Tag Archives: Andrew Ference

Craig MacTavish claims he’s got an alibi … but what about his club?

This is called alibism at its best: surrounded by media hawks, most of them out for blood like a bunch of sharks, Edmonton Oilers’ general manager Craig MacTavish told them his club plans to stay the course because what he’s doing makes sense. If there were anybody to blame, it would be his predecessors in office. Craig MacTavish’s got an alibi: he’s been in office – your choice: 18 months? 20 months? – to sum up, not long enough to be blamed for the state his club is in.

Who’s to blame? Of course, Craig MacTavish’s immediate predecessor, Steve Tambellini, comes to mind first. Next in line: the guy who hired Craig MacTavish in the first place, one Kevin Lowe. If we were to read anything of importance into MacTavish’s “media availability” Friday (what’s wrong with “news conference,” anyway?), the other person to blame would be the Oilers’ owner, Daryl Katz.

From what is known, owner Katz’s new right-hand man, former Hockey Canada poohbah Bob Nicholson, has been closeted with Lowe and MacTavish the last few days, trying to figure out how to right the ship.

Like: what else is new?

If what MacTavish told the media gathering was all the Oilers’ top honchos had come up with, it was much ado about nothing. The club is starring in a frightful comedy of errors (to stay with William Shakespeare’s plays a bit longer), and all its general manager has got to say he’s got an alibi, and besides, it takes more time. In all fairness: case studies show that, indeed, to completely rebuild a professional sports club (or any corporation that size, for that matter) takes not only a dollop of patience, but also a bit of time. Say, anywhere between five and six years. Not much longer, not much less, either. These case studies, of course, deal with rebuilding operations that go from top to bottom.

Did you notice the qualification: from top to bottom?

And that’s what the Edmonton Oilers have been trying to avoid all along.

Bob Nicholson’s eyes are the only set that has come from the outside, and even that begs a question or two: Kevin Lowe has worked with him, on and off, on Hockey Canada’s projects for years. Meanwhile, another boy from the bus, one Mark Messier, has been involved in what ought to be a rescue operation (and isn’t), too.

Nothing against the boys from the bus in the past. They have achieved what they have achieved, and they deserve to bask in all kinds of glory for their past victories.

Except: all of these victories have happened in the past. Not only that: in distant past.

Where to start?

There are several issues at play here.

Number one: there is no quick fix in sight whatsoever.

Number two: with the owner they have, Oilers are content they are making money hand over fist, some of it from masochistic fans who continue to support the team despite hearing from the club (in not so many words) that the Oilers aren’t worth a cent of their hard-earned bucks. Some of the money comes from city government that, for reasons of its own, is robbing its employers (read: the taxpayers) so the Oilers get a new arena. Both sources are welcome, so far as Daryl Katz is concerned.

Coming up with a better product? You’re kidding, right? RIGHT?

Number three: the Edmonton Oilers lack what in the lingo of professional sports has been known as either a franchise player (John Tavares, anyone?), or a generational player (Sidney Crosby, anyone?) In fact, we can safely say they lack both. To their defence, let it be noted there were no such players available in the last several drafts. Still, with many other teams picking gems in later stages of the draft, the question remains: have the Oilers scouts not learnt how to do their homework?

Now, of course, selecting young players is a gamble comparable to deciding the sex of one-day-old chicks. But: picking Steve Kelly, for example, rather than Shane Doan? Please … This goes to show that even the Winnipeg Jets knew better than the Edmonton Oilers in 1995. Kelly went to the Oilers as Nr, 6 overall, Doan to Winnipeg as Nr. 7. Where’s Kelly now? Retired, just like another Oilers’ draft flop, Jason Bonsignore (1994). We all know that Doan captains the Arizona Coyotes now and is doing quite well, thank you very much.

So, the spotty draft record the Oilers own is really nothing new.

What is new is that not many have noticed the Edmonton Oilers haven’t got one single leader on their team. Sure, they have a captain in Andrew Ference, a guy who can be vocal when it comes to that, but also a guy who wasn’t better than Nr. 5 or 6 defenceman in his earlier incarnation with the Boston Bruins. While it’s a given that a captain does not have to be the best player on a team, still, his word should carry the weight of on-ice example.

