All Hell Let Loose: What’s Going On In Cardiff?

There is discontent rumbling in the Welsh valleys.

The Cardiff Devils, a team I picked (somewhat optimistically, it appears) to be league champions this season appear to be a team riven by infighting, disarray and confusion, at least looking at them from the outside.

Granted, the Welsh side haven’t had the easiest of starts to the season-the injury to starting goalie Dan LaCosta only a couple of games into preseason and the resulting uncertainty over who to replace him with (backup Joe Myers and emergency recruit from Hull Greg Blais shared the time in the end) can’t have helped Gerad Adams’ task in any way, shape or form.

But today sees the latest in a series of confusing announcements by the Devils, as British forward and local boy Phil Hill is, out of the blue, released.

On the face of it, this is one of the weirdest decisions of the EIHL season so far. Hill has played all but one of of his 13 career seasons in Cardiff, is one of the top British point scorers in the Elite League era and is close to a point-per-game pace in the Elite League, as well as being a man who bleeds Devils red having been born in the city. He’s also an established GB international-a British player most teams would kill to have on their roster, and has 9 points in 12 games. The announcement by Cardiff today will no doubt start a scramble for his services as it’s extremely rare that a Brit of his quality comes onto the playing market once the season has begun.

The reaction from both Devils fans and former team mates has been immediate. Sam Smith, Bari McKenzie, Mike Prpich and Alex Symonds to name but four (all former Devils) have expressed the opinion that Hill is the unlucky victim of a scapegoating session from those within the Devils, with some fans questioning whether the decision to release the Welshman was made at coach or management level.

Indeed, with even opposition players such as Sheffield’s Jason Hewitt denouncing Cardiff’s decision as “crazy” you have to wonder just what on earth has motivated it.

And then, you look at the rest of the Devils’ season so far and begin to wonder-at least from the outside looking in there appears to be some serious contradictory agenda-clashing going on within the depths of the Big Blue Tent, as Gerad Adams makes decisions that give the lie to his abilities as a coach that has taken the Devils to every playoff final weekend in the EIHL every year of his tenure.

This season we’ve seen Adams moving players to unfamiliar positions (moving one of the Devils’ top goal threats Max Birbraer back to defence, for example), and player decisions made very quickly indeed (Adam Ross, for example, was given only four games before being shipped back out of the door in favour of Jake Morrissette, and now Hill is gone with only nine games played).

But even more intriguing than the on-ice work from Adams this season (which so far hasn’t got anywhere near the Devils’ hopes with the Devils a lowly 7th in the league and only 5 wins in 12 games) is the seeming power-struggle or mind-games being played by Devils owner Paul Ragan.

The most obvious example of this is “The Ultimatum That Wasn’t”…an incident that saw WalesOnline’s sports reporter and respected journalist Terry Phillips report that Adams had been given a month to change the teams fortunes or he’d be sacked, claiming that Adams had been summoned to a crisis meeting with owner Paul Ragan and GM Brent Pope that week.

This was then followed by an angry reaction from the Devils chairman Ragan, who first castigated Wales Online for “publishing a story without authorisation” (which if nothing else shows an incredible lack of awareness about how news reporting works in this particular case) and then releasing a rambling statement which first claimed there was “no ultimatum” and that the “fourth by November” criteria was simply “a benchmark” and then firing out this quote a few lines later:

However, I will be clear, the On-Ice performance must improve, and it’s time for Gerad and Neil to prove why they warrant so much faith from me and the fans that they can and will deliver.”

And this one-in which, incredibly, Ragan manages to contradict himself within two lines and issue what looks very like a “get better or go” ultimatum at the same time:

No, I do not want to make any coaching changes

Yes, I will make coaching changes if results don’t improve considerably.

Oh yes, and while we’re at it Ragan also takes a veiled pop at the Devils fans for seemingly not having enough ambition and being willing to accept mediocrity, unlike him:

It may be that some fans are content with not winning anything, finishing mid table and believing that there is some inbuilt “monkey-on-our-back” which makes it ok to accept the sympathy of “poor old Cardiff, coming up short again.” That mindset or approach is not for me fortunately and nor should it be from our fans if they truly care about what is good for their beloved Cardiff Devils.

(above italicised quotes all taken from the page “Official Statement – Devils Chairman” published on cardiffdevils.com on Oct 2nd 2013).

Right now the Devils are a club who seem to (at least to outsiders) have an unclear power structure, a coach unsure of his position and an owner willing to either stealthily and cunningly use the media to undermine his coach (if you take the harshest view of Ultimatumgate) or one lurching from one PR faux pas to another (even if the WalesOnline story was a misrepresentation of the Devils’ management beginning to put pressure on Adams, the statement that was supposed to deny the pressure was increasing actually all but confirmed it).

Now today we have one of the “faces” of the Devils, a top British player and one of the most popular amongst the fanbase released, in a decision which seems to have very little rhyme or reason to it, and a fanbase wondering just who is actually making the personnel decisions for the team right now-a question which, more and more so, is beginning to be asked outside the valleys too. Including by me.

These are confusing times in South Wales, where rumour and counter-rumour abound…Gerad Adams is battling an owner who seems all too willing to speak up in defence of his own work while simultaeneously passing blame for any failure on to the shoulders of a coach who is looking more and more beleaguered as time goes on. Already there is talk within Cardiff that the Phil Hill release is part of a campaign to force Adams out from person of persons unknown within the club…Paul Ragan himself is the name being mentioned by many.

Whatever the motivation, and whoever is responsible, after rumblings and the confusion of Ultimatumgate, the release of Phil Hill is the clearest signal yet that something, somewhere is very wrong in Cardiff this season. Whatever it is, they need to step up and sort it out quickly, or the Red Army may be torn apart by the actions of its leaders.

If something isn’t done soon, though, and any issues at the top sorted out, then whoever is leading them, the Devils faithful and Gerad Adams may be being led on a one-way trip to hell.

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