Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Bruce Garber will indeed step up to the podium at the Oilers' press conference today.

Meanwhile, Garry Unger will coach the Birmingham (well, Pelham) WHA2 team. A nice shot of credibility for them, though I can't help but wonder, did he ask himself, "WWJD?" before hitching his wagon to that old devil Taylor?

Since posting yesterday, I was asked two questions:

1. If the Oilers only offered Unger an underwhelming contract, how'd they land a guy with Garber's resume?

2. Why shouldn't we hold Garber's ECHL stint against him?

Well, first of all, there's a difference between giving someone a new contract, and giving Unger, who had done so much for the team at (allegedly) less than market value, an extension.

But c'mon -- the real truth is the Oilers didn't want the guy to coach again, but also didn't want to take a PR hit for firing him, or subject a good man to that humiliation. So they made him an offer he had to refuse. Unger practically said it was gonna happen minutes after the season ended. There was then talk of a front office position, but only talk.

So now we get to Garber. He's good, but let's not overestimate his value compared to what the market is. Given his past two seasons in Columbus, he wasn't about to land another ECHL job. The ACHL and WHA2 don't offer any more in the way of money or security, and there's no UHL team tossing around the big bucks either.

He needed to be back in the CHL, where his reputation matters. And given its location, tradition and '02-'03 record, Tulsa was the best thing available (which would be true even if the Saints and Cotton Kings jobs were still open).

Whether they dug deep into the vault or not, give the Oilers credit. They knew this was a critical decision. The die-hard Tulsa hockey fans need to see some playoff action, while the casual crowd needs to see the excitement such success creates. They needed people to go, "good hire!" instead of "who's he?"

As far as Garber's ECHL failure, just imagine: it's June, 2001. The Cottonmouths owner calls him up and says, "Hey Bruce, great job getting to the finals, that was one hell of a Blazers team we ran into, and oh yeah, now we're going to be in the ECHL. So you've just lost most if not all of your players, the quality of your roster will depend greatly on an affiliation and you'll be competing against 17 teams you've never seen before. Go recruit!"

Garber may be guilty of not making adjustments in his second year, but he didn't suddenly forget how to coach. Returning to the CHL should be like putting an old sweater on.
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