I’ve been reading how some readers/posters are worried that if the Oilers continue to lose it will have a negative impact on Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi and possibly hurt their development. We’ve long heard the phrase, “Losing builds Character.” I couldn’t find out who coined that phrase, and I’m not sure there is any truth to it, but it seems that great players will produce regardless of wins or losses.
Losing sucks plain and simple. Whether it builds character or not, varies from player to player, but many great players endured their fair share of losing early in their careers, over came it, and still managed to become great.
TALKING BOUT LOSERS
In Joe Sakic’s first four seasons he totaled 62, 102, 109 and 94 point-seasons, despite winning only 75 games and losing 205. In his rookie season the Nordiques went 27-46-7 and followed that with records of 12-61-7, 16-50-14 and 20-48-12. Sakic made the playoffs in his 5th year, and then missed them again in his 6th. It took him seven seasons to win a playoff series. Losing didn’t seem to beat him down.
Mario Lemieux missed the playoffs in his first four seasons, despite scoring 100, 141, 107 and 168 points. The Penguins won 24, 34, 30 and 36 games during those years. Losing didn’t impact the Magnificent One in a negative way, and he went on to win a Cup in his 7th season.
The Penguins went 22-46-14 in Sidney Crosby’s first season. The next year they made the playoffs and lost in the five games. I don't think anyone thinks losing 60 games his first year crushed Crosby's spirits.
Alex Ovechkin won 29 and 28 games his first two seasons, and he has only won one playoff round in his five NHL seasons. In those five years he’s scored 269 goals and 529 points. Losing 100+ games in his first two years didn’t damper his enthusiasm at all.
Ilya Kovalchuk made the playoffs in his fifth year. In his rookie season the Thrashers won a whopping 19 games. In his eight years in Atlanta he made the playoffs once. He eventually got traded, but if the Oilers only make the playoffs once in Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi's first seven seasons then either management is awful, or the trio didn't pan out like people expected.
It took Rick Nash six seasons before making the playoffs and in his first five years he won between 24 and 35 games. Nash recently signed a long-term extension with Columbus, despite only making the playoffs once in his first seven years. Nash is considered a very good player, he just hasn't had much talent around him.
Mats Sundin made the playoffs three times in his first eight seasons, but never won a playoff round until his 9th year. In those first eight years he tallied 632 points in 611 games. Sundin never won a Cup, but he was a pretty dominant player.
Jarome Iginla’s first two NHL games were in the playoffs in 1996. He tallied one goal and an assist, and then he went seven years without a sniff of the postseason. His first foray in search of the Cup resulted in the Flames Cinderella run in 2004. During those seven losing seasons, Iginla continually improved culminating with a 52-goal, 96-point season in his 6th year.
Vincent Lecavalier won 19, 19, 24 and 27 games in his first four years. In his 4th year he only scored 37 points, despite 67 and 51-point seasons prior to that. He rebounded with 78 points in his 5th year and won a playoff series, before winning the Cup in his 6th year.
Dany Heatley missed the playoff his first three years in Atlanta. He got traded to Ottawa and in his first season with the Senators he scored 50 goals, and that came after the horrific off-ice car accident.
Steven Stamkos won 24 games in his rookie season, and only 34 last year, yet he found a way to overcome all the losing by scoring 51 goals and 95 points in his second campaign. This year he leads the NHL with 15 goals and 28 points.
Mike Gartner missed the playoffs during his first three years winning only 27, 26 and 26 games during that time. He never won a Stanley Cup, but he did score 708 goals and 1335 points. Not every player will become a champion, but the great once will produce regardless of wins and losses.
Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne missed the playoffs in his first four years with Detroit, while averaging 30 wins a season. He got traded to the Kings after his fourth year, and despite never winning a Cup, he became one of the most prolific scorers of all-time with 731 goals and 1771 points.
WILL LOSING MAKE YOU WORSE?
There are some players that have played on losing teams consistently, and you wonder if that eventually that does affect them.
Jay Bouwmeester is in his 8th NHL season, and he has yet to play one playoff game. He missed the playoff six straight years in Florida, but his best offensive season came in years five and six. So did the losing get to him, or did it inspire him to want to do more? I'd suggest both.
He was a better player in years five and six, but eventually he wanted out of a losing situation. Too bad for him he went to Calgary where it looks like he might be in for another long stretch of losing.
Alex Steen was the 24th pick in 2002. He missed the playoff his first three years with Toronto, 2006-2008, then got traded to the St. Louis in his 4th year. The Blues made the playoffs, but never won a game. Last year he broke out with 24 goals, but the Blues just missed the postseason.
This year he is off to his best start ever and is on pace for 58 points. Steen is similar to Eberle in that he waited a few years after being drafted before making the NHL, and is early 20s draft selection. Being a loser four out of five seasons, hasn't made Steen a worse player, in fact, it seems he is only getting better.
In Phil Housley's first 15 seasons, he won ONE playoff series. He missed the playoffs six of those years, and actually the only time he won a series was in his rookie season. He got a taste of the playoffs and then for 14 years never felt that again, yet he was considered one of the better D-men in the game.
I know he was a bit soft, but he had six 70+ point seasons. Losing might have got him down, but he never quit and made it all the way to the Cup final with Washington in 1998 only to lose to the Wings.
HOW WILL THEY HANDLE IT?
Maybe losing often will wear down the kids. Maybe it will drive them insane and they'll end up on some crazy Japanese reality show wearing Wanye's best saturday night outfit, but I doubt it.
The above examples don't guarantee that HEP will all become stars and live up to their first round selections. There is no guarantee the Oilers will improve and become an elite team, but it seems clear that many of today's top stars have lost early in their careers, but still improved.
Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi are only 16 games into their NHL careers, so it is way too early to worry about whether a few losses will dampen their spirits. You don't become a first round pick without overcoming some adversity along the way. I think that facing hurdles in life, and finding a way to get over them shows character and perserverance, and I'd like to think that HEP are strong enough to not let one or two losing seasons derail their talent.