Oilers need talent *AND* experience

Jason Gregor
September 09 2010 03:46PM

You can win without talent, but rarely will you be able to win if you don’t have players who play hard for each other, protect one another and work as a cohesive unit on game day.

A lack of talent, and to some extent experience, is the main reason why the Oilers have missed the playoffs four straight years, and it will most likely be the main factor why the Oil won’t be playing past April 10th. Steve Tambellini is steadfast in his belief that this team will build from within, with skilled players, but he also has made it clear he doesn’t want anyone in the organization who doesn’t want to be here.

Sheldon Souray isn’t being shopped because of his salary, or health concerns, he is being shopped because he doesn’t want to be here and right now Tambellini doesn’t want to risk his negative attitude towards the team and city rubbing off on the young players. It is a valid concern, but it re-enforces the belief that if you don’t have a unified team it is hard to win.

The Edmonton Eskimos made a similar realization this week.

Let’s be clear. The Eskimos are not a good team, and their organization will need a complete overhaul if they hope to compete in the future, but the release of O-lineman Calvin Armstrong showed that they are moving in the right direction.

Late in the first half of the Labour Day debacle, Ricky Ray rolled to his left, fumbled the ball and the Stampeders recovered the ball. For many fans it was just another horrendous play in the most embarrassing regular season loss in Eskimo history. But Ray’s fumble wasn’t the story; Armstong’s actions were.

After failing to recover the ball and after the play was over, Ray was on the ground with two Stampeder defenders on him. Armstrong walked by Ray, didn’t stop to lend him a hand up, but instead shrugged him off with a hand gesture and kept walking. (TSN doesn’t have footage of the incident, but the game film showed it and players in the room acknowledged it happened.)

Clearly he was frustrated, but no successful team can allow a player to quit on his teammates in the heat of the battle. Armstrong hasn’t been great this year, but he wasn’t the worst O-lineman, yet the Eskimos released him Wednesday. And they released him because his actions were deemed unacceptable.

“Nobody really knows what went through his mind and why he did it. It could have been frustration with himself, or frustration for any number of things, but it is tough to reason why he did it. They’re (management/coaches) just trying to send the message that we have to stick together, go out there play hard and no what matter happens, we have to have each other’s back out there,” said Ricky Ray when I asked him about the situation.

Richie Hall said it was performance based, and that is partly true, but the reason Hall won’t be here next year is even when he is given a clear opportunity to publicly send a message that he won’t tolerate any more crap, he chooses the politically correct route.

Hall is a great defensive co-ordinator, but I don’t think he has the persona to be a head coach. The organization released Armstrong, and while Hall did have some say in it, he didn’t lead the charge.

Had the Eskimos allowed Armstrong to remain on the team, they would have essentially said his actions were acceptable, and that would have sent this team even further down the gutter.

Last season Aaron Fiacconi and Xzavie Jackson got into a fight in practice. Fiacconi landed a devastating uppercut that floored Jackson. Fights happen three or four times a year between the O-line and the D-line, and it isn’t frowned upon. Tempers flare up and in most cases both guys kiss and make up later. Jackson wasn’t happy with losing and immediately left the field. He emerged a few seconds later from behind a dumpster with a shovel in his hand. He never used the shovel, because he was stopped by some of the Esks management on the sidelines.

Jackson should have been released the next day, but then-GM Danny Maciocia elected to keep him around. His actions were childish, immature and unprofessional, yet he stuck around.

While the Eskimos are a long way from being a contender in the CFL, releasing Armstrong so quickly showed me they are trying to re-build the passion, desire and class that made them a top-tiered franchise for many years.

Sports aren’t much different than life.

When things are going well some people can hide or disguise their weaknesses, but when a team starts to lose or life gets tough we see the true character of people. People with strong character will work through the hard times, or they will be supportive of those struggling and when they achieve success it normally feels even better.

Adam Braidwood summed up the Armstrong situation quite well.

“I think at this point attitude is a little more important than talent because no one player is going to make us win a game. We all need to have the right attitude and stuff like that is contagious. When you see a guy who is always laughing, joking around and maybe not helping up a teammate, guys get upset at stuff like that. You want a guy who buys into the Eskimo way, is a team guy and will do whatever it takes to win. Maybe management didn’t see that in him (Armstrong). Calvin is a talented player and a good guy, but the coaches and management’s job is to put the right guys in this lockerroom and they didn’t see that in him I guess.”

Releasing Armstrong won’t make the Eskimos a more talented team, but it sends a direct message that they are done tolerating players who aren’t professional, determined and team-oriented.

Souray’s situation is different than Armstong’s because he didn’t purposely abandon a teammate, but it is clear he doesn’t want to be here. If the NHL didn’t have guaranteed contracts I suspect the Oilers would have released Souray a long time ago.

GOOD TIMING

I was downstairs at the station when Tom Renney walked in the front door before he spent an hour on Oilers Lunch with Bob Stauffer. I took him upstairs and had a chance to pick his brain on a few things.

He doesn’t have any line combinations set in stone right now. He really wants to let the players show him what they have during training camp and pre-season.

