Devils & Dust: The Slow Death of The Cardiff Devils

This article has been updated to take into account the events on Twitter last night, after it was written.

Times are not good in Cardiff.

After an off-season of promise, the Cardiff Devils fans have endured a truly painful start to the 2013/14 season, with injuries to a starting goalie not being an ideal way to start a season and a promising few games in the Challenge Cup, the fans in South Wales have seen their team suffer under a leadership regime that’s made increasingly bizarre decisions and backroom unrest that is threatening to tear the heart of of the dragon once and for all.

The hardest hit by this has been Gerad Adams, who has suffered the kind of treatment most hockey coaches and players wouldn’t wish on their worst enemies. In what appears to be a sustained attempt to force him out of the club in his testimonial year, the popular Canadian has seen his season riven by controversial player decisions that appear to have been made by owner Paul Ragan (such as the sacking of top Brit forward and staunch Adams supporter Phil Hill), a sidelining into a token “Head of Player Development” role after initially being moved from a coach to player-only role and a bizarre retirement saga-all of which have prompted former Devils such as Scott Matzka & Mike Prpich to be vociferously critical of the Devils treatment of Adams on Twitter.

Even more strangely, the Devils management and particularly owner Paul Ragan have released a series of ever-more confusing PR’s on Twitter which have further muddied the waters, including denying issuing an ultimatum to Adams while at the same time doing so back in late September and then moving Brent Pope in as “caretaker” coach while at the same time continuing to refer to him by the titles of his several other roles.

Unsurprisingly, Ragan’s actions have made him unpopular with a growing section of the Devils’ fanbase, and around the league the condemnation of the treatment of Gerad Adams has been loud and long, with Pope also taking a hammering, particularly from former Devil Mike Prpich, who has referred to the Devils GM amongst other things as a “snake”.

The treatment of Adams has looked like a more and more blatant attempt to force the coach to resign rather than be fired in his testimonial year, but in doing so and pursuing this course of action Ragan is slowly killing the Devils and doing irrepairable damage to the name of the franchise. Cardiff hockey fixture Neil Francis has already been driven out of the Bay, leaving Adams seemingly standing alone against what can only be described as a concerted campaign against his position-a campaign which appears to be built on little more than a personal vendetta and gets more and more catastrophic for the team and its relationship with the Devils’ fans as the weeks go by.

Speaking of ” irrepairable damage”, this week the Devils have made a public statement in support of Andrew Conboy in one of the most bizarre shows of loyalty we’ve seen in the EIHL- a show of loyalty that looks even more out of place given the following fact:

After his suspension of 12 games for an attempted eye gouge on Belfast’s Jeff Mason last week, Conboy will have been suspended for nearly double the amount of games he’ll have played for this season (19 to 10)

The Devils’ management protestations of “loyalty” ring even more hollow when viewed in the context of their behaviour towards Adams-the hypocrisy is plain for all to see and the Devils fans have been loud in their disapproval.

But in the big picture. the Devil’s treatment of the Andrew Conboy situation appears to be the same as their treatment as Gerad Adams-in the sense it’s not the sort of thing you’d expect from an organisation that wasn’t confused, unsure of direction and seemingly a decision made by a management willing to destroy itself from the inside in order to make a point.

Last night, we saw the latest example of confusing and downright bad management from the Devils ownership. Round about 9pm, tweets started appearing on the Devils official Twitter account @cardiffdevils tagged with the line “FACTS” and discussing players the Devils had tried to sign. One in particular caught people’s eyes with its specific details:

FACTS – NHL 2nd round draft choice in 2005 to Boston Bruins cited family issues as why they couldn’t leave their home country #NHLexperience

Naturally, I looked this up. The 2nd round draft choice to Boston in 2005 was Czech forward Petr Kalus. He’s currently playing in Djurgarden in Sweden. Here’s the press release announcing his signing there last Thursday (in Swedish), in which he leaves Czech team Mlada Boleslav.

So-basically the Devils are claiming they couldn’t sign a player because “he wouldn’t leave his own country” when said player has already signed with a club outside of his own country.

FACT.

I questioned the Devils on these inconsistencies, as have other Devils fans. As of now, no response, beyond a few obviously pro-ownership fans saying that I shouldn’t be bothering with their announcement. Although fairly sure that a team appearing to lie on its public Twitter account about signings (and more to the point not bothering with the simple get outs of either “we got the year wrong, here’s the player” or “we approached him a couple of weeks ago, he’s signed elsewhere since” is a story that most people in the EIHL would find interesting. Certainly it casts doubts on the other assertions on “prospective signings” tweeted on the same account.

It gets worse, though. Devils owner Paul Ragan posted this tweet around 10pm:

Wow few Devils “Militia” active tonight, sure your not steelers fans in disguise! Devils staff, players & true fans stand strong #bigfuture

What we have here, unbelievably, is an Elite League team owner publicly firing back at HIS OWN FANBASE and trying to divide it with divisive rhetoric such as the use of the words “true” fans. Oh yes, and he’s also insulted his former team’s fans in Sheffield (a team he left under less than perfect condition) while he’s at it and accused anyone who questions him of not supporting the club. It’s PR napalm, condensed into a concentrated 140 character burst.

This is the kind of social media faux-pas that can destroy a brand if it continues-and they’re running unchecked, to the point where the fans are showing their support for Gerad Adams by chanting his name in the 55th (his jersey number) minute of every game, home or away. It’s the sign of an owner who may have already lost any grip on good sense.

This is how clubs die.

Right now, whoever in the organisation is driving it, the Devils are on a path that will, as the old saying goes, go to hell in a handcart for no other reason than someone inside the organisation (theories differ on who) is more interested in their own agenda that that of the team’s.

In doing so, they’re treating Gerad Adams in a fashion no coach should ever have to be treated and may well end up tearing apart one of the most successful and long-lived clubs in UK hockey for years to come. They’ve already made it a laughing stock in the eyes of many.

The Devils and their fans deserve far better than that. Whatever is going on behind the scenes in Cardiff, it needs to stop now.

Otherwise, the political maneuvering of current Devils management may well have the destruction of the team on their conscience sooner rather than later.

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