Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Old Wives' Club

On June 19, 2006, the Edmonton Oilers took to the ice against the Carolina Hurricanes for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The team was on a high after a crushing 4-0 victory at home to the Hurricanes and a lucky 4-3 win in Game 5 in Raleigh, but momentum wasn’t enough as the Oilers fell 3-1 to Carolina to wrap up the Hurricanes’ first-ever Stanley Cup triumph. Edmonton were predictably deflated by the loss, but in a season where they became the first No. 8 seed to advance to the Stanley Cup Final and saw them acquire the high-profile talent that had eluded them in previous years, heads could be held up high in the Alberta capital for the first time since 1990, the last time the Oilers won the Stanley Cup.

Then, shortly before the draft, the Oilers’ once sanguine position became unexpectedly precarious. Reports were surfacing that All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger wanted out of Edmonton, which would be confirmed days later in an official Pronger trade request. Michael Peca would follow up with a "I want out" declaration of his own, meaning that two of the Oilers’ high-profile acquisitions- acquisitions that were supposed to be the poster child of how the “new” National Hockey League would operate its economics- would suddenly and cruelly be taken away from them. The optimism the Oilers had before the 2006-07 season disappeared in those few crushing hours, erasing much of the hope that Edmonton would finally carry Lord Stanley’s Cup next summer.

Knowing the long-suffering Oilers fans, the developments have to be extremely disappointing since the team is losing its two best players after just being within a step of hockey’s precipice. However, the worst part was that this development wasn’t orchestrated because of the players’ own unhappiness with their situations in Edmonton but because of the players’ wives’ unhappiness with the fact they’re living in a city British reporters once labelled as “Deadmonton”. The situation bears an eerie resemblance to Anna Benson’s tactics with baseball’s New York Mets, who were forced to trade away Benson’s husband, All-Star pitcher Kris, to the Baltimore Orioles simply because they’d had enough of his wife.

For those of you unfamiliar with that situation, Anna once publicly declared that she’d sleep with the entire Mets team if she ever caught Kris cheating on her, presumably after reports came that Kris had actually cheated on her with a friend. She would soon became a subject of derision among Mets fans for her manipulative ways, but Anna would appear in Fort Minor’s music video for “Where’d You Go” in an effort to defend herself. The former Penthouse pinup would state in the video that during the season it’s hard on her because she has to do all the housework herself and that she misses the little things like cuddling and holding hands with Kris. It’s an emotional display for sure, but given her theatrics underlined by her pornographic past, it’s hardly believable.

Now, I’m not here to suggest that Lauren Pronger and Kristin Peca have illegitimate complaints- I don’t know either of them personally so I don’t know for sure if their complaints are valid or simply because Edmonton is not their “dream locale”. However, what’s clear to me is that neither of them understands the business side of their husbands’ profession, just how Anna Benson woefully misunderstood the business side of Kris’ professional career. They should have both known after getting involved with both of them that the possibility of them being traded would and did occur and while it’s unsettling, it’s a part of the business that they have to accept like their husbands do. Expecting them to do differently is unfair to their husbands and ultimately, their team.

For the Pecas, their situation is a little easier given that Peca is an unrestricted free agent and thus he’s better able to accommodate his wife’s requests given that he has the freedom to go where he wants. For the Prongers, the situation is considerably different- Pronger signed a five-year, $31.25 million contract last summer, so presumably the Prongers themselves wanted to stay in Edmonton- otherwise, why would Chris Pronger sign the deal? As harsh as it may sound, presumably once you sign a contract you have to honour it, and presumably Lauren was on board once Chris signed it. If they had issues about staying in Edmonton they should have been resolved then, not now.

Perhaps their complaints are legitimate- these players may not have understood what it meant to play in Edmonton until they actually did- but it’s still an utterly disgusting development. To give the Oilers and their fans false hope that their days of being in the middle of the pack are done and then simply depart the team without a bat in the eye does a disservice to the fans and the team; and what makes it worse is that it’s the wives who made that decision for the players. Like I said before, the players’ wives should have known that trades do happen in this business and thus they’ve got to accept that, even if that brings them to a locale they might not like (unless, of course, the situation is extremely bad, which I do not believe this situation is). Don’t get me wrong- these wives do deserve an input in where their husbands play because, after all, it’s their life being affected too, but they also have to understand that the decision isn’t always theirs in this sport. Peca was smart in avoiding to make a commitment to the Oilers should a situation like this occur, but Pronger was not- he signed a long-term deal and thus he should honour it. If Lauren Pronger had a problem with the city she should have brought that up before Pronger signed long-term with the Oilers instead of now, because now she looks selfish. As for Chris Pronger, he’s at worst a pariah and at best a laughingstock- here was a player noted for being fearless in blocking slap-shots and being a formidable presence on the blueline, yet when it came to standing up to his wife, he was about as fearless as a chicken. Ultimately, the real losers are the Edmonton Oilers, who really deserved much better in going to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006, but perhaps it is they who will get the last laugh. After the Mets traded Kris Benson to the Orioles, they went on a tear to start the 2006 season, starting at an impressive 47-29, while Baltimore were their usual selves in tumbling to a 35-42 start; and wouldn’t it be fitting if the Oilers could rub it in Pronger’s selfish face by winning the 2007 Stanley Cup because that would be the only solace for a summer that shouldn’t have been.


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