That 5-0 laugher against the Phoenix Coyotes Tuesday wasn’t Exciting Last Place Hockey. It was a group of entitled, pampered athletes getting their backsides kicked and turning the other cheek without the slightest hint of objection.
The Edmonton Oilers are going to lose 50 games this season. That much is obvious. But if they lose even one more in the half-hearted manner they did against Phoenix, rolling over like they couldn’t even be bothered to compete, then there’s a big problem with this ELPH bit.
In an overdue and completely justified blast at his "team," Tom Renney called what he’d just witnessed a "joke" and a "travesty. The coach, his patience pushed beyond the limit after 20 games, didn’t overstate in his post-game address to reporters.
"The starts start in the morning when you come to the morning skate, that’s when they start," spat Renney. "You have a night to take a breather or what not, but the next morning when you get up it’s game day. Boy it is game on, it doesn’t matter what time of day it is. It’s game day. Period.
"We win a game and we figure we are going to be hosting the Cup or something…I don’t know, I don’t know. It’s a joke…. the battle level was non-existent tonight. The pride in the jersey was not even close to what it needed to be. It was an absolute joke, a travesty."
NO MORE MR. NICE GUY
Pride? Battle level? Given what we saw Tuesday, it’s fair to wonder out loud if those are concepts even vaguely familiar to this particular group of players. Did his players, outside Magnus Paajarvi and Devan Dubnyk, show any of either? Uh, no.
Having already played the Nice Guy cards in his hand, Renney vowed to kick some ass today, and that will likely take the form of a high-noon bag skate at Rexall Place. I hope he buffs his boots good and plenty.
Renney has bitten his tongue more than once this season, even when he would have been completely justified in unloading on his team. That 7-1 loss in Carolina? The 8-2 stomping in New York? The 5-0 whitewash against Chicago? Now, this we-don’t-care hummer.
Until Tuesday, Renney had refused to publicly show-up or call-out his players. he’d accentuated the positive. He’d chosen to motivate and teach using the carrot rather than the stick. A game of shinny after a blow out. Days off before lousy performances. A father and son road trip to Anaheim and Phoenix, complete with flights, fancy hotels and a round of golf in Arizona, all on the company dime. How proud those papas must have been last night.
Well, it’s damn sure time for Renney and his coaches, not to mention GM Steve Tambellini, to demand more — accountability, greater expectations, better efforts and that old-fashioned notion about playing like you give half-a-bowel movement — from this group of players and go to the lumber. I hope Renney leaves some marks.
GET OFF MY LAWN
In terms of building something here, I’m all for Renney’s first inclination to stay positive and keep his most biting criticisms of his players behind closed doors. Not as entertaining as Pat Quinn’s post-game rants last season, but the most logical approach nonetheless.
That said, and forgive me for pulling on my Cranky Old Man hat, but that kinder, gentler approach only goes so far and it just hit the wall. Time and time again, we keep hearing all the right words in the dressing room, but we’re not seeing actions to back those words up on the ice. Lip service, pure and simple.
Kids today? The way it works now is being rightfully corrected is deemed being "called out." If you "call out" your team too often, you might lose the room. Did we see that with Craig MacTavish? "Oooh, MacT crapped on poor Dustin Penner again. What an A-hole MacT is."
How dare a coach embarrass a dedicated, pro athlete working for four or five hours a day during the season — for more money in eight months than most fans earn in a lifetime. We can’t have that. No wonder players don’t want to come to Edmonton. What an A-hole Quinn was. The game has passed him by. Now, Renney . . . Poor babies.
SUCK IT UP, PRINCESS
I’ve got news for everybody under 40: expecting an athlete, or a group of athletes, to exhibit pride in their craft and the jersey they wear, to show up ready to work for the vast salaries being paid, isn’t too much to ask. It isn’t a hardship. It isn’t unreasonable.
When that doesn’t happen, being corrected or criticized — publicly or privately — isn’t being "called out." Being called out is just as it sounds: when reason and cajoling and playing nice don’t get the desired result, you go outside and settle matters the old-fashioned way. With actions, not words.
In a society where a student can tell a teacher to "Get f*cked" just because they feel like it, and that teacher risks discipline or dismissal for any rebuke stronger than a detention or a trip to the office, I’m guessing the origin of really being "called out" is long lost, just like old-school concepts of pride and respect too often are. But I digress . . .
If golf trips with daddy and new dressing rooms and chartered flights and five-star hotels and trips to the owner’s house for dinner and big stacks of money don’t achieve the desired results, it’s time to go with, and stick with, another approach until the players earn — yes, earn — the kind of soft touch they’ve come to expect as a matter of course. The approach Renney hinted about last night.
Then again, that will never fly. Will it?
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.