Slippery ... like oil

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:33 AM ET

Last rites for the Edmonton Road Runners were held yesterday at 2 p.m. in the cloak room behind the penalty box at ice level at Rexall Place.

It wasn't an emotional service. We didn't know the deceased that well. But it was honest enough in terms of pulling the plug on the dearly departed.

"Sixty per cent of the Road Runner business was Oilers business, customers rolling over their tickets. It's not a product our Oiler customers want to watch," said Oilers president Pat LaForge.

Translation: With the Oilers back, the Road Runners wouldn't draw flies.

Too bad the Oilers didn't have the same honesty with the fans in the first place.

In the beginning, LaForge & Co. tried to con you that the Road Runners weren't just visiting for the lockout year.

Back when they relocated their AHL team from being booted out of their rink in Toronto, the sell was that Edmonton could support both the NHL team and their farm team, too, and that this was definitely not a one-year-and-out deal.

"We are committed to the American League for another season," said LaForge as late as Dec. 14. "Even if the NHL lockout ends, the farm team would stay 2005-06."

When that was brought up in the form of a question at the press conference to confirm Robin Brownlee's Sunday Sun scoop on the departure of the team, LaForge conceded.

"Good point. Good question."

But he didn't really answer it.

To me, it was a con from the git-go.

SOME TRUTH SERUM

In the beginning, I wrote what Oilers business boss LaForge would have been saying if someone had fed him truth serum: " 'Listen, we don't think there's going to be NHL hockey. We own the AHL team anyway, the team has to go somewhere because of the situation in Toronto. Why not here? But as soon as we have a new collective bargaining agreement ... outta here.' "

In the same column I had a couple other paragraphs that come under the heading of 'I told you so,' but ... I told you so:

"The Oilers organization thinks they can average 10,000 a game to watch Road Runners hockey going against the Oilers? They won't average 10,000 NOT going against the Oilers. How many fans are going to volunteer to go see the minor-league affiliate of some NHL trap team teaching their farm hands the art of killing the game?

THERE'S NO DOWN SIDE

"Don't get me wrong. Bring 'em on in 2004-05. For one year, there's no down side. It makes nothing but sense for the short term. Having the team here for one year will keep a lot of people at the Oilers' office working who would have had to be laid off.

"One year? Hello! Long term? Goodbye!"

From beginning to end I didn't believe the Runners were anything but a replacement product for one season. As a result, I did not cover or attend one single game this past season!

So, today I'm allowed to make the point that this was perfectly predictable and that anybody who really did buy into it has an issue with a hockey club which tried to con them. But let's move on. It would have been worse if the Oilers had believed themselves. The NHL team is doing the right thing in getting rid of the Runners.

"It's about the Oilers," said LaForge. "We have to be ready to concentrate 100% on kick-starting our business. Our heart tells us NHL hockey will be back. We don't want any confusion in the marketplace with what's important. We don't need a distraction to our organization or our customers."

The Oilers don't need to compete against themselves. That includes pursuit of a junior team.

"I don't see us taking our eye off the Oiler ball in another 12 months," said LaForge. "We have to be 100% battle ready to have our fans welcome us back to their world, to do everything we can do. It's going to take time and a lot of work. You can't do that with divided loyalties."

If nothing else, the arrival of the Road Runners telegraphed a year-long lockout. Their departure telegraphs an NHL season.


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