Tag Archives: Edmonton Oilers

Oil Change won’t sugarcoat Oilers fans’ anger

The opening can hardly get more dramatic: an angry fan sends his Oiler jersey flying through the air, and it lands right on the Rexall Place ice.

It happened seconds after final horn ended the shellacking the Oilers had suffered at the hands of the St. Louis Blues.

Oil Change, in its fourth episode this season, doesn’t shy away. In fact, it goes even further: it touches in some detail upon the debate that would follow. To Oilers’ coach Dallas Eakins the jersey-throwing stunt would be a sacrilege, to many a disgruntled fan, it would be a perfectly justified sign of perfectly justified discontent.

It aired on Sunday on Sportsnet, and the first series of repeats is scheduled to happen Tuesday evening. It’s worth every second of your viewing time.

There are several firsts in this episode.

We get to see a bit of the anatomy of a trade as the Oilers sent goalie Devan Dubnyk to Nashville. We get to listen to coach Eakins’ explanations, views not shared earlier with anybody, be it in interviews or regular scrums. Those explanations are very revealing. Not only of the coach’s thought process, but also of the situation (or, to put it bluntly, the plight) the team has been in.

Whether one agrees with the explanations is perfectly irrelevant. They are Eakins’ explanations, they reflect his philosophies, and the players had better heed them, if they know what’s good for them. Why? Simply because a huge number of them will be looking for new contracts at season’s end. And – something more important for the team than for individual players – because their customers have begun showing signs of losing their patience with the group they have taken to calling a bunch of underachievers.

Is it fair? Not necessarily. Is it important? You bet. If those who are paying the piper start rejecting the merchandise you’re offering, you’re in trouble.

Of course, there’s always the future to hope for. Now, this is an old song-and-dance routine for Oilers’ fans and the percentage of those who have been bored to distraction by it has been growing by leaps and bounds lately.

Oil Change is not singing and dancing about the future, bright or dark as it may become. Instead, it puts faces on it. Two segments give us interesting insights into the lives of Mitch Moroz, currently with the Edmonton Oil Kings, and Darnell Nurse, currently with the Soo Greyhounds. Moroz’s junior days are coming to an end (that’s what happens when you’re growing up), and Nurse was so pretty close to making the Oilers the last training camp out, his cut must have come as a surprise, nay, shock, to many.

Neither of these two guys will be a saviour. In fact, the Oilers should consider abandoning this short-sighted notion that once they pick somebody as the first-overall choice at the draft, that player must perform forthwith or else he’s a failure, and so is the club. And the fans should shelve this view, too.

This episode of Oil Change is a stark document of what’s really going on the Oil Country. And it’s not too funny.

As is Aquila Productions’ habit, the pictures are crisp, the editing is fast (but not overwhelming), the music enhances what we see and hear, exchanges made during action on ice appear in subtitles bringing us that much closer to the team, the commentary is laconic, precisely as it should be, not a word wasted.

Great documentary making. Truthful and fair. What more can we ask for?

Winds of change to blow in part four of Oil Change

Will the Christmas break and the arrival of yet another year help improve the Edmonton Oilers’ fortunes?

Judging by what’s been happening thus far, this is not a fair question.

But the fourth episode of Oil Change will give us a few interesting behind-the-scenes glimpses to show the club isn’t just waiting for miracles to happen.

While in Minneapolis, general manager Craig MacTavish puts together two quite bold moves, moves he had promised in his inauguration speech. The Oilers have just lost in Chicago and Dallas and MacTavish sends goalie Devan Dubnyk to Nashville, getting forward Matt Hendricks in return. Then, he turns around, and before people can start asking questions about the goalie position in Edmonton, he acquires Ben Scrivens from Los Angeles, giving up a third-round pick in exchange.

And, Oil Change promises, we will get to see how it unfolded.

Episode Four of the hugely popular Aquila Productions’ show will air on Sunday, Jan. 26, on Sportsnet, as follows: at 5 p.m. in the East and in Ontario, at 3 p.m. out West, and at 2 p.m. in the Pacific. The first re-broadcast of Oil Change’s fourth episode is scheduled for Tuesday, January 28, for 7 p.m., across the entire network.

The trade sequence helps culminate this episode of Oil Change, but the timeframe this episode covers includes much more drama. Such as that fan who sent his Oilers jersey flying over the glass on the ice following the home team’s ignominious defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Blues. Coach Dallas Eakins, instead of keeping his sentiments to himself, proclaims his club does not really need quitters. That sparks a wide-ranging debate in the Oil Country that calms down somewhat only after the Oilers beat the Winnipeg Jets in their last pre-Christmas game.

