So the Oiler rebuild isn’t the Pittsburgh or Chicago model. Well, those teams both had/ have special players. Combinations of amazing young talent, productive support players and outstanding leadership. The Oilers appear to be trending more in line with the Islanders current rebuild. Lots of elite young talent, but missing the right mix of everything else. The Islanders however, appear to be turning the corner and starting to be become consistent competitors. Finally, success has given rise to a growing confidence within their core group. With this core confidence, defined leadership is emerging and effective support player contribution is following.
Eventually, this needs to happen for Edmonton. Core confidence. Leadership. Effective support players. Success. Until these competencies occur the debate will continue as to whether the Oilers have the right mix of players tied to its core group. What will it take for Edmonton’s core group to start consistently proving that they can compete on any given night under any given circumstance? Given there has been a plethora of discussion concerning the core’s skill and the team’s support players perhaps a review of the core’s leadership abilities is warranted.
Can any of the success achieved by both Pittsburgh and Chicago during their rebuilds be attributed to leadership? Did each team have at least one player capable of challenging his teammates as a group or individually to be better and through such actions galvanize the competitive spirits of their team? Perhaps. And if so, is this something that Edmonton’s core group is lacking? As spectators, we have witnessed various members of Edmonton’s core group dominate a game. Unfortunately, this level of compete is inconsistent from game to game for each player. Is it wrong to expect that at least one member of this core group would emerge as a voice of challenge? Are they all too comfortable with each other and afraid of conflict? Would RNH feel awkward telling Eberle to pick his game up? How about Hall telling Yakupov to back check harder. Or Yakupov telling Schultz Jr. to work on his reads and move the puck faster.
So how important is this role to the Oilers? Well, supposedly a guy named Messier was one of league’s best leaders ever. He led not only by example, but through his challenging of teammates. This he was recognized for. So, the role can carry great importance. I find it interesting that Eakins selected Ference to be the Oilers captain. Not because I don’t think Ference was the best suited for it, but because Ference was the best suited for it! Is it probable that Eakins selection of Ference is an indication of the fact that none of Edmonton’s core group has a dominate leader? I look at our core RNH, Hall, Eberle, Yakupov, Schultz Jr. and I just can’t get a sense as to who might have the “balls” to be the one to challenge his buddies, and if needed, tear each of them a “new one”. Really, who?
I know for many this is going to conflict with their theories, but there may be another player close enough to this core group, yet distant enough to fill this role. This is Sam Gagner. Yes, he still has a ways to go as far as being a well-rounded player. His short comings have been well documented. But of all the voices in that locker room Gagner likely knows the plight of this core group the best and yet has the experience to connect with all other players.
Whether it is Gagner that can provide this role or someone else within Edmonton’s core group it needs to happen. This core group has to be held accountable for each games performance not only from their coaches but from their peers as well. If not, this core will be broken up soon to find the right mix of competencies to achieve success.