Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Prendergast Fired... Oilers Reach New Low

The Edmonton Oilers announced late this afternoon that GM Steve Tambellini has fired Assistant GM Kevin Prendergast ending the executive's 20-year association with the organization. While the decision does not shock me, I wrote back in January that I felt this outcome was pretty much inevitable, I am stunned and disappointed with the classless nature with which it was carried out.

Recently there was a lot of talk about Sportsnet writer Mark Spector's story that quoted Sheldon Souray's request to be traded. More to the point, the timing of the story was what some people had an issue with - the fact that Spector sat on the information until such time that the player was OK with the story being published.

Mainstream media in town quickly came to the defence of Spector (not that he needed it) explaining that sitting on information until the right, or appropriate time, happens on a regular basis.

Allow me to bring that thought back to today's news that the Oilers have gassed Kevin Prendergast.

(See the last couple of paragraphs for some thoughts on information that came my way late on Wednesday night.)

Thanks to the last bunch of years covering Oilers prospects for Hockey's Future, I've had a pretty good relationship with the scouting staff. I've had the good fortune of speaking with Prendergast and his ensemble of talent watchers about the prospects in their system and about players in their draft year. I'm far from alone; lots of media guys in town do the same but because of my previous association with HF I think it's probably fair to say that I was covering that subject matter more than the beat guys who obviously concentrate on the NHL product.

In the interest of full disclosure - I like Kevin Prendergast, he's been a reliable source over the years and I've certainly benefited from that relationship. He's guested on The Pipeline Show whenever we've asked for him including several in-studio appearances in the off-season. I remind you of this because I know full well that thanks to my previously written articles in his defence, there will be many who won't see this as unbiased.

That said...

Today I called Prendergast to get an update on a few matters starting with this summer's prospect camp. He's the one who first instilled it into normal off-season routine for the Oilers and is the guy who has planned it each June or July for the last several years.

Suffice to say that it didn't take more than 30 seconds before he filled me in that he was let go by Steve Tambellini last night. Knowing my call about prospect camp probably appeared like a veiled attempt at getting a comment about him being fired, I apologized and confessed to not having any idea that it had happened.

I have had countless "off the record" conversations with people in the Oilers organization over the years and many with Prendergast himself. I'm sure every other media person in town has their own vault of "off the record" information too.

So when Prendergast asked me to keep it to myself for a few days because his family is out of town and he wanted them to hear it from him as opposed to a news report... obviously that's something I'm going to oblige him on. Out of respect for a person who's been nothing but professional to me, of course I'd have no problem keeping quiet "Until Saturday".

I bet the talk Spector had with Souray went a similar way, ending with a gentleman's agreement to stay silent until it was appropriate.

Prendergast informed me that he'd made the same request to the organization; to allow him a few days to meet with his family so that he could be the one to break the news to them. Despite that, a mere four hours after I had my conversation with Prendergast, the Edmonton Oilers issued their press release telling the world they'd gunned him out the door.

Prendergast, who was fired last night in the lobby of a Toronto hotel after taking in the Kitchener Rangers/Windsor Spitfires game with Tambellini and scout Brad Davis, didn't get that chance to tell his wife Bridget or their kids Matt and Britt on Saturday as he'd planned; a family friend who saw, read or heard the news called her to offer moral support.

Now I don't know about you but I find that to be completely unprofessional, bush league behaviour from an organization long considered to be on a level of CLASS all their own.

Where was the harm in holding off on the press release until Monday? You'd already fired the man, all he wanted was the chance to tell his family in person once they all returned to Edmonton this weekend. We're talking about someone who started working for the organization when the NHL was still a 21-team league and yet the organization couldn't afford him a little courtesy and grant his 3-day request?

How about the press release itself?
"We would like to thank Kevin and his family for their contribution to the Oilers organization over the past 20 years. We wish him all the very best in his future endeavours", said Tambellini.
Two sentences? One for each decade of service I guess.

Listen, it's not my team and I'm not the GM. Steve Tambellini has every right to run his ship the way he sees fit.

Like I said, I'm not even surprised by the decision and I sure don't think Prendergast will be the only current employee to be shown the door before next season. I'm on the record with my opinion that Prendergast was not someone who should be fired but I'm also quite aware that my stance puts me in the vast minority.

Still, I would be shocked to learn that I'm the only one who thinks the organization should be embarrassed with how this was handled.

A level of CLASS all their own is right but this time... this can't be seen as a positive one.

ADDITION: There is a theory circulating that suggests Edmonton Journal scribe John MacKinnon came across the news and had decided to run with it and in response to that impending Journal story, the Oilers opted to issue the press release.

That makes sense although I know that no one from the organization contacted Prendergast to give him the heads up that the story was breaking and that they couldn't keep a lid on it after all. Although not the ideal situation he asked for, at least the tip off would have given KP time to call and break it to his family over the phone instead of having them learn of it from an outside party.

I have not spoken with John MacKinnon and by no means should anyone get the sense that I think he did something wrong by Twittering what he had learned; that's his job and he does it very well.

