Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Kerrzy’s Notebook: Is Edmonton that bad?

Things haven’t been great for the Edmonton Oilers since that last trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

They’ve missed the playoffs in four straight seasons, with a franchise-worst fifth miss upcoming, there is a very real chance that they could finish dead last for a second straight year and there are some real question marks for the bosses to think about during the off-season…but is Edmonton really that bad of a place to play?

A CBC/NHLPA poll released over the weekend broached a wide range of topics, from best/most demanding coach, to the players’ favorite rink, to the instigator rule, to the league’s best referee. It also hit on a couple of things that Oilers fans have heard for a while now: The 300+ players polled say that Rexall Place has really good ice, but lots of players would rather not call Edmonton home.

While 27% of players listed the NY Islanders as the team they would “least like to play on,” the Oilers were right behind them at 20%. It doesn’t get much more clear cut than that – no other team in the top five has more than an 8% share of the vote (Buffalo, 8%; Atlanta, 7%, Toronto/Montreal, 5%).

So what is it?

For all the bad things happening with the team right now, there is also a lot of promise: A core group of young forwards that are exceeding expectations, a young goaltender who has shown flashes of brilliance and a roster that, if injuries don’t tear it apart, can be pretty damn good on any given night. Yes, last season was rough on just about everyone involved (fans included), but there are at least some positives this time around.

What does Head Coach Tom Renney think about the poll results?

“People want to win, there’s no question about that and that’s on us. At some point in time we do have to take the responsibility as an organization, us as a coaching staff, me as a head coach, to make this as good as it can possibly be so that people want to come here. We’re going to need one of those free agent guys to just come in here and help push us over the top, to be that contender we’re looking for.”

As for the perception that Edmonton isn’t a good place to play, Renney says they’re all working hard to change that idea:

“We’re going to fix that. We’re going to create a culture here that people want to be a part of. We’re going to win. We’re going to be a place where if you want to enjoy the complete hockey experience, for the purity that it is, for the love of the game, and maybe not the sex appeal of the bright lights and all those kinds of things, then Edmonton’s your stop. (“Promote global warming?” asks one of the reporters) I think the weather’s great, I love this!”

It hasn’t all been injuries and losses for the Oilers in the past few seasons – there have also been a couple of controversies mixed in there, like Chris Pronger’s exit a few years ago and the Sheldon Souray drama from the start of this season. Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff says those things might have been factors:

“I think for players, a lot of it is just the unknown. There were obviously some bad situations that happened over the last couple of years that maybe taints players’ thoughts and ideas about playing in Edmonton, but the only thing that’s going to change that is if we start winning around here and changing those attitudes. Players will always follow teams that win.”

What’s one thing that the Oil have going for them, regardless of what the standings say? You, says Horcoff:

“The one thing we have is great fans, I’m not too sure if that was polled (it wasn’t), but I think anywhere you ask around the league, players are going to know that when you come to Edmonton it’s always packed, they’re always loud and they support us and they’re knowledgeable, so that’s one thing that’s always in our corner and players enjoy playing in front of that.”

If players took this poll during every off-season I wonder how often the answers to team-related questions would mirror the standings?

Let’s be honest: You wouldn’t think a team that is headed for its second straight bottom-three season would rank high on anyone’s list, would you? It seems like there’s a pretty simple formula to turning things around though: win games, earn respect, attract players. The Oilers aren’t winning, but they’re close. They’ve got a good group that, when healthy, is close to being something better than “good.” They just need to take that next step.

Should hearing that other guys around the league don’t think much of their organization serve as a bit of a wakeup call for the players? Does it now become more of a “pride” thing when they pull on that sweater? Will winning cure all?

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!

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