by Lisa McRitchie on 11/16/11 at 01:30 AM ET
“I don’t think they realize yet what it takes to win on a nightly basis… It starts in your own head. The minute that you man up and buy in and understand how much it hurts to be a winner, we have a shot. Right now, not good enough.” That’s head coach Tom Renney on Sunday night after his team’s third loss in a row, this one against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I’m not sure how much more I can do with limited minutes. I’m not sure why he (Renney) made the change against Detroit.” And that’s Oilers’ left winger Ben Eager, the man who was brought in to add toughness to a young Oiler lineup and yet has nine hits in thirteen games and no goals and only a single assist but he does have one fight.
During the off-season, GM Steve Tambellini and his staff set out to make the best improvements he could to his team. These improvements focused around toughness, experience and attitude, or so we thought.
The addition of both Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk were seen by some to be redundant, but for the most part fans understood and hoped that having two similar players would add to the team depth. They saw Eager brought in to bring his physical game, not lead the team in scoring. Especially not when through the past two seasons, Eager has amassed a total of seven goals.
Now although the entire Oiler team needs to toughen up or play tough, at least that is what we can assume is the message from the coach, Eager specifically has stood out to everyone as someone who is not playing their role. While Eager is not playing for a contract, and someone like Lennart Petrell is, there have been similar opportunities for both players.
In last week’s game against Boston Eager’s linemate Lennart Petrell had the same ice time and delivered 6 hits. Eager on the other hand, had zero hits. As mentioned, it is about more than hits, but hits are at least somewhat measurable and when compared amongst players of the same team can give indication how one player plays in comparison to another. Through this quick comparison, we see the feisty Finn standing up while Eager seems to be shrinking back.
Ben Eager signed a three year deal July 1st.
Perhaps Eager is hoping to stay out of the penalty box, you just never know what you might see from that seat, or perhaps Eager is still feeling some after effects from his pre-season concussion suffered during the Joey Moss cup. But this is November, and Eager and the team feel he is cleared and capable of playing. If Eager is still suffering post concussion symptoms the long wait for Sidney Crosby to return to the lineup should have made for a safe feeling environment for a player to say he doesn’t feel ready to play yet; that there is still something wrong.
No matter what is happening behind the scenes, most people are concerned that Eager doesn’t feel he has enough minutes to be effective at his job. Was there a communication disconnect when Eager signed with the Oilers; did Eager think he was coming in to be a top six forward? What it looks like is a bottom six forward who has signed a nice three year deal and wants to play a different role than he was brought in to play.
Now that the Oilers have dropped their past three games, Renney will be looking for even more from his players. If Renney says that he is looking for players to “man up and buy in and understand how much it hurts to be a winner” then it doesn’t matter if you are Ryan Smyth or Ben Eager, you had better figure out just what it is that you are expected to do. Although most of us know what is expected from Eager, does he? By making comments like the one Eager made to the media, it appears not.
Eager is not the only player that needs to take his game up another step, but he stands out the most. What a time we live in that so many are looking forward to the return of Darcy Hordicuk, and saying “what this team needs is more Hordichuk.” Maybe that is exactly what this team needs after all.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
Although the Oilers have had a difficult past decade… or three, here at Oil Patch, the future looks bright.
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