Every once in a while we get a window into just what is wrong inside the Edmonton Oilers. It crystalized perfectly on Saturday night against Chicago, another dysfunctional moment in a 7-1 home-ice loss, where a snapshot of this crippled rebuild was presented.
Watch this video and know that, just five minutes before when Edmonton’s Keith Aulie had stepped up and cranked Chicago’s Ben Smith with a crushing check, three different Chicago Blackhawks players had immediately flown to the aid of their fallen teammate.
Not a lot happened in that scrum, and the Blackhawks even traded a powerplay for a shorthanded situation in a game they led 6-0 at the time. But the Chicago players didn’t care. They were looking out for each other. They had each other’s backs, and Aulie knew it.
Well, watch this:
When veteran defenceman Michal Rozsival belted Edmonton’s latest 19-year-old star player into the boards dangerously from behind, the Edmonton response was to do nothing. To not care. Rozsival had Draisaitl’s back, why should they?
Draisaitl’s teammates basically told the rest of the league, “This is our youngest, most vulnerable player, but you can do to him whatever you wish with absolute impunity.” Leon Draisaitl, a 19-year-old kid from Germany being forced into NHL action because GM Craig MacTavish came up short at centre again this season, was left completely on his own.
The head coach for now, Dallas Eakins, was asked about the play on Monday: “I think our guys know when to stand up for each other,” he said straight-faced. “It’s a delicate balance in the game. Sometimes it’s somebody coming to your defence, and sometimes you’ve got to look after yourself as well.”
Here is why this small incident tells us so much.
The score was 6-0 for Chicago, so preserving the ensuing powerplay was meaningless. But the DNA of this team is to prefer to float through a man advantage than engage in physical play.
The offensive zone faceoff was even more meaningless. Yet, both Oilers defencemen exercised their right to stay atop the faceoff circles to preserve that draw, and not get their hands dirty in defence of a teenager. The play occurred right in front of them. They should have raced each other to get to Roszival.
On the hit, Rozsival was collecting penalty minutes No. 3 and 4 on the season for boarding, making him the antithesis of a scary player to stand up to. But that didn’t stop 6-foot-3 winger Teddy Purcell from pretending he hadn’t seen what happened. The 29-year-old, 422-game veteran flat out didn’t respond when his teenaged linemate had been crushed illegally.
Taylor Hall finally skated up and bumped shoulders with Rozsival, averting his eyes the entire time. Someone had to, but the sense from Hall was, “Hey, this isn’t my job.” Which is a problem in Edmonton, because being hard to play against isn’t anyone’s job, beyond Matt Hendricks, Steve Pinizzotto and Aulie.
I asked Jordan Eberle about the play on Monday, and he said, “I don’t even know if I remember that play.” (That Eakins has not shown that piece of film to his team shows his level of commitment to physical, team play and team unity.)
“I’m sure guys talked about it,” Eberle said of responding.
He’s sure guys “talked about it.”
Eberle also mentioned the instigator penalty, a boogeyman that players in this dressing have trotted out for some many years when asked why Rexall Place is such an easy place for opponents to play. There is no unity here, and far too many players who find it below themselves to dirty their hands with something as crass as defending a teammate, screening a goalie, or going hard to a net. Let the help do that. Call me when we’re on the powerplay.
The players aren’t playing for each other, and they are certainly not playing for this coach. The GM crippled his coach when he gave him only two NHL centres and not a single No. 1 goaltender this season. The only person looking out for anyone around here is the owner, who hired all his childhood heroes to run the team.
Just in case that video did not affirm that a pack mentality, or any sense of caring for a boy in a man’s league is nonexistent inside this dressing room, Eakins made it clear that Draisaitl is on his own from here on in when he closed with, “sometimes you’ve got to look after yourself as well.”
Put a boy in a man’s league, then tell him, “Go look after yourself.”
The anti-fighting folks will dismiss this as a call for thuggery. It is simply a call for something, anything that might make us believe that someone inside this organization has someone else’s back.
The goalie coach found out his answer on Monday, when Frederic Chabot was tossed over the railing and replaced by yet another coach who will make his NHL debut with Edmonton, one Dustin Schwartz.
Dead last in the NHL standings, it was the obvious move.