If there’s one consistent theme, it’s the Oilers’ inconsistency. Capable of shutting out the Flames right in their Saddledome barn in Calgary, they go and blow a two-goal lead against Philadelphia the next day. Playing like boys against men in games with San Jose, Anaheim and St. Louis, they manage to defeat Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, that Pittsburgh that features Sidney Crosby in its lineup.

Oil Change faithfully records all that. But it also lets us see two intriguing bits of the club’s future, as its crews spend time (both on and off the ice) with a couple of promising draft picks. Mitch Moroz is a power forward drafted in 2012. His major junior career with the Edmonton Oil Kings will be over by the end of this season. Darnell Nurse, the Oilers’ first-round (7th  overall) pick last June, captains the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League and is that team’s star defenceman.

Time isn’t standing still, and the Oil Change episode, fourth this season, promises to reflect precisely that.

Katz offers disgruntled Oilers’ fans a pacifier

We can view Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz’s letter to the fans as a public relations move worthy of a genius. Or not.

But no matter how the long-suffering Oilers fans view the apologetic denial of everything that’s gone wrong with the club, it’s still nothing more (or else, for that matter) than public relations, pure and simple. It is, also, a sign of the times that the letter keeps sliding on the surface of the matter, rather than at least trying to get at the substance.

To concede for all reasons and purposes that this season has been a washout when the club still has 30 games to go may sound outrageous, if it wasn’t realistic. Of course, what this does to the athletes is another matter altogether. Yes, they are professionals, and they should play to professional standards game in and game out, no issue here.

But they are also human.

When Ryan Smyth forced Kevin Lowe’s hand with a few minutes to spare before the trading deadline a few years ago, many a player said he felt the team has written that particular season off. That the season had been long lost by that deadline, they could care less. It was the symbolism that stunned them.

And the team that had been stumbling before, just continued on its uncontrolled slide.

And now, the owner himself throws in the towel while there still can be a mathematical chance that things might change. Not a realistic chance, mind you, but still, a chance.

The fans’ wrath has been directed at former defenceman, later assistant coach, then head coach, general manager afterwards, and now, president of hockey operations, Kevin Lowe.

That the wrath hasn’t been justified is one thing. That Daryl Katz is somewhat ingenious (and this is putting it mildly) in his defence of his employee is – again – another matter.

Hockey people from all over the league would tell you that Daryl Katz is getting too involved with stuff he has no business getting involved with. There have been stories galore, told by reliable hockey people independently of one another, that where the Oilers’ hockey staff were angling for budding defencemen in recent drafts, they were overruled. Guess three times who could it have been to have sufficient power to do that.

If that is Kevin Lowe’s fault, then he’s also guilty of the volcano eruptions in Iceland several years ago.

And it doesn’t seem Daryl Katz plans to change his ways any time soon.

While boasting the club’s recent acquisitions (Andrew Ference, David Perron, Boyd Gordon, Anton Belov, Justin Schultz, Ben Scrivens, Matt Hendricks and, yes Ilya Bryzgalov), as if he deserved the credit for finding them and signing them up to join the Oilers, Katz goes on to say he doesn’t anticipate any quick-fix trades. Considering this statement is just a few lines removed from his assurance that the roster and its changes are GM Craig MacTavish’s call, and nobody else’s, this is a salto mortale (full somersault, a.k.a. deadly jump) that ought to have readers scratching their heads in shock and disbelief.

So, who’s running what?

The logic is perfectly simple: Daryl Katz has hired Kevin Lowe, a capable hockey guy. Lowe, in turn, hired Craig MacTavish, another capable hockey guy, whereupon MacTavish, in yet another turn, hired Dallas Eakins. Lowe knows better than to stick his nose into MacTavish’s business, and MacTavish knows better than to stick his nose into Eakins’ business.

What if their employer took a correspondence course from them?

You are either satisfied with your employees, or not. If you are satisfied, you leave them alone. If you are not, well, there might be others available to fill these jobs.

Whether Katz’s message to Oilers’ fans will end up having the soothing effect to help heal Oilers fans’ long-hurting pride remains to be seen.

While it’s the fans who, all things considered, pay the piper, it doesn’t mean they are always right. Except, any business owner worth her or his salt knows they better handle their customers as their bosses. Simply because they are paying for the fun.

It’s most unfortunate: the word fans comes (basically) from a version of the word fanatics. If they were to entertain sober second thoughts, they would have long ago come to the conclusion that watching adult people perform in children’s sports, earning shamelessly adult money is an insult to their own intelligence.

Of course, it doesn’t sound too cynical to suggest that Daryl Katz’s love letter to his paying customers was supposed to meet one more objective. It seems citizen support for city council spending taxpayer dollars on a new arena has been decreasing relatively significantly during the last few weeks. The gradual decrease turned into a freefall after the recent demand that city employees leave their current offices and move into a new downtown office tower, one proposed and owned by (who else?) Daryl Katz.

