by Lisa McRitchie on 04/10/12 at 12:30 AM ET
It was once again an early spring garbage bag day for the Edmonton Oilers and another basement season to be discussed. As the players came to speak to the media the message appeared clear the veterans seem more accepting of how the season went perhaps due to so many years of mediocrity while youngsters like Taylor Hall are extremely disappointed with this season and have not accepted this as their fate.
Taylor Hall’s video made available by the Oilers’ web crew proved to be the most interesting. Of all of the players, it was Hall who came right out and said that they haven’t been good enough and that next year has to be better, much better:
“We have a good young core here, we’re definitely exciting and we’ve definitely got a lot of potential but I think we were sitting here the same thing last year so at some point it has to turn into something that can’t be all hope and promise because we’ve got a lot of fans that are going to stop hoping and they’re going to stop coming.
“I think that next year has to be a playoff year, we have to be a contending team at least, a team that other teams are afraid to play because of our skill level, the way we compete and the way we play defence. So it is fun to be in that really young nucleus but we have to do something with it eventually.”
It’s great to see someone like Taylor Hall, a player who is likely to be the Oilers next captain speaking to the media with such grace and with that attitude. While captain Shawn Horcoff said that he wished that the team had saluted the ticket paying crowd who supported the team through the entire losing season he didn’t speak with the same frustration that Hall did.
Perhaps that means that he has become too used to losing.
While the letters on the jerseys don’t mean as much to the team as they do to the fans, Jason Gregor on his show on the Team 1260 Monday suggested that the letters get switched out and Hall should receive an A to start the transition to him eventually taking on the captaincy. That idea makes good sense for several reasons. Most obviously because the media accounts this season have said that he is a leader in the room but also because that is what he has shown on the ice. Hall is the player who seems to bring the most energy and who is the biggest game changer. When the team is down, it is Hall who will go into his next shift and chase the puck at every chance, crashing into every player and of course the ice.
Then there is also Hall’s work ethic. Since Andrew Cogliano, the Oilers have not seen a player suffer such traumatic injury and still keep playing through. For Cogliano it was an errant high stick to the mouth in Raleigh North Carolina where he lost teeth and subsequently had to have multiple surgeries to his lip to remove cysts that developed. Through it all, Cogliano didn’t miss a game. When Hall suffered a sickening skate to the face injury, he didn’t want to miss a game either. Had it not been for his wound “leaking” he would have insisted upon it.
But also, it has to be that Hall is young and represents the future. With his list of accomplishments in his young career, Hall is used to winning, and that is certainly not something that he has been experiencing with the Oilers. After hearing Hall speak Monday, it’s clear that he expects a better year next year but not just a little better, Hall expects a significant improvement.
Sam Gagner’s comments were also interesting, but he didn’t seem as annoyed as Hall. Gagner spoke of the fact that he has been with the Oilers for his entire NHL career, but has never played a playoff game. For him, that’s not acceptable either, but this is a player that is still searching and striving for some consistency. Most of the season, Gagner wasn’t just on a cold streak, he was ice cold going long stretches without points and instead of passing to players that were in great scoring position would make shots on net from bad angles. Without being in the room, it’s difficult to gauge what is happening, but from watching the game, some of us wonder if he is struggling with his role and identity with the team. Next year will be a better indication, especially with another top pick in the room, and unless Gagner is traded in the offseason. In order to get some of the missing pieces on the Oilers roster, some players will have to be moved and realistically Gagner could [possibly] be one of them.
While there are several other videos, Ryan Smyth’s video caught my interest as well. It was contract negotiations that saw Smyth leave Edmonton the first time and now that same issue is back to haunt Edmonton. Smyth speaks saying that he had hoped to have had a contract in place already, but there isn’t one. Whether it is because Smyth is looking for more than the Oilers are willing to offer, or where the Oilers see Smyth fitting in the team going forward, there has to be a disconnect.
It has to be difficult for Smyth to see younger players take his place (top six) in the lineup, but unfortunately for most players that’s inevitable. There are very few Teemu Selannes, and even more players like Mike Comrie who have to leave the game long before they want to or feel ready to. For Smyth, he at least has the fact that he can still play even if it is a diminished role. At the beginning of the year, Smyth was putting up incredible numbers, but as pointed out by everyone he played too many minutes. As the season progressed, he was worn out and the numbers didn’t just slow down, they seemed to halt completely. If Smyth wasn’t relied on as much, and more time was given to the younger and unfortunately for heart and soul players like Smyth, more skilled players perhaps he can sustain his scoring streak at whatever rate it will be.
I would like to see Smyth extended, I would like to see him finish his career as an Oiler, at home where he wants to be. But what the Oilers’ management team would like to do is yet to be seen.
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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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