It is also somewhat surprising that the Oilers haven’t got a bona fide Nr. 1 centre. Yes, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been trying his darndest, and he’s quite good – at being a Nr. 2 centre, not Nr. 1. Similarly, Leon Draisaitl, the Czech-turned-German centre who has been working on the second line with mixed success, would have been much better off back in the WHL. And so would have been the Oilers, if only they could afford it.

Oilers in real danger

For whatever reason, Craig MacTavish didn’t mention the unmentionable, but it exists, and it’s beginning to spread. It’s the fact that more and more fans have been turning their backs on the Edmonton Oilers, choosing to spend their entertainment money elsewhere. It’s called dropping or abandoning the brand, and it’s the worst thing that can happen to a business.

And, remember, professional sports, NHL hockey included, is a business.

Fans (read: customers) abandoning the brand was what cost his job Mike Gillis last summer in Vancouver. It took only a botched goalie trade and whatever followed.

Vancouver fans were more nit-picky (read: more intelligent) than their Edmonton counterparts.

The Edmonton Oilers, once a proud NHL franchise, have become the league’s laughingstock. Their general manager, trying to push the recipe of more of the same down his club’s customers’ throats, saying he was innocent of the bedlam, didn’t help matters one bit.

His club’s only hope: Edmonton Oilers’ fans would be stupid enough to continue buying what this group is selling.

Edmonton Oilers should NOT feel sorry for themselves: it’s their fans who suffer

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.

Oil Change closes its season April 20

The times, they are ’a-changin’ … and so are we. If Bob Dylan, the American songwriter, ever thought the idea was his, he could hardly be more wrong. Still, he was right.

What differs is the way we remember changes, no matter how significant or otherwise.

It could be a poem set to music. A song, in other words. A novel of hundreds of pages.

Or, it could be a documentary television series about a professional sports team that shows its viewers that those finely tuned and shaped bodies belong to people with their own minds and emotions.

And that’s what this season’s final installment of Oil Change, the award-winning series about the Edmonton Oilers, will tell us.

It airs on Sportsnet Sunday, April 20, as follows:

  • EAST & ONTARIO – 9 p.m./ET
  • WEST – 9 p.m./MT
  • PACIFIC – 9 p.m./PT

First replays on Monday April 21:

  • EAST & ONTARIO – 12:00 a.m./ET
  • WEST – 12:00 a.m./MT
  • PACIFIC – 12:00 a.m./PT

We can expect more replays on Sportsnet, and on the NHL Network, later on.

With season’s end, it’s time for some reminiscing. In fact, reminiscing helps put matters in perspective.

Let’s begin with this minor fact of major proportions: compared to the same point last year, more than half of this season’s roster has changed. General manager Craig McTavish did, after all, promise that there would be changes galore under his command.

He has been as good as his word, and this installment of Oil Change is documenting it in considerable detail.

Thanks, Smytty

With Ryan Smyth announcing his retirement after all these years, a behind-the-scenes tour of the memory-filled trophy room in Nr. 94’s home delivers a meaning all of his teammates, past and current should remember. Come to think of it, Smyth’s future teammates would do well to keep it in mind, too: he’ll remain an Oiler no matter what, it’s in his blood.

Taylor Hall, captain Andrew Ference, several other key players and MacTavish share some candid and insightful final reflections on this season and next.

A retrospective look at all those who’ve donned an Oilers jersey in the past four seasons of Oil Change forms another chapter of this season’s finale.

This episode starts where the previous one ended: at the trade deadline. Oiler veteran Ales Hemsky (the team’s first-round draft pick in 2003) is gone. So is veteran blueliner Nick Schultz. They were traded to Ottawa and Columbus, respectively, for draft picks. Victor Fasth arrives from Anaheim, to share the goaltending load with Ben Scrivens.