He will give Andrew Cogliano a chance to show he can play centre. Renney is curious to see how Cogliano’s off-season training might help him in the faceoff circle and corners. I.E…If he is stronger Renney thinks he might be an asset down the middle.

He is open to trying Dustin Penner at centre, but he doesn’t want to force it.

He doesn't expect to have a specific shut down line, but he won't be afraid to use a Jones/Fraser/Stortini combo against top lines at times, if they show him they can play his system.

He has been spending long hours at Rexall place for the past few weeks preparing his system and wants to ensure his playes understand it early on.

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#51 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
September 10 2010, 11:42AM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

Since Sheldon Souray doesn't want to be here, and the Oilers don't want him, could something be done if both parties agreed, the balance of this contract could be terminated? Has there been on record a contract that was terminated based on a mutual decision before? I'd have to think if this did ever get done Sheldon would be hard pressed to sign with another club for anything near 2-2.5 per season. For a 3 million dollar a year over payment i'd think Sheldon should be the ideal on/off ice leader and not a victim like he's allowed himself to be perceived as.

The key is Sheldon will most likely not want to lose his 4.5mil a year. He wants out, but he wants to keep his contract too.

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#52 Ender
September 10 2010, 12:22PM
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quicksilver ballet wrote:

Since Sheldon Souray doesn't want to be here, and the Oilers don't want him, could something be done if both parties agreed, the balance of this contract could be terminated? Has there been on record a contract that was terminated based on a mutual decision before?

Petr Sykora - Minnesota Wild

Certain formalities need to be observed, though, and Souray needs to agree to forfeit the paycheck. That's the kicker; how bad does Big Sexy want to play elsewhere? $5-7M worth?

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#53 Cheesenaka
September 10 2010, 01:01PM
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Cogliano has signed as per Oilers Twitter. Details to follow!

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#54 Cheesenaka
September 10 2010, 01:06PM
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Ender wrote:

quicksilver ballet wrote:

Since Sheldon Souray doesn't want to be here, and the Oilers don't want him, could something be done if both parties agreed, the balance of this contract could be terminated? Has there been on record a contract that was terminated based on a mutual decision before?

Petr Sykora - Minnesota Wild

Certain formalities need to be observed, though, and Souray needs to agree to forfeit the paycheck. That's the kicker; how bad does Big Sexy want to play elsewhere? $5-7M worth?

Considering what he'd get from another team right now contract-wise (taking into consideration: cap space, other signings), there is no way he would forfeit that much money to play elsewhere. I don't see him being offered more than 1 million.

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#55 fuck off
September 10 2010, 01:26PM
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1 year 1 mil for Cogs

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#56 Ender
September 10 2010, 01:36PM
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fuck off wrote:

1 year 1 mil for Cogs

I can't say I'm shocked - Cogs had zero leverage in negotiating this contract - but that's still a pretty big kick in the junk.

Then again, he's been rumoured to being traded so many times now, I'm guessing he's getting used to feeling unwanted around here.

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#57 Cheesenaka
September 10 2010, 01:43PM
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@Ender

I'm glad that the days of overpaying our players based on potential is behind us.

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#58 Ender
September 10 2010, 02:02PM
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Cheesenaka wrote:

I'm glad that the days of overpaying our players based on potential is behind us.

That would appear to be true in this case anyway. $1M would put Cogs just above Ryan Jones and just below Jordan Eberle. I can't think he's pleased with it, but some years you have the numbers on your side and some you don't. I can't really expect the Oilers to throw money at him that they don't have to; that would be like expecting a defense attourney to put up a half-assed defense because he suspects his client might be guilty. The thing is, you do your job as best you can and you expect the opposite side to do the same. In this case, Cogliano and his agent didn't have much of a case to build and no good fallback options. The result favors the Oilers and it shows clearly.

Maybe everyone who lays awake at night hating the Horcoff contract can mentally transfer $1M from it to the Cogliano contract and then it won't seem quite so bad.

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#59 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
September 10 2010, 02:06PM
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Ender wrote:

That would appear to be true in this case anyway. $1M would put Cogs just above Ryan Jones and just below Jordan Eberle. I can't think he's pleased with it, but some years you have the numbers on your side and some you don't. I can't really expect the Oilers to throw money at him that they don't have to; that would be like expecting a defense attourney to put up a half-assed defense because he suspects his client might be guilty. The thing is, you do your job as best you can and you expect the opposite side to do the same. In this case, Cogliano and his agent didn't have much of a case to build and no good fallback options. The result favors the Oilers and it shows clearly.

Maybe everyone who lays awake at night hating the Horcoff contract can mentally transfer $1M from it to the Cogliano contract and then it won't seem quite so bad.

I think the other issue is Cogs just wants to play and prove his worth. Is holding out for another 300k going to be worth it in the end? At least now he can come in with a good attitude and not miss any of the training camp.

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#60 common sense
September 10 2010, 05:05PM
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This is gonna be a make it or break it season for Cogliano. The contract sounds about right and if this guy has a crappy year then he's even gonna get less the following year on another NHL team or he might have to play overseas. There should be plenty of motivation for this guy to give it all he's got this season. This is what sports is all about.

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