Bakunin in the blues -

Bakunin in the blues


A couple of weeks ago, Colleague Gohier mentioned to me with Colleague-ly sympathy that the 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers must be difficult to cheer for. They’re in last place overall in the league, and even after last night’s victory in L.A., the race to the bottom is not close. This is unfamiliar territory for most of the remaining Canadian teams—very unfamiliar indeed for Oiler fans. Few of you outside Winnipeg have any reason to know this, but it’s actually kind of fun in some ways.

It’s not that this version of the Oilers is a gang of colourful lovable losers like the ’62 Mets. “Unlovable losers” might be closer to the truth. But when your team is this bad, there’s a refreshing absence of delusions. You can watch with total detachment, and hate sincerely. No apologizing to yourself for despairing at the way so-and-so kills penalties or the way Mr. X (or, let’s say, Mr. O’S.) won’t battle for the puck. You’re free to loathe the players on a last-place team for their salaries; no, they really aren’t earning their money—it’s right there in the agate type. (Incredibly, this abominable roster is costing the team every cent of the salary cap. They spent to the max and got the min.) And remember all those front-office mistakes you hated at the time? Turns out you were right: they were mistakes, and the outfit is run by idiots. You really could run a hockey team that was no worse than this!—there’s nowhere to go from 30th but up!

Edmonton is a hockey city that was crying out to be nuked—a rotting, ill-ventilated museum for the ’80s Oilers, who grow ever more prominent in the team’s marketing even as the front office conspires to demolish the perfectly adequate building they played in. The reward of the philosopher’s suffering is clarity, and Oiler fans are finally ready to confront the emptiness of two decades of excuses for almost unrelieved mediocrity (excuses parroted by a captive press corps now facing its own credibility crisis, as fawned-over free agents and prospects shatter horribleness records). Remember when the Oilers were bad because of the exchange rate? Remember when they were bad because there was no salary cap? Remember when they were bad because of the inefficient, cumbersome consortium-ownership model? Even the injury excuse has been overused so much in recent years, it amounts to crying wolf. The ’09-’10 Oilers really have had bad luck with injuries, as long as “bad luck” is defined to include signing a run-down 36-year-old goalie to a huge contract in a buyer’s market and having nothing but beer-league backups available.

In the face of all this, it remains literally true that there is nowhere to go but up. If you count Sam Gagner, who is only 20 and is already unstoppable some nights, the Oilers appear to have a legitimate nucleus of first-class prospects. And they’re about to add a #1 or #2 overall draft pick to the mix. This is by virtue of being unspeakably awful, but it’s nice that the league arranges things so that high draft picks follow periods of revolutionary ferment.


Bakunin in the blues

  1. I was hoping for some tyranny of the state (of Edmonton hockey) references.

    Not just the tyranny of lowered expectations, which will haunt for a while.

    The talent will come though and in a couple seasons the bright lights will shine again, as they are in L.A. and Washington.

  2. Don't most periods of revolutionary ferment end with new leadership? This is going to be like if the Bolshevik Revolution resulted in the installation of Nicholas II as leader of the USSR.

    • Alas, some end in counterrevolution.

  3. the Oilers appear to have a legitimate nucleus of first-class prospects

    They say that every year. I remember hearing that about Pisani and Cogliano and any number of average players.

    According to
    they are number 21 out of 30 in terms of prospects. Not good for a last place team.

  4. Anyway, HF ranks organizations on depth, among other things, and my point is not that the Oilers are especially deep in talent, but that they finally have a few convincing blue chips. Gagner can probably now be reasonably expected to become a star; Eberle has doubters, but his WJC performance presents a massively convincing credential; Pääjärvi is putting on an extremely impressive display in his age-league context; and pretty soon we'll have Hall or Seguin. The pressure's spread around a little bit, for once.

    • Don't get me wrong, I hope you're right. My comment about "they say that every year" is from seeing the pundits over-estimating the Oilers potential in the past, and this year proves that they really were over-estimating.

      I'm tired of seeing American teams win all the cups since 1993 (although as a Habs fan I relish watching the Maple Laughs falter). We need the Canadian teams to do better.

      Penner's turn-around this year is huge – they need to get off his back when he had that recent dry spell.

      Gagner looks like a solid player. Players like Horcoff and Moreau are over-rated and they need to stop paying such players too much money. Same with Comrie. They should dump those players and load up on draft picks.

      Hall or Seguin will be a huge addition.

    • Check out this stat: Penner is +3 on a team that is -54! Now that is something.

  5. Look up Linus Omark's clips on youtube. It'll give you sOiler fans reason for reliving those wet dreams…

    • You're kidding, right? You think we're excited about the second coming of Rob Schremp?