Just to make sure nobody forgets it, fate deals the Oilers a few more blows. Ryan Jones, Jesse Joensuu, Anton Belov, Andrew Ference and Nail Yakupov are all out of the line-up. Injured. One and all.

There are reinforcements coming up from AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons. Anton Lander, Tyler Pitlick and Will Acton get return trips to Edmonton, while rookie defenceman Oscar Klefbom makes his long-awaited NHL debut and quickly shows he’s not out of his depth up in Edmonton. Except: the OKC Barons are in a tough battle to secure one of the final AHL playoff spots, and the call-ups don’t help he Oilers’ farmers much.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Oil Change will deal with the memories of this season, one that can be called – without any exaggeration – season from hell.

See you in front of your TV Sunday night.

What ails the Oilers? Oil Change looks for a diagnosis

So what is this thing called professionalism all about, anyway?

Does it mean that whoever performs whatever job gets paid for it, and that’s it?

Not one bit of that.

Professionals, real professionals, that is, are paid to perform their jobs to certain standards, day in, day out. They never ever sink so low as to perform under that set standard. And true professionals accept, too, that once they exceed a standard, that becomes the new standard that they have to perform to day in and day out.

That’s what professionalism is all about.

And that’s what the fifth episode of Oil Change is all about, too.

It aired early evening Sunday on Sportsnet, with first set of repeats scheduled for broadcast for Monday, March 17, thus:

Sportsnet EAST & ONTARIO – 12 a.m./ET

Sportsnet WEST – 9 p.m//MT

The fifth segment of Oil Change opens with assistant coach Steve Smith and Oilers captain Andrew Ference leading young Edmonton kids through a hockey practice, while the Stanley Cup (the REAL thing) arrives in their dressing room. The kids’ expressions upon their return to their dressing room to see every hockey player’s dream trophy right there – where they can touch it and have their pictures taken with it – are priceless.

And so are the gems of wisdom Smith and Ference share with them. They speak of years of self-sacrifice, of hard work, of team work, and of individual effort, and their words carry substantial weight. Both their names are engraved on the cup, after all.

Cut: Ference and new arrival Matt Hendricks are trying to define what has gone wrong with their team that many (local fans, at least) thought would be contending from now onwards all the way to eternity, to say the least.

Judging by the fact each of the two speaks in different environments, it would be quite safe to assume they are expressing themselves independently of one another. And yet, what they are saying and how they are saying it can hardly be much more similar.

What the Oilers lack is consistency, Ference and Hendricks agree. While they concede that some would say that it may be due to youthful exuberance, they reject this notion forthwith.

Here, they are perfectly in tune with their head coach. Dallas Eakins told all and sundry prior to the opening of this season last October that he hated anybody calling this club young. It would be a built-in excuse, he insisted, and he could hardly be more perfectly right.

Hendricks put it best: it’s one thing to play beautiful attacking hockey in your opponents’ zone, but that alone doesn’t win you hockey games. Playing from one backboard all the way to the other, with the entire team subscribing to this plan, that is the only way. From the way he said it it seems not all members of the team’s “talented future core” have yet signed on the dotted line that this would be the only way they would be playing from now on. As Hendricks put it, that would be the only way to play hockey the right way.

Neither Ference nor Hendricks did (or could) offer ways how to solve this conundrum. Neither of them holds a doctorate in group psychology, either.

But what they said was serious enough to force the other guys on the team to sit up and take notice.

A serious documentarist must be able to know what it is that is the most important issue concerning their subjects.

Aquila Productions crews quite obviously are keenly aware of the biggest issue the Oilers face. They approached what they kindly called “lack of consistency,” but what some others might call less charitably “lack of professionalism.” They tackled it with all seriousness. It couldn’t have been too easy for the two veterans, either, to speak on the record as frankly and sincerely as they had.

Hats off to both sides: the people in front of the camera, and those behind it, too.

The fifth episode of Oil Change captures much more than game highlights or unusual behind-the-scenes occasions. The meeting coach Eakins arranged for his young defenceman Martin Marincin, to meet Boston Bruins’ (and Team Slovakia Olympic squad) captain Zdeno Chara was touching, and so was the visit by a couple of Oilers’ players with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in his New York office. And the scenes surrounding the wheeling and dealing around deadline day were breathtaking.

