hoping McDavid would be the future of their franchise (or at least put asses in the seats until a prospective buyer could be found). Secondly, the NHL had already made a pre-emptive strike to thwart the efforts of these pathetic losers by changing the weighting in the draft lottery, reducing the chances of the worst team 'winning', and would most likely look for ways to punish teams who tank seasons. Especially teams who tank 6 or more consecutive seasons, and get the first overall pick in four of them. Thirdly, the patience of the Edmonton fans is/was growing dangerously thin. The rebuild was supposed to be over long ago, and there was no possible way to sell the fans on tanking another season. The only way to achieve their goal of last place and not have the gates of Rexall stormed like the Bastille was to fool everybody into thinking they were doing 'everything possible' to improve the team.
One might ask how anyone could pull off such a devious conspiracy. Well, it takes the skill of a puppet master, a spiderweb-like combination of parts and pieces, and more patience than can one pharmacy owner should be allowed to possess. First off, you continually overstate the talent level of your group until everyone within earshot starts to believe you are a better team than you are, and that one or two little roster 'tweaks' will put you in the playoff promise land. Next, you fire head coach after head coach until you find the perfect patsy. Sorry Dallas, but you never had a chance. They never intended for you to succeed, you were there to appease the fans until they couldn't be appeased any longer, and then MacT could pull a Jack Ruby and buy his owner some more time. Next, you make those 'tweaks' bringing in marginal free agents from more successful teams and again overstate their talent(Nikitin, Ferrence, Schultz, Fasth, Bryzgalov, Scrivens,...). By the way, when bringing in marginal talent, it helps to grossly overpay these guys. This brings you closer to the salary cap, thereby giving the impression that you are an organization willing to "spend to the cap" to ice a competitive team. There are dozens of more tactics that can be used as well, like only having 2 NHL centres on your roster at any given time, continually misusing your prospects by forcing them to play unfamiliar postions, and sending them down to the AHL of they show any NHL prowess at all, not drafting a player of note after the first round for eons, the list goes on and on, but you get the picture. The most important thing through it all is to stick to the plan, and don't allow any deviation. Maintain media silence as long as possible. Do not engage the media or the fans, and if you are forced to, talk in circles. Use buzzwords like "the core" and "execute". Do your very best to speak without saying anything and accept zero accountability. When in doubt, blame somebody else..preferably a former staff member, but don't be afraid to throw the players under the bus as well. One can accuse them of possessing NHL talent but being unwilling to "take it to the next level". The players are only a temporary part of the team after all. They're practically disposable compared to an owner.
This lengthy, poorly worded and badly puncuated hypothesis brings me back to the title of this blog. Eric Lindross. Remember him? The 1991 version of "Once in a Generation" talent? Now I'm not comparing Lindross to McDavid or vice versa, but the parallels in their situations is uncanny. The Quebec Nordique were perennial bottom feeders who were stocked with number one draft picks and franchise player potential, not unlike the Oilers. But Lindross didn't feel the situation was best for his marketability or development and refused to play for them. I can't help but wonder if the same thing is going through the minds of Connor McDavid and his camp. Do the Edmonton Oilers possess a credible track record of developing young talent? No. Is the City of Edmonton attractive from a player marketability standpoint? Hell no. Are they a complete team, able to win right away? Maybe, but it will take more than one draft pick. As an Oiler fan, I would love to see McDavid in the Blue and Orange, but honestly I don't think its best for his future, or the long term future of the NHL for that matter.