So let me see if I’ve got this straight, John MacKinnon of the Edmonton Journal: on a week when Kevin Lowe is being beaten up by several hundred thousand hockey fans for taking Michael Nylander’s agent at his word and not waiting for a signed piece of paper, you’re now seriously suggesting that he should have just trusted that nice Darcy Regier when he was told over the phone that the Sabres would match any offer for Vanek?
Despite denials from Lowe on Friday, this looks like another attempt to convince an increasingly agitated fan base, and rival NHL teams, that the Oilers will be bold in their efforts to plug roster holes big enough to drive a convoy of Hummers through.
In the wake of an underwhelming foray into the unrestricted free-agent market (they did sign goalie Mathieu Garon), including the botched attempt to sign centre Michael Nylander, this offer caper smells like a “nothing-to-lose” gamble that the Oilers’ bundle of unspent free-agent mad money would finally do some productive talking.
But how bold is it to make a pricey play for a 43-goal scorer like Vanek when you know you won’t succeed? Which Lowe knew in this case, since he and Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier spoke Thursday night before the offer was submitted.
“I guess he didn’t believe me,” Regier said by telephone. “I gave him all the reasons why he shouldn’t do it and why it would be fruitless.”
Leaving aside MacKinnon’s touchingly naive faith in self-interested ass-covering statements by NHL general managers, Regier doesn’t explain why it is Lowe’s business, or any GM’s, to smooth the financial arrangements for a competitor. The fan cares about wins; wins are zero-sum, so front-office collusion, for better or worse, can’t possibly help everybody, and it doesn’t look very much like it has been helping the Edmonton Oilers. Ownership cares about keeping player salaries down, which is not a zero-sum game, and which is furthered by collusion. (As for ticket prices, you all know from Econ 101 that those are set by supply and demand independent of production costs, right?) This distinction between fan interests and owner interests, which ordinarily does not create open contradiction, is nonetheless inherent. Since the Journal is in fact an owner of the Oilers, its employees can perhaps scarcely be faulted for attacking Oiler management from the standpoint of an owner; but why pester the newspaper reader with an argument that almost explicitly has nothing to do with his own values and interests?