The Rift In The Dressing Room

Orr Esposito

All season long there have been rumours about a rift, a root dysfunction in the dressing room. Respected names in the Edmonton sports media, people like Dan Barnes and John Short, have reported the problems.

Here’s what Short said on May 17th:

If you swallowed all that kool-aid about the incredible harmony that existed last season in the Edmonton Oilers dressing room, it’s time for you to scan the Carolina Hurricanes roster.
It’s worth remembering the recent fact that Erik Cole, Sergei Samsonov and Joni Pitkanen were at least a little unhappy as Oilers.
Now they’re happy in the Carolinas….
A warm and welcoming dressing room climate can overcome a host of problems. That comfort didn’t exist here — not for these guys, anyway — and the record shows that it was non-existent for others, as well.

Short placed much of the blame on the veteran leadership of the Oilers. It was a theme that Dan Barnes had touched on back in April:

There is chatter around the league that Edmonton’s tight-knit dressing room is changing and not for the better, that the obvious divide between the younger players and senior leadership cadre has not been bridged easily. Captain Ethan Moreau addressed that issue Friday, saying he didn’t think it was a problem.
“It’s still a really good room, just with different personalities and different demographics,” said Moreau, who did admit this year has been a challenge made more difficult by the mood their lousy record has created in the community.
“It’s got to change. It’s not healthy. There is way too much negativity. It seems nothing was positive all year. It’s tough to play that way. The product on the ice hasn’t been as good. We’ve got to find a way to get that positive environment back.”

Both Robin Brownlee and Jason Gregor here at OilersNation have touched on the rift, with Gregor calling it “overblown”, and Brownlee said that he hadn’t seen it either. There’s a lot of truth to the conclusion that Brownlee came to – namely that winning covers over a lot of problems, while losing has the opposite effect.

I completely agree. I was reminded of all this while I was reading Stephen Brunt’s excellent book, Searching For Bobby Orr, where he talked about the divide in the Boston dressing room between Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. Here’s what Brunt said:

On the ice, anyone outside of the team itself would have been hard-pressed to see any evidence of their differences, though there were times, especially when the two were duelling for the NHL scoring championship, when Orr confided to those closest to him that he thought the “Chicago guys” were quietly conspiring against him, whether they were feeding Espo an extra pass or denying Orr one, just to make sure their long-time buddy came out on top.

The Esposito/Orr Bruins won two Stanley Cups and won twice as many games as they lost (384-192-108); and while it’s just one example, there are plenty more. It’s hard to put it better than Brunt himself did:

There’s a truth that applies to all teams in all professionl sports: harmony is way overrated. Many a championship has been won with players who didn’t socialize away from the park or the rink, who didn’t say a lot to each other in any circumstance, whose personalities naturally clashed, who came from backgrounds that were irreconcilable, who rubbed each other the wrong way, who hated each other’s guts. Talent goes a long way toward patching over those kinds of differences.

And while I completely agree with that statement, Brunt follows it with one that sounds a lot like the conclusion Brownlee came to back in April:

[A] team spiralling downward will invariably begin to pick at itself, to magnify its rifts and tensions and jealousies. There is a long, long list of jerks who won many a championship, and of nice guys who finished last.

Coming back to the present, if we can agree that there isn’t a need to have a completely harmonious dressing room, than it’s probably equally fair to say that overhauling the Oilers’ leadership core shouldn’t be a priority. It is important to upgrade the team in other ways (which probably don’t need rehashing right now) but I don’t think team leaders should be traded for no other reason than because certain people have concerns about the team’s culture.

I’ve touched on this before, but this team has been radically changed since the disaster of 2006-07; in only two seasons two-thirds of the roster has been changed over. When we also consider that nearly the entire coaching staff has also been changed (with Kelly Buchberger being the lone holdover), I think change for the sake of change is pointless.

  • Hippy

    The rumour in discussion wasnt even brought up by credible sources and any assertion as to who was liked more in the dressing room is complete speculation. There is absolutely nothing behind any of it.

  • Hippy

    @ Archaeologuy:

    I linked to this in the article above, but with most of the previous leadership core already out the door, I don't think axing the few survivors is automatically the answer.

    Smyth – gone.
    Stoll – gone.
    Reasoner – gone.
    Smith – gone.
    Greene – gone.

