Oilers need talent *AND* experience

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.

  • Skidplate

    “Tambellini doesn’t want to risk his negative attitude towards the team and city rubbing off on the young players.”

    Souray made it emphatically clear that his beef is not with the players or the city — it’s with management. Not sure why you’re putting words into his mouth like that.

    • Jason Gregor

      The team is the Oilers. Souray doesn’t want to be in Edmonton. He has made that clear.

      I said it is towards the team, which includes management. The fact is if he is unhappy, that could have a negative impact on some young players.

      I’m not saying he would slag the city, but if he doesn’t want to be on the team, for whatever reason, Tambellini doesn’t want him around just in case he has a negative attitude.

    • Rob...

      The team is more than just the players. Sheldon could be the best buddy to the new kids while also telling them how they’d be better off signing their next contract elsewhere, or how it’s useless to play your heart out for management because they don’t give a crap.

      • Skidplate

        That’s fine, but saying that Souray has a “negative attitude about the city” is confusing causation big-time, and is written in such a way that effectively papers over the real issue (ie. a beef with Lowe/Tambellini).

        There’s quite a big difference between: “I hate this organization and want to leave” and “I hate living in this city and therefore want to play elsewhere”. Both are not sentiments that you want to expose a young up-and-comer to, but only one can correctly be ascribed to Souray.

        • Dutchscooter

          Not agreeing or disagreeing, but look at it this way: everyone has had a co-worker who was fed up with the job/company and has heard said co-worker slag the boss, job, company, etc around the watercooler and the smoke breaks. This attitude is what Tambo is trying to extinguish.

        • Rob...

          Fair enough. If Jason is able to provide ‘quotes’ that back up his statement on Souray’s attitude towards the city that would be great. If instead it was ‘off the record’ city-slams then mentioning that would be also appreciated, as I’m sure things Souray would say to his teammates would also be ‘off the record’.

          I’d rather not say ‘only one can be correctly be ascribed to Souray.’ at this point. Jason has never struck me as the kind of guy who would write something he didn’t believe was true unless it was an obvious joke or hyperbole.

        • Jason Gregor

          Actually James you wrote “negative attitude about the city”. Here is the ENTIRE paragraph.

          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.

          He doesn’t want to be here. If you think it is only because of Tambellini you are mistaken. He had asked for a trade before the start of last season, that had nothing to do with Tambellini. When Tambellini didn’t call him in the hospital that did bother him, but that wasn’t the first reason.

          I never wrote he was negative on the city. You grabbed one word out of a paragraph and pretended it was the entire focus, which is wasn’t. It is all encompassing. If a guy doesn’t want to be here, it is very possible his negative attitude rubs off on the kids. His beef was the team was losing, he felt MacT rushed him to play originally, which is three years ago…Get over it Sheldon. He’d like to be closer to his kids possibly. So he doesn’t like the geographical standing of the city. I never once suggested he hated the people. You might have read a bit too much into it I think.

  • Slapshot

    Hopefully the Eskimos can get back on track with player and management changes.In 3 to 4 years both the Oilers and Eskimos might be competing again in the playoffs and if we are lucky maybe some championships.

  • Cru Jones

    Is Renney going to be coaching the kids at the tourney in Penticton next week, and is he aware that there’s some bizarre Twitter account in his name? That is all.

  • Gilmore Tuttle

    Gregor, good article, great point/quotes, and love the insight with Renney.

    You usually have great inside info with a solid opinion that starts good conversations…but PLEASE work on the typos & spelling errors!

    • Dear BK:

      In regards to your recent post, “info” is only a word in an informal sense, and not technically an appropriate replacement for “information. Also your capitalization of the word “please” is surprisingly negligent from a grammatical perspective.

  • Slapshot

    Gregor I like your take on things but I have to say that I read this site every day and I can’t stand it when you put Eskimos stuff on here. I get it that you need to cover all your bases on your show, but no one gives a crap about the CFL – particularly the esks this year.