Yes, it does sound cynical, does it not?

But so does Daryl Katz’s recent attempt at pacifying his customers.

Edmonton’s fata morgana

An office tower and a hotel will revitalize Edmonton’s downtown. That’s what proponents of taxpayer-supported new arena for the Edmonton Oilers are trying to make us believe.

Why and how, they don’t say. We ought to believe in the tooth fairy, too, perhaps. Their reasoning is difficult to fathom, and no logical explanation has been forthcoming. Next time, perhaps.

Meanwhile, a mirage of Sahara desert proportions will keep us linked to Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz through an invisible umbilical cord. We’re going to be the mothers. He would be the embryo we’re going to feed.

It was bound to happen. As part of the highly suspect deal that has the city of Edmonton involved in building a private entrepreneur’s playground, taxpayers will be on the hook for moving their employees from their present location to a brand new office tower that Daryl Katz proposes to build downtown.

To Daryl Katz the new tower is supposed to be a cash cow. Based on his experience with Edmonton’s city council, he now knows where to find ready cash, neatly packaged and bundled, in no particular numerical sequence, so he can just pick it up and laugh all the way to the bank.

That’s what this deal is all about. The shovel hasn’t hit the ground yet, and the tower already has tenants galore. Who? We are the tenants. We as in we, the taxpayers. Wonderful.

How an office tower and a hotel can pretend to be places where people gather to enjoy their leisure time? That’s a question nobody has seemed to ask yet.

Let’s go back to the basics

Daryl Katz wants his Oilers to have a brand new arena. He’s of the view that he can’t build it all by himself. Despite being listed all over the place as one of the richer (if not richest) people in the country, he wants the taxpayers to kick in.

Why?

Because, he claims, the new arena will help revitalize the downtown area of Edmonton.

How? Somehow.

Let’s forget the question whether the Oilers really need a new arena. In all generosity, let’s accept this wish for a fact. After all, Rexall Place, formerly a.k.a. Northlands Coliseum, is an old building. It will turn 40 this coming November. It cost just above $17 million to build, about $81 million in today’s money. If we accept the publicly budgeted $450 million as the price tag for the new arena (and only a perfect fool would accept that amount), its bells would have to be closing in on 24 karats, pure gold, that is. And its whistles would have to be 100-carat diamonds. (Note: there’s a world of difference between karats and carats. You can look it up. The former describes purity of gold, the latter, gemstone mass.)

Anyhow, the Oilers’ owner says he needs a new arena. The almost-40-year-old building no longer suffices.

Let’s put aside the fact that if a 40-year-old building really is as decrepit as some proponents of the new arena claim, it doesn’t speak too well of North American building industry in general, and of Edmonton’s building industry in particular. Considering there are buildings aged centuries all over the world, still in overwhelmingly good shape and serving people, the comparison is shocking.

Of course, there’s another angle to consider: economic case studies after economic case studies after economic case studies show that professional sports organizations’ owners are wont to call 30-year-old stadia too old. They do so especially in cases where they had managed to get the original structures built with taxpayer participation. Now, they’re coming for seconds. The points they make are repetitive to the point of being boring: they claim that they want to revitalize whatever area they want to use. Except: economic case studies after economic case studies after economic case studies show those new buildings might attract visitors (not permanent residents) only as a consequence of what has been dubbed as “novelty effect.” There’s no permanency.

Downtown areas throughout the world, not only in North America, have been suffering for quite some time now. Office towers and sundry such buildings are not people places. They have pushed people as living creatures out. People who used to live there have been moving out to the suburbs. Once they have matured to the point of getting married and starting families, they prefer living in their own homes rather than condominia or rental apartment buildings.

The facts are simple: a new attraction, such as a new sports arena, with all the attendant bars and restaurants and whatnot around it, may slow down emigration from downtown for a few years. It will not stop it. And it will not reverse it, either. In fact, once the novelty effect wears off, the emigration returns to its previous levels.

Why oh why?

Why Edmonton city council bought into the downtown revitalization bluff in the first place will remain an enigma wrapped in mystery. It may very well happen that some intrepid forensic accountants will tell us in the not-so-distant future that not everything had been above board, but for now, this is pure speculation.

The only certainty we have here is that this city’s taxpayers are supposed to be on the hook up to their teeth for a private entrepreneur’s private playground.

And now, the city will be involved in a new office tower by moving its employees whence they’ve been working thus far into new digs.

Some say the city (its taxpayers, that is) will save money on this deal. Saying it is one thing. Proving it is another. Where’s the beef?

