TEAM TOGETHERNESS: WHAT’S IT WORTH?

Whispers and innuendo abounded the past couple seasons about a rift, or, at the very least, a lack of togetherness inside the Edmonton Oilers dressing room.

These days, with the Oilers off to a 2-0 start, an infusion of new blood in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi and veterans like Ethan Moreau, Steve Staios and Sheldon Souray, the poster boy for discontent, shown the door, we’re not hearing anything of the kind. Oh, and the ping pong table is back.

With two wins in the books, so many fresh faces in the fold and optimism the word of the day early on, it’s not a bit surprising the Oilers are a happy outfit right now. All Kumbaya and pinging and ponging is the home dressing room with Hall and Shawn Horcoff side-by-side, Paajarvi and Eberle sitting among the veterans.

Harmony will be put to the test soon enough this season because it’s easy to a good teammate when the chips are falling your way, which they are now. It’s another matter when you’re in the toilet, chalking the bowl as the Oilers did last season on the way to finishing 30th.

WHICH COMES FIRST?

All of which raises questions for me. First, how much does it really matter in terms of wins and losses if players on a team are best friends, tight and together? All else being equal, is a team laden with players who "get along" a better team than a bunch of guys who don’t have a lot in common or much to say to each other when the game isn’t being played?

Second, did the Oilers teams that missed the playoffs the past four years stink because they didn’t get along or did they not get along because that’s tough to do when you stink? Were Moreau and Staios bad leaders or were they leading a bad team?

One thing’s certain, it’s way too early for the 2010-11 edition of the Oilers to provide any answers, but there’s no question the atmosphere in the dressing room is different now, Refreshingly so.

A lot of that can be attributed to coach Tom Renney, who has made a concerted effort to ensure the players — veterans and youngsters alike — want to come to the rink, want to hang out, want to spend time together.

"The one thing we have is we have is a great group of people that really give a crap about each other and what they’re doing here," Renney told reporters this morning. "We want to make sure we sustain that, at the very least, because if you don’t have that as a starting point, you might as well just mail the points in."

A NEW START

The Oilers licked plenty of stamps last season. I’m not convinced all that falls on the leadership, or a lack of same, of Moreau, Staios, Souray and the other veterans who’ve moved along. Much of it? Certainly.

Still, players I talked to this morning, including Horcoff, Jason Strudwick and Sam Gagner, believe a lot of the tension and discontent we heard whispers about was a product of losing.

I’m not giving Moreau and the departed veterans a free pass, but, even having heard about certain issues from people I trust the past couple of seasons, I put much of the old negativity down to the Oilers getting their backside buffed too many nights.

While there’s been some damn good teams across the spectrum of sports that didn’t particularly get along, I suspect liking the guy sitting next to you can’t hurt. How much it helps is another argument.

In any case, I like Renney’s approach and I like the chances of it being executed with the personnel in place now. We’ll check back in in 40 games, say, during a stretch of four straight losses, for an update.

WHY I CRAPPED MYSELF

While I was waiting to interview Horcoff this morning. Hall, who sits next to him, was laying prone on the floor stretching right next to us. Being easily amused, I made a motion like I was going to stomp the prized rookie.

That immediately drew a reaction. "Brownlee, leave the kid alone," growled Steve MacIntyre as he left the main room for the back. "Don’t make me smack you."

I wasn’t sure if MacIntyre was smiling or grimacing, like when he’s loading up that right hand. "Uh, Taylor. Tell me if Mac comes back through that door, will you?" Better safe than sorry (and unconscious).

— Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • I believe the Oilers will bounce back with a solid game in Minnesota.

    I also believe that Penner and Paajarvi will switch lines sooner then later.

    Can Cogliano, Souray and a prospect/pick get us a solid improvement for a center on a third line?

    Is Finger on re-entry an improvement over Vandermeer on the third d-line?

  • reaperfunkss

    This may be a bad question but why was the ping pong table taken out of the room in the 1st place? I remember pictures of the 80’s teams playing on it. Seems odd it would go away at all

      • book¡e

        Two things – I think that the elimination of the Ping Pong table had to be more than ‘lost in the shuffle’. I think it was a change in attitude that was afoot – one that has now been deemed a failure.

        Second – WTF happened to the old ping pong table. Apparently it was there through the 80’s and was signed by pretty much every Oiler who came through the room. It has to be worth HUGE amounts of money. I bet it is either in the basement of some construction guy – or worse destroyed in a landfill somewhere. Out of all the things the team auctions off for charity, they miss out on the biggest one of all.

    • Jmask5

      i would trade souray for a bag of pucks before i would take a guy like finger, whom no one ever heard of before he signed that god awful contract with toronto, and where is he now? on waivers cause hes not good enough to be in there top 7 defence. my guess is if hes not good enough to play there, he won’t even come close to being good enough to play here, not to mention the fact, we have way better defensive prospects than him. i’ll burn my season tickets if that club footed joke of a hockey player ever wears the copper and blue and skates on rexall’s ice

  • Travis Dakin

    I that since most of us grew up watching this team and seeing “The Boys on the Bus” video has created an image of a winning team being a close team. They go hand in hand it would seem. I always remember hearing stories about how “Edmonton was the closest knit dressing room” and it made me happy. A team that likes playing together will want to win together for each other and that is very good for us.

