December 05 2011 09:33AM
The Oilers are much more competitive this season, and with the emergence of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall the offense should be solid moving forward. We've also witnessed some solid signs from Ladislav Smid, Ryan Jones, Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Smyth and Tom Gilbert that the kids will have some competent veterans around them as they grow.
We've seen improvement in many areas, which was expected after two consecutive 30th place finishes, but if this team wants to be a playoff contender this year or the next they better improve their divisional play.
Since 2007, they've won 52 of 146 Divisional games including only three of ten so far this season.
As the Oilers move forward in their "process" the organization needs to look at how they can compete better within the division. A winning record within your division won't guarantee you a playoff spot, Minnesota proved that last year winning 16 of 24 games, but in the last four years the team with the most wins within the division has won the NW.
The Oilers have lost 16 of their last 18 games v. the Flames. They've won one of their last 18 in Minnesota. They need to start finding ways to beat their NW divisional foes.
Up until their win in Minnesota, the Oilers and Tom Renney tried to downplay their losing streak in Minnesota. "It's just another game," was a common response when asked why the Wild could beat them for fun at the Excel Energy Centre. Losing to the Wild was ugly, but when your biggest rival continually dominates you then something needs to change.
The Flames have now won seven straight v. the Oilers, which if frankly, unacceptable. The Flames aren't a great team, but they have dominated the Oilers for the past three seasons and that has to change.
TAKE A PAGE FROM REED
The coaching strategy from football to hockey is completely different, but I think Renney should take a page from Edmonton Eskimo head coach Kavis Reed's playbook on motivation. When Reed was hired by the Esks last year, his first order of business was to look at all the game tape from the previous season. He noticed quickly how the Esks' long-time rival Calgary Stampeders had manhandled them.
In his first meeting of training camp Reed took the offensive. Rather than follow the usual trend of "one-game-at-a-time or this-is-just-another-game" garbage, Reed preached to his players the history of the Calgary-Edmonton rivalry and what it should mean to them NOW.
"I noticed they (Stampeders) bullied the Esks last year especially on Labour Day," Reed told me early this summer in his rookie season as head coach. "I wanted them to know that wasn't exceptable and one of my main focuses was to ensure our team was strong enough to challenge the Stamps. I told them we wouldn't tolerate not being competitive against them."
I know the leagues are completely different and 3 or 4 games of an 18 game season will have a bigger impact on the entire year compared to 6 of 82 NHL games, but why can't Renney try and grasp the same emotion of his team? In case you didn't notice the Esks won both games in Calgary this year, including a 35-7 drubbing on Labour Day. They also beat the Stamps in the playoffs.
Being competitive or beating your arch-rival won't guarantee you a championship, but it was a great foundation and focal point for Reed to grab his player's attention. In the week leading up to games against the Stamps, Reed would show his players footage of past Esks/Stamps battles. He wanted them to understand how much this rivalry means to the organization and more importantly their fanbase.
SHOW SOME INTENSITY
I don't see that around the organization anymore. A game against the Flames is treated the same as a game against Tampa Bay, and that isn't right.
It's a long season. Players get tired and banged up, and I understand it is impossible to "get up" for every game, so why not ensure from the beginning of a season that regardless of the standings, fatigue, health or any other intangible, when the Flames are the opponent the intensity better be there.
I can't see the players opposing this.
Rivalries are great for sports, and it's about damn time the Oilers start realizing it's unacceptable that they keep getting their asses kicked by their provincial rival.
Ask Steve Smith or Kelly Buchberger if a regular season game against the Flames was just another game when they played? Of course it wasn't and it shouldn't be now. Ask Smyth if the Flames/Oilers rivalry is bigger than a game against Florida?
We always hear about having pride for the jersey, well it's about time this current regime started showing some. Losing seven straight, and 16 of 18 is a big deal, and it should be addressed.
I'm not suggesting the Oilers play goon hockey, but is it too much to ask to have some animosity, intensity and sheer hatred for Calgary. The fanbase still has it, based on how upset you were after Saturday's game, so is it too much to ask that the players and coaches find it?
The Flames seem to have it. For years Robyn Regehr tried to crush Ales Hemsky every chance he could. Curtis Glencross has proudly boasted he plans on "making life tough" for Nugent-Hopkins and he's taken some healthy runs at him in both games this year. Hell, Jay Bouwmeester cross-checks Horcoff, who is one of the Oilers better players, and no one says a word to him. Why is that?
I think Renney should give Reed a call and listen to him talk about the importance of beating Calgary and how he can get that message through to the players.
Friday was day one of 15 of "Helping Others." We will have an on-air auction every day during the Jason Gregor show until December 22nd. We are raising money for the Christmas Bureau, MS Society and Santas Anonymous.
Friday's package included a pair of club seats to the Oilers/Red Wings game on February 04th, A Pint Party for 15 at the Pint Off Whtye, and a signed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins jersey...Courtesy of The Sports Closet in Sherwood Park.
Ward from Anderson Industries and Doug from The Tire Warehouse had an epic bidding war that went back and forth all the way up to $6,000. I made an executive decision and asked if both would pay $6,000 I'd get two packages. They agreed and we kicked off the month with $12,000 on day one.
Huge thanks to Ward and Doug, your generosity towards helping others truly warmed my heart on Friday.
Today we will be auctioning off a World Juniors Championship Package.
We have a pair of seats for all ten games, including all FOUR of Canada's games at Rexall Place.
This package came from an anonymous donor. He read my article last week about the auction and sent me an email offering up all ten games. It was awesome. He asked that his name not be used, but wanted to help out some families who could desperately use the help.
Thanks "G", I have no doubt some good Karma will be coming your way.
If you want to bid you can call 780.426.8326 or email firstname.lastname@example.org Bidding starts at 2 p.m and ends at 5:45 MST.
Thanks in advance.