As I watched Oil Change last night, I was thinking to myself that one of the many reasons I’d be a lousy hockey player is that I’m sure my body language would piss off a coach at some point in my career as he blathered on about something. There were a couple of good excerpts from Renney in last night’s episode:
You are here because we want you here, because we believe in you, and we want you here because we believe we can we win with you. And we believe that you guys can help us move it to the next level and keep going from there. Don’t ever come in here thinking that this is not a place where you want to put in a half assed effort because right now as we move forward for the balance of this hockey season, we will have to see what we’re going to be playing hockey with beyond now. We have to. It’s that simple. And every one of guys should take that very seriously and understand the fucking responsibility that you have to be a hockey player on the Edmonton Oilers, Right now.
I wonder what Jim Vandermeer thinks when he hears this. Unless he’s deluded, he knows he’s a salary dump. Or Jason Strudwick. Or Steve MacIntyre. Also, I’m cynical, but when Renney said “We want you here because we believe we can with you” I’d be thinking “Yeah, that’s what they thought about Khabibulin. Fucking Chrysler plant, here I come.”
A, you’re frustrated. Bad mistake. Bad mistake at this stage of the game. We did enough good things in here to know that we can beat these guys this period and set ourselves up for the third. But if you want to get frustrated, then stay in here. It’s that simple. Play the game plan. And don’t frustration creep into your game. You can get pissed off with me, I’m fine with that. But don’t let that fucking convolute how you have to play.
The formula for the Tom Renney inspirational speech seems clear: he speaks in paragraphs of hockey’s version of corporate speak, makes a declaratory statement as to the ease with which they should understand what he’s saying and adds a profanity for emphasis. It’s that fucking simple.
I’m obviously not the only one who suspects that it might get a bit tired listening to Renney say this sort of thing all of the time and pretending to care about it. Steve Tambellini ventured into the dressing room today to have a chat with the boys. Shawn Horcoff summarized it for Terry Jones:
He talked about about the big picture coming from the top. Obviously, he’s not happy. There’s no secret about the situation we’re in here and how it’s not looking good for us. He talked about how hard our coaches are working and how they’re giving us good game plans every night and how he wants to see the effort and intensity every night.
It’s been frustrating. There are not a lot of positives. When you are lacking in effort and intensity, that’s never excusable. It’s about jobs and pride. Fans pay good money.
Obviously there’s excitement about the future. The skill level here is about twofold what it was last year.
A big part of this is giving young guys a chance to see what they have.
As bad as I might be as a player when listening to the coach “motivate” (particularly if he said things like “Don’t let that fucking convolute how you have to play”), when a guy like Tambellini wandered into the room to give a message like this, I’d be a million times more visibly contemptuous of what he had to say.
To start with, virtually nobody on the Oilers is playing for a job next year. Fifteen of the regulars are already signed. Nothing in their history indicates any consequences for RFA type guys who don’t pan out, other than having to accept their qualifying offers. The Oilers have a long, long history of qualifying everyone who looks like he can spell NHL, let alone play in the league. If Andrew Cogliano or Ryan Jones aren’t Oilers next season, it’ll be because they’ve been traded somewhere else in the NHL. It’s an empty threat. I can’t believe anyone actually takes it seriously unless they’re someone who seriously has no business in an NHL dressing room, in which case trying really hard isn’t going to make up the gap – just ask Zack Stortini.
Secondly, and with all due respect to Horcoff who I think is a pretty bright hockey guy and who undoubtedly cares more about trying to maintain a positive attitude than having his comments parsed by fans, the talent level in the Oilers room might be twofold but it’s the same terrible results. I’ve put together a table that compares the Oilers to league average in the various game states, both offensively and defensively. In order to permit a comparison to last year, I pro-rated everything for 82 games.
There are simply not a lot of positives there. They’re significantly better at preventing 5v5 goals this year but give it all back at 4v5 and in their work on the PP. They’re on pace to be one goal differential worse than last year. The point total is on pace to be lower. They are a completely terrible hockey team. New attitude, same crap results. Only, instead of a 5v5 problem that seemed due at least in part to bad goaltending, there’s now really ugly problems at 5v4 and 4v5. And that’s DESPITE the great game plans that they’re getting!
Third, and this is the most corrosive thing of all, every guy in that room knows who’s really responsible for assembling the disaster that unfolded last year. The veteran guys probably have some suspicion that this year was supposed to look better. They look around the room and see the broken down goalie, signed for another two years and don’t see the defenceman who might at least help the PP but who had the temerity to question the competence of management.
The vast majority of them will know that a lot depends on this guy who’s standing there pretending that Nikolai Khabibulin might not have a job next year if he doesn’t start stopping some pucks. If I played for the Oilers, I’d have a hell of a time convincing myself to put it on the line in a season that looks worst than last year. Why should any of these guys risk anything for an organization that blames everyone but the guys who assemble the team for the team’s problems?
My bad attitude towards this stuff, incidentally, carries through to me as a fan reading comments from the players. Sam Gagner had all sorts of fine quotes after the Ducks game:
It’s a never-ending cycle and the guys in here have to change it or it just gets worse and worse. “The coaches have the right to be upset, fans have the right to be upset. It’s just not good enough.
No matter what the expectations were for the season, on what this team was supposed to do, right now it’s embarrassing. We need to challenge ourselves to be better in here. Till we start doing the little things right, getting open for each other, going to bat for our teammates, it’s just going to continue to get worse.
Great, fantastic. You and your teammates have been saying variants of that for four years. Is anything going to change at any point in the foreseeable future? If not, there’s little point in continuing to repeat this. You’re fucking convoluting my experience as a hockey fan with this blather.
I get, to a point, that the Oilers can’t say “Look the season’s lost and we’re just hoping to stem the bleeding.” Only to a point though. I could understand the media not probing if the Oilers just shut up – no need to badger them about the obvious. There should be a sort of gentlemen’s agreement about this though. If the team’s going to pretend that jobs are on the line though and pretend that this sort of thing isn’t acceptable, awkward questions should be asked.
Jobs are on the line Tambo? Fine – do you plan to do something about the goaltender rotting in your crease that your coach keeps inexplicably playing and who will destroy this team for two more years if you guys let him? Why should anyone who cares about this team expect that you and Kevin Lowe won’t balls this up in the same way that Lowe turned the team that went to the Finals into ashes and proceeded to piss $15MM and four years for Khabibulin all over the ashes? If you didn’t see that coming, why should anyone expect that you won’t see whatever risks affect this group of talent that you’re collecting as a result of your incompetence? Of course, when seemingly 80% of the media in town are paid directly or indirectly by the Oilers (for appearances on Oilers Lunch and on between periods panels), this might be a bit much to ask.
Accountability in a hockey team needs to apply at levels above the players. Most truly horrific teams have the courtesy to fire everyone in senior management on occasion or, at the very least, the dignity to lose without a lot of noise in the papers about meetings, complete with statements about how things need to change and the inept GM coming in to lay down the law. The Oilers have basically had a policy of zero accountability for management since they stopped winning Stanley Cups and, as a result, it’s impossible to take their coaches and management seriously when they talk about it. It’s that simple.