It’s often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Now, that saying has been mis-attributed to everyone from Albert Einstein to Benjamin Franklin; but who actually said it is rather irrelevant to the point of this article. Either way, we’ll come back to this later on.
Well then, a fairly minor bit of roster news today ended up setting off a bit of speculation of the Oilers slice of the twittersphere. After all, when the Oilers are struggling, we always hear the same complaints from the media about the biggest problem the Oilers face. No, it’s not the lack of finishing on scoring chances, or the paper-thin defensive depth especially in regards to defencemen that can move the puck with efficiency. Nope, the problem with the Oilers is that they “lack grit”, they’re “easy to play against” and don’t forget “too small up front”.
Does this sound familiar at all? It should. It’s been used time and time again by those who look at some fringe 4th-line bruiser placed on waivers during the season (as such is the case this year with Matt Kassian and now Aaron Volpatti) to justify the Oilers going out and claiming these players. It’s also the logic used to justify the past signings and roster presence of players like Ben Eager, Darcy Hordichuk, Steve MacIntyre, Zach Stortini, JF Jacques and even the remarkably short stint of Jesse Boulerice. And the drafting of the worst 3rd round pick ever, Cameron Abney, who the Oilers no doubt are hoping can “inject” some badly needed “sandpaper” into the bottom six one day.
The Oilers have had no shortage of “grit” or “edgy” players in the bottom six for the past few years. The names have changed through season to season but the roles have remained the same, along with the effectiveness of such a tactic. Which is namely to speak, none. The same thing has been tried over and over and it hasn’t done the Oilers one damn favour on the ice or in the standings. Hence, the definition of insanity.
Why aren’t these players effective? Because they’re not NHL calibre players. Listen, I’m not anti-toughness or against hitting in hockey or anything of that sort. You can punish people with heavy hits? The more power to you, with certain stipulations tacked on. Firstly, are your hits separating players from pucks, in turn creating turnovers and chances for you team? And then secondly, are your other hockey skills up to a level where you’re not a liability on the ice at an NHL level? You say yes to both? I want you on my team. Anyone would. I hear a no to either question, and I don’t care how great of a guy you are in the room, or anything else, I don’t want you on my roster.
Hitting certainly has a place in hockey. Hitting can be an effective way to separate a player from the puck. If you’re fishing for a big hit on someone in the neutral zone long after they’ve dished the puck off? It’s worthless. You’ve taken yourself out of position. To take an example from the last Oilers game: Chicago was transitioning through the neutral zone when Mark Fistric decides to stand up a Blackhawk defenceman near the redline, play goes into the Oilers zone, Fistric is caught up ice and the Blackhawks have all 3 forwards in the attacking zone. It was a nice looking hit, but a terribly ill-advised one.
Not to mention, if I’m the Blackhawks, I’m not looking at that and saying “wow, that guy is hard to play against” I’m licking my chops and going “wow, that guy is easy to get out of position. I’m gonna victimize him if he comes at me like that.”
Good teams that are tough? Their tough guys can actually play hockey and aren’t a liability if the coach puts them out of the ice for more than 2-5 minutes a game. They’re not icing plugs like Hordichuk and Eager. In fact, they’re waiving players like… Volpatti.
The Oilers could use some toughness, yes, I agree, I also tend to think that this will come from players like Taylor Hall, Hartikainen, and Paajarvi as they mature and grow.
Let’s take a pass on the fringe, shall we? It doesn’t work.
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