If the new idea is so incredibly beneficial, why did councillors have to debate it for hours on end behind closed doors? One would have expected such beneficial ideas to be aired with as many employers (taxpayers, that is) present.

Even the report that councillors would vote on remains secret. The only thing we know that the vote went 10 to three for.

And we also know that a former journalist (and city columnist) for the Edmonton Journal  heaps praise on the whole thing, without mentioning the details but once. Since it’s the details that matter, it’s rather surprising how low could a former intrepid reporter stoop.

City employees have been working in city-owned structures that, the city says, need renovations. Some city employees work in leased spaces, and the deals are coming up for renewal next year.

How are the savings going to happen? First and foremost, we are told that working space would be used more efficiently. Meaning: each employee will have less shoulder room. How’s that for efficiency?

The palatability quotient

Daryl Katz has been quite open about the fact an office tower would make his arena plan more palatable. For whom? Guess three times.

Here’s an interesting fact: the city has received more than a dozen proposals just last spring from potential landlords who had been hoping to house city staff in new and existing buildings.

But no, we need a new office tower. Not only spanking new, but also potentially the tallest such structure in the neighbourhood.

Some developers are licking their fingers: the new office tower would be the first swallow of the spring. It would signal the arrival of more such towers in the near future.

If anyone thinks building office towers downtown spells downtown revitalization, they’re dreaming in Technicolor.

One wonders what would have happened if city council was more responsible and told Daryl Katz that if he wants to build himself a new arena, here’s the development permit office, file your plans, pay the fees and build it.

Some have feared the Oilers’ owner would pick his toy and go to find himself another sandbox. Not only would it have been wise to remind him we had a similar experience with a former Edmonton Oilers’ owner, and look where he is now. It would have been prudent to call his bluff.

But no. City streets are close to impassable because city council has not the wherewithal to make sure crews keep them clean 24 hours a day, seven days a week. City infrastructure has been crumbling for years, closing in on decades.

But city council is spending money that isn’t its own on dubious projects that make no other sense than saving a local entrepreneur a pretty bundle while doing nothing to revitalize downtown.

We voted this gang in. Judging by election numbers, quite a few voters chose not to turn out and exercise their basic civic right. Things wouldn’t change if we voted, anyhow, many of them said.

Well, things will not change. You didn’t vote. That’s why they won’t. And that’s a shame.

Who wins or loses on the ice? What came first: chicken or egg?

It’s bad form. Improper. Not done. All nibs are agreed on it. Do NOT do it, for heaven’s sake!

Right?

So, here it comes: a disclaimer.

I have never received a cent, I am not receiving a cent, and I do not anticipate or expect receiving a cent from the Edmonton Oilers.

Why should I be doing what all nibs agree on that I shouldn’t be doing? Well, and why should I not call myself a nib, too?

Anyhow, here’s the reason for the disclaimer: contrary to popular opinion, I insist that Kevin Lowe and/or Craig MacTavish are NOT the main culprits behind the Oilers’ freefall of the last several seasons.

Yes, fish start stinking from their heads down, but this is not the case with the Edmonton Oilers. Not altogether, that is.

Ladislav Smid had it right when he said a few days before being traded to Calgary (he said it publicly, too) that it’s not the management, and it’s not the coaching, either. The issues the Oilers have, he said, are in the room.

Most interestingly, head coach Dallas Eakins, speaking dejectedly and somewhat angrily after the home-ice 6-0 debacle the Oilers suffered in the hands of the St. Louis Blues, said the same thing. He would elaborate, but the gist was exactly the same. It’s in the room.

Here are some facts

As of this writing, the Oilers have played 38 regular season games. In an informal survey among players from 21 of the about 30 teams the Oilers had skated against, one common denominator emerged. When promised complete anonymity, opposing players revealed what their coaches tell them during pre-game video sessions. The Oilers are perfectly vulnerable because of their erratic forecheck.

“They have one guy forechecking, and then three, and then two, and all that on the same shift, and the way they do it shows no rhyme or reason for how they forecheck,” said one.

“It seems the Oilers have no system, or if they have one, they don’t play within it,” said another.

Oilers’ forward David Perron bristled when he heard about the talk that the Oilers have no system. They do, he told Dan O’Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. But, he would concede, they do not play within it often enough.

What could be the reason for that?

“Some of them seem to think they are smarter than their coach,” suggested yet another opposing player.

Are they?

“No,” replied that player, “and their results prove it.”

And yet another opposing player chimed in: “Look, what Lars Eller (of the Montreal Canadiens) said about the Oilers playing like a bunch of juniors, well, he shouldn’t have said that.”

Why not?

“It shows a bit of disrespect. Lack of respect for your opposition not only can come back to bite you, but it’s also unsportsmanlike. Except,” he added, “Eller definitely isn’t the only player who thinks that.”