    GET THE CFL CRAP OFF HERE

    • PabstBR55

      I normally stay out of these things, but I feel compelled to suggest that rather than blowing off at the author you could just choose, of course, to simply not read the article. I think there are something like 5 or 6 Oiler blogs, and an average of 2.5 posts on this site every day, so I’m not sure why you would feel entitled to an IV drip of Oilers news catered to your tastes from Jason Gregor.

      One way to approach these things might be to say, “Hey Jason, I’m not a big football fan and read your posts because I love the insight on hockey you provide. Would love to see you focus on Oilers news. Thanks.”

      Instead of, you know, sounding like a snivelling baby.

    • ubermiguel

      I like that way JG tied the Armstrong situation and Souray situation together, made for a well written piece. But if I see “Eskimos” in a paragraph I usually skip it.

    • Adam D

      Gold.

      And I strongly disagree about the Eskimos stuff. I have long wished there was a legit Eskimos blog that could offer the same kind of insight we get from the two million Oilers ones, and really enjoy when Gregor gives us some of the good stuff on here.

  • Gilmore Tuttle

    From the picture and headline, I thought Tambi had made his next round of restructuring to the back-office of the organization and replaced Paul Lorieau with a new anthem singer!

  • @ Gregor,

    Steve Tambellini “made it clear he doesn’t want anyone in the organization who doesn’t want to be here.”

    Why continue to make this statement?

    It essentially only applies to Hemsky&Penner..

    I don’t see Tambellini as eager to accommodate any of the prospects out should they not get ice time,agree with line combos, or coaching philosophy..

    Stop promoting “ways out” because people are already accustomed to it here.

    • Jason Gregor

      How is it promoting ways out? I’m making a point. And don’t get all “edmonton insecure” and think the young guys will want out. This team is focused on building a better team environment, so players won’t be asking to get out.

    • Jerk Store

      Yes. For a dart team.

      People slagging Gregor, please note: this WAS an article about hockey – specifically about Sheldon Souray – referenced to the Calvin Armstrong situation and the discord in the Eskimos dressing room. Thanks for keeping up folks!

      Now to slag Gregor! WTF are you doing putting up pictures of Susan Boyle, when Lowetide is posting pictures of a nubile Phoebe Cates, a leggy Jill Hennesey and busty Leilei Sobeleski? (Two minutes for excessive – and somewhat disturbing – use of adjectives). Please step your game up.

      *Pauses to ensure there are enough errors to give BK a stroke ……… and …..SEND.

  • R.A. Slapshotzky

    re: Eskies stuff.

    The Eskie bits in this post relate directly to the Oilers’ situation/concerns. That side story could have been about field hockey in North Carolina, and it’d still fit. That it did in fact regard a sports franchise in the same supposedly maligned city, that’s part of the same sporting community, even better.

    That aside, I don’t mind seeing a little of both. Just don’t let it take over.

  • Man some of you guys are brutal. I’m not a football fan AT ALL, but here I was thinking…”For a radio guy, Jason is really stepping up his writing game. Robin must be rubbing off on him.”

    Nice comparison Jason. Your post added a refreshing perspective. I think your mom would be proud.

  • Two sides to every story. Armstrong says he was 10 yards away from a fallen Ricky. AJ Gass said the old Eskies would’ve never terminated a player one hour before his wife had a baby/C-section. Fiacconi says Armstrong’s a good friend and he’s gonna miss him. Who do you believe? R.Hall is probably a nice guy but I personally can’t stand to listen to his interviews. Too much hackneyed slang and seemingly endless drivel. Just fire the guy and get it over with. Should be even easier than Armstrong since Hall doesn’t have a wife who’s about to give birth. Sorry for Eskie talk but Gregor started it…

  • PabstBR55

    Gregor

    I love the eskimos talk, keep it up. Not everyone here is a 20 year old nfl only fan who doesn’t see the beauty of the CFL. If we had a good team there would be 40-50,000 people per week going to the esks games. I love the esks as much as the oilers as I am sure do 90% of the oilers fans in this city.

