So often as a fan base we cast the players on our teams as heroes and goats. Our evaluation process is completely biased and always changing. The conviction to our appointments is tenuous at best. Hero one day, goat the next. To this, the Oiler’s fan base is really no different than most. However, we do seem more obsessed with the process than others. But, look at our history. The 80’s, nothing but success. We were handing capes out at the door! The 90’s, up to the mid 2000’s, mediocre at best. By then, most of the heroes had left town, and the capes of heroes were being replaced with the horns of goats.
So why the influx of goats? What seemingly makes Edmonton the goat herding capital of the NHL? Well, two reasons perhaps. The first involves a man named Steve Smith and his actions which resulted in likely one of the most recognized Oiler playoff gaffs ever. Up to this point in Oiler history the team had really done nothing wrong. A few hiccups along the way (Miracle on Manchester) but nothing that could point to one specific individual. But this changed with the Smith incident. This time the Oiler fans were provided an opportunity to make one of their own a goat. The evidence was clear and the sting of defeat to deep. Fans were unable to emotionally detach themselves from the loss and objectively asses why the team collectively lost. Instead, it was too easy to cast the blame on Smith and make him the goat. Edmonton re-gained success the next year and for a few years after the incident. However, the effect of the incident may have lingered in the minds of many fans and manifested itself into the belief that team failure can be the direct result of an individual player.
Although the above may be valid, a more likely reason for the influx of goats is limited success. After riding high for ten plus years the Oilers have been mired in nearly 25 years of mediocrity, and at times, even worse. As a fans base we have grown frustrated and the common direction to vent our frustration has been toward certain players. Why? Because they are the most visible product of the organization to assess. We hold them accountable for the success and the failure of the organization while seemingly giving a pass to all others. There is theory, that it is the coaching staff’s job to get players to perform at their best nightly. Be this through motivation or system creations which complement the various skill sets of the team. If a player makes a poor decision during a game the coaching staff should identify, instruct, and attempt to correct that behavior. If through this continual player development the player does not progress to a successful compete level, then a change is required. Again, there is a theory, at this point management needs to review why the player is not having success. Is it skill based. It is it attitude. It is coaching. If required, management then needs to make a change. Thus, this process of evaluation must occur all the way from the top of the organization. A failure at any level above the players will surely trickle down and affect the finished product we the fans ultimately see on the ice.
Unfortunately, as a fan base, we still appear committed to taking our frustration out on the players. And so, we continue to hand out horns. As one goat moves on we quickly replace him with another. Funny thing though. It does seem more often than not, that these goats that were once not good enough to play on our unsuccessful team, are suddenly successful on their new teams. And to add further insult, many a night when these goats have returned to play our team, they have left with a smile and 2 points in hand. We on the other hand, are left with a set of horns in the proverbial “where the sun don’t shine”.