(I was sent this yesterday from an Oilers fan who wanted to remain nameless. It details, from experience, our suffering to come)
Flames fans, I come in peace to tell you in detail what awaits you in coming years. Not just tales of the agony of losing and repeat humiliations over the course of a season with only a single day in June to truly look forward to – you know that already. The smart ones among you have known the day of reckoning was set in motion, that pieces of the future were dealt for last, desperate gasps at a playoff spot. I also bring prophecy of what you do not yet know – the hopes, the fears, the over-analysis, the fretting about events out of not just your control but the team’s. And, in some cases, explanations for what you consider inexplicable.
For starters, you have to wonder where along the rebuild schedule you may be. Edmonton may not have admitted to its rebuild until 2010, but it arguably started with the Gagner draft and continued with the selections of Eberle and Paajarvi in subsequent years. All three have taken their time developing and still have lots to learn. Gagner and Paajarvi were relatively easy picks, but we got lucky with Eberle at 22. How has your drafting been? You may not know for several years – at least six if you’ve followed Gagner’s gradual improvements until his explosion this year. Is Baertschi your Eberle? Or is he the Riley Nash in your system? The Jankowski pick could be a bust like Jesse Niinimaaki or a successful reach.
Prophecy One: You know not the name of thy savior
Most first overalls are the best players in their draft, especially since the mid-2000s and the salary cap, when teams realized they couldn’t just outbid for the best players in free agency with no consequences. Ovechkin, Crosby, Kane, Stamkos, Tavares, and Hall. Those second overalls aren’t that bad, either – Malkin, Doughty and Seguin make good consolation prizes. They’re not the top talent as often though, and while you may get the best player in the draft with any pick, the odds steeply decrease with each step down within the top 5, and then fall off a cliff after that.
Prophecy Two: The gods are whimsical with their cruelty, and April 29th shall precipitate a hasty retreat of thine manly bits
So when that draft day lottery comes, your guts are going to be rumbling and that fog of beer that was hitting you so hard an hour ago suddenly clears up. You will lose your appetite for wings as the NHL taunts you, on live TV, with a mockery, a hideous and downright evil spectacle in which the fate of your team is being decided by a bunch of bouncing balls.
Yet you continue to stare, and then it comes – the Gutshot. You were last, you suffered most, you endured the most humiliation and defeats, drinking $10 beer after $10 beer to choke the pain down. But at 5th overall, the expected Senators weren’t there. That can only mean one thing – they won, they’re moving up from 5th to 1st. You lose, you draft second. Your scouts can’t pick the best player, so the GM picks for need. A wasted year! You won James van Riemsdyk instead of Patrick Kane, Victor Hedman instead of John Tavares. Oh no, what if – WHAT IF … oh no … you know, you just *know* those damn Avs are going to get the first overall. Another team in your division stacking up on primo talent!
… but wait! Drafting fourth are the Devils, instead of drafting eighth! They moved up from eighth to fourth in the lottery, so you get to keep the pick – well, not quite. You see, the Oilers lost in 2011 lottery, and the fans watched that happen. The bar went dead quiet once everyone realized what happened with the Senators being bumped.
Statistically, after the Oilers, the second-last team had the best odds of winning, then the third-last, and fourth-last, fifth-last… and any of them could win the first overall. But back then, teams drafting 6th or higher could move up only 5 spots. For you guys, if another team wins the lottery – any team – they get the first overall. This works for you as well, but by being down so low in the standings, you have more to lose under the system – not just losing first overall to potentially the 9th-worst team in the league, but being bumped from second to third and so on. Or hey, you know how you’re cheering for us to fall short of the playoffs? Just imagine, you get your wish, we don’t make The Show and then, just for kicks, Lady Luck… nah, it wouldn’t happen, would it?
Enjoy April 29th.
