GLENDALE — When we asked Craig MacTavish on Monday if he was more likely to dip into his young group of core players to make a trade, now that another coach had fallen, he said this:
“I don’t want to answer that question until I get a hands-on understanding of exactly what’s happening in (the dressing room). I want to have ample opportunity to have eyeball-to-eyeball conversations with the core group.”
What that really meant was, he needs to look Taylor Hall in the eye while Hall was answering the question: “Are you still in on this project Taylor? Or, after all of this losing, have you dialed out?” Same with Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
So, with trade rumours swirling around the 23-year-old Hall for the first time in his young career, we beat MacTavish to the punch Tuesday morning in Glendale. “Are you still fully engaged and in on this project?” we asked Hall. “Are you still ready to ride this thing out?”
“Absolutely,” he said to a media scrum. “I’ve said this off-camera to many people: It would be a shame to leave the group now. It wouldn’t feel right. It wouldn’t be a good feeling to leave the group in the stage we’re at. We want to make it to the final stage; we want to be a contending team in this league.”
Hall is not only the face of this franchise, he’s the small-scale version of everything that has gone on here. He has been a Top 10 scorer in the NHL in each of the past two seasons, yet just when you think some consistency may be setting in, Hall has been nicked up for much of the season, and played poorly on far too many nights.
That heinous giveaway still haunts him nightly, and the unwillingness to sit Hall down for half a period as a response haunts this franchise. The lack of accountability demanded from Hall, Eberle and Justin Schultz went a long way to losing the dressing room for Dallas Eakins, who was fired Monday.
There are mistakes, sure, but almost never a lack of try from Hall. The well-spoken and thoughtful 23-year-old seldom says the wrong thing, like when he is asked about yet another coach being fired, and what that says about this team: “There has been almost zero success since I’ve been here as an Oiler. Maybe one coach, you think, ‘OK, maybe the next one is going to be the guy to bring us there.’ But after a while you start looking in the mirror, and wondering how much you’re bringing to the team, and what I need to do to be better.
“Certainly this year has been an example of that. I haven’t been my best. I’m looking forward to getting my game back.”
You’d like to believe those words can be backed up, that change might finally happen one day in Edmonton. Then the first day of the Craig MacTavish-Todd Nelson coaching era ends Tuesday night on a crushing Oliver Ekman-Larsson goal with 0.3 seconds remaining in the overtime period. A 2-1 loss on a goal both Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins were culpable on.
“Heartbreak,” said Nelson, as the Coyotes snapped a franchise-record nine straight losses at home.
It is nights like this one that cause people to wonder if all the losing has crushed Hall’s spirit? Is there any recovering from a promising career begun with such team futility?
“There is no doubt the losing has taken a toll,” Hall allows. “But it’s not like I don’t know the feeling of winning. Fortunately I played on some really good teams in junior, and I know what the feeling is like. This certainly has made me stronger, and I’ve learned a lot about myself and the people around me.
“There isn’t a lot left in my career that is going to get me more frustrated or down than (what) I’ve experienced here. And I think that’s a good thing.”
In our opinion, there is only one way that either Hall or Nugent-Hopkins get moved by MacTavish, and that is if either of them tells their GM that they’ve had enough and are reopen to being traded. That they’ve lost patience and given up on the dream in Edmonton.
We believe Eberle to be the chip that will be used to help shore up the defence, or perhaps land a goaltender. Just our opinion. For now though, it’s off to San Jose for another long, teaching practice Wednesday, then Thursday’s game against the Sharks.
Edmonton has lost 16 of their last 17 games, and through just 33 games the playoffs are out of reach. It would be hard to blame Hall if he’d had enough, though he swears he has not.
“Edmonton is a fun place to play, and a winning season, a winning team, it would completely change the way people view Edmonton from the outside,” Hall said. “I can understand the fans’ frustration, because I’m 10 times as frustrated sometimes too. I think it’s awesome to play in Edmonton, unfortunately we don’t have the record that I want or that we want as a team. But playing in Edmonton has been a blast.”