Friday, April 29th, 2016

Lowe Down


Tyler Dellow has been lacing into the Edmonton management group with a series of posts that demonstrate the incompetence of Kevin Lowe and the people he has hired to make the hockey decisions. His most recent begins with the point that the Oilers were the league leaders in whining about the CBA that was destroyed by the lockout. After the players capitulated, Cal Nichols declared that the new system was pretty nearly perfect for the Oilers.

The result? The Oilers have been the worst regular season team under the new CBA. This is all a testament to Lowe’s survival skills. As someone who wasted thousands of words claiming that the Edmonton problem prior to the lockout was Kevin Lowe and not the CBA, I can’t help but gloat a little bit.

Anyway, Tyler does make one provocative claim:

I actually think that the new CBA made the NHL much more a game of managerial skill than it used to be. For all the talk about money being such a big deal, lots of guys are shadows of what they once were at 31, which is when they became unrestricted free agents. By imposing a salary cap and reducing the advantage of drafting well, it became about how good your management was at finding players and negotiating. Just sucking was no longer enough – a high end talent who came into the league at 18 was no longer yours until he turned 31 but just until he turned 25. It’s become much more a test at how good your management is at developing a plan and adapting as you go along.

I’m not sure that I agree. I understand the point – under the old CBA, the process of building a good team was anchored in the draft. It was not hard to figure out what to pay players as the career unfolded. It was easy to decide which (very few) veteran free agents were worth overpaying. It was a lot easier to acquire players and prospects in a trade. Even revenue challenged teams could build a relatively inexpensive contender by ignoring the free agent market entirely.

On the other hand, the new CBA has not made life more difficult for Glen Sather. The Rangers are not at the top of the standings because managerial skill is more important today. The Rangers are at the top of the league because players have a lot more control over where they play and New York is an attractive destination. It is easier to manage in Vancouver because players like Dan Hamhuis will take less to play here. It has become a lot harder for Edmonton – even if Lowe et al made good decisions – because Edmonton will seldom be a player’s first (or even fifth) choice. David Poile has done an amazing job in Nashville, but the Predators are not in on the Rick Nash sweepstakes even though he’d help them more than any other team.

It’s harder today for Kevin Lowe, but it is easier for Mike Gillis. The CBA hasn’t made it more a game of managerial skill – it tilted the playing field against the Oilers and in favour of the Bruins. The job is finding players and that job is now a lot easier in some markets than others.

To bad for Kevin Lowe.

Postscript: I think the best evidence that Lowe is way over his head is that he actually seemed to believe that Gary’s system would work to help his hockey team. It was clear to me that Gary’s plan to save hockey was to drive the best players to the biggest markets. (And it’s working.) Is Lowe even smart enough to realize he was used?

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