    • I heard that same crap when Ethan and Co. were in the dressing room in the last few years as well.
      What teams have your heard of winning, and after their players talking crap about eachother?
      Teams that win together like playing together, no one likes playing on a sh!tty team.

  • Travis Dakin

    ***the conversation after 7 herion beers from Rexall***

    “I love you man! You’re the best friend I ever had. I’d take a bullet for you. I love you like a brother”

    True story.

    Herion beer, the greatest drug on earth, its just too damn expensive.

  • Jamie B.

    “… if you don’t have that as a starting point, you might as well just mail the points in.”

    The Oilers licked plenty of stamps last season.

    Hah! Great line. That’s why Brownlee gets paid the big writer bucks.

  • Jmask5

    Hopefully Big Mac says those same things on the ice. If we can go a full season without one of Big guns getting injured (Due to another player smacking them around) then we can justify signing him.

  • Rich in the Park

    The only benifit of having Jeff Finger on the roster would be to hear the crowd chant “Finger bang!” after he lays down a bone crushing hit.

    One can dream.

    • Jamie B.

      Actually, you know what? Now that I think about it I do remember it being up for auction. I want to say it was around the time they sold off all the old banners. So hopefully it went to a good (rich) fan and/or former team owner …

  • Jamie B.

    In the 80’s I spent every morning at practice when the team was in town…then to the locker room until i got hungry and either went for brunch with other media types or with players … coliseum steak & pizza had great steak and eggs …or even eggs benny…
    Those teams were as socially close as any other team…for mostly ONE REASON … WINNING!

    funny the way winning keeps a smile on everyone’s face…

    FYI: Oiler teams won more Stanley Cups with a ping-pong table in the room than did Oiler teams without one.

  • O.C.

    The timing of the road trip is perfect.

    Certainly losing teams will bicker, but that’s out of passion and competitive drive in an athlete.

    Last year, the discontent was because to a man, they could that last years debacle was hopeless, and it had to blown up. Simple bickering wasn’t boing to fix anything.

  • cambosmash

    The team closeness has to have an affect on keeping players around and drawing free agents. Like any job, work can be made bearable by working with good people that are fun to be around. Maybe Hemsky and Penner stay around, even if the team isn’t great in two years, because they enjoy coming to work.

  • Chris.

    I think fans over romanticise the importance of team harmony… When young men day dream about playing in the NHL, they imagine money, chicks, glory, Stanley Cups, and twenty three best freinds… Few people waste time imagining what it would be like to be traded or waived; badly concussed or injured; making a stupid mistake at a critical point in the playoffs; or reading/hearing hateful comments about yourself almost daily. Total team harmony is just part of the fantasy… True Pro’s are always trying to out-compete someone else for ice time, a healthy chunk of cap space, and a stable roster spot… being great friends should be a secondary consideration.

    • cambosmash

      I think your take is pretty solid. One thing, though . . .

      I don’t think most people expect “total team harmony.” That’s not realistic.

      My experience is that how a team gets along only seem to have a significant impact if the relationships are at the extreme ends of the scale — most guys just seem to be really good friends or a lot of guys can’t stand each other (I’ve seen that). Most teams fall into the middle ground.

  • Gerald R. Ford

    The combination of talent and professionalism is, ultimately, what leads to a winning atmosphere. Part of being a professional is knowing how to be a good teammate. Not necessarily a best friend, but a good teammate. The more raw talent you have that is properly channeled, the less important the superficial “buddy-buddy” aspects become. Check out “The Bad Guys Won” about the ’86 Mets. Quite possibly the biggest collection of narcissistic, loudmouthed, selfish douchebags ever assembled on one team. But, *what* a team.

    With that said, a ping pong table can’t hurt!

  • Helmethead

    I think having good chemistry inside the dressing room reveals itself when the puck drops.

    Having played 2 different team sports, I can say that friendships built outside the sport carries itself back into the dressing room and onto the playing field. You want to help your friends out. You fight for them and do whatever it takes to help the others get to that next level. To get that extra effort from guys who would bail when things get rough.

    It’s a sort of group leadership dynamic which tells your teammates you’ll do anything to win. Obviously there will be some losses, but when the game is over, you can see how that effort for each other brings teams together inside the dressing room. Thats how good teams become better.

    The Oilers of last year were a team of too many individuals within the team. When things were really bad, you could see how they wouldn’t respond for each other. Perhaps the dressing room was too “cliquey” which led to the rift in the room. Who knows and we never will know.

    What I do know is after 2 games, I’m already seeing signs of them pulling together. This will be a good “TEAM” because they’re showing signs of togetherness. Thats why the friendships are so important on and off the ice.