    I just watched the game on pvr and didn’t see Armstrong anywhere near Ray. He is the left tackle and Ray rolled right and back about ten yards. There were actually over 8 seconds in that play so that is on the receivers not getting open more than the oline not blocking. I think it is a mistake to cut a guy over one play, especially a former CFL all star. Why not put him back at right tackle or bench him or something? He may be a star for ten years for Toronto,…

    • Jason Gregor

      They didn’t like Armstrong’s attitude for the past bit. That play was too much for them to overlook. It isn’t that it his fault, in fact it was Ray who fumbled before being hit, but it was the message it sent to the team.

      If you have an import O-lineman he has to be dominant, and Armstong hasn’t been for two years now.

      And to all the few you seemed to get upset over a brief Eskimo mention. Relax, take a deep breath, and don’t worry, I called the doctor and he said you’d make it, even though you had to read five paragraphs on the Eskimos.

      Last I checked the posters don’t run the site, and don’t really have much control on the content of it. We don’t expect you to like all of it, but saying you don’t like it won’t stop an article or two about non-Oiler stuff from appearing. Hope you can handle that.

  • StrangePhD

    I love the eskimo tidbits too. I didn’t see the Armstrong incident, but if it is half as bad as it sounds he needed to go.

    Even though Souray didn’t rag on his teammates or the fans, it was still a selfish way to go about airing his issue (read: not in the team’s best interests.)

  • Ender

    @ David S

    Davey-boy, you missed the memo. Our man Gregor is on board with the times. Check out the bio under his articles.

    Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m., on the TEAM 1260. He also does play-by-play for the Edmonton Rush and MMA commentary on HDNET Fights. He thinks the Instigator rule is stupid, Bettman is narrow-minded, +/- is overrated, goaltending equipment is a joke and that every team should have ice girls. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor

    Everything is right in the world again.
    😉

  • “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.”

    That is exactly why I do not agree at all with the idea of having Souray come in to camp and try to play well the first couple of months in order to help facilitate a trade and frankly i’m aghast at how many MSM/Hybrid/Bloggers ive heard and read espouse that view.

  • Chris.

    The Eskimo Talk is fine… Besides: It’s super hypocritical of commentors to chastise the bloggers for occasionally straying off topic.

    People who live in the city don’t have a problem seeing the underlying connection between the two franchises that worked in concert to earn us the moniker, “City Of Champions.” Both franchises are now responsible for our collective pain. Check out this article by Bruce McCurdy:

    http://www.coppernblue.com/2010/9/9/1676752/the-beatdown-of-alberta#storyjump

    The night Messier’s jersey was retired; just hours after Lowe delt Ryan Smyth to the Islanders; I was sitting in my seat at RX1 (completely pissed off) watching the lowly Coyotes beat down, and shut out, our Oilers when: a loud chant overtook the building in the third period:

    LET’S GO ES-KI-MO-S!

    I’m going to Commonwealth tonight for the same reason I re-upped my season seats with the Oilers… True fans don’t abandon their team during tough times. It’s a lesson people in Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver could stand to learn…

  • Quicksilver ballet

    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.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      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.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Good move by the Eskimos they seem to be like the Oilers were and are starting to realize that you need to get rid of the cancer. Is there really any way the Eskimos make this a 30 point game?

    As for Renney, I have a lot of respect for him and am very curious to see what he does with the lines. He has a very tough job ahead of him, but until he sees some of these guys play I don’t think he can commit to anything.

    Also have fun in Penticton. You should check out the ramada for supper. They make the best pizza around. In an actual wood oven and the crust is made of cornmeal. And if you go to the Parrot(i think that’s what it is called) which is connected to the casino, be sure to order two drinks at a time. Unless it takes you 45 minutes to drink a drink.

  • Milli

    I am a huge NFL fan, not CFL, but, it ties directly into the article. And for that matter, if it’s a good read I don’t mind anything being written. Ya, where all here for the Oilersnation, but come on. Good article.

  • Ender

    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?

    • Cheesenaka

      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.

    • Ender

      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.

        • Ender

          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.

          • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

            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.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    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.