The Crowd: Are They Into It, or Out of It?: an article by the Prof...

One thing about the Nashville game was different, somehow, from other games I have seen. It was the crowd’s reaction. Recalling that Nashville scored two goals, less than a minute apart, and the crowd who attended – like I did at home – must have thought, “Here we go again!” And, of course, they were right – the Oilers could not recover.

But, then an odd thing happened – Edmonton Oiler goalie Jeff Deslauriers made an easy save. Any other time, the crowd would have given an ironic cheer – a cat call of sorts – to let the team feel the crowd’s disappointment. “One minute left in the First Period” – cheers for the team down 3-0. But, nothing. No ironic jeering – no attitude – nothing at all. I had never seen such a reaction.

My first reaction was: “Well, good for them. Leave the poor guys alone – they must feel bad enough anyway, without all of us adding fuel to their internal fires.” I have often, during this recent losing streak – though, in the Oiler’s case, it has been less of a streak than a slow letting the air out of the balloon – thought about my own limited sports background.

Although I wanted badly to play sports past high school, I was never good enough: ergo, my football and basketball “careers” either ended in high school or became relegated to “the guys” regularly getting together at the university for a pick up game of b-ball.

But I know of losing. And, I hated it. I recalled, during high school football, when you were losing and you knew you would not win, players began to care less about the score and more about “settling the score” – hurting the guy on the other team. Kneeing him in a pile – the extra push off his helmet as you used him to lift yourself up from the ground.

All these things seem stupid now, but in the heat (and it was an angry space) of the battle – you were so upset you really didn’t care. And, this not for any reasons of strategy – as the sports analysts would offer – as in, we want them to know next time things will be different. No. It was really more about taking out your frustrations in some painful way on the “other guy.”

So, in some small way, I can identify with how the Oiler’s players are feeling about losing. They must hate it. And, anyone thinking that the money of being a professional makes up for the losing is foolish – it doesn’t. Being older than 60 years of age provides one with a great deal of experiential insight and a good measure of understanding of others. These Edmonton Oilers’ players, basically, are kids who want to do well and, for some reason no one seems able to fathom, cannot. Honestly, I cannot even imagine their own frustrations with their playing and how sensitive they must be to all the criticism they get from the fans and the media.

And so, here we are, back to the fans. Why the fan’s reaction? Why no jeering? Honestly, I don’t know. Perhaps, as I speculate here, the fans are showing that they care and are considerate about the feelings of the players who, the fans understand, must feel really horrible. And, the fans don’t want to add to those feelings. Perhaps the fans understand how deeply embarrassing – after four days of serious attempts (the mini camp) to fix the problems – that the problems are obviously not fixed at all. And, perhaps the fans came to see that these young players had two more entire periods of being completely exposed as failures in front of thousands of their fans.

Of course, there is another explanation. Perhaps, the fans don’t care anymore – they have completely given up. But, I still think the fans care. There is something about being an Oiler fan – something filial (we are family – we belong to each other, the team and fans). We are painfully loyal.

No, I think the fans are showing lots of class, lots of consideration for the state of affairs, and lots of empathy for the young people who play on this exceedingly unsuccessful Oiler’s team. I think we are starting to treat these young hockey players less as professionals and more like we would our own kids who are playing Pee Wee AA. No caring family member would ever yell at young hockey players when things got really tough; and, when you saw these young hockey players were suffering you would not add to that suffering. You would try to encourage and support.

I have no idea the outcome of the Oiler’s season, but my guess it will be one of continued losing and frustration. Perhaps this losing will go on for another year past this one.

I will remain an Oiler fan and, should they lose every game, I will still keep watching. I will savor the wins, and ignore the newspaper descriptions of their ineptness the day after they lose. I care about this Oilers’ team and the players who play in it. And, I think the fans’ uncharacteristic reaction to the on-ice frustrations of the team during the Nashville game is proof that the fans care as well.