  6. Jeez, good thing you're not a Leafs fan…you'd be on a suicide watch!

  7. Pisani was drafted 195th overall. You really heard a lot about him as a potential star, did you?

    • I specifically remember watching late night playoffs (late night for me, prime-time in Alberta) Cuthbert commentating an Oilers game TV raving about Pisani and his emerging stardom.

      So, I guess a lot of that statement came from the west coast TV guys and their analysis (mostly CBC).

      • …Cuthbert commentating for an Oilers game on TV…
        Cuthbert loves any team that comes out of Alberta (and every player on that team), no matter the sport. In general, his comments have the same information content as Don Cherry's, except Cuthbert sounds like he left his tighty-whiteys in a meat locker all afternoon. There is not a broadcast Cuthbert is on that can't be improved by turning off the sound.

    • When used in comment threads, "I remember" is a literary device, not a statement of fact. (Also, even Cogliano had a pretty short run of being considered a "first-class" prospect, the entirety of which was while he was playing in the NHL.)

      • When I say "I remember" I am literally remembering something I read or heard from the sports media. And you can take it any way you like, as fact, fiction, genius, or unsubstantiated crapola.

        • I'm betting your recollection of Chris Cuthbert gushing about Pisani dates back to the Stanley Cup run and the first few games of the year that followed, when Pisani became a scoring machine in the playoffs, used that to sign a ridiculously high contract in the offseason, and almost looking like he might live up to his potential at the start of the next season. After that, he, like almost everyone we sign, flamed out spectatularly.

          As for the current team, a friend of mine recently remarked that our first line has the quality of a second line, our second line is like a third line, and our other lines are fourth lines at best and AHL-quality at worst. Simplistic, but I mostly agree with his assessment.

          • It is an oversimplification. If only because we've had Taylor Chorney in the lineup 20 times and he is well below "AHL-quality".

  8. You say "they're about to add a #1 or #2 overall draft pick to the mix" as if it's a certainty. I wouldn't be surprised if they ended up trading the pick for, I don't know, Chris Chelios.

  9. My God, are you seriously complaining to a readership that is, lets guess, about 30% Leaf fans? You are not – emphatically not – qualified to address this topic from the perspective of the home team fan.

    • The explicitly stated theme of this piece is that IT IS FUN AND KIND OF REFRESHING to cheer for a mediocre team that suddenly turns very terrible and makes radical change possible. Oh, Internet, you always astonish me with the frequency at which the "read before commenting" rule is ignored (and obviously there is no hope at all for establishing a "read twice before commenting sarcastically" norm).

      • You're not that smart, brother. Yes, I did read it and, yes, I saw that little piece you reference. Which, in my estimation, is not a good reflection of the overall tone of your post (which, frankly, I enjoyed).

        My point (oh, journalist, you always estonish me with the frequency at which you dispense sanctimony toward those who would dare to take issue with your writing) is that you were complaining and, if there is one set of Canadian NHL fans aged 30 and over who simply have no right complaining, it is those who reside in the Alberta capital.

        To be clear about a couple of things. One, I love hockey and, my guess is, you do too. That's cool. Two, I rather enjoy your writing and your opinions. It's just that this time you've lost me. Live in Toronto for about 15 years and you'll know what I mean.

  10. "Revolutionary ferment"? They just pickle in revolution until finally they have a nice hint of oak? What?

    Methinks you meant "foment". In either case, I for one am glad to see the Oilers getting their heinies kicked from one end of the league to the other.

  11. Being more a voyeur than fan, i enjoy watching guys who do care crying the blues about 'their" team (Team Canada IS my team for the next 10 days or so). A local friend is a die-hard Oil fan (giant flag on truck, every imaginable piece of Oil paraphenialia on his work station etc) and seeing him dying slowly as the season has progressed has been great fun. As a true sports fan who cheers for the Riders only, I am familiar with masochism, so my interest isn't clinical…just shared misery I guess. As hat tip to you Colby, it's nice to see a political guy who isn't a complete dork.

  12. A bit of a tangent, but one part of your article seems to be generic. When I substitute my town and sport team names, it’s as if it was written specifically for them. Watch:

    “Edmonton is a hockey city that was crying out to be nuked—a rotting, ill-ventilated museum for the ’80s Oilers, who grow ever more prominent in the team’s marketing even as the front office conspires to demolish the perfectly adequate building they played in.”

    “Portland is a basketball city that was crying out to be nuked—a rotting, ill-ventilated museum for the ’80s Blazers, who grow ever more prominent in the team’s marketing even as the front office conspires to demolish the perfectly adequate building they played in.”