Chicken little

Robin Brownlee
November 02 2008 07:56PM

Thank goodness for back-to-back wins against the Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers. Had it not been for Saturday's 3-1 win over Carolina and Sunday's 5-4 victory in Philly, Craig MacTavish might be so stupid by today he'd have trouble tying his shoes or wiping his bum by himself, let alone finding gainful employment after being fired.

And Ales Hemsky? Mercy, had he not scored a pair of highlight reel goals, his first two since last March 16, to help beat The Bullies at the Wachovia Center, he'd be virtually dead weight today. You'd be stiffing somebody big-time if you got even a bucket of pucks or a box of tape for him.

OK, I'm exaggerating -- but not by that much, given some of the comments I read leading up to the end of a five-game losing streak.

Here in the bi-polar state that is Oil Country, the line separating elation from despair is thin, indeed. Way too thin. Any winning streak beyond two games is cause for the planning of parade routes and contract extensions all around.

Anything more than a couple of losses sends many fans into frenetic loathing, with armchair GM's insisting changes MUST be made, and the sooner the better, before we get too far into the season, like 10 games.

It was no different when the Oilers opened the season with four straight wins, even if they pulled fast ones in at least two of them, or when they stumbled down Tobacco Road to the RBC Center with that five-gamer on the go.

Fire MacTavish.

Trade Hemsky.

A henny penny for your thoughts

I didn't have to look far to find examples to show just how knotted up some fans were before the team hit double-digits in games played. And before anybody accuses me of cherry-picking, the following comments aren't the most overblown I found out there -- they're among the more conservative by those of the mind MacTavish deserves a pink slip and Hemsky needs a ticket to anyplace else.

"I think Hemmer has to be taken off the first line with Horcoff. Even last year they were not dominant. Throw Cole up as the number one guy on the right, and drop Hemmer down to the second line. Brodziak, Moreau and Pisani should be our fourth line. Call up a kid, send Stortini packing and shake this team up. Katz won’t put up with this for much longer." —Fiveandagame on Oilersnation, Oct. 31

"Hemsky is possibly the most over-rated player on this board. All dangle. No finish. Skates well, has some nice moves, no finish and lacks desire. A very good player, but not God-like as many here think. I wouldn't mind one bit to see him traded while his value is still high. Not one bit." —Edmund Oiler, on Hockey's Future, Nov. 1

"It seems obvious to me, MacTavish has lost any influence on the team we had hoped he had. The team doesn’t play for him out of respect and they don’t play for him out of fear.  Can we start counting the days till his departure?" —Jerry MacWire, on Oilersnation, Oct. 31

Adams Trophy for MacT?

We're 11 games into the season and the Oilers are 6-4-1. They weren't as good as they looked in the standings when they bolted out to a 4–0 start thanks to great goaltending and a red-hot power play. And they weren't as bad as they looked when they lost five straight. In fact, by and large, they played more good hockey in those five losses than they did in the four twins. The difference in Carolina was a lucky goal by Shawn Horcoff, whose shot went off the post before Cam Ward swept it into the net with his pad, and a soft goal by Ethan Moreau, who beat Ward to the short side with a wrist shot from a sharp angle.

Was MacTavish a "better" coach in that game? Was his game-plan and preparation better, or any different at all, than in the previous five games? I don't think so, but you tell me.

Let’s give Hemmer another chance

And what of Hemsky? He had eight assists in the Oilers’ first ten games going into Philly, but fan frustration with him was evident throughout the Oilogosphere as the losses mounted. Had he really played that poorly?

"It's nice to score, finally, a couple of goals," Hemsky said. "It feels great. I felt great the last five games with the puck.

"I was making plays. I knew if I stayed with it, it'll come, you know? You just have to stick with it. You can't get mentally down. You're still telling yourself you can score... you have to keep going, get the confidence high and the goals and points will come."

Trade a point-a-game player with a $4.1 million cap hit? For whom?

Some perspective

Hey, don't get me wrong. I'll take the unmitigated passion of Oilers fans over the indifference that's prevalent in too many NHL cities any day. People here care, and that, within reason—setting things on fire on Whyte Avenue doesn't qualify—is seldom a bad thing. The alternative is Florida or Anaheim or Tampa Bay.

But here we are 11 games into an 82-game season, and it's been a roller-coaster ride already—one that is bound to continue when the puck drops in Columbus Wednesday. That's OK. I get it.

But fire MacT or trade Hemsky? Can we at least put that off until, say, the second week of December?