Thanks to the Olympic break, the Oilers’ management, and an Aquila Productions crew, hopped on the chance to spend some useful time with the Oilers’ farm team, the Oklahoma City Barons. Some eye-opening conversations with players most in the know view as coming up to Edmonton in the very near future. Open, frank insights from Barons’ coach Todd Nelson, as well as observations from Oilers’ GM Craig MacTavish.

All of this leaves the viewer much better informed.

But the gist of it all was and is elsewhere.

Such as: where are the Oilers going? Are they aware of the challenges they face with their consistent inconsistency that only a most forgiving person would describe as a sign of immaturity? Do they realize that they happen to have a window of opportunity right now because two of their most respected players have recognized the trouble and are willing to risk their necks by talking about it openly?

This episode, as has become the series’ habit, has turned the spotlight on the issues, with its usual mastery of their television documentary craft.

For fear of repeating oneself: crisp camera, sharp editing, a lot of action (it’s hockey, after all, the fastest team game on earth), no overwhelming verbiage, great music selection, authentic sound.

And an insight into a hockey team to end all insights into a hockey team.

Oilers fortunes at a crossroads in Oil Change’s fifth episode

Now that the dust has settled and we know who brought gold from the Olympic Games and who will remain on the Edmonton Oilers’ roster till the end of the season (at least), it’s time to reflect.

The fifth installment of Oil Change will help us do exactly that. It will air on Sportsnet, both on the national and regional networks, Sunday, March 16.

As has become a useful tradition, re-broadcasts will follow.

The newest episode will go along several tracks.

The first one inspects a development not many outside of the team thought they could expect: the Oilers have begun heating up, and all that amidst one of the harsher winters on record. Yes, any thought of this season’s playoffs seems to be gone, but not the fighting spirit. It may be a sign of things to come next season, but, in any case, the arrival of goalie Ben Scrivens, high-energy forward Matt Hendricks and hard-nosed blueliner Mark Fraser seem to have had more impact than many would have anticipated.

These moves happened even before the Olympic break so, officially, they do not count as trade deadline acquisitions. Except, there was a roster freeze in effect during the Olympic Games, so, why not be a bit more generous, right?

Three Oilers went to Sochi, Russia: Ales Hemsky to play for the Czechs, Anton Belov for the Russians, and Martin Marincin for the Slovaks. The few games after the Olympic break would be Hemsky’s swan song as an Oiler: he would be gone on trade deadline day to the Ottawa Senators.

But the new goalie, Ben Scrivens, would endear himself to the team and its fans even before the break: an NHL-record, 59-save, 3-0 shutout victory over the San Jose Sharks would do that for you.

Oil Change used the Olympic break to send its crew down to Oklahoma City and see how some of the younsgters are doing. They weren’t the only ones to make the trip to see the Barons, the Oilers’ AHL affiliate: general manager Craig MacTavish was on hand, too.

While Oil Change was there to report on the progress of people like Martin Gernat, Oscar Klefbom and Tyler Pitlick, MacTavish’s role was a tad more involved. The idea was for him to see, first-hand, the depth of his organization so he knows what moves he can (and can’t) afford come the trade deadline day.

You can be excused if you hadn’t known, but now you will: the Oilers’ Andrew Ference and David Perron dropped in by the NHL New York office on the club’s day off during their eastern swing, and they got to chat with the commissioner, Gary Bettman, himself.

This episode of Oil Change will take us all the way through the trade deadline day. We’ve all heard the rumours, and we know now what’s actually happened. Thanks to this episode of Oil Change, we’ll know how it happened and why, too.

And while we’ll be digesting the latest documentary by the award-winning (and Edmonton-based) Aquila Productions, they will be hard at work on the next segment.

Such is the life of documentary filmmakers: it doesn’t stop. And neither do they.