And, they all said independently of one another (but if they were in one room, it would have sounded as if they were speaking in unison), it’s the Oilers’ first and second line players who are the most guilty part.

“These guys are talented and skilled, no doubt about that,” an opposing defenceman said, “and you have to be on your toes whenever they are on the ice, but despite all that ability and skill and creativity, they have become quite predictable.”

Ouch!

“It’s more players than just the first line,” another opposing player, also a defenceman, suggested. “The Oilers seem to be building around a potential core, but on occasion, that core seems to be rotten.”

HUH?

“You know how it is. You bite into an apple that looks shiny and colourful on the surface, but inside, it isn’t,” he explained.

There were other observations, too. Some of them damning. Such as that the so-called core (or future core, if you wish) hasn’t really embraced the existence of Nail Yakupov.

Having watched a few games after hearing this statement, one begins to wonder. It’s called body language, and – how to put it politely – well, it seems that the player who made this observation wasn’t wrong. Whether it’s subconscious or knowing on the “core” players’ part is irrelevant.

Who is the guilty party then?

Can you blame Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish for these woes?

Here’s your simple answer: no.

And here’s your more involved answer: no.

Let’s try to take a more detached look.

First, there’s this thing known as context of history.

Most Oilers’ fans feel betrayed that their beloved club has been doing so poorly. They seem to forget that all hasn’t been sunshine and glory for (at least) two decades. Remember, before the salary cap, the Oilers served almost as a farm team to their richer NHL counterparts. They would develop a young, up-and-coming player to the level bordering on stardom. That’s when that player would feel free to begin demanding more money in his new contract. The Oilers wouldn’t have it. What would they do? They would trade away the budding star, and get in exchange someone whose salary they might be able to afford. The newcomer would be either worse than the dearly departed budding star, or it would be a youngster whom the Oilers would develop – and lose again within a few seasons.

Talk about re-building!

The early Oilers lucked out. They would get Wayne Gretzky because his previous owner, Nelson Skalbania, needed ready cash, and he needed it now. The Oilers’ then-owner, Peter Pocklington, was ready to oblige, but he didn’t have sufficient funds to pay in cash the full amount Skalbania asked for. So, he threw a few paintings in. Art Skalbania would be able to sell and thus get the missing dough.

Their first few years at the draft, they would hit several homeruns by getting, in no particular order, Kevin Lowe, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson and Jari Kurri.

Compared to today’s standards, Barry Fraser’s ways of picking players to be drafted were highly unscientific, and Glen Sather would go with them because they had been successful.

Successful? Yes, to a degree. There were some unforgettable flops, too. Jason Bonsignore, anyone? Or how about picking Steve Kelly instead of Shane Doan?

Between them, Sather and Lowe can’t say their drafting record has had no blemishes. Steve Tambellini had an easier time of it, selecting first three consecutive seasons, even though some question why the Oilers would go after forwards who might have been talented and skilled and whatnot, when there were NHL-ready defencemen of relatively high calibre available, too. Seth Jones, anybody?

So, granted, all regimes made their share of mistakes. But here’s an interesting point: you only make no mistakes if you don’t do anything.

Basic economics

One of Edmonton’s basic limitations is the size of its market potential. A successful professional sports team is, first and foremost, a success when it breaks even, at least. Very rarely would you find a professional sports team in such a limited market recording too much surplus. Yes, the Oilers haven’t lost money as of late. They even made some. But not enough to trade for a bona fide star and pay him accordingly.

Edmonton is a proud home to two former professional sports champions (remember the Eskimos?). Edmonton’s fans can fill both teams’ stadia game in and out, no problem. Except, this no longer suffices. Neither in the CFL nor (and even more so) in the NHL.

Some of it is geography, some of it is the tradition of electing asinine city councils.

Asinine? You bet. You can’t call decisions that endanger a city’s economy anything but that.

An example?

How about that ruling decades ago that whichever flight is headed to the then-newly-built Edmonton International from any place north of Edmonton, including northwest or northeast, it has to land at city airport first, then take off, fly another few minutes, and land in Leduc?

It would be convenient for those who want to conduct their business downtown was the official explanation.

Utter nonsense, of course. City airport had been here long before the international airport was even conceived, and a number of businesses moved to the city airport area expecting brisk action. Owners of those businesses were not only voters, but some of them might have even contributed to individual candidates’ campaigns.

Tradition? History? Who speaks of tradition and history when dollars are at stake?

Except, many of those flights that only intended to have an intermediate landing in Edmonton, on their way to Calgary or elsewhere, changed their routings. (Notice: they would be fine with one landing. Not two. One.) When they found successive city councils could not be swayed, those flights would simply go directly to Calgary or elsewhere, without any landings in Edmonton.