If it's true that the organization decided to make the announcement official only because the story was about to come out in the Journal, then I can understand that and would downgrade my comments above (the "unprofessional" and "bush league" remarks).


Gord said...

I agree - nothing would have changed if the Oilers waited three days for the news release.

Nothing except giving a fired employee some dignity & the opportunity to talk to their family in person.

Bryanbryoil said...

Yup, carry ourselves with class so that people will want to play for us and be part of our organization. Oh we don't? They don't want to come here? Must be the weather, not the people running the sinking ship.

oilerdago said...

Guy, you're right that after 20 years Tambellini could have given him 3 days to let his family know.

But in the GM's defense, this is the first time he's been able to make an "assessment" in less than a few months and he felt it was necessary to make the break and let the world know about it.

Congratulations to Daryl Katz and the rest of the Oilers organization on another great move for the org. I'm not going to say that I'm surprised that KP got shown the door and he did not do the best job. But give the man a little dignity? Nah, after 20 years he's not entitled.

May Tambellini experience the same one day...what goes around comes around.

jon k said...

This offseason keeps getting more embarrassing for this organization and the actions of Tambellini seem largely to blame.

I'm on board with Prendergast losing his job but this strikes me as an entirely classless move by the organization.

jon k said...

This offseason keeps getting more embarrassing for this organization and the actions of Tambellini seem largely to blame.

I'm on board with Prendergast losing his job but this strikes me as an entirely classless move by the organization.

Kevin said...

The lobby of a hotel?! He doesn't even get a private meeting? Could this not have happened in the GM's office in Edmonton? 20 years and you get the boot in a Motel 8 3,000 kms from home? What am I missing here?

Let me guess, if they had a new arena, they would have had the office space to have a professional exit interview.

You win, universe, I miss Kevin Lowe and EIG...

Late So Early said...

So who leaked it to John MacKinnon then? He had it first from what I saw, definitely before any press release came out. They couldn't wait three days once people started reporting it.

Gray said...

Very seldom do employees whom are about to be terminated get to leave on their terms, let alone get a 3-day request approved...this wasn't an unprofessional or bush league move...please no more drama. KP needed to go.

baleener said...

I think you're a little biased here. You said he was going to tell his family on Saturday. If he still hasn't told them as of Wednesday then what is the organisation supposed to do? They waited 4 days for KP to tell his family. I wouldn't expect the Oilers to keep track of whether KP had told them or not. I know if I had been fired, I would have talked to my wife in the first 3 days. And I'm sure the Oilers assumed he had.

Firing him in the lobby of a hotel on the other hand is pretty bad. That should have been done better.

Guy Flaming said...

@ LateSoEarly - that seems to be the working theory, that the story was coming out so the team decided to send out the release.

Still, no one gave KP the heads up on that either which they weren't obligated to do but would have been appreciated I'm sure.

@ Gray - we'll agree to disagree then.

@ Baleener - He wanted to tell them in person, couldn't do that until Saturday when they return to town from vacation. I think that's reasonable.

baleener said...

Sorry, maybe I've missed something here. I just re-read the post. Was this announced on Saturday or today (Wednesday)?

If it was announced Saturday, then I rescind my last comment. :)

Guy Flaming said...

@ baleener - He was fired Tuesday night in Kitchener. He asked if the team could wait to officially announce it until after he had the chance to speak to his family in person (this Saturday).

Wednesday afternoon the news came out on Twitter and was soon confirmed by the Oilers via press release email.

MikeP said...

Gray, other organisations doing something doesn't make it right, it just makes it common.

The Oilers like to pretend they're uncommon.

Well, they're something all right.

Every day I find myself questioning more why is it, exactly, I follow this team.

mr_sackich said...

Guy, I really don't know if there is a graceful way to fire an employee.

For sure you have to do it as soon as you make a adecision because you do not want it to be leaked to him. This would explain why they did it in the lobby.

Also, I think the Oilers did him a huge favour by trying to keep it quiet for 4 days. That is very unusual and beyond what is nromally done.

Out of curiousity, if you knew this was probably going to happen, don't you suppose KP and his fmaily also knew? Since they had to know it was strongly possible, it make little sense that he couln't tell them over the phone.

Vic Ferrari said...

Good article, Guy.

Lowe and Tambellini had to tie the can to someone. Last year it was obvious that it was going to be MacTavish, this year it was obvious that it was going to be Prendergast.

Oiler upper management is in full survival mode, now. Which is sensible, I suppose. Nobody else in this world is going to pay these guys a fraction of what they are earning now.

One wonders how long Katz will continue to let Kevin and Steve man the wheel of the good ship Oiler. I suspect that he's smarter than we realize.

hunter1909 said...

Blah. he was sacked, and it's up to him to tell his family.

People are hypercritical of the Oilers, and rightfully so, but they owe this guy nothing. They gave him a great life for 20 years, and he had to go, and got canned. Big deal.

I've had to tell people their parents were dead, right out of the blue. It's not fun, but, the sooner you do it the easier it ends up.

I hate the Oilers mismanagement more than most, usually, but this time I think the whole thing stinks, pilloring the Oilers for this. Pendergrast should have just told them on the phone. It's just silly.