—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#1 Jerry MacWire
November 02 2008, 08:07PM
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Robin, first and foremost, I am flattered that you would reference me, even if it is in an unflattering light.

Secondly, it's nice to see the Oil win and I love it when they do. I still think MacT is a very capable coach. Intelligent, hard working and very capable. But, I still believe that he does not have the fear or respect of his players. Either, or, will make a team a winner.

A couple of wins, like a couple of losses, doesn't make a season. I wish him the best but this team has demonstrated over and over again that his smart and intelligent coaching falls on deaf ears. This team simply does not play for their coach.

30

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#2 matt
November 02 2008, 08:25PM
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we always start strong and then tank it pretty quick. like in 05-06 we went 3-0 then continued to lose 7 straight or something like that. i have faith in our team and coaches

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#3 The Towel Boy
November 02 2008, 09:37PM
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I guess this "heads should roll when times are bad" thing comes with the territory of playing hockey in a fishbowl.

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#4 Chris.
November 02 2008, 09:37PM
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The Oilers can skate with anyone... And like today, they will score. Special teams are fine. I just wish this team would physically impose their will on the opposition once in a awhile. Not every game. But even once every ten games would be an improvement.

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#5 RobinB
November 02 2008, 09:53PM
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Chris: I'd suggest MacIntyre physically imposed his will on Riley Cote today.

Likewise, Moreau was pretty dominant in Carolina, going after Ruutu and chugging after the puck all game long just daring somebody to get in the way.

By my count, the Oilers have answered the bell physically in six or seven of the first 11 games -- where they have lacked is occasionally falling into the trap of playing on the perimeter offensively instead of going into the tough areas, as MacTavish noted before the road trip began.

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#6 Antony Ta
November 03 2008, 02:05AM
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Now all the people who were calling for Hemsky's head will now sit quietly and watch the magician weave his magic.

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#7 AndrewB
November 03 2008, 02:09AM
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Hemsky is a bum

Kidding

Time to put Stortini on Waivers to call up some different offensive depth.

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#8 PaperDesigner
November 03 2008, 04:12AM
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As crazy as Oilers fans can be, it's just how the nature of the internet works that makes them appear to be more schizofrenic than they actually are. There are some people who think the Oilers are going to finish first overall in the league, go 16-0 in the playoffs and win the cup with little opposition. And there are fans who believe that MacTavish is the stupidest man in the world, or than Hemsky is incapable of creating offense, and so on. None of these fans have much in common with each other, except that when things start going according to the way they see them, they start speaking up more. It's easier to be vocal and extreme when recent facts seem to back you up.

It's not that fans are finicky, you just see different fringes emerge at different times, depending on how the fortunes of the Oilers go.

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#9 jdrevenge
November 03 2008, 07:34AM
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Bandwagon Police!!!!

The lines are settling in. This has been the biggest turning point for me. Cole is great on the third. The kids are back together and the first line is scoring five on five. Now we just need to find a GX replacement and we're golden.

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#10 MrMackey
November 03 2008, 08:01AM
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Fire MacT.

I'm already seeing another desperate run in the spring. If he can make it until December and win maybe 2-3 games by more then a goal (EN don't ocunt) then maybe I'll live with him.

One of the better tacticians and playoff coaches in the game, but I'd love to see the Oilers put together a strong regular season for once. They have all the horses and MacT has no more excuses.

Every team in the league has weaknesses and not having a faceoff specialist on your second and third line is nothing to write the season off for. Especially when you're playing 2 centres at wing.

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#11 Tyler
November 03 2008, 08:10AM
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Careful Robin. You'll get yourself drummed out of the local press union if you write any more of this sort of stuff. "TOO EARLY TO JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS" makes for a lousy headline.

(Of course, I agree with you completely.)

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#12 Neil R.
November 03 2008, 08:20AM
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I have to give MacT credit, putting Hemsky out there against Coburn was an excellent idea. Hemsky really exposed Coburn's weaknesses and it looks like that gave Ales the confidence he needed.

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#13 Asher
November 03 2008, 08:32AM
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I think a lot of the "MacT fatigue" comes from just that - he's been the coach for a number of years where the team hasn't enjoyed a great deal of success and they want to see what someone else can do. Any losing streak is little more than an opportunity or excuse for these fans to voice their frustration that's been building up in them over the years. I doubt very many of them are only upset with MacT because of what they've seen in the last 10 games. They're anger/frustration/whatever you want to call it/ goes much deeper than that.