I was heartened by the fans’ display of good sportsmanship and consideration, and I hope it lasts – even though it is frustrating and we will continue to live and die with our team. Sadly, we will probably need all the sportsmanship we can get. It seems as if it is gonna be a long year for Oilers’ fans.


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Should A Mistake This Big Cost Someone Their Job?

These days in the NHL, there are all sorts of people making mistakes. Mistakes, that if the person claiming the mistake was made had their way, would likely cost the offender their job.

Take referee Stephane Auger for example. Alex Burrows was so upset and found Auger's actions so unacceptable, he felt real NHL punishment was warranted. To Burrows credit, he had a lot of people believing him. All of course except the NHL, who decided there wasn't enough proof to remove Auger from his role as an NHL referee; which would have likely been the only real option should he have been found guilty.

Others will contend that what Auger did (if he in fact did it) was something that likely often happens and that in the end doesn't affect a referees overall ability to be objective over the course of their career.

What does this have to do with the Edmonton Oilers?

I bring up Auger and Burrows only as an example as to the extremes that fans will side on an issue. Some find no other option but to fire Auger citing the credibility of the refs in the NHL from this day forward, while others think its so small that its silly to have gotten this much attention.

Right here at home, the Oilers might have a similar issue.

After it was announced today that Nikolai Khabibulin would undergo surgery that will likely put him out for the remainder of the season, one would have to say signing Khabibulin was not just a mistake, but one so big, it could theoretically set the Oilers back two to three years.

Others might suggest that the sky has not yet fallen.

What's your take?

Everyone knew signing Khabibulin was a risk. He was not much younger than Dwayne Roloson, who of course the Oilers weren't shy about suggesting was too old for a two year contract. Bulin has a history of injury, and even if none of that were a factor, has one Stanley Cup run that seems to have outweighed the less than stellar career numbers he has attached to his name in the NHL. At most, he's a better than average veteran goaltender.

As is, the Oilers sit 15th in the western conference. They're not just a bad team, they're a team that can't compete in a lot of cases and while it's hard or unfair to lay blame on two near rookie goaltenders in Deslauriers and Dubnyk, not having a number one goalie is a huge part of the problem.

The Oilers will now be without one for a while. Khabibulin's injury will remove him from action for at least 12 weeks. Not good news, but also not unexpected.

The problem is, they'll be paying him, and while they can use injury to delegate that money elsewhere this year should they choose to, have another three years of the same type of worry to look forward to. Should this be an ongoing issue, the Oilers have $15 million nad four years locked up in a goalie who while in and out of the lineup will cost Edmonton every penny of that deal whether Khabibulin chooses to retire or not.

When a mistake like this is made, what does an organization do? It's hardly a mistake one should overlook. To some, the error is so large, it warrants removing the man responsible even if that person has only had a small run in their current position.

Is it a mistake that can be compared to trading Roberto Luongo for Todd Bertuzzi? Probably not. But it's no small potatoes either.

If Tambellini is behind this move, it says a lot about what he finds is a priority for this club moving forward. It also says a lot about how he handles his business and begs the question; for an Oilers team that badly needs improvement, is the way in which Tambellini makes decisions, the best option for this franchise?

The Khabibulin signing was a quick, rash and impulse decision. The Oilers didn't think he was available. They were suprised by his interest and scooped him without clearly thinking it through, simply because they had the chance to land "the most proven goaltender in free agency". They were competing, (or least led to believe they were), got pulled in and bit hard.

As a result, do the Edmonton Oilers as an organazation allow Tambellini to make this kind of mistake again?

On the contrary, if Kevin Lowe was behind it, some will suggest the time is now clearly obvious that Lowe did more harm than good as a man pulling the strings for the Oilers franchise during his tenure. Something like this after a series of three years of poor decisions demonstrates that he should gracefully walk away from his role and allow someone with a better grasp on the salary cap, the state of the NHL, and control over their emotions to make decisions.

On the other side, some will argue that Khabibulin's injury, like any other before him, was as much luck (or unlucky in this case) as it was something predictable. That the Oilers signed the best option available to them and if given the chance should always make that kind of decision, even though this one didn't pan out as many had hoped.