Surrender? Never! Oilers tell Oil Change’s newest episode

It’s a long and winding road, to be sure, but the Edmonton Oilers are not giving up on this season: they are not out of the playoffs yet. Not mathematically, that is.

And they tell this season’s third episode of Oil Change that they still have faith in themselves. It airs Sunday at 7 p.m. on Sportsnet West, 9 p.m. on Sportsnet East, Ontario and Pacific.

Just use your fingers and toes, the Oilers seem to hint: three wins, one loss, and again, three wins, one loss, and they’re in, and once they’re in, we all know, it’s a brand new season.

Why are you laughing? What they are talking about is a plain .750 winning percentage, nothing a good team can’t achieve.

That’s what history tells us, after all: last time the Oilers made the playoffs, with Ales Hemsky’s end-of-season heroics, they went all the way to game seven of the Stanley Cup finals. They would lose by one miserable goal (empty netters don’t count).

The tragic thing is they would never make they playoffs since then. The fact the winner that season, the Carolina Hurricanes, didn’t make it the next season either doesn’t count.

Oil Change is a series now in its fourth season, with a cult-like following growing by leaps and bounds. This time, it goes behind the scenes to remind us about a few shockers that had happened between the previous episode and now.

First, the shocker: Ladislav Smid, out of the blue, is gone. And not to just somebody. He goes to the People’s Enemy Numero Uno, the Calgary Flames. Why? So the Oilers can bring in Ilya Bryzgalov, a goaltender with a proven record, unlike the current Oilers’ Nr. 1, Devan Dubnyk.

That Bryzgalov brings in a bit of a baggage? Whose baggage is it? Definitely not Bryzgalov’s.

The fact he knows more about modern applied science than do most sports reporters (or reporters in general) is definitely to those reporters’ detriment, not Bryzgalov’s. And that he answers a question whether he’s afraid of his former NHL club’s next opponent by saying that he could be afraid of a bear he might encounter in a forest, not of a hockey team, well, now, that’s simply funny. Alas, it’s also something reporters who embellish the quote and make fun of it never grasped. Whose issue is that? Definitely NOT Bryzgalov’s.

In any case, Bryzgalov’s arrival seems to have stabilized the goaltending position to a degree.

A bunch of Oscar-aspiring Hollywood writers wouldn’t be able to script the next item on the agenda. Young defenceman Taylor Fedun shattered his femur in a freak play in an exhibition game in 2011. Many feared he would never make it back to professional hockey. Yet, here he is, scoring his first NHL goal in his first NHL game.

This episode of Oil Change, just as many other episodes, takes us also on a few of much less publicized events. These are events that might deserve more attention than some of the games. They are less agonizing, to say the least. Wide-eyed kids at an Edmonton French immersion school who enjoy forward David Perron’s reading. Team captain Andrew Ference who grabs several teammates as they go toy shopping for disadvantaged children. And they also visit youngsters who attend the Inner City High School in downtown Edmonton.

Watching the brand new episode of Oil Change might turn out to be precisely THE pre-Christmas Sunday evening well spent. Try it.

Was October a month from hell? Oil Change lets you be the judge

If the Edmonton Oilers ever become as good as the documentary series, Oil Change, that has been following them for the last four years, they’d be sitting pretty on top of NHL standings.

The second episode of this season’s show aired on Sportsnet Sunday night. As has been the network’s habit, we can expect repeats throughout the month, till time for the next episode comes in December. Viewers south of the 49th parallel can catch it on the NHL Network. Come to think of it, it airs on NHL Network in Canada from time to time, too.

October was a month from hell for the Oilers, and Oil Change doesn’t sugarcoat it. But its behind-the-scenes looks do give us a key to a more detailed understanding of what does and what doesn’t ail the club. After all, most Oilers’ fans had known for a fact that their beloved team has turned the corner, at long last. Not that we should begin sketching Stanley Cup parade routes right away, but the optimism was palpably there, and pre-season games seemed to confirm it was well-founded.

Guess what: it wasn’t, and experts who warned in their pre-season assessments that the Oilers still had a ways to go must have noticed something that the fans haven’t.

What was it?

