As I mulled the trade over in my mind last night, unable to sleep, something more than the poor trade value kept gnawing at me. Then our own Rex Libris tweeted this.
Rex, as he so often does, hits it right on the nose.
“The Rebuild” took many forms, but this path we’ve gone down started in 2010. Brand it however you want, but at the end of the day, it was a contract.
The terms, though not explicitly stated, were simple.
We will become a terrible hockey team. We will trade away our veterans. We will intentionally ice a poor team playing terrible hockey with the stated purpose of losing more games than we win. In fact, we hope to lose more than any other team in the league, for multiple years, so that we can get many high draft picks. Don’t leave us, though. Stay with us on this journey through the darkness. Pay for tickets, fill the seats. Cheer this explicitly bad hockey team.
Why would we agree to such a deal? Were we fools? Masochists? No, for there was the other part of the contract.
Stay with us and we promise you we will deliver you greatness. We will amass such skill as to make all this pain and sacrifice worth it.
We signed off as they sold off assets and the contract was sealed in the 2010 draft with Taylor Hall… the first of the riches that we were promised.
In that way Taylor Hall became emblematic of the Rebuild. He was the symbol of the contract we had agreed to. Endure this pain and heartache and we will deliver greatness.
So we did. We filled the arena game after game. We cheered horrible teams that lost over and over again. We endured The Shift. Bad trades, poor free agent signings. Coach after coach after coach. All for the promise of the greatness to come.
Yet, something happened along the way. Our intentionally terrible team became an unintentionally terrible one. We realized with horror that we did not read the fine print. They never said how long the darkness would last. Fired GM led to fired GM. The Oilers became the butt of jokes that at times extended not just to the team and management, but the city and the fans. Oiler Fans Deserve The Oilers they said, as if our faith and loyalty were to be derided.
Yet, we endured. Just as Taylor Hall did. Top 3 in the NHL in points per game in the last four years. He outscored the opposition when he was on the ice, only to see it all given away when he was off. He endured through six years of a terrible hockey team where, on many nights, he was the only player worth watching. As a reward, his accolades were ignored. Passed over for year-end all-star teams, Team Canada, and even his very character questioned. He was called a cancer, a blight on the team… the cost of being a great player on a poor Canadian hockey team (see: PK Subban, Phil Kessel). Yet, never once did he publicly complain. He was part of that contract. Endure through the darkness and greatness will come.
Given six years, the franchise spun its wheels. It couldn’t find a defenceman in a league where 29 other teams seemed to have no problem doing so. It gave millions to defencemen unable to perform. It gave away other actually good defencemen for reasons unknown.
Then, on June 29th, Taylor Hall was traded.
It’s not just that the Oilers lost that trade by a large margin. It was who was traded and what it signified. The first of the riches that hardship brought us traded for pennies on the dollar, devalued due to the failures of the very people who offered us this contract to begin with.
With the Taylor Hall Trade, we are left with a simple fact. The Rebuild is dead, which means the original contract can not be fulfilled. The original contract was a sham. We filled those arenas, bought those jerseys, cheered those terrible teams… for nothing. We upheld our end of the bargain. We stuck with this team.
It was management that failed us. They did not deliver what they promised.
Now we are faced with a new contract, offered by a new General Manager. Yet, he is surrounded by many of those who offered us the original. They sit with him at the draft table. They are involved in all decisions. Perhaps that is why it sounds so similar.
We know this is a bad trade, but it is a necessary sacrifice. Bear with us. We will bring you greatness. Join on us on this journey. Fill the new arena.
Perhaps this time will be different. We have new riches, greater than before. New promises, a new leader at the helm.
Yet June 29th, 2016 is less, to me, about the future than it is about the past.
A little over 6 years ago, we signed a deal. Oilers fans, no matter what tier, gave ourselves to this team with the promise of riches. We may enter a new contract with new hope, but one thing is certain. We will never get those six years back.
Management betrayed us.
The Taylor Hall Trade is the symbol of that betrayal.