Earlier this season, Edmonton Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins decided to remove the bulk of the memorabilia that was tied to the 1980′s era team. He wanted this version of the team to forge its own identity. Sensing that the continuous presence of the legendary team of yore may add unwanted pressure to a group already in a hockey mad city, the coach didn’t want the visage of Wayne Gretzky staring down at the players like some eerie oil painting at Windsor Castle.
Fair enough. There are plenty of reminders still abounding such as the statue outside and the 5 Cup banners they play under. But it leaves one to wonder whether or not the dressing room has become an incubator for discontent. Eakins had said on many occasions that he tends to let his players be after a tough loss, so as to not “pile on”. It could very well be, however, that wounds fester as they enter the room.
Captain Andrew Ference, who came to the Oilers by way of free agency from the Boston Bruins, was crowned Grand Poobah of the copper and blue not long after his arrival. Naturally, I cannot speak for the state of the team nor about what happens behind closed doors. But if I were one of the young players who have been hailed as the future of the team, I may not take well to the appointment of a fellow who has no idea what turmoil the team has endured over the last few years.
On the other hand, perhaps the young stars needed a guiding hand from an outside force that had experience winning. Regardless, the look on Taylor Hall’s face after scoring the 2nd of the Oilers two goals in a losing effort to the San Jose Sharks Tuesday, tells the story. He could score ten goals, but in his mind, the score is likely to be 11-10 for the other team. Currently, Hall is one of the very select few continuing to elevate his game. As the season has progressed, he has shown better two way play, a stronger backcheck, and a penchant for less risky passing.
I can’t say the same for the rest of the team. New arrivals like Matt Hendricks and Ben Scrivens seem rather appalled at the lack of “buy in”. Scrivens seemed bewildered in the after game comments he made after the 5-2 loss. Lamenting the fact that the team “doesn’t seem to want to” adopt the system in front of them, you can see the frustration building. Hendricks also made similar comments, pointing out the fact that some players focus on a “special play” rather than a complete game.
No matter how we fans may view it, I can’t help but think that these young players feel it even more. I’ve tried to place myself in their shoes. Imagine being a 20 year old kid, making $6 million a year in the house that Gretzky built, on a team that hasn’t seen playoff action for 8 years. Imagine that just a few years ago, they were probably sitting in their parents basement playing XBOX, not knowing they would one day be under the microscope that is Oil Country.
The dressing room, especially in the aftermath of the beatdown by Cowtown last weekend, is likely not a place full of sunshine and rainbows. It’s probably full of a bunch of guys barely out of their teens, questioning their ability and whether they have lost a once proud fan base. Let’s hope management can bring them back to a happier place.