Sunday, 11 January 2009

Gloom - Not Just a Card Game

[My bad folks, Gloom is a card game that I actually play (and enjoy). For me to reference the game but not include a picture of it, especially one so apropos, was just plain wrong. Hence the correction.]

Lowetide has a nice GDT (Oilers vs. St. Louis) and in it he talks about the unhappy season progressing to date, to be more precise I will simply quote:

"Tonight marks the halfway point in the season for the Edmonton Oilers. This has not been a happy season so far, it has in fact been same old, same old and that my friends is causing some commotion in the fanbase."

BDHS also has a post up today and while the resonance is deliberate BDHS tries to look for the origin, or source, of the joyless Oil we have today. Again, to quote:

"There is a lot of grumbling about the Oilers these days and even the terminally cheerful, like LT, are starting to tire of a franchise that has, with one exception, wallowed in mediocrity for the last fifteen years or so. I think the club is where many of us thought it would be, in the mix for the playoffs, but the journey has been an unsatisfying one this season. Points have been thrown away with poor efforts and odd coaching decisions. [quick - go to link to read more]"

Much like BDHS I will try, in this post, to wonder where the problem lies. I do think I know where it is.

Simply put, this team, THE TEAM, doesn't know sweet-f%*k-all about what is going on.

Playoffs... or Not?

I have written about this many times - the team has not been set up to be a team that is serious about making the play-offs. Even in my, late to be sure, season preview - where I am wrong about a lot of things - the one thing I am absolutely right about is this:

While this should be a team that finishes in the play-offs the risk factors are incredibly high.

A team that is serious about making the play-offs keeps two of Torres, Reasoner, Stoll and Glencross on the roster. It just does.

So while Lowe could hide behind the state of NHL economics up to 2005/06 and he had some cover (slim as it was) working in his favor 2006/07 (Pronger) and 2007/08 (Smyth) he doesn't have anything to hide behind this year.

Worse yet, the ills facing the team appear to be, more and more, symptomatic in nature.

All of the above is on Lowe. On MacT (in terms of dedicating the team to make the play-offs) - why isn't Horpensky playing together from day one, why isn't Smid paired with Staios and why is Gagner playing on the penalty kill units?

Development Season... or Not?

So if it isn't a Playoff team then maybe it is a team getting ready for a run next year? Maybe this year is about teaching the young guys a few things so that next year we can all play street hockey for the Cup next year!

So then why is Cole here, and why is Visnovsky here? And why are we putting in big time on guys who are just entering their 2nd or 3rd year in the NHL?

Gagner, the new team centerpiece, is only 18 years old, a team that is serious about a next year is using a current year to finish player development - not finding out if a guy can even play on the penalty kill units; let alone contribute positively.

So then it isn't really about this year. And it isn't really about next year. It is about years from now.

So if it about years from now then Gagner's development time makes sense. How about Smid's development time then? He has shown incremental improvement every year and on a 'years-from-now' he is one of the few defensemen who will be entering his prime when the window of opportunity opens.

All of the above is on Lowe - how can one say this year and next year when it is obvious that yfn is what you mean. On MacT (in terms of dedicating the team to player development) - why aren't Pouliot and Brodziak taking the 3rd and 4th line duties, why is Pisani playing at center and why isn't Smid paired with Staios (an interesting double appearance there)?


Now think about team identity for a second. All through the lean years the team had a semblance of one - mostly that of 'work-your-ass-off' and 'we-are-all-pluggers-here'. This wasn't true of all players but it was, at least I believe so, true of the leadership core of the team.

Given how he forced the trade to St. Louis I may never be a fan, again, of Doug Weight BUT as long as he was here you couldn't say he didn't ably lead the team.

Can we say that about this team's leadership core? Team captain Ethan Moreau:

- won't pass to a fellow team-mate on his line;
- kicks same team-mate out of the face-off circle just so that he promptly lose said face-off;
- takes ill-advised penalties, consistently; and
- refuses to play to his skill set (more 4th line and less 3rd line) and then has the gall to start calling out the younger guys

I have always enjoyed, and valued, Moreau's warrior spirit but true leadership takes humility.

Meanwhile two players, whose work ethic is a continual struggle, are signed to lucrative contracts (Penner and Nilsson of course). Neither of which would even be on the team if it hadn't been for misplayed management decisions.

So who exactly is establishing the identity of this team? Almost 20% of the teams payroll is tied up in the unfocused (Penner, Nilsson), undisciplined (Moreau) and less effective (Moreau and Staios).

And Then, Karma

So take all the above and mix. Don't let the top-line gell, don't let the soft-minute line play together, don't play proven tandems, don't play last years clear #1 goaltender, etc. Whatever you do - do not let the team gain any momentum.

Normally that would be a recipe for disaster, yet somehow the team stays healthy and manages to hang out at, or near, the play-off spot that makes it all make sense.

Amazing really.

But then Karma does what she does and just as the team is getting serious about line-ups and rosters and a long series of home games means its time to harvest, the main cog in the wheel gets injured.

When all your risk factors are through the roof, it is only a matter of time. And Karma.

Back to Point

Have you ever worked for a boss that makes stupid decision after stupid decision but never gets called on it by his bosses? Well, imagine you are one of the mid-range vets on this team. This has to be a maddening year for them.

The older vets can't lead as they would like to, the mid-range vets are left to carry a load that holds little reward and the kids barely even know how to play. The goaltending has no long-term future, the new kids are all smurfs, the payroll is screwed for years to come and the holes in the roster are big enough to fly jumbo-jets through.

Who signed on for that? They all did actually. But that doesn't make it any easier. To their credit Horcoff, Souray, et al are still putting in workmanlike efforts.

My belief is this:

The team, as constituted, lacks vision (in the headoffice) and identity (on the ice) and in knowing that the players on the team are having a hard time of it buying in and it shows.

A team that believes in itself and what it is doing would be better than this. Maybe not in terms of points, but definitely in terms of 'try'.

As fans we would recognize that, and rejoice.


Have a great evening everyone. Enjoy the game tonight.

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