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.
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).