And there went the idea of Edmonton as the north’s airline hub and gateway to Canada’s north, and whatever else you wish to call it.

Anyone who thinks this kind of decisions helped grow Edmonton’s economy (as well as the economies of the capital region) is dreaming in Technicolor.

But professional sports clubs need more than income from seat sales. They need to sell sponsorships and advertising. Such deals must be available for use both in-house and for their broadcast rights holders. With a limited market, what chances are there that the clubs would generate enough advertising and sponsorship income to be able to pay for their high-priced stars?

Yes, stars attract fans like bees to honey, but, not only is there a limit on the number of fannies clubs can accommodate in their facilities, there is also a limit on how much they can charge their fans for the pleasure.

Is that something Kevin Lowe and/or Craig MacTavish generated?

Again, the answer is simple: no.

Management record

Many fans contend Oilers’ management could have and should have brought in more real players (preferably stars, one assumes) through trades and/or free agent signings.

Could they have? And should they have?

We will not know the answer to the former question. Trade negotiations are conducted in full secrecy worthy of nuclear war planning sessions. Many reasons, most of them perfectly valid.

We do know the answer to the latter question. It’s yes. Absolutely, Definitely. And add your own list of players whom you’d like to see wearing Oilers’ colours and turning the club’s fortunes around.

Except, this is where the answer to the former question enters the picture. Could they have? Were players they thought might be of major help available? Were they willing to waive their no trade/no movement clauses to go to Edmonton? Did their current clubs ask for players in return that the Oilers wouldn’t part with, at least, not yet, or not now?

What this is to say is that it’s rather impossible to judge a professional sports club’s record on what kind of players management managed to acquire. Even in drafts. When you’re picking among 18-year-olds, it’s as unreliable as defining the sex of freshly hatched chickens.

And so far as free agent signings are concerned, they have got some lately, and they haven’t panned out that bad. Andrew Ference comes to mind, and so does Boyd Gordon.

So, you may ask, why have other teams been more successful than the Oilers? What gives THEIR management that invisible something that the Oilers’ management seems to lack?

Back to square one

Judging by the remarks made by those opposing teams’ players, it seems that the Oilers’ top players have been reading too much into their press clippings. Yes, these clippings tell all and sundry that they are talented and skilled and whatnot. What they do NOT say is that these guys are the second coming, that they are right up there, with sliced bread and the original Swiss-made Nestle chocolate.

They should come back to earth, and pronto.

As it is, they are endangering the business model a.k.a. the Edmonton Oilers. How much longer will Oiler fans endure such blatant lack of success? How optimistic can these fans be? Meaning: how stupid are they expected to be, selling the Oilers’ arena out every night?

Any solutions?

Not really. But one school of thought is interesting. Here’s the outline.

Rid the Oilers of their owner, first of all. Why? Because he’s too closely connected with his management team as friends and would hesitate to clean house.

A new owner, unconnected to the club thus far, would have no such hesitations.

Would it be fair?

Absolutely not.

Would it help?

Who knows.

Yes, the school of thought continues, the current Oilers’ top poohbahs know a lot about winning. They have won it all. Indeed they have. As players. And it’s a different matter to win as a manager.

Of course, as an aside, Craig MacTavish coached the Oilers to within one game seven goal of the Stanley Cup (empty netters don’t count), and it’s difficult to believe that he’s become a moron between then and now.

And, also of course, fans assign responsibility based on their years of suffering, not on the time in responsible office guys they criticize have spent.

The school of hard knocks is also of the view that amateur scouts should be fired every five years. We’re talking about the people who are supposed to find new talent for a club to pick up on draft day or get some other way. It’s a tough life, schlepping all season long from one junior barn to another, trying to find a gem nobody else notices, getting as much relevant information on players who you think might help your club without giving your interest away to competition. They must be burnt out after all these years, thus this school of thought.

Is there any truth in it? Who knows? Nobody’s asked the amateur scouts, and even if one were to ask them, they would deny being tired in the slightest, lest they lose their jobs.

In any case, would such (admittedly cruel) kind of rotation work? Nobody’s tried, and experience shows that, for example, the Detroit Red Wings’ amateur scouting has been tops for a convincing period of time, and yet, you wouldn’t see too many changes through the years.

Again, this is a result-based and result-oriented business. So, the answer to this question must differ from club to club.

The single question remains: who wins the games? And who loses them?

If you’ve figured the answers to this question, you know who is responsible for the Edmonton Oilers’ woes and who can fix them.

Is it easy to do?

No.

Is it doable?

Yes.

Coach Eakins explains his philosophy in Oil Change’s newest episode

Chop wood. Carry water.

