Some Edmonton Oilers’ players are happy they’ve made the NHL, and that, it seems, is enough. At least, so far as they are concerned.
And when their team is sliding like a pedestrian on an ice patch, way too many of them mope instead of doing something positive.
That would be team captain Andrew Ference’s view. Ference didn’t name names. But he did try to point out what ails his team.
Upon hearing this, it looked for a split of a second as if head coach Dallas Eakins was surprised.
Well, come to think of it, he could have been surprised to hear his captain was making such incendiary statements to reporters. That would be the better scenario.
Eakins’ reaction to the revelation seemed to indicate he might be sharing similar feelings with his captain. Still, he didn’t say that. Good for him. If he did, it would fall into the “washing dirty laundry in public” category, a no-no in the world of professional sports.
In fact, washing one’s dirty laundry in public is anathema to any professional, even to those whose job it is to keep a community’s sewage systems in working order.
Of course, Ference’s statement contrasts wildly with what Eakins had to say at his post-mortem. In the head coach’s view, there weren’t any (or was it many?) issues with the players trying their darndest. It was the execution that did them in.
Yes. And the earth is round. (If you they taught you at school it was, just look out of your window. Believe more what you see than what they tell you at school. Wink-wink.)
This trying-versus-execution thing is a two-way street. There are days when you’re trying like there’s no tomorrow, and the result is a pitiful nothing. And then, there are days when whatever you touch works, and it’s almost like a fairy bestowed a lucky charm upon you.
A personal memory here: a guy who used to play for the Oilers and, at that time, was playing for the Philadelphia Flyers, had an incredible scoring streak. Asked to what would he attribute the string of consecutive 28 or 29 goals, he said he wouldn’t dare even think about it. It’s Lady Luck, he said. Yes, but you’ve got to be good to be lucky, no? Don’t even ask, he answered, don’t jinx it. Better tell me what’s new in Edmonton. And no coaxing would get him back to talk about his scoring streak.
So yes, luck does seem to have something to do with it. And with luck comes confidence.
Another personal memory comes to mind: decades ago, the late Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov couldn’t score a goal even if he tried to shoot the puck into an empty net. Asked about it, his head coach, the late Anatoli Tarasov, shrugged. So what? Does Kharlamov create scoring chances? He does. Is the goalie paid to stop him? He is. Don’t you worry about Kharlamov, Tarasov said. One of these days he’s bound to get a greasy goal, and then wait what’s going to happen.
Sure enough. Just one game later, Kharlamov scored a greasy goal, with the puck barely crossing the goal line. That was by the end of the first period. Midway through the second period he had a hat-trick.
Can this happen with the Oilers?
Remember, the accepted wisdom has it that teams that aren’t in the playoffs by the time American Thanksgiving comes and goes can start waiting for the next season. They are toast so far as this season is concerned.
The American Thanksgiving has come and gone. The Oilers are (yet again) the NHL’s bottom-feeders.
One expects the management is beginning to work on speeches that promise bright future next season. If they believe their fans would accept that, they must also believe in tooth fairies. Or they must think their club’s fans believe in tooth fairies. Or any combination thereof.
One third of the seats in the Arizona game was empty. They might have been sold. But they were empty. Only a wild dreamer will believe these seats will be sold come next season. They will remain empty, all right, but they will also remain unsold. Will that be the long-awaited wake-up call?
Andrew Ference may have spoken out of turn, calling out his teammates for publication, but he had the right to do it: in 20-plus minutes on ice, that translated into 25 shifts, Ference had one shot on goal, one attempt blocked by the opposition, two hits, one giveaway and one blocked shot. Not bad for a grey beard, not bad at all.
Will Ference’s call take the Oilers all the way to the promised land? No. They would have to win most (if not all) of their remaining 57 regular-season games to have a chance of making the playoffs. Can anyone in their right mind see them doing it?
Suppose they win the draft lottery. Whom will they pick? The future legend in Connor McDavid, or Jack Eichel (both centres), or will they at long last do the logical thing and grab a defenceman instead? There is at least one whom experts describe as NHL-ready: Brandon Wheat Kings’ Ryan Pilon. Will the Oilers follow the flash-and-dash, or will they (at long last) try to fill their team’s need?
Before anything of the kind happens, there should be an earthquake of major proportions. Gone should be the owner. With him staying at the helm, there’s but scant hope anything will change. An owner who has his biography in the Oilers’ book filled with statements about what kind of a great fan of his team he is has no business being in this business. Remember: professional sports is a business proposition. It’s as far removed from the idea of sports as it can get. Its owner has to run it as a business, not as an old boys’ club.
To be blunt: while Kevin Lowe deserves all the respect he can get, he should be earning it elsewhere by now. While Craig MacTavish deserves the nickname Silver Fox, in his today’s role he’s above his ceiling. And so on, so far as the management group is concerned.
This is not a re-discovery of America. Everybody who knows a thing or two about the economics of professional sports must be aware of this sad state of affairs by now. Everyone, that is, except the Oilers’ owner.
When a hockey team registers 14 giveaways to the opposition’s five, guess whose hopes of winning are more realistic?
But this is just a minor detail in the larger scheme of things.
No amount of moping by the players and/or players feeling entitled is going to change this picture.
The fans staying away and not buying the unacceptably expensive tickets might.