Oil Change lets head coach Dallas Eakins try his own explanation. Whether it is really valid, Oil Change wouldn’t say. It is a documentary, after all, not a soapbox for commentators.

In any case, according to Eakins, some of the system changes might be difficult to adjust to as it is, and players’ muscle memories might encounter hard times trying to do the coach’s bidding. As he put it, a player might be trying as hard as he can to do what his coaches told him to do, but – from time to time – he might slip to old and tried habits whether they used to be successful or not. That, says Eakins, is quite understandable. Changing muscle memory simply takes time.

To the show’s credit, not all is doom and gloom.

Joey Moss celebrates his 50th birthday, and Oilers’ players prepare a celebration in style: they gather in Ryan Smyth’s house and surround a wrestling rink where two professionals fight, much to Moss’s enjoyment: professional wrestling is his second-most popular spectator sport.

Much laughter and joy. So much laughter and joy, in fact, that a viewer might ask: are these guys whistling as they walk past the graveyard?

Not really: they go out and deliver a present that Joey Moss must be enjoying the most: down by three, on home ice, to boot, they end up defeating the New Jersey Devils, vanquishing Martin Brodeur in the shootout.

It is most unfortunate that they do not continue winning on a more consistent basis.

All the nibs are in agreement that what ails the Oilers at the moment is inconsistent defence and even more inconsistent goaltending. Oil Change investigates whether the U.S. Marines are coming, and if so, when and whence. Its Aquila Productions crew visits the Oilers’ AHL farm team in Oklahoma City just in time to witness how its group of young defencemen is settling down, signing living quarters leases, practicing and playing. The Barons’ GM Bill Scott is of the view that some of his club’s defencemen are getting quite close to being ready for the show, while head coach Todd Nelson provides further details.

Young defencemen Milan Marincin and Oscar Klefbom tell us what the Oilers’ coaches have asked them to do to get ready for the show.

An almost forgotten name pops up: Oil Change visits with goalie Tyler Bunz. He is now playing for the Bakersfield Condors of Bakersfield, California, an ECHL affiliate of the Oilers. The 2012 Del Wilson Trophy winner for the best goaltender in the WHL (Medicine Hat Tigers), picked 121st player overall by the Oilers in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL draft, is even more removed from the NHL than his colleagues in Oklahoma City, but he’s fighting hard, with his eyes firmly set on his life goal: making the Oilers.

One trend where this season’s Oil Change differs monumentally from its previous three seasons: its crews spend more time with individual players outside of the rink, telling us their stories.

Many might have heard of Andrew Ference’s obsession with the environment, but watching him work in his basement, preparing the right mix for compost to be used in his backyard next spring, now, that’s a sight. And spending time with him and school children, with whom he shares a presentation on what happens to our garbage after it’s been taken away by garbage trucks, as enlightening a scene as can be.

Also: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins meets his brother Adam in Montreal. Adam is five years older than the Oilers’ young centre. He studies kinesiology (some describe it as treatment by movement) at Concordia University. He also became a regular defenceman on the school’s hockey team, Concordia Stingers. As a walk-on, too.

The older brother helped his younger sibling with his rehabilitation practices over the summer, trying to help him recover from a shoulder surgery. But, they both agreed, laughingly, other than that, they’ve always competed. And Ryan says it was his older brother’s example that made him the player he is today.

Many a fan is asking: what’s wrong with Nail Yakupov? This segment features the two games that his coach sent him to watch from the press box, but Oil Change found Slava Malamud, a Russian journalist with the Sport-Express newspaper who attended a few Oilers’ games. Malamud has been watching Yakupov since the young phenom’s junior years, and he offers some precious insights.

This episode is, again, a fast-paced production, filled with the sounds of the game, including the chatter on and off the bench (sub-titled, on occasion, so we know precisely what is said), great music selection, only a few words of narration, sharp camera work and editing.

Great entertainment, not only for those who love hockey in general, and the Edmonton Oilers, in particular. A fascinating teaching tool to help us understand what makes a team tick (and what doesn’t, too).