What would you do? Are you of the mind that Tambellini can still be the right person for the job? His track record thus far isn't glowing. Is it a clean house before it gets any worse attitude in your eyes?

For me, I'm not certain, but if I were Daryl Katz, I can't imagine overlooking a mistake this big. A decision that the minute it was made, was questionable even if Khabibulin could have stayed healthy and considering the other options available to Edmonton at that time.

For this season, we know it doesn't matter. The Oilers will deal with the news as best they can. It could mean a lottery pick, so silver lining is there. For the final three years of Kahbibulin's deal?

That's possibly another story.


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Old Faces Making Oilers Losing Streak Even More Painful

The Oilers lose another one on Tuesday to the Nashville Predators. Apparently, a four-day mini-camp isn't enough to change the fortunes of this Oilers team for this season.

For many fans, that might be considered good news as a Oiler team that all of a sudden starts to win a few games in a row, takes the Oilers ever further away from a lottery pick in this coming NHL entry draft.

What hurts though, is when former players, who could have easily been current Oilers remind us that the Edmonton Oilers may be chalked full of more than just on-ice mistakes.

Take Rob Schremp and Dwayne Roloson for example. If you look at the Islanders game on Tuesday, you see a couple interesting stats staring back at you. Former Oilers cast-offs (and that really is the best term to describe them) are once again making Edmonton look like they may be on the wrong end of a welcome back or goodbye decision from the past.

Nikolai Khabibulin was brought in to replace the aging Roloson, who wanted to stay in Edmonton for two more years. The Oilers, in their infinite wisdom, decided Roloson was too old and instead of offering a very fair (and likely lower than value)contract, which Roloson would accepted, overpaid for an almost equally as old Khabibulin for four years. Khabibulin, as we all know is now likely done for the year and the Oilers as a result are in salary cap hell.

To boot, Roloson has a shut-out, is by far the best of three proven NHL goalies in New York and has a healthy 2.77 GAA on a still unproven Islanders team. To me and even more impressive Roloson continues to show his hockey smarts.

In a recent NYI game against Phoenix, how much veteran presence he brings to a team becomes quite evident. Did anyone else notice the over eight minutes he kept Phoenix short-handed when they chose to not put a player in the penalty box to start the period?

In NHL rules, if the time on the penalty expires, but no player is in the box, the team must continue short until a whistle. Roloson made about three great plays to keep the referee from calling icing, which would then allow Phoenix to bring a man back on the ice. Talk about hockey smarts from a player who didn't need a coach to let him know the situation presenting itself.

Hindsight is of course 20/20, and no one could have forseen Khabibulin's injury (well, maybe we could have considering his age and history of injuries), but Roloson has made a career of being just a tad smarter than most goalies. A team like Edmonton could have used that this season.

Meanwhile, Rob Schremp has 14 points in 25 games for the Isles. He scored two on Tuesday and is on pace for 33 points. Sadly, he's going to out-produce a player like Andrew Cogliano in a fraction of the time and likely tie the production of a Robert Nilsson. Both players of course are making much more money than Schremp, who simply wanted a chance in an Oiler uniform for more than five games to show what he could do.

To the Oilers defence, Schremp started slow in NYI, but has since found a groove this season. The Oilers gave those opportunities to other players, yet for some reason not to Schremp, who if successful will have stuck it to the Oilers as many players have done before him.

Curtis Glencross, Raffi Torres, Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene and Joni Pitkanen to name a few are all having better seasons after leaving Edmonton than they have in some time.

What is it about leaving that makes these players better?

I'd suggest that on every coin, there are two sides, but how many players can you name currently with the Oilers that are having a better season in Edmonton than they have anywhere else they've played?

Perhaps only Dustin Penner and Gilbert Brule. Penner's production versus his break-out year in Anaheim, could be a marginal improvement and Brule was touted as a hopeful reboot after leaving Columbus. No one knew if Brule was going to ever make a NHL career of his potential and he's yet to prove he's anything more than a third liner.

