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.