That’s the motto Edmonton Oilers’ head coach Dallas Eakins has been trying to instill in his charges since he joined the club last summer.

With mixed success, as the third episode of this season’s Oil Change documents.

It aired on Sportsnet Sunday evening, and there will be, no doubt, quite a few re-runs before next month’s episode arrives in January of next year.

This episode’s opening is quite optimistic. It tells the story of Taylor Fedun, the young blue line prospect who broke his femur in a dangerous collision in an exhibition game in Minnesota two seasons ago. Young Fedun put in an incredible effort into his return, and Oil Change shows it in detail in some fine archival footage: all the way to Fedun joining the team in Sunrise, Florida, for his first regular season game. In his first shift, the linesmen whistle down a hybrid icing, something that didn’t exist when Fedun suffered his injury, something that could have prevented it.

That young Fedun scores his first-ever NHL goal in his first-ever NHL game is just icing on the cake.

Except, the team’s play (and results) is nothing if not erratic. They can come from behind, and win. They can establish themselves as an unbeatable monster and blank their opposition. And they can make minor mistakes of monumental proportion that cost them games left, right, and centre. One of the main issues so far as this season is concerned: they loose way too many games because of their own boneheaded plays rather than because of their opponents’ prowess.

Head coach Dallas Eakins knows it. Hats off to him for allowing the Aquila Productions crew to attach a microphone to him during a full practice on ice. We get to see and hear him, exhorting his players to think now and make their newly acquired skills habits that they can perform without even thinking, just instinctively. He’s perfectly correct when he says that this takes time, and he shows a great deal of patience.

It’s the fans who are impatient.

The general manager who announced on his introduction to the office last summer he was impatient, too, might have aged a few years during this season’s ordeal, but he’s emerging a wiser man.

Craig MacTavish’s news conference at the one-fourth-of-the-season point shows that. As always, he’s frank and painfully open.

Oil Change’s creators have come with an interesting combination of showing us MacTavish delivering his state of the union address and cutting into the Oilers’ home game against the San Jose Sharks all the while. They illustrate perfectly MacTavish’s blunt words with the action that’s going on on the ice.

As is usual, Oil Change features a few behind-the-scenes looks.

This episode includes a visit by the players to the Stollery Children’s Hospital, David Perron reading to the kids at the French-immersion Ecole Frere Antoine (in Mill Woods), Oilers’ players during a visit to the Inner City High School, a club tradition that deserves much more recognition than it’s been getting, and, of course, Oilers’ players in a toy store, buying toys for the Stollery Hospital patients who will have to stay in their medical attendants’ care over the holidays.

So far as sheer viewing pleasure is concerned, a boy in an Ecole Frere Antoine hallway, perfectly surprised that the guy who just passed him and patted him on his back was David Perron, imagine, THAT David Perron, is tops. With Perron reading books to the school’s students and explaining to them how it is with his English, coming in third. Why third? Because watching Oilers’ players filling shopping carts with toys and becoming children themselves again (not that they’re THAT far removed) comes in second.

None of these things can be staged. And none of them takes just sheer luck to capture. You’ve got to be a really good documentary maker to be able to carry these scenes off without any saccharine, showing but the real joy of living.

And that’s exactly what Oil Change has become in its three-and-a-half seasons. Never satisfied with what they’ve achieved the last time out, always pushing forward and looking for new ways to make the introduction of Oilers’ fans to their players as friendly as possible.

As always: fast-paced, crisp pictures, crisp editing, great music and sound selections, just enough words to explain what’s going on, but not too many to crowd out what’s going on.

Compelling’s the word.

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.

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.

Are the Edmonton Oilers’ players dancing to the same music?

What’s wrong with the Edmonton Oilers? Loaded with talent galore they resemble casino winners in Vegas (or Monte Carlo, even). But when they play a real team, say, the Chicago Blackhawks, they wilt like wild flowers in the scorching desert sun after six weeks without a drop of water.

Analysts are scratching their heads. Fans, coaches and managers are losing their sleep.

After the Oilers put together a modest three-game winning streak, it was obvious right after the opening faceoff last Monday (November 25, to be precise) that the Hawks will have their way with them.

It was, yet again, men against boys.

And no, Oilers’ goalie Devan Dubnyk was not really the only one to blame. Ilya Bryzgalov came in to mop up after the fourth goal in the Oilers’ net, and he’d let only one in, but that was too little and too late.

It’s not as if there was no effort.

So, what was it?

Here’s an observation that might seem outrageous, but it has its own logic.

The Oilers consist of what we might call “future core players” and a few veterans who perform what we might describe as “support roles.”

It might be more complicated than this, but it seems that the “future core players” aren’t core players, not yet, at least. Still, they behave as if they were, already. The few veterans who are still with the club might resent that. It doesn’t matter whether this resentment is conscious or not. It does matter that it might be there.