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#14 jeanshorts
November 03 2008, 08:47AM
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Asher: Bang on buddy. That, to me, is exactly what is going on with the whole MacT head on a stick thing. I like Mac, he's done a decent job with this team. But how long can you stay in a mediocre relationship before you realize that there are greener pastures out there. And with coaches it seems everyone has a crystal clear memory of all the bad things that happened during their time, but the good things are a bit foggy. I don't think he should be run out of town, or prematurely fired, but I think this season is going to make or break the rest of his tenure in Edmonton.

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#15 Rick
November 03 2008, 08:55AM
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Robin: I agree with you that the trade Hemsky talk is rediculous. What he brings vs his price tag is too much of a bargain.

The real question is wether or not this is the guy to build around. It seems that they have been trying to do that for quite a while and yet he hasn't taken that expected next step. Three summers in a row the Oilers tried to address a trigger man for him and yet he has remained a 70+ point player.

Great players can adapt to their line mates and yet in Edmonton we talk about his line mates being unable to adapt to him.

He had a great game yesterday. One of those games that reaffirms everyones beliefs on just how talented this guy is. However let's revisit this in 10,15 or 20 games because on the season he has exactly one game under his belt where he didn't look like he was sleepwalking.

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#16 mjsh
November 03 2008, 11:25AM
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I have to wonder if Hemsky had the flu or something else wrong with him. He went quite a while with no fire in his belly. The last four or five games, he has been progressing and of course yesterday he broke loose.

I said it Friday before the two wins and I will say it again, Mac T stay and the Oilers finish first in the division.

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#17 mjsh
November 03 2008, 11:26AM
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Where is that edit button. I should have read, Mac T stays.

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#18 Fiveandagame
November 03 2008, 11:31AM
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I too will take this OILER passion over apathy any day. OR worse the bandwagon jumping that happens in a town like Vancouver. (win two games and people think they'll win the cup, lose two games and they won't even watch them on TV)

It would be a very sad day if this group of players underperformed so badly that MacT was fired.

But when this much talent and payroll is underperforming gets spanked for 5 games in a row, MacT is going to be the one that takes the heat.

Shawn Horcoff is currently ranked 51st, in point production among centers. 6 points 11 games, 4 points with the man advantage.

Before yesterdays game VS Philly. Hemsky had 8 points in 10 games. 7 of which we're on the power play and 1 assist at even strength.

And before yesterdays game they were both minus players.

That points out an ineffective first line. The players on the line individually are great, but for what ever reason they aren't generating any 5-5 offense.

MacT has said it himself, in order for you to win games, your best players have to be better than their best players. To have six wins under our belt while the first two lines have been continually out played 5 on 5, is astounding.

Hopefully yesterdays game was exactly what Doctor Randy Greg ordered to get this top unit producing at even strength.

The other bonus to the top line producing, is the pressure comes off the second line (both defensively and mentally). If the top line isn't threatening to score, the opposition can use their better d-pairings spread out over the top two lines (I am really looking forward to Willis' continued analysis of the line match ups)

It's hard to watch a talented team lose. When MacT tells us all that the team has the tools and is the most talented group he's had the pleasure to coach in many years and we get 5 goals in 5 games, something is wrong.

By no means is it fixed now, but a 6-4 record and Hemsky highlights dancing through our heads, makes the 5 game slide easier to forget. But if we're still talking about the same issues at game 25?, 40? When is enough, enough. Eventually something will have to give.

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#19 Jason
November 03 2008, 12:16PM
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I don't think anybodys is saying trade Hemsky, especially at his cap hit.

What people are saying is that maybe, JUST MAYBE, he's never going to produce like a player you build your team around?

Why is it his god given right to be the player the team builds around when he's NEVER average a point a game, never scored 20 goals, never cracked the 80 point plateau?

Is he THE GUY?

Not yet. On this team maybe, but this is a team that missed the dance for 2 straight seasons.

That's the question. Is a 70 pointer a guy to build around?

Until he proves otherwise, I think fans are right to question it a bit?

But nobody's saying trade him.

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#20 RobinB
November 03 2008, 12:28PM
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Jason: You don't think anybody is saying "trade Hemsky?"

You'd better read up. There were a lot of people on several websites saying exactly that in the days leading up to the wins in Carolina and Philadelphia.

