Tag Archives: Dallas Eakins

Edmonton Oilers’ woes self-inflicted

Edmonton Oilers should petition the NHL for a minor rule change of major proportions. They should be allowed to decline the advantage of power play whenever an opposing player is whistled for an infraction.

Not out of generosity. Out of self-preservation instinct.

Including Thursday’s game in Denver, the Oilers have given up eight (count them: eight, which happens to lead the entire league) shorthanded goals.

Come to think of it, the empty-netter in Los Angeles two nights earlier should count as a shorthanded goal, too. The Oilers were on a powerplay, called Ilya Bryzgalov off, played six-on-four, didn’t create a single serious chance, and got scored on as the penalized Kings’ player hopped on the ice, got the puck and sent it into the Oilers’ empty net. The Oilers were playing six-on-five skaters at the moment, so, to some theoreticians, it might count as a shorthanded goal, too.

Colorado’s empty-netter with Devan Dubnyk on the bench, raises the same question.

Considering the Oilers haven’t played a full half of this season yet, this is a considerable ratio of futility.

The league should accommodate the Oilers. After all, did it not, decades ago, change rules just to stop the then-Edmonton club’s abuse of their opposition in four-on-four play, when an Oiler and an opposition player were sent off simultaneously? It’s called the Reijo Ruotsalainen rule, after the Finnish defenceman the Oilers would bring over from Europe for the playoffs. He would wreak havoc amongst other teams in four-on-four play, and the NHL saw fit to put an end to it. It created the rule that said that if two opposing players are to be penalized simultaneously, teams would continue playing five-on-five. Much to the Oilers’ chagrin, and their opposition’s relief.

While that decision was quite understandable, what’s going on with the Copper-And-Blue squad these few past seasons isn’t. And that includes some surprising statements directly from their coach Dallas Eakins. He seems to be running out of explanations and positive spins. How about this sample: the Oilers concentrate better and, thus, play better against teams that are better than they are.

Let’s ignore the fact that despite what Dallas Eakins calls better and more concentrated play, the Oilers still end up losing.

The question is: and pray elucidate, how many teams in the NHL are actually worse off than the Oilers? Since professional sports are about results, standings are the only acceptable standard.

Let’s not even go there, lest we remember former Vancouver Canucks’ coach Harry Neale and his perfectly shocked admission that his club didn’t know how to win at home, and it didn’t know to win on the road, and it was running out of places where to lose.

What now?

For those who know, there’s an opening for a Delphic oracle. File your applications forthwith, and good luck.

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).

Oil Change’s second installment this season features October from hell

The first month of this NHL season was a month the Edmonton Oilers would rather forget, and that’s putting it mildly.

Oil Change, the television documentary that has been following their ups and downs with unique backstage looks, for the last four years, will provide us with more insights Sunday, Nov. 17, on Sportsnet.

Here are the times as provided by Sportsnet: 9 p.m. Eastern time on the East and Ontario regions, 7 p.m. Mountain on the West region, and 9 p.m. Pacific on the Pacific region.

Write these times down as this upcoming episode promises a lot for Oilers’ fans to frown upon. But it promises moments to enjoy, too.

Of the 14 games the Oilers played in October, nine took place on the road, six of them in the east, a region where the Oilers have traditionally had difficulties.

Why?

Who knows?

In any case, their head coach Dallas Eakins has maintained throughout the ordeal that his club is better than its October record seems to indicate. Whether he knows something the rest of us don’t, only future will tell. It would be good, not only for the Oilers and their fans, but for Eakins, personally, too, if he is right.

As is the tradition of Oil Change, we’ll see in this episode scenes mostly hidden from general view when and as they happen.

For example: a morning off in Montreal, with top centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and his brother Adam, a student at Concordia University. Or the Oilers celebrating their beloved, long-time dressing room attendant Joey Moss’s 50th birthday with a laugh-filled pro-wrestling show at Ryan Smyth’s house. Or a group of the team’s young stars having some four-wheeled fun in the parking lot outside Rexall Place during a TV commercial shoot for Ford. And a glimpse of some young prospects on the Oilers farm teams in Oklahoma City and Bakersfield, as they are chasing their NHL dreams.

Many fans could be forgiven if they ask: who are these guys? Mark Arcobello, Will Acton and Luke Gazdic, classic underdog success stories, all of them. Or fellow rookie Anton Belov, who passed up much bigger money in Russia’s KHL this year to try to make a name for himself as an NHL defenceman. That he might earn himself an invitation to join Team Russia at the Sochi Olympics in February would be an added bonus.

And what’s wrong with Nail Yakupov? The first overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft has been struggling as an Oilers sophomore, ending eventually as a healthy scratch for the first time in his starry career.

Edmonton’s award-winning Aquila Productions has created the entire Oil Change series that has developed a healthy, cult-like following across the entire North American continent.

If previous seasons and installments are any indication, we have great television to look forward to.

