Wednesday, August 29, 2007

K Lowe: The New Mike Milbury

Directionless. Impulsive. Short-Sighted. Temperamental.

All these adjectives certainly describe "Mad" Mike Milbury's reign over the New York Islanders through most of the 90's and 00's. Now that Milbury is absent from the annual golf meetings ... errr.... general managers meetings, we can now easily slide these descriptions over to Edmonton pariah Kevin Lowe.

Now, how did this happen exactly? K-Lowe as a player for the dynasty Oilers was a calming influence on the ice for almost twenty NHL seasons. Smooth and poised, the bilingual K-Lowe slid into Glen Sather's throne in Oiltown with ease and had the enthusiastic support of the fanbase. Why would he be any different in the GM's chair than he was on the ice?

In fact, K-Lowe had it all, well almost, just a short year ago when his team signed Chris Pronger and Mike Peca and marched all the way to the Cup final with a K-Lowe acquisition in goal, Dwayne Roloson. Then the bottom fell out. Big time.

Pronger demanded a trade and Lowe gave it to him, acquiring two promising players in Ladislav Smid and Joffrey Lupul. Smid turned out to be good but Lupul flopped in his hometown. In fact, the whole team never recovered from Pronger's absence and fell to the bottom of the league.

This made Lowe panic. The whole Ryan Smyth farce was the first true sign of "Milbury Madness". Smyth was willing to sign a contract with the only team he's ever played for but Lowe was balking at the money. Instead he dumped him to the Islanders for prospects Ryan O'Marra, Robert Nilsson and a first rounder. There were reports that many other GM's would have offered much more to Lowe but were not aware that Smyth was on the market.

"I want to be very clear that making this trade today is a hockey decision. It was not financial" said Lowe the day of the trade. Curiously, Lowe then spent the first portion of this summer trying desperately to re-sign Smyth for more than the same amount of money he balked at previously because team and fan morale were at an all time low without their heart and soul. To top things off, Lowe was unable to lure any free agents to Edmonton during the initial signing craze so he panicked and dealt Lupul and captain Jason Smith to Philadelphia for underachieving prospect Joni Pitkanen. Steve Staios immediately grumbled to the media that the players were unhappy with this trade, further eroding morale in the organization.

Then Lowe decided to start cherrypicking other team's players by offering not one but two monumental offer sheets to Thomas Vanek of Buffalo and Dustin Penner of Anaheim respectively. He woefully misjudged the Vanek situation. Buffalo had already lost Chris Drury and Daniel Briere and were not about to let Vanek go with so much cap space left to play with. Buffalo even told Lowe directly that they would match but Lowe bulldozed through, achieving only the ignomous feat of driving up salaries across the league. Lowe finally realized how to utilize the offer sheet system by nabbing Penner from the cap challenged Ducks.

So where does that leave the Oilers? Basically nowhere. Most publications are picking the Oil to miss the playoffs. Sheldon Souray was the lone impact free agent to sign in Edmonton but that's because Lowe offered what no other team would dare: five years and $27 million. The Oil do have some good prospects in the system and could contend in the future but it seems like the Oil have been doing that since 1995. Finally breaking through to the final in 06 should have pushed the team into regular contention but instead the rebuilding continues.

If Lowe had just seen the signs and paid Smyth in the first place, then maybe other players could point to the stability and skill of the Oilers and want to play there despite the travel and the weather. Trading two heart and soul players within months of each other can only lead to erosion in the locker room - the exact same thing that Mike Milbury did year after year in Long Island. Let's hope that Kevin Lowe just had a bad year (along with his bad haircut: dude, you're bald, just shave it down to the bone and get it over with) and gets the Oilers back to where they should be - kicking Flames butt.

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