EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers have, over the past few unbearable campaigns, become all but irrelevant outside the 780 area code.
Even during a recent streak of respectability when Edmonton reeled off a 10-4-3 run, it went largely unnoticed. Because nobody cares about a last-place team that wins a few meaningless games, right?
But lose 8-1 at home on a Saturday night to Calgary? Well, hold on now. “Does anyone have Spec’s number? We haven’t used it in a while,” two different radio producers, and Sportsnet’s TV department declared on Monday morning.
Yes, like a fiery wreck in between the two lanes of Highway 1, all directions of traffic across the National Hockey League landscape slowed down to take a quick look at the carnage in Edmonton on Monday morning. The best young player (Taylor Hall) and the head coach (Dallas Eakins) were seen beaking at each other Saturday night. Jerseys sailed over the boards once more, a phenomenon that only seems to happen here.
And Calgary, the team that starts its rebuild in October, just beat the living tar out of a project that has been under construction longer than Stephen Harper’s sense of humour. Fittingly, when asked how he’d spent his Sunday, Taylor Hall said he’d taken his 13-year-old cousin to The Lego Movie.
If it’s a show about building, maybe he should have left his cousin behind and brought general manager Craig MacTavish instead.
“We’re all proud to be Oilers, and the citizens of this city, they’re proud to be Oilers fans. I think we’re all disappointed with what happened the other night,” began Hall, who wears the assistant captain’s ‘A’ but is both the voice and face of this franchise.
He inadvertently splashed his coach with a thrown water bottle Saturday, then got caught by the cameras having plenty to say to Eakins while keeping his glare fixed on the ice ion front of him. It was rare and out of character — but made for great TV.
“Sometimes I get frustrated and that is the worst part of my game. I am working on controlling that,” Hall said. “It’s a fine line, and sometimes I take it a bit personally that I’ve been here for four years and we really haven’t done a whole lot. Sometimes that kind of weighs on me.
“It’s hard not to be frustrated with what we’ve gone through, especially Ebs (Jordan Eberle) and I. The four years that we’ve been here we’ve done a lot of losing, and that sucks. In order for us to get better — and for me to get better as a player and a leader — you have to … make sure that what you’re conveying to the team is positive. And around the city do whatever you can to lighten the mood a little bit.”
It can’t be easy being Taylor Hall in Edmonton these days, which isn’t altogether fair. The fallacy surrounding this organization is that the young core — Hall, Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, Sam Gagner, Nail Yakupov — will never be good enough to win with. Those players (the eldest of whom is still just 24) may well able to chart a playoff course one day. The problem is, NHL teams are not led by 21, and 22-year-olds, and the roster tat ha been built around those kids is what has Edmonton anchored in 29th place — again.
On Saturday at Rexall Place, with the score 6-1 Calgary, fans chanted for the 50/50 draw to be pushed ahead they could bolt sooner. More than one Oilers sweater flew over the glass and on to the ice, an organizational embarrassment that is unheard of across Canada.
As such, Eakins has spent much time on getting his team’s head straight, among “the thundering of negativity” that pervades Edmonton. On Monday morning he laid the team down on the ol’ couch again, prodding their collective psyche like a shrink, rather than coaching a system like most other NHL coaches were.
“How’d you feel after the game?” he asked his players. “How’d you feel (on Sunday)? How did you feel during that third period, sitting on the bench? How did you feel when the sweater goes on the ice?
“All of those things get erased by playing hard, playing the right way. If you play hard play the right way, then you start winning.”
This is a bad team, in a town that is sick and tired of bad teams. It’s an organization that has made a lot of promises, and fulfilled almost none of them.
Sure, we could be more positive here, but as one twitter follower noted on Monday, “These torches and pitchforks won’t light themselves.”
No, the Flames lit them on Saturday. Next up is San Jose on Tuesday, again next Tuesday, and then the Anaheim Ducks three times in Edmonton’s final 10 games.
Fans are hoping that Saturday was rock bottom. The rubber neckers, they’re holding out hope it’s not.