The Edmonton Oilers have been awfully supportive of Hockey Canada over the years. I was curious so I went and looked at the past decade or so and Edmonton’s sent 25 players to the World Championships for Team Canada in that time. Second best is Carolina, with 13. If you look at it on the basis of seasons out of the playoffs, Edmonton still scores very well – not many teams send more than their average of 3.13 guys per season out of the playoffs and those that beat it tend to be teams that are almost never out of the playoffs.
I suspect that this is a bit of a cultural thing – Kevin Lowe’s he head of the Oilers and he has long standing ties with Hockey Canada. I assume that different teams have different views of the tournament and I suspect that the Oilers have more of a culture of encouraging their players to play in it. I tend to think that playing in high pressure games is good for players (and, honestly, Europe’s a blast and seeing a bit of the world isn’t a bad thing for young people), so I think it’s a good thing that the Oilers seem to be committed to it.
Except…you’d hope that Hockey Canada isn’t going to invite your guys over there and then jerk them around. Taylor Hall finished second in the Western Conference in scoring this year and was top ten in the NHL. Somehow, he couldn’t play for Lindy Ruff. There isn’t particularly detailed information available but I’m told Hall didn’t play on the PP. He finished 11th in TOI for Team Canada, which was more than 19 minutes behind the guy who finished in 10th (Jordan Staal).
The really weird thing about this is that despite getting very little ice time and none on the PP, Hall ended up second on the team in shots/60 minutes of TOI. If you could factor out the PP team, I suspect he ended up leading the team at 5v5. He was sitting for guys who did much less with their ice time in terms of generating shots. Shots/60 is a pretty good indicator of “How much offence are you generating?” so when you see a guy with a big number playing behind guys who are getting PP time and posting worse numbers, it’s a bit of a red flag.
If I was a member of an organization that was really supportive of Hockey Canada, I’d be extremely irritated about this. I don’t know whether the Oilers leaned on Hall to go or not (I suspect he has his eye on the Olympics and wants to be seen as a good soldier) but it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a kind of organizational pressure to go if you get an invite, given the number of Oilers who turn out. Some years the pickings are going to be lean for Hockey Canada and they’re probably a bit reliant on those teams that will encourage their guys to go.
This is (or should be) a two way street. The Oilers consistently send guys over there because they see value in their players participating in the event. Other teams presumably don’t. If Hockey Canada is going to take a guy who has established himself as elite NHLer and sit him on the bench so that Lindy Ruff can play the guys with whom he’s familiar from the Eastern Conference, what, exactly, is the value that Hall’s getting out of this? What’s the value that the Oilers are getting out of this?
We saw with Eric Staal today that playing in this tournament isn’t exactly a risk free proposition. Hopefully, the Oilers aren’t in a position again in my lifetime to send guys to the World Championships but if they are, they should look a bit more closely at what they’re getting for encouraging their players to go over there and take the risks that come from playing hockey. If I was the Oiler, I’d want Hall playing the big high pressure minutes – I want some reward from my risk that I’m taking on. You have to balance this a little bit – Justin Schultz didn’t play a ton but I have less of an issue with that because I think he can get value from the tournament simply by the continued exposure to high level competition.
Taylor Hall though? He’s one of the best thirty players in the world or so. Sending him over there to sit on the bench is disrespectful towards the Oilers, disrespectful towards Hall, a waste of time and a risk that isn’t really commensurate with the reward. I hope that the Oilers remember this next time Hockey Canada is looking to borrow some players.
(Also: if you were an organization that’s picked up a reputation, fair or not, as not the best one to play for, making a small public stink about this is an easy way to look good. Just sayin’.)Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org