A new order: Quinn and team-building

Robin Brownlee
September 14 2009 04:26PM

bum-paddle

Pat Quinn hasn't wasted any time taking a first step to addressing a flaw within the culture of the Edmonton Oilers, a fault that's existed as long as I can remember.

I'm talking about the convention of "pecking order" that's prevalent with the Oilers, and every NHL team for that matter. In simple terms, the subtle differences in the day-to-day hockey lives of veterans compared to younger players and rookies, and how old habits play into that.

It's something I witnessed first-hand and contemplated a fair amount over the years, and a sidebar by Rob Tychkowski in the Edmonton Sun today got me thinking about it again.

In part, Tychkowski wrote: "Head coach Pat Quinn made quick work of the class system in training camp.

"In previous seasons the veterans would all change in the Edmonton Oilers main dressing room and the prospects would be relegated to the "Thanks for Coming" rooms down the hall.

Not this year. Quinn has everyone everywhere -- rookies and veterans in the main room and rookies and veterans in the more spartan visitors and auxiliary rooms."

Given rumblings about divisions in the dressing room -- some of them based on age and experience -- and questions about the leadership of the Oilers last season, the timing of Quinn's all-for-one approach at camp couldn't be better. In fact, it's long overdue.

And more of the same is needed.

Back of the bus

While the conventions of pecking order, and how pervasive it is in the day-to-day existence of teams like the Oilers, might seem small potatoes to fans, seniority, or lack of same, is something that's in your face every day as a young player. Likewise, for somebody who covered and travelled with the team as long as I did.

It's been the accepted way of doing things since I first arrived at the rink for The Journal in 1989, looking to write about something, anything, Jim Matheson hasn't already done 15 five times. Pecking order is just the way it's done. Tradition and all that.

-- When the Oilers travel, the veterans sit at the back of the plane and have their choice of seats, while younger players and rookies sit further up, nearer the reporters, team support staff and the coaching staff.

-- Same idea on the bus. Old guys in the back, kids in the front. When the bus pulls up to the hotel or the plane, passengers file out back-to-front, so the veterans don't have to wait to check-in or get their luggage and get seated on the plane.

-- Once inside the hotel, same thing. Players get on the elevators and on the way to their rooms first. If need be, younger players are expected to wait with reporters and others at the lower-end of the food chain.

-- In the dressing room at Rexall Place, vets sit on the wall and in the corners furthest from the door that's at the entrance to the room. It's where you'll find Sheldon Souray, Shawn Horcoff, Steve Staios and captain Ethan Moreau.

With the exception of goaltenders, who always sit nearest the door, the closer you get to the entrance the younger the players are.

-- The rookie dinner. Long a tradition, veterans pick a city and a restaurant and have the rookies, be it one, two or whatever, pick up the tab. It's a rite of passage. The guys making the big dough eat and drink for free. The kids pay the freight.

A new order

Each of the above, taken on its own, might not seem like a big deal, but, aside from the reasoning "it's always been done this way," what's the benefit? How does treating a handful of players like grunts build a team? Really, what's the upside? Learning respect? Putting people in their place?

Being reminded seniority has its privileges, after all, is relatively harmless in the right degree, no? At least nobody is getting their head or their nuts forcibly shaved any more. Are they?

Then again, if the reminder is too heavy-handed, or if the make-up of the team is old players and very young players, as it's been with the Oilers the past two seasons, can an added sense of entitlement by veterans contribute to a split in the room?

I think Quinn is on to something here, be it a small step. Now, I'm guessing that some of the veterans might disagree because, again, it's always been this way. They paid their "dues."

It wasn't long ago that paddling some Grade 8's ass to welcome him to high school was OK. Hazing? What's the problem? How about pouring a 26-ounce bottle of hard stuff down some freshman's throat at university? A little puking. No big deal. It goes without saying that somebody's who come up that way isn't big on change when it's somebody else's turn.

Hell, when I covered my first Oiler game, we were still smoking in the press box. I bitched like hell when that stopped. Times change.

All for one

I'm all for Quinn's first step and hope it's not the last. Why do veterans need extra perks and conventions as some sort of validation they're higher up the pecking order? They get that every time they open their pay packet.