Edmonton Oilers’ improvement must come from within

It’s not in the coaching. It’s not in the management, either.

It’s inside the room.

That’s the simple, straightforward explanation of Edmonton Oilers’ seemingly unending woes.

The team consists of a mix of players, some of them better than others but still, all of them capable enough to play in the NHL. Does it need an overhaul?

It’s two questions in one.

Yes, a good goaltender, one capable of stealing games here and there at times when the rest of the team is playing as if under anesthetic, might help. Devan Dubnyk never really got the chance to prove or disprove the notion he’s a legitimate Numero Uno. Last season’s 48 games were not enough, this season’s opening weeks didn’t show him in the best of lights, either.

On the other hand, why should a team need goaltenders who act as thieves, instead of having a defence capable enough to help the beleaguered netminders out? Does such defence consist only of the three pairs behind the blue line? Should it not include all five players on the ice at any given time?

Fine. And now: how does a general manager go about getting such help?

The NHL (just as any other professional sports league) is about cutthroat competition. Fans can clamour for all kinds of help, coming up with scenarios galore. Hockey commentators can be throwing rumour-based innuendo around pretending they have inside information till they are blue in the face. So?

One thing we know for sure: professional sports leagues are not about one club helping another out of whatever mess it finds itself. If the Oilers went, for example, for Shea Weber (or any other player, use your own imagination), the Nashville Predators (or any other team, use your own imagination) would be demanding (compile your own list of first-overall draft selections in Oilers’ silks).

Craig MacTavish is a smart guy. He must know by now that saying on the day of his appointment to the job that he was impatient equalled premature ejaculation.

Besides, and that’s another angle, dismantling the team right now, so early into the season, would not only be counterproductive. It would be an admission that everything he (and his predecessor, Steve Tambellini, too) has done thus far was abject failure.

First of all, it wasn’t. It’s NOT a bad team that the Oilers have put together so far as quality of individual players is concerned.

And secondly, even a person as brutally honest to himself (and about himself) as Craig MacTavish couldn’t do THAT. Not now. Not yet, in any case.

So, the composition of the club is more or less a given, with waivers, demotions and promotions now and then not changing the picture as much as some would want.

Coach Dallas Eakins is running a squad that is what it is. He’s shown enough flexibility, to be sure, and enough self-confidence, to be willing to drop a defensive plan that had no hope of working (it’s called, for whatever reason, swarm).

There can be no doubt that he and his associates and assistants keep telling the players: first and foremost, do not permit any two-on-ones or three-on-two against. Bravo, yet, during the recent home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs the Oilers outshoot the visitors by an almost two-to-one margin, and yet they end up being blanked. And not only blanked. Losing 4-0 is known in some circles as shellacking.

Eakins would later say he could understand one of the goals: the Oilers were attacking, their shot rang of the post and next thing they knew, the Leafs were counter-attacking. The other three goals … well, even that one goal Eakins said he understood should not have happened. How come the Leafs were that much faster on the puck? Were the Oilers not supposed to be the fastest team in the league?

And, most importantly, how come the Leafs enjoyed so many two-on-ones and three-on-twos against the Oilers? Have they got players who are that much better than the players Oilers have? Absolutely not. Yes, their goalies seem to be performing better than whoever the Oilers throw to the wolves in their net on any given night. Still, again, it’s about team defence, not about one position only. And the Leafs performed much better than the Oilers as a team.

And therein seems to be the main challenge.

The Oilers have been going out of their way for years, decades, indeed, to make individual players feel they are a part of the team. You can use all those trendy words such as team bonding and whatever other psychobabble there is, the Oilers have tried them all. In fact, one is tempted to believe that the Oilers are the best friends, one and all with one and all. Except, that’s exactly the one thing that doesn’t matter one iota. As the famous Dutch footballer Johan Cruyff said on a number of occasions, he can hardly care less if or when his linemates have birthdays or family anniversaries or whatever, he doesn’t give a hoot about being bosom friends with them, all that matters is that they understand one another on the pitch. There’s something to be said about this approach: professional sports are not about good, clean, healthy fun, professional sports are about winning, and nothing but.

So, anyway, the coaches have obviously told their players what to do and what to avoid. And yet, the players didn’t do it.

After the Leafs game, Dallas Eakins came into the news conference room apologizing for the club’s tardiness in opening the dressing room doors to the media: the players, he said, had a little fireside chat, and that caused the delay.

Perhaps they should have invited some master psychologist to join them in a session of group therapy to help them figure out why they know what to do and don’t do it.

Even though, come to think of it, not even Sigmund Freud would have been of much help. Not even my namesake, Alfred Adler, would.

The only people who can turn things around are the players. They already cost several good, knowledgeable people their jobs.

They should stop working on the new batch of people who would suffer because you can’t fire the entire team, you can only fire the coach or the general manager.

Nobody seems to know what exactly is wrong with this team. Managers don’t. Coaches don’t.

Do the players?