    That's a lot of character this team has lost over the past two seasons (and the actual list of players is much, much longer – 19 total).

    People act like "well, this team has missed the playoffs since 2005-06, everyone's expendable" but the fact is that this isn't the same team that's missed the playoffs over the past two years; there have already been substantial changes, and a lot of heart-and-soul guys were sent away over those years.

  • Hippy

    So Dan says no rift existed between the players. How about a rift between the players and the coaches? I am not just talking about MacT either. Could Moores – Huddy or Buchberger have been the problem?

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    People act like “well, this team has missed the playoffs since 2005-06, everyone’s expendable” but the fact is that this isn’t the same team that’s missed the playoffs over the past two years; there have already been substantial changes, and a lot of heart-and-soul guys were sent away over those years.

    I didnt say every player is expendable, just that changing the leadership core would not be change for the sake of change. Moreau should likely only be a stop-gap or transitional Captain that was called to duty because there was no better choice at the time. Think Desjardins in Philly. Moreau can stay on the team, but he's a poor Captain. If its too much for his ego to take (being stripped of the C) then too bad for him. He's an easily replaceable part of a broken machine. How many Captains in the NHL average less than 16 minutes a night? He isnt an impact player on the ice so why give the guy a C and tell him he's more important than he really is.

    IMO a Captain ought to be able to make an impact on AND off the ice, and as "good" as Moreau may be off of the ice, he wont be taking any games by the throat and changing the course of momentum by sitting in the penalty box or the bench. At least Smith made his presence be known while he was here, Moreau disapeared almost as much as Horc did down the stretch.

    I know the team has lost a lot of the old leadership group, but that doesnt mean they should desperately hold on to the leftovers that remain. Staios and Moreau, their time has passed. Its time to cultivate a new leadership group. I dont know how that should be done. Maybe they go the route of LA, Chicago, and Pittsburg and slap the C on one of the young guys and forget the vets that are on team. Maybe they give the C to an actual impact vet like Souray and wait for the Kids to develop. All i know/believe is that the "leadership" group that's in place here now has accomplished nothing and fostered a poor environment to play in.

  • Hippy

    @ Archaeologuy:

    Dave Andreychuk's team won the Stanley Cup in 2004. Personally, I thought Jason Smith was a great captain too.

    Frankly, if a player doesn't respect the captain because he's not an all-star, that says a lot about that particular player.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    @ Archaeologuy:
    Dave Andreychuk’s team won the Stanley Cup in 2004. Personally, I thought Jason Smith was a great captain too.
    Frankly, if a player doesn’t respect the captain because he’s not an all-star, that says a lot about that particular player.

    On the same token when I played (just for example) I looked up to guys that had more skill than I and was happy to get the advice from them. I didn't listen to the 6'6" 240 pound 4th liners who had no skill and were trying to advise me on what to do in certain situations. Why should I? They couldn't do what they were preaching so how was I to know if there advise was good or bad?

  • Hippy

    @ Jonathan Willis:
    Andreychuk was playing a more limited role in 2004 (although he did score more goals that year than Horc did this year), but he will be in the Hall of Fame. He also average more than 17 minutes of Ice Time a night. He earned his respect and showed up with 5 game winning goals that season.

    I dont think the Captain needs to be an All-Star, but he needs to be valuable to his team. Smith wasnt the best defenseman on the team, but he played so hard when the chips were down that it seemed like guys would follow him through a brick wall. It just seems fake when Moreau tries it, whereas when Souray had that fire it seemed real. He would be my choice right now. Keep Moreau around if you must, but he isnt even close to Dave Andreychuk.

  • Hippy

    Austin Ayala wrote:

    Mike Grier, Shawn Brown, Joaquin Gage, Georges Laraque, Anson Carter…
    I remember when we had all these guys at the same time and they were all such spirited and hard workers that really lit up the dressing room. We need to bring back hard workers like this again because I think that’s what the Oilers are missing. If Souray wants out… good, trade him away for heart and soul player.

    I'm confused.

    Either you're saying that the Oilers need more African/American players on their team, or you're calling Anson Carter a hard worker.

    Either way… I'm, um, not following the logical progression you're after here.

