What a change in off days could mean for the Oilers

Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid comments on his performance after a loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

The parties recognize that events may unfold such that the monthly schedule may need to be altered or modified to adjust for unforeseen and compelling circumstances.” — Section 16.5 (a), NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement

Those “events” are not supposed to include losses, however. Or poor, undisciplined performances.

That, and a slow news day, is why the hockey world was talking about mandatory off-days and the Edmonton Oilers on Monday, as Oilers players went to work rather than staying home on one of their CBA-mandated off days that had been scheduled for Monday.

Head coach Todd McLellan flipped on his TV Monday morning to see the boys on the Sportsnet hockey desk talking about his right to negotiate a swap of off days with his own players. (And you know how coaches out West like to take advice from a bunch of media guys in Toronto…)

“They seemed to have all the answers to our locker room, and what was going on,” chirped McLellan. “Our friends in Toronto, and sitting on that Sportsnet desk, it’s sometimes better to find out what’s going on in the locker room.”

It was a friendly shot from a coach whose team had one of its four mandatory monthly days off scheduled for Monday, with the Carolina Hurricanes in town for a Tuesday game. The Oilers got blasted 6-2 by a depleted Buffalo Sabres team Sunday night, and McLellan — seen later in his post-game interviews with smoke still rising from his ears — negotiated a change in off days.

He talked with his captains, asked to switch the off day to Wednesday, and promised Monday wouldn’t be a bag skate. They agreed. End of story.

“Day off or not, we deserved to come in. Everyone is making this a big deal. It’s not,” said winger Pat Maroon. “Our team is much better than last year. We just have to learn to play the right way, and we felt, as players, we needed to come in and learn … as a team.”

Voices from across the NHL joined the discussion when it became known that one of the off days the NHL Players’ Association negotiated in the 2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement had been taken away.

Some said it was an abuse of power by Oilers management. Others accused McLellan of putting 19-year-old captain Connor McDavid in a compromising position — basically forcing him to give up the day off, or tell his head coach, “No, Todd. We’re not practicing.”

“Obviously it had to be agreed upon by us [players], and we were all for it,” McDavid said. “It was a good thing. Everyone feels a lot better leaving the rink today, as opposed to coming in [Tuesday] still thinking about that [Buffalo] game.”

McLellan framed it as a negotiation. Some will call that abuse of power. The NHLPA has told Sportsnet they are reviewing the matter, and the CBA states the NHLPA would have 60 days to file a grievance.

Many fans would say, “Ah, these guys’ average salary is over $2 million CDN, and they get the whole summer off. What’s another day at the rink?”

Well, it’s not that simple. Hear me out:

Say you are an NHL player, and they give you a schedule a month ago that states you have four days off — perhaps only two in your home city — per month. So you book your appointments on that day. Perhaps your parents fly in, planning on a full day with their son. Or you make plans with your wife, who does many everyday things alone during the season.

Or maybe the day lines up with a field trip at your kid’s school, and that child is eagerly awaiting a chance to show off their Dad — who spends so much of the winter away — to their friends and teacher.

Then, at the whim of a dissatisfied coach, that day gets changed. You miss the appointment, the field trip, the family time.

I know. They make so much money; we’re not supposed to look at NHL players as real people.

But they are, and in the case of goalie Cam Talbot, this switch just happens to work out perfectly. His wife Kelly is scheduled to deliver twins at 7:45 am Wednesday — so he wasn’t going to be at work that day anyway.

Talbot, however, echoed every player I spoke to when he said, “After the way we played Sunday we didn’t deserve a day off. So we have a chance to come in today, get better, and … earn that day off on Wednesday.”

In the end, this is a team that wasn’t supposed to play the way they did Sunday anymore; a team that used to stew on a loss like that one until it became a four-game losing streak.

On Monday they arrived at the rink and put the game in the past — or so they claim.

The plan is, they’ll beat Carolina, move to 3-1 on the season, and prove to themselves that all of the above is true. That they are indeed a better team.

It had better work, because the St. Louis Blues are in on Thursday.

And that off day Wednesday? It’s non-negotiable.

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