Why shouldn't Souray schlep down to the cramped dressing room with Johan Motin during camp? Why not have Moreau sitting between Charles Linglet and Kip Brennan?

Why not take it a step further and open up all the stall spaces in the big room once the team is picked? Have a draw, a karaoke contest, anything, to see who sits where. Sam Gagner beside Souray, Zack Stortini next to Staios. They are all teammates, no?

Why not have a rookie dinner where the veterans peel off some of that big stack and treat the rookies? Why insist the kids sit closest to reporters on the bus? Everybody should have to put up with their share of pissing and moaning about deadlines, cheap cologne and booze breath.

It's easy to mouth the words,  "Once an Oiler, always an Oiler." It's easy to talk about teamwork and being teammates. Proving it, even in little ways that might seem insignificant, is another thing.

It's obvious Quinn, the old school guy, has some new ways of looking at what it takes to build a team. Thank goodness for that.

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. 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 Eric
September 14 2009, 04:32PM
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GO OILERS!

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#2 ebi
September 14 2009, 04:35PM
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Cool. I likes me the sounds of that. All for one, one for all, and all that jazz. Fascinating read btw. I love these little glimpses into the life of an NHL hockey player. I f-ing love this site.

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#3 Wanye Gretz
September 14 2009, 04:39PM
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"Why shouldn’t Souray schlep down to the cramped dressing room with Johan Motin during camp?"

Er, I don't know what a Johan Motin is exactly, but being that close to a shirtless Souray should inspire him to make the 2010 Western Conference All Star team if you ask me.

Eric wrote:

GO OILERS!

That's the stuff. Right there.

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#4 Quicksilver ballet
September 14 2009, 04:45PM
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Barry and Lyle must be pulling their.......ah, nevermind.

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#5 daveeed
September 14 2009, 04:45PM
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I really like reading about this, yes its a small step, but I think its a needed one to help change the existing culture and the rift we keep hearing rumbles about that existed between the vets and younger guys.

I don't think this would have happened under MacT/Lowe as they were ex-Oilers who probably were doing this back in the glory days, and its one thing to have traditions like this when your winning Cups like they were, but when a team is divided and missing the playoffs three years in a row its time for something new.

I think as the year goes on, the fans will gain a greater appreciation of just how good Pat Quinn is, and not only that, the incredible coaching team that's been put together this year.

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#6 Jimmy
September 14 2009, 04:46PM
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ebi wrote:

Cool. I likes me the sounds of that. All for one, one for all, and all that jazz. Fascinating read btw. I love these little glimpses into the life of an NHL hockey player. I f-ing love this site.

Seconded

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#7 Psyche
September 14 2009, 04:47PM
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Great read Robin. Thank you.

What you wrote is very true. Team building is the last thing that occurs when you have a 'pecking order' and acts that reinforce a hierarchy. Effective team building includes the entire team from the get-go, regardless of years experience or annual salary. In fact, most of the examples you shared (that the Oilers have been employing) do more to break down a team than build one.

This is a direct benefit of hiring from outside the organization. Quinn, Renney, Tambellinni, and Fleming all bring new perspectives that will only help the organization grow.

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#8 Skidplate
September 14 2009, 04:47PM
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No no no its GOOILERS!

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#9 smiliegirl15
September 14 2009, 04:48PM
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Maybe the veterans should have a buddy system where each one has a little brother. "Little brothers" get to sit next to their big brother in the room, on the plane, out for dinner, carry their gear~.

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#10 Jimmy
September 14 2009, 04:50PM
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smiliegirl15 wrote:

Maybe the veterans should have a buddy system where each one has a little brother. “Little brothers” get to sit next to their big brother in the room, on the plane, out for dinner, carry their gear~.

...spoon on lonely road trips, hold hands on the playground, etc.

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#11 Eric
September 14 2009, 04:50PM
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Wanye Gretz wrote:

Eric wrote: GO OILERS! That’s the stuff. Right there.

*Blushes deeply*

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#12 Travis Dakin
September 14 2009, 04:51PM
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Wanye Gretz wrote:

Er, I don’t know what a Johan Motin is exactly, but being that close to a shirtless Souray should inspire him to make the 2010 Western Conference All Star team if you ask me.