  • Hippy

    @ Jason Gregor:

    Just because two guys are all buddy-buddy doesn't mean he doesn't get pissed when they take stupid penalties or make impatient plays. I like the way Ethan plays as much as anyone, but I'd be pissed too if he put my team in bad situations constantly.

  • Hippy

    Harrison wrote:

    Jonathan Willis wrote:
    @ Archaeologuy:
    Dave Andreychuk’s team won the Stanley Cup in 2004. Personally, I thought Jason Smith was a great captain too.
    Frankly, if a player doesn’t respect the captain because he’s not an all-star, that says a lot about that particular player.
    On the same token when I played (just for example) I looked up to guys that had more skill than I and was happy to get the advice from them. I didn’t listen to the 6′6″ 240 pound 4th liners who had no skill and were trying to advise me on what to do in certain situations. Why should I? They couldn’t do what they were preaching so how was I to know if there advise was good or bad?

    Is that why you are no longer playing hockey? There are people with all the skill in the world that can not teach it, and people with no skill what so ever but great teachers. If you are only willing to take advise from someone "better" then you then I highly doubt you could be successful in any field you work in whether it is hockey or somewhere else.

  • Hippy

    Sandra Blood wrote:
    Penner was the most liked guy in the room.

    Austin Ayala wrote:
    I know for a fact this is a pile of dung. Jason Strudwick was the most liked guy in the room.

    This is the most pointless argument ever.

  • Hippy

    Dan wrote:

    Just because two guys are all buddy-buddy doesn’t mean he doesn’t get pissed when they take stupid penalties or make impatient plays. I like the way Ethan plays as much as anyone, but I’d be pissed too if he put my team in bad situations constantly.

    Getting pissed now and then is not the same as having a rift. Most of you guys know how buddies react to one another. If we do get pissed off, we say and then move it. Rarely do real men hold a grudge for a long time, unless maybe a guy shagged your lady ( which is against the guy code anyways).

    If Souray was that mad at the guy, do you think he would keep car pooling to games with him???Sandra Blood wrote:

    the rest of the onis is on the players, so there must have been some thing going on in the room. with the talent that the Oil had they should have been ahead of the Canucks.

    Yes the Oilers have two guys who are point a game players, and they have a top two goalie in the world don't they.

    The Oilers also have gritty guys who can score like Burrows don't they?

    You thinking the Oilers had more proven talent than the Canucks shows you might be a touch biased. The Canucks had a many players up their game this past season, how many Oilers did that???

  • Hippy

    Dan wrote:

    @ Jason Gregor:
    Just because two guys are all buddy-buddy doesn’t mean he doesn’t get pissed when they take stupid penalties or make impatient plays. I like the way Ethan plays as much as anyone, but I’d be pissed too if he put my team in bad situations constantly.

    Just because somebody is pissed at you doesn't mean they want you traded. This is an example of jumping to conclusions at its finest.

  • Hippy

    @ Jason Gregor:

    What I'm saying is, if Ethan suffers the same brain cramps, he will get thrown under the bus and run over with every wheel, and rightfully so. Needs to be some serious accountibilty issues resolved here, which I'm thinking is a major concern to Souray.

    Ethan is like the big brother on this hockey team, and I'm sure others feel like he should know better. We need him to play a more cerebral game since he is one of the major vets on this team.

  • Hippy

    @ Antony Ta:

    I'm not jumping to any conclusions. I just threw out Ethan's name, because he is the captain and he has to take responsibility for his own actions, as well as that of the teams. So, far the only people that have taken the fall are the coaches, we'll soon find out which players will be getting the axe.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    Smyth – gone.
    Stoll – gone.
    Reasoner – gone.
    Smith – gone.
    Greene – gone.

    Smyth had to go because of his contract demands.
    Stoll hasn't been the same since his concussion.
    Reasoner was a mistake to let go for the past season.
    Smith was pretty slow when he was dealt.
    Greene was a leader? I like this player but he's not a team leader at this point of his career.

    We need the right combination of players.

  • Hippy

    @ Greg MC:

    I'm not arguing whether guys had to go (because I'm sick of the smyth debate) but the fact is that a lot of players considered leaders have been shipped out over the past two years.

    As for Greene, I'd like to hear Gregor/Brownlee's take, but everything I've heard tells me he was either already in that role or getting close to it, despite his age.