In 2011, Sportsnet started airing a series on the Edmonton Oilers called Oil Change. Much like the 24/7 series aired by HBO, it was a no holds barred, inside look at a team, this one in rebuild. It was meant to give viewers a bird’s eye view of how a team was torn down and built up again, on the road to becoming a championship caliber team.
Well, either the series was looking at a ten year run (touché, I know), or perhaps (and most likely) the team was suffering from the presence of these cameras in their midst. Naturally, we can lay blame for the last four years at the feet of crappy players and Steve Tambellini. But, did Oil Change help magnify problems for them?
I’d wager they did.
Dallas Eakins, upon his arrival in Edmonton, banned the cameras from the dressing room. That was the beginning of the end for the dramatically rendered documentary show. Produced by Edmonton-based production company Aquila, it was kind of a crown jewel for them and the hope, as mentioned before, was to lens the team as they were experiencing playoff glory. Naturally, that hasn’t happened. And the show is part of the reason.
Imagine being 18, 19, 20 years old. You’ve just gone through the gauntlet of the NHL Entry Draft, media attention and the realization YOU are the centerpiece of this broken team’s fortunes. Now, imagine that every second of that evolutionary process of becoming a great hockey player is on display for millions over the web and on TV.
Something I think a lot of people forget is that these are young men, still in or at least barely out of their teens. If I remember correctly, I was playing video games, checking out the bar for the first time and starting college. These young men? They get analyzed to death if they go out for few drinks on their day off. They “don’t work hard”, they’re “lazy millionaires” and so on and so forth.
Take the fishbowl that is Edmonton and make a TV series about it. Wait, seriously?
I’ll admit I watched quite a few episodes of the show. It was well done if not a little overwrought. This is not a knock on the show itself. It was very good. But, the dressing room is like a debriefing room in wartime. You can throw your helmet, yell foul words at the top of your lungs, whip your teammate in the butt with a wet towel, talk about the hot girl a few rows behind the penalty box—in other words, they can be themselves.
You can bet your bippy that they were more reserved, putting only their best foot forward so as to not besmirch the image of the team. I might sound a little dramatic claiming that these cameras had a major impact on the team. I think they did. When the lens fixes itself on you, you become a different person. You either withdraw or you turn into a game show host. As we all know, hockey players are not usually exciting interview subjects. They use the word “obviously” like they get paid to say it.
“Obviously, y’know, we gotta stop taking these dumb penalties, cause, obviously they are giving them the momentum”….and so it goes.
No matter. A rebuilding professional team with raw young men as its foundation is NOT the proper environment for a reality show. The seasons featured in the show were all disastrous in the end, and these young guys now have it archived for all to see. Embarassing plays, water bottles getting thrown, blowout losses, injuries, jerseys on the ice–all the tumultuous, dark stuff was beamed into peoples living rooms.
Now, in the wake of Eakins’ directive to get the cameras out of the dressing room, the show has fizzled. The high drama of the dressing room is gone and with that the connective tissue the producers needed to make it work. Thank goodness. While any show about the Oilers is worth watching, Oil Change was an exercise not worth repeating. Sure it wasn’t the cameraman whiffing on a one timer, but maybe–just maybe–they whiffed because the reasons why were always caught in glorious high definition.