Prophecy Three: Blameless is the Prophet, as is thine coach and stars, yet they shall suffer
Bob Hartley’s only sin was signing on as coach this year. The Flames’ prognosis from the hockey media community – and we mocked their predictions too – was 11th-14th in the West. Neither Bob Hartley, Brent Sutter, nor the Most Revered One, Scotty Bowman himself, could have done much to avert that fate. The only thing Curtis Glencross did wrong was be young, skilled, and affordable enough to keep. The only thing Mike Cammalleri did wrong was to be expensive enough, young enough, and not worth enough back in a trade to act as a veteran presence and a cap floor cushion.
Yes, I know it’s difficult to believe judging by the Coyotes and Islanders, but teams do have to spend a minimum amount per season, and it’s substantial – $44m. Dennis Wideman, Jiri Hudler and Roman Cervenka only committed the sins of greed and pride.
Despite all this, heaps of abuse will rain down upon them all, completely unwarranted on your stars and coach, and in amounts far too severe for the free agents who chose money over a good team, or chose to believe they are good enough to turn the TiFlamic around. They are not to blame for your woes in coming years. Ultimately, what you will hate them for is for not being good enough to carry the team, yet you will never consider that the team will no longer be built to win.
Above all, most of you will not appreciate the shelter that these overpaid or not-quite-good-enough star players will provide to your rookies and prospects. The Oilers were a hollow shell without "third liner $7m captain Horcoff" this year, and are a competitive team with him. During the rebuild Horcoff provided shelter for both Hall (centering his line) and Nuge (by taking on the top competition and letting Nuge play second-tier opponents.)
Horcoff was the goat, the shield against the flame that was the fan’s scorn that might have turned on Gagner or other prospects. Horcoff, Hemsky, and to a lesser extent Penner and Whitney weren’t the bums who couldn’t win, they were the shelter in the storm for the growing youth movement. After the collapse in 2009-2010, the team was no longer built to win. The burden is unfair. Yet you shall deny and denounce your stars and veterans nevertheless.
Prophecy Four: The grass is greener on the wrong side of the railroad tracks
Your fanbase will split and argue pettily as never before. It will fragment and isolate into echo-chamber cells. "We’re not big enough!", "This team sucks, might as well play the prospects more!", "We need veterans and depth!", "We need to tank more!", "If we lose any more, we’ll develop a permanent losing culture like Florida, Atlanta, or the Islanders!"
The ideas will split and multiply and become like venomous, spitting hydras – you cut one yapping head down and two more appear – and all shall advocate their Golden Path to success, and they will keep their faith strong by repeating what they believe and reading things that support what they believe. They will point to Holmgren in Philadelphia and his quick rebuild a few years ago, or Brian Burke’s somewhat surprising success in Toronto this year, or the remarkable turnaround of Montreal. There will be those who point North with envy in their hearts but the belief that ours was indeed the Golden Path. Yet others will pray at the altars of Bowman or Shero.
Yet ultimately all those arguments is pointless, because your path will be your path. The Gods of Odds laid their blessings upon the Oilers – to win our three lotteries in a row (ranking 1st, 1st, and 2nd in odds – and yes, you will soon too count standings in draft positions – like 1st, 2nd, 3rd…) – the Oilers had 48.2% chances to win in their first two years (25% + the combined 23.2% chance of the teams that couldn’t win first overall) and an 18.8% chance to win last year. That’s a 4.37% chance of winning the lottery all three years combined – just under 1 in 25. With the current odds, if the Flames finished last three years in a row, the odds of winning would be 1 in 64, or 1.56%.
Your path shall be unique. And not as lucky.
Prophecy Five: Thou art heretics, and thou shall burn and Fail in the same flames thou adorn thyselves with
Ultimately, the reason it has been revealed to me that you will fail is because your owner runs CNRL and thought it was a good idea to build a plant from parts made in one country by one people, send to be assembled by mostly by different temporary foreign wage depressor people from three different countries, in a fourth country, with the permission and encouragement of the former Calgarian mayor and premier*. That kind of mentality leads to parts of your plant burning down and trading Sven Baertschi or Mark Jankowski for picks and pucks the draft before they’re in the Calder running.
Blue collar city Union Pride, Flamers.