For me, it's not the losing that bothers me. I can see the silver lining on the cloud with a top three draft pick. What bothers me, is that this losing could have been avoided if the Oilers had made some different decisions.

Are Schremp and Roloson the answer to all of Edmonton's problems? Of course not. But a long history of over-evaluating what never turns out and under-evaluating what has real potential, haunts this Oilers team.

It makes a losing streak like this, at a time I watch of lot of hockey besides Edmonton losing, even more unbareable.


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The Rest of This Oilers Season Should Be About Systems: Who Are Pat Quinn and Tom Renney Believers...

It's becoming ever increasingly clear that the Oilers will not make the playoffs. Just by taking a quick glance at what their record would need to be these last 40 games or so, one would logically suggest a top three draft pick is more likely than a playoff birth.

Thus, the Oilers organization will likely not go on record with a plan of action (seeing as that plan would involve not improving the team this season). Doing so would risk a bad reaction from fans who paid good money and Oilers players who need to go into every game with the feeling the team is behind them.

Behind closed doors however is another story.

The Oilers should be evaluating their situation constantly. The recent four day "mini-camp" is one way to do so. What should they be evaluating? Who should they be grading and on what criteria? I don't think it's who is playing well right now and who's not. I don't even think it's who is your "best talent" and revolving the future roster of this team around them.

To me, the only route of success, besides of course drafting your way to a winning team, is to keep the players that understand and are willing to play Pat Quinn and Tom Renney style of hockey.

We don't know much about the Oilers. What we do know, is that the coaching staff is most likely here to stay for the forseeable future. The players will go long before the coaches will and if the players and coaches and how they expect a hockey game to be played don't match, wins won't come.

This is regardless of the talent, the willingness of individual players to score, and the "big names" you might be able to pluck from your roster or free agency.

Andrew Cogliano is a perfect example. Offensively, his numbers have been down. Not exactly the type of season fans and management had hoped for from the young forward. That said, Cogliano is quietly making a roster spot on this team in the future by adapting his game to suit more of a style Quinn would expect from the other 20 players on the Oilers who aren't playing that way.

Cogliano has become a more gritty, forechecking, two-way forward who is elements besides the 18-20 goals a season that were expected of him. Yes, we'd like the 20 goals and hope Cogliano can produce it, but while he isn't he's doing the other things he needs to, to stay out of the doghouse. Had he not been doing so, his days in Edmonton would have been over long ago.

If the type of players on this team that are unable to adapt are still here in the future, that will be a mistake. So, when management decides who to move at the deadline and who to keep, (of course besides the obvious question of who has value and who doesn't), moving pieces that do more than show you their talent is an error.

Take Curtis Glencross for example. The Oilers let him walk because offensively, they saw him as a 3rd liner at best and wanted to land a bigger fish. They forgot (or at least put a smaller emphasis on), the fact that he brings grit, two-way play, toughness and skill to any team he's on. A perfect way to look at it would be by examining the penalty kill. The Oilers have no short-handed goals this season, while Curtis Glencross has two.

This is not to suggest that players like a Shawn Horcoff, who is known more for the other elements he brings to a team besides offense and to this point has kept him in good graces for the Oilers aren't vulnerable. Horcoff is struggling mightily and at Horcoff's salary and the difficulty in moving his contract, Edmonton might be served well to trade Horcoff if the opportunity arose.

My point, is that there is a fine line between skill and ability and doing the necessary things required to be a team that plucks out wins when you lack skill or ability.

Players like Gilbert Brule, JF Jacques, Dustin Penner, Sam Gagner (when he's not on the first line), Sheldon Souray and as of late Robert Nillson; are players you don't blindly move unless you can replace them.

In the case of some of these names, consistency and value around the NHL is a question, so any rule is meant to be broken. All in all, suggesting the Oilers keep only the "best" players, won't help this team in the future.

Management learned this lesson the hard way and as a consequence sits 15th in the western conference. Why? Because they went and tried to sign only skill when they built this team and forgot players with the ability to adapt to the coaches way of thinking might actually help.


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