My friend was on the south side when Souray was doing an autograph session last week. She's not so much of a hockey fan so didn't really know who Big sexy was. Her Husband would not let her go in and find out, for good reason. When I showed her a picture of what she missed, she was ready to kill her husband for making her miss the chance at snagging a lock of his flowing mane. Lucky for him though, he was spared an unthinkable death because she was too busy picking up the pieces of fabric all over the ground after her panties exploded as a result of one single glance at his picture.

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#13 bingofuel
September 14 2009, 04:51PM
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@ smiliegirl15:

You have to come out to the next OilersNation Game Day Party... I want to meet the most sarcastic woman this site has ever seen.

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#14 Travis Dakin
September 14 2009, 04:52PM
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smiliegirl15 wrote:

Maybe the veterans should have a buddy system where each one has a little brother. “Little brothers” get to sit next to their big brother in the room, on the plane, out for dinner, carry their gear~.

Technically, Gagner and Cogliano are veterans now. Do they still get a little brother?

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#15 no clue
September 14 2009, 04:53PM
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That's an awesome inside look, thanks R.B., you are the F'ing man!

A change in culture is no doubt needed in the dressing room, I'd love to see it translate to the on ice product that we all pay for, home games last year were painful to attend.

On a side note Hockey is not the only place that this culture exists, many of us face it in our own jobs, the purpose of it (right or wrong) is to help quell the sense of entitlement that many young men have, more so if they have had success at an early age (like most young hockey players). It is also cured by hard work and time...

GO OILERS!!!

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#16 Jimmy
September 14 2009, 04:56PM
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Travis Dakin wrote:

smiliegirl15 wrote: Maybe the veterans should have a buddy system where each one has a little brother. “Little brothers” get to sit next to their big brother in the room, on the plane, out for dinner, carry their gear~. Technically, Gagner and Cogliano are veterans now. Do they still get a little brother?

Maybe that's why we're avoiding size and grit this year. It's hard to pass them off as little brothers for Cogliano and Gagner.

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#17 no clue
September 14 2009, 05:03PM
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I never had a little brother, but if I had, I would have beat him mercilessly just cause I could.

Just saying

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#18 EddieEdmonton
September 14 2009, 05:06PM
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just seeing if this is working mom be right there

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#19 Smokin' Ray
September 14 2009, 05:06PM
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Skidplate wrote:

No no no its GOOILERS!

I thought it was GOILERS!

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#20 Quicksilver ballet
September 14 2009, 05:15PM
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no clue wrote:

I never had a little brother, but if I had, I would have beat him mercilessly just cause I could. Just saying

LOL....be thankful the Lord spared you this merciless beating at the hands of your imaginary younger sibling.

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#21 jdrevenge
September 14 2009, 05:15PM
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Nice work RB. Great article.

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#22 no clue
September 14 2009, 05:19PM
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@ Quicksilver ballet

Well actually the Lord spared me nothing. Due to intense self loathing (and too much spare time coupled with unlimited internet access) I impose merciless beatings on my self daily.

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#23 EddieEdmonton
September 14 2009, 05:21PM
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ok now that my chores is done

it should not matter what their positioning on the bench is as long they got good positioning on the ice they are all teammates and where they sit in the lockerroom should not have any positive or negative influnce on their team goal or play it makes for a good conversation for us but lets be realistic they invited over 60 players to camp they had to do something and it wouldnt be nice of the organization to divide and play favorites come regular season players will choose their stalls and moreau hemsky horcoff and so forth will have first pick again its a way of hockey its a way of life senority order rules i think they should have some kind of shout-out competion to decide i bet Smid picks to sit next to Souray i hear everyone on the team likes Souray except Moreau Horcoff and Pisani i cant tell you who told me

i gotta go my moms coming

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#24 common sense
September 14 2009, 05:21PM
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And this will breed competition. I like it. There's a new sheriff in town and everyone better shape up or they'll be shipped out. The less entitlement that a player feels the better.

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#25 Gunner
September 14 2009, 05:25PM
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common sense wrote:

The less entitlement that a player feels the better.

Never has a truer word been spoken on this AWESOME website.