Most of that crazy talk is venting -- losing breeds frustration and, dammit, SOMEBODY has to pay. It comes with every losing streak. And some of the stuff out there is well beyond questioning Hemsky's worth "a bit."

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#21 Douggy
November 03 2008, 12:46PM
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im sick of everyone crucifying mac t and hemmer! u wanna talk guys to get rid of, package one of our goalies, prollay roli( whos on fire might i add), with broadziak, schremp, and that whiner matthew roy and get someone decent. sad that we have broadziak over glencross isnt it? hemmers a consistent point getter and mac t is a good coach! so back off bandwagon jumpers! go cheer for the flames!

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#22 socaldave
November 03 2008, 01:23PM
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is it me or lost in all this Hemmer, MacT, this guy can't score 5v5, this guy isn't tough enough, crap that NO ONE IS NOTICING HOW PATHETIC OUR PK IS??

I'm not worried about Hemmer, Horc, Souray, MacT or really any individual player, but my oh my do I panic when we're shorthanded...

guess those faceoff men we lost actually contributed something last year...

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#23 Fiveandagame
November 03 2008, 01:33PM
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PK has been pretty darn pathetic lately thats for sure. I think that will change as we have always boasted a top notch PK.....at least I hope so, especially the way we have been parading to the box as of late.

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#24 RobinB
November 03 2008, 01:39PM
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Fiveandagame: I'd rate the PK as one of the biggest concerns as well. It's been mediocre on most nights and torched a couple of times -- most notably against Vancouver Oct. 25 and in Philly.

I wouldn't count on it improving just because it's been a relative strength in recent seasons. Returning to form on faceoffs on a consistent basis will have to play a part in that.

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#25 Rick
November 03 2008, 01:45PM
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For as bad as the PK looked yesterday, I actually thought it was starting to come around during the few games prior.

Killing penalties are hard miles for a player to put on, constant starting and stopping - back and forth - for the defencemen they are more physically engaged and so on...

When you're in the second of back to back's and the 3rd in 4 nights it is reasonable to expect it to be one part of the game that suffers.

It will be interesting to see what they look like on Wednesday but I am expecting yesterday to look like the blip on the map as opposed to a continuing trend.

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#26 Fiveandagame
November 03 2008, 01:49PM
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RobinB:

"Returning to form on faceoffs on a consistent basis will have to play a part in that."

BINGO. You can have all the great positional play you want, but if you're losing draws on the PK, it makes your job that much harder.

Face offs are sooooo important in your own end and when we're 28th in the league at 45.5% in the circle, that has to be a concern for the coaching staff.

I will say Souray has impressed me with his defensive play both 5 on 5 and on the PK. 8 points in 10 games ain't too shabby either.

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#27 TV
November 03 2008, 03:49PM
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"Why is it his god given right to be the player the team builds around when he’s NEVER average a point a game, never scored 20 goals, never cracked the 80 point plateau"

Well Jason, Hemsky hit the 20 goal mark & had 71Pts in 74 games last season & also had a 77pt season with 19 goals back in 05/06', so I'm not too sure where you get your #'s from, but at least you got the non-80Pts part right.

He's pretty well the epitome of a PPG type guy. What he needs to do is be a 90pt guy for the Oilers & himself to take the next step. Look for it to happen this season.

x6

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#28 Big Deal
November 03 2008, 04:23PM
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Robin, I am sure that you would agree that 'one game does not a season make'. Hemsky has to be more consistent. If he want to go from 'potential'to star player, he needs to be better. I am tired of hearing about his potential for greatness. He has been in the league long enough, now is the time to proven that he is a star not a 'potential star'. Star players put up more than 71 pts twice in their careers!

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#29 RobinB
November 03 2008, 05:32PM
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Big Deal: Instead of you and others being sick of the "potential star" tag you talk about -- and one Hemsky didn't ask for -- let's try something novel.

How about if fans like you accept Hemsky as a very good player and consider whether he's worth an annual cap hit of $4.1 million a season if he scores 65-80 points a year?

By looking at what he's not instead of what he is -- a bargain at the price compared to many other players who make his salary -- you're setting yourself up for frustration.

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#30 Surshot
November 03 2008, 08:53PM
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I can see him scoring 20+goals and 55+asissts and i would be happy for him.

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#31 Dennis
November 03 2008, 09:26PM
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Robin: Any chance you can ask MacT why he isn't using Cogs, Pouliot or Cole on the PK? Penner's getting hammered out there and Brodziak isn't looking much better and using Gagner there this year isn't sensible.

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