Matt Hendricks leaves Oilers having accomplished his mission

Zack Kassian and Patrick Maroon talk about the new brand of Oilers hockey, and the rest of the league now knows the Edmonton Oilers are no longer a joke.

EDMONTON — A hard grinding, responsible and selfless veteran, Matt Hendricks’ job description in Edmonton was to help turn a dysfunctional dressing room and team culture around. Now that those goals have been accomplished, he’ll be moving on from the Edmonton Oilers.

“I would say it’s 99 per cent sure I won’t be back,” Hendricks said over the phone from his off-season home in Minnesota Thursday.

Just a couple of days after the Ottawa Senators and veteran Chris Neil parted ways, Hendricks confirmed that his relationship with the Oilers has run its course as well.

“Kind of the same type of thing as Chris,” he said. “With the young guys and the experience (the Oilers) have to gain, it’ll be hard for me to get into the lineup. It’s hard to have a fourth-line guy who is good in the room and stuff if I’m going to be sat out every night. I totally understand it, but it’s not going to work for either side.

“If this team’s going to be good they need to get their young guys experience. I get it.”

When Hendricks arrived from Nashville in a January 2014 trade for goalie Devan Dubnyk, he walked into a bad dressing room and a losing organization. The Oilers team culture required an infusion of accountability, while the priorities within the players’ group needed a serious makeover. Hockey’s most plodding rebuild was once again stalled, and Hendricks’ character and veteran leadership, it was hoped, would begin the transformation.

The team he leaves — a competitive, accountable group with an environment that is consistent with winning teams — suggests that his time in Edmonton was well spent.

“It’s a collective job,” he said. “There has been a lot of change, a lot of good leaders who’ve come into that room. The coaching change, the management changes… All have helped the process.”

Clearly, it takes a group to build the proper culture. But Hendricks’ selfless, third-line play has been integral in turning the Oilers’ culture around.

“I hope I left a bit of an impression on the young guys,” he said. “You feel a bit of gratification knowing that the ship’s going in the right direction now that you’re leaving. That you did accomplish the goal they brought you in for. If I were marking myself, it would be more about the intangibles they bring you in for.”

Hendricks, who turns 36 on Saturday, has played 521 NHL games in four different organizations, playing three seasons for the Washington Capitals under then-GM George McPhee. Of course, McPhee now runs the Vegas Golden Knights, which seems like a team in need of developing a proper dressing room culture in its maiden NHL season.

“It would be a good fit for me, sure, to try to do what I did in Edmonton down there,” he said. “I’ll do whatever I can to find a job, to earn a job, and keep playing. I definitely have another year or two in me. Maybe more.”

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