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.
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.