It’s called “group dynamic,” and it’s a minefield not many highly experienced and skilled psychologists dare tread upon. As I’m not a psychologist, neither highly experienced, nor skilled, I will have the gall to try a few initial steps. After all, as a life-long student of the theory of games I have seen a few books (with pictures, too) that touched upon the object. Yes, those books dealt mostly with the theory of games and economic and political behaviours, but some of the “group dynamic” rules seem to be general enough to apply them to teams that differ from group concepts in the field of economics.

Imagine: you are a part of, say, a company. You’ve gained experience throughout the years and you expect some rewards. Recognition, celebratory mentions in your owners’ New Year’s speeches, pay raises, bonuses, perhaps, even. You may be getting some of it. Next thing you know, the company hires a young punk (excuse the expression). The reputation that precedes her or his arrival is that of a genius. If your company was slowing down lately, it would be attributed to its employee core’s aging, and this new guy will be expected to turn its fortunes around on a dime. That would be the fanfare surrounding her or his arrival on the scene. The U.S. Marines are here. Doesn’t happen, of course, so, new and newer young punks will be coming through the front door, each celebrated as a genius and as a saviour before they even had been assigned their working stations.

This kind of dynamic holds true even for companies that have been doing well. They bring in young geniuses in an attempt to continue with the trend. If not handled just right, it may backfire on them.

In any case, will you be happy with this kind of development? Be honest with and to yourself and make it biblically simple: yes, yes, no, no.

What happens next?

Well, first of all, as mentioned, those young punks will not turn your company’s fortunes around. They will not help it grow, either. Not right away, in any case. Logically, they can’t. Not without your willingness to share your experience, and not without your cooperation.

Besides, even a genius has to gain some experience, and that takes time.

And yet, they will continue getting pats on their backs in your owners’ celebratory New Year’s speeches, pay raises and bonuses, even, while you might be mentioned in passing, and that only if you’re lucky.

What the geniuses will get is known as a feeling of entitlement. It takes special strengths to resist it.

Will you resent that? Again, be honest with and to yourself and make it biblically simple: yes, yes, no, no.

Now, this is definitely NOT to say that something like this is happening in the Oilers’ dressing room. Players honestly believe in the mantra that what happens in the room, stays in the room, after all. Similar to that perfectly obnoxious television promotion slogan: what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

But, generally speaking, this kind of group dynamic exists, and it makes one wonder.

If you watch Oilers’ games regularly, more often than not you walk away with a strange feeling that the players haven’t got much faith in one another. That they struggle with the new systems their new coach has introduced. That latter observation might be correct. Even the coach admits it. Time only will tell if it’s true, and time only will fix it if it is.

But there are some things that make an eyebrow or two go up in wonderment.

The new coach introduces himself by disparaging reporters’ eating habits.

The new coach rearranges the dressing room and surrounding areas: gone is the wall that listed all the players who have ever worn Oilers’ silks, under the motto that once an Oiler, always an Oiler. Gone are the pictures of former stars. These were replaced with pictures of players who may, one day, become stars. And the wall is replaced by a graphic that proclaims that the Oilers never give up, no matter what. One would have expected all professional players to know this by heart. We play till the fat lady sings.

At least the victory banners and retired numbers stayed where they have been.

Absolutely, the logic is simple: this is a new team.

Except, such clubs as the Montreal Canadiens have made the symbolic displays of their traditions (most of them winning) a part of their dressing room culture. Where are the Habs? In the hunt. And where are the Oilers? A rhetorical question if there ever was one.

So, the following question seems logical, too: why such gimmicky innovations? Winning has been the Edmonton Oilers’ tradition. Nothing to be ashamed of.

One major issue: fans are getting restless. Those who keep paying the piper losing year after losing year are getting sick and tired of hearing (yet again) that next year, your darlings will make the playoffs for sure, and once there, who knows where it will end.

Come to think of it, the last time the Oilers made the playoffs they managed to squeeze in thanks to last-minute heroics, and made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.

The Oilers, as an organization, are doing everything they can to make their group of players a team. A real team. The veterans are trying to help, too. See, for example, Ryan Smyth organizing an elaborate celebration for Joey Moss’s 50th birthday right in his house. See, for example, Andrew Ference leading his teammates in reaching out to the community.

But: no matter how much players love Joey Moss, such celebrations don’t win games.

No matter how useful Andrew Ference’s attempts to instill community feeling, that doesn’t win games, either.

Alas, professional sports are about winning. Nothing else matters.

And that’s where the group dynamic rules come in. The basic rule: to win, all team members must be on the same page. They must be singing the same song. In unison.

Are the Edmonton Oilers?

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).