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#26 Robin Brownlee
September 14 2009, 05:30PM
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EddieEdmonton wrote:

i hear everyone on the team likes Souray except Moreau Horcoff and Pisani i cant tell you who told me

Your secret friend is mistaken. Tighten up that chinstrap before you go out and play . . .

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#27 Ender
September 14 2009, 05:33PM
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This might be relevant here.

As it works out, perks only help if you're not expected to be creative. If you're expected to be creative, perks just add an extra level of stress and generally performance goes down.

On another note, is it really news that dividing people by seniority hurts the team? I mean, a sense of entitlement is never a good thing.

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#28 Jason Gregor
September 14 2009, 05:33PM
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EddieEdmonton wrote:

i hear everyone on the team likes Souray except Moreau Horcoff and Pisani i cant tell you who told me i gotta go my moms coming

Stop being a moron and throwing out bogus rumours, although since your mom rules it doesn't surprise me.

Moreau and Souray ate pregame meals together and drove to many games together, and I can tell you they get along.

I do know that not all players are chummy, but at least bring something that makes sense to the table.

Go back to breast feeding.

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#29 Jimmy
September 14 2009, 05:41PM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

Stop being a moron and throwing out bogus rumours, although since your mom rules it doesn’t surprise me.

Let's not come down too hard on outlandish rumours from secret sources. Comrie is an Oiler, after all.

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#30 Bank Shot
September 14 2009, 05:43PM
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On that note, You should get Lowetide a press pass.

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#31 Robin Brownlee
September 14 2009, 05:44PM
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Ender wrote:

On another note, is it really news that dividing people by seniority hurts the team?

Is it really news? Like stories about (insert name of veteran here) players who are coming to camp intent on making up for being crappy last season? Like stories quoting rookies saying, "I'm here to make the team?" Like stories projecting starting line-ups two days into camp?

Sorry to bore you, but, yes, it is news. As far as I recall, I haven't read anybody offering the opinion something as routine as accepted conventions -- it's not new, that's why they're called conventions -- might not be a good idea with this particular roster of players.

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#32 Pouzar
September 14 2009, 05:44PM
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Good to see a culture change on this team. I will be looking forward to seeing Quinn identifying players strengths and putting certain players in a position to succeed as well. It seems like an obvious concept, but the last regime seemed to focus on trying to fit square pegs into round holes too often.

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#33 LOIL
September 14 2009, 06:02PM
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Eric wrote:

Wanye Gretz wrote: Eric wrote: GO OILERS! That’s the stuff. Right there. *Blushes deeply*

Do the young players on the Oilers kiss as much a$$ as some of the posters on this site? If so, then something REALLY needs to be done in that dressing room...

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#34 Greg MC
September 14 2009, 06:03PM
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Very interesting and insightful article!

If some people in a workplace suffer unfairly in treatment from others, then resentment can build up and the office goes for $hit.

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#35 dragon
September 14 2009, 06:05PM
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locker split (even a little bit) and MacT unable to mend it seem to be the reason for last season's crumble and the coaching change. The old guy does what he's here to do. Look fwd to see how the kids will repay his trust. Oilers no.5 in the West!!!

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#36 BUCK75
September 14 2009, 06:14PM
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Gregor said that in this morning's post Quinn was laying the law down during one of the sessions as well. Nice to know that Quinn is trying to change the lackadaisical attitude that was prevalent on just about 40+ nights last season.

If it gets us 4 more wins this year for some Vets to sit in the visitor room in training camp, I am all for it. It will be interesting to Quinn does more shake-ups like you were suggesting.

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#37 Word
September 14 2009, 06:15PM
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EddieEdmonton wrote:

just seeing if this is working mom be right there

Heh. What?

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#38 Lofty
September 14 2009, 06:15PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Is it really news? Like stories about (insert name of veteran here) players who are coming to camp intent on making up for being crappy last season? Like stories quoting rookies saying, “I’m here to make the team?” Like stories projecting starting line-ups two days into camp?

Amen...

I seem to remember people saying last year that Penner was looking good... Nilson was a step faster... Schremp learned from working out with the boys during the summer... etc. Dont believe any of it till game 1 is over.

