Bob Lutz

Thunder might need change in ownership

I hate to pile on, but what's up — or more accurately down — with the Thunder?

Three wins in 33 games going into a game tonight at Allen, Texas? Really?

This isn't just bad, it's embarrassing. I went to the Thunder's final game at the Kansas Coliseum last Saturday night and kept my coat over my face. When I ordered my hot dog at the concession stand, I disguised my voice.

The Thunder's loyal and loud fan base — this hockey franchise has been around now since 1992 and has a rich history — is reeling. And this team's performance is inexcusable.

From the top down, the Thunder should be ashamed of this product, especially considering that since 2004 the front office has had a good idea that the hockey team would be a major tenant of the 15,000-seat Intrust Bank Arena someday.

Well, guess what? Someday is next Saturday, when the Thunder will take the brand-new ice at IBA to play its biggest rival, Tulsa.

If the team was better, I would think that at least 12,000 would jam into IBA to get a glimpse. Now I don't know what to think.

How the Thunder got to be this bad is not the relevant point. How does it dig out from this hole?

Who should go? Who should stay? What does team owner Horn Chen think?

It would be nice to know, but Chen, a Chicago businessman who makes most of his money in bamboo and real estate, is incommunicado with the media.

"I talk to him a few times a month,'' Thunder general manager Joel Lomurno said. "He's a busy man.''

Even the busiest man, it seems, would want to do something about a hockey team that is floundering the way the Thunder is floundering.

Sure, there have been a few minor trades in the past couple of weeks. But it's difficult to make meaningful moves in the heart of a season.

So the Thunder will take the worst team in its history into one of the nicest and definitely newest facilities in all of minor-league hockey in a week.

Talk about not capitalizing on the moment.

The Thunder had years to prepare for this move. But the team has been unable to find a suitable replacement for Derek Laxdal, who left as the team's coach after the 2004-05 season, when the Thunder was 40-17-3.

Mark French had a good first season as coach, but since 2006, the Thunder's record is 73-145-16 under four leaders. That's more than a trend; it's a signal the franchise has lost its way.

I'm not blaming Lomurno, who is still relatively new as a GM after many years with the organization, although I do think he should have replaced Brent Bilodeau as the coach after last season instead of bringing him back for nine games this season.

Lomurno deserves to run the Thunder with an involved owner, which is definitely not the case now. Chen might have been good for the franchise at one time, but the Thunder would greatly benefit from local ownership.

Lomurno has acknowledged an owner with local ties would be helpful, but hasn't indicated when or even if such a change might happen.

The guy I feel sorriest for is Thunder icon Jason Duda, one of the best players in team history. He's been out of the lineup with a bad back most of this season and was asked by Lomurno to take over as interim coach after Bilodeau's departure.

Ever the team guy, Duda agreed and has the black eye of a 20-game losing streak to show for it.

"I don't think anybody could imagine that this would happen when they put the team together,'' Duda said. "There are no answers for what's going on right now.''

Duda is recovering from minor back surgery, but will be on the bench for the Thunder's opener at Intrust Bank Arena. And he vows to do what he can to make the team better the rest of this season.

Beyond that, he doesn't know much.

"I think local ownership would be great,'' he said.

Yes, it would. And with the Thunder's deep ties to the community and strong support, it seems as if somebody should be willing to buy the team.

Duda, who has been a Thunder mainstay for 14 years, said he has talked to Chen, the current owner, once.

"It was in a parking lot and just a, 'Hi, how are you?' sort of thing,'' Duda said.

The franchise needs more than a "Hi, how are you?'' kind of owner. The Thunder needs an owner who has his eyes on the team.

That's where a recovery has to begin.

  Comments