That said, it is nice to know the boys are back on the ice

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#39 Matt
September 14 2009, 06:17PM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

Go back to breast feeding.

Classic stuff.

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#40 OprahsSandwich
September 14 2009, 06:24PM
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Actually, Moreau stayed with Sheldon in LA for a while this summer. So no truth to the crap meatball is saying above.

I did hear that Horcoff was one of the vet's who really pushed the whole senority thing. Surprised me, if true.

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#41 Joey Moss
September 14 2009, 06:32PM
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The veterans must be idiots for choosing the seats at the back of the plane. Always a smoother and quieter ride up front, whats the rush with getting off the plane anyways?

I know it doesn't really contribute to the hockey discussion, it just sounds like typical stupid hockey player-think to go for the back like its the best.

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#42 The Towel Boy
September 14 2009, 06:38PM
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LOIL wrote:

Do the young players on the Oilers kiss as much a$$ as some of the posters on this site? If so, then something REALLY needs to be done in that dressing room…

Don't worry, there's plenty of Wanye Love™ to go around and he's more than happy to dish it out...but not if you're a jerk.

For the record, there is a healthy mix of "ass kissers", "argument bringers", "constructive comment makers" and "trolls" on this site. The question is, which one are you?

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#43 cm
September 14 2009, 06:52PM
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Great Read Robin...Thanks for that...

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#44 Ender
September 14 2009, 06:55PM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

Whoa man, calm down. I wasn't trashing your article. When I said "is it really news that dividing people by seniority hurts the team?" I meant exactly that. It's commonly accepted amongst psychologists and sociologists for a Very Long Time. It's surprising that things are still done the way you describe them in your post. It's not surprising that it's not a good way of doing things.

Seriously, just simmer.

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#45 Bob Loblaw
September 14 2009, 06:56PM
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Next up on the list of culture changes: NO MORE MAC-FAVOURITES.

Was there anything Sam Gagner could have done last year to get sent to the press box like Nilsson or Brodziak? How many stupid penalties could Moreau take without getting his icetime cut in half? And do we even need to get into the debacle that was Liam Reddox?

It's no wonder some of these guys walk around with a sense of entitlement. As far as MacT was concerned, they walked on water. Just ask Dustin Penner.

That, to me, is a HUGE culture change that needs to take place yesterday.

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#46 Robin Brownlee
September 14 2009, 06:59PM
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@ Bob Loblaw:

Agreed. Who sits where and when doesn't matter nearly as much as what you're talking about, but I see this move by Quinn as something symbolic that signals things are going to change. With this team, change is good.

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#47 Ender
September 14 2009, 07:02PM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

Oh, and BTW, I've actually been arguing for _years_ (Ask Doogie2K - he'll corroborate this) that the #1 issue facing this team since the cup run is that they're not (and haven't been) playing as a team. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I've written that elsewhere, repeatedly.

"Sorry to bore you"? Seriously? Christ.

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#48 Bob Loblaw
September 14 2009, 07:04PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

@ Bob Loblaw: Agreed. Who sits where and when doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you’re talking about, but I see this move by Quinn as something symbolic that signals things are going to change. With this team, change is good.

Yes, change is good. I recall many times last year sitting in RX1 thinking, "I'd give anything if these guys would just finish their checks. Never mind a 50-goal season or a hat trick, just finish the ******* check."

Stortini was the exception. This year, it needs to be the rule. We need more guys on this team to play like Mike Grier, or Jason Smith with two separated shoulders.

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#49 Robin Brownlee
September 14 2009, 08:09PM
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@ Bob Loblaw: I'm not sure we need 20 Griers or Smiths, but I get the sentiment.

What this group needs is to play for each other, for the guy next to them -- as cliche as that is, some teams do and others don't. You can generally tell the difference, especially with teams like the Oilers that don't have enough talent to overcome lack of cohesion.

It's not so much about everybody being willing to go through a wall as it about everybody doing what they do best. Scorers score. Checkers check. Grinders grind. If the mix is right, it works.

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#50 Travis Dakin
September 14 2009, 08:26PM
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The Towel Boy wrote:

The question is, which one are you?

I like to think I'm somewhere between a knob gobbler and a$$ kisser. haha

GOBBLE GOBBLE

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