For all the defeat and disappointment the Edmonton Oilers endured this season, the mood at Rexall Place today was markedly different than a year ago when the train wreck that was the Oilers had come completely off the rails on the way to 30th place.
Despite finishing with the same number of points as a year ago, 62 from a record of 24-45-12, and finishing a $5 cab ride behind the 29th-place Florida Panthers, who had 72, the gloom, doom and dismay that hung in the air last season was non-existent today.
There were no absolute money quotes, like listening to an unhappy Sheldon Souray put a gun in his mouth and pull the trigger on his NHL career by crapping all over the organization, but there was lots that stuck with me. Most notably, nobody hobbled out of the rink content to use the rebuild crutch to explain away another difficult season.
Here’s some of my impressions on the way to the first tee . . .
HALL FOR CAPTAIN
Taylor Hall should be the next captain of the Oilers.
Jason Gregor talked about this on his radio show today and he also mentioned it this morning at the rink, so I’m not claiming it as an original thought, but I happen to agree with him.
Hall, 19, has an understated disdain for excuse-making and accepting defeat I really respect. It’s not a case of chest-beating, look-at-me-I-want-to-win-so-bad bravado, but rather an honest distaste for mediocrity.
"We’ve finished last two years in a row," he said. "I think we have the pieces to the puzzle to put a good season together next year.
"We don’t want to promise the fans or you guys something we’re not going to do, but it’s time we start winning. Losing can’t be acceptable next year."
We’ve heard that talk before, of course, but seldom from a teenager who lived up to his advanced billing before his season ended in a scrap with Derek Dorsett.
"It’s not fun losing," he said. "Coming into this year, I’m not used to that, but I guess you come to an organization and you have to rebuild. That’s just the way it goes. You go in cycles.
"I think we’re doing it right here. We going to get a high (draft) pick and that’s exciting for the future, but this year was tough losing and something I’m not used to. Next year, we’re hoping to win. For me personally, that’s what I want to do, too."
When Shawn Horcoff’s tour is done here, I’m betting Hall won’t only be the Oilers best player, he will be this team’s undisputed leader. The "C" awaits him.
— I was already impressed by Ryan Jones before Sunday’s season finale against Colorado, and he earned a lot of points in the dressing room, and I’m guessing with fans, with his reaction to the goal Liam Reddox scored.
With a chance to reach 20 goals, Jones jammed at a puck Reddox had shot. It had already crossed the goal line, barely, and his first reaction to the official at the net was that the goal belonged to Reddox. He made sure Reddox knew that as players celebrated.
Reddox is a ham-and-egger, a fringe player who might not be even be on the roster or in the organization next season. He’s also a player who has worked his butt off without getting any results for it this season. Jones showed me something with that gesture.
— Like Hall, Theo Peckham impressed me with many of his remarks today.
"We want to have a playoff spot this time next year," he said. "We don’t want to just rely on the old, ‘We’re rebuilding’ stage. For us this year, it was tough. I thought we did a great job of not falling back on the fact we’re young and inexperienced.
"A lot of us in there, we really gave it our all. I’ve been between here and Springfield the last three years. The excuses for losing kind of get old. For us right now, it’s having a good summer and training hard and coming back next year ready to go."
AND . . .
— I don’t expect Teemu Hartikainen to score at the clip he did in limited duty this season, but I’d like to see him alongside Andrew Cogliano and Linus Omark in the bottom six to start next season.
Like Jones, I think Hartikainen might add some limited offensive pop, and Omark’s skill and creativity might provide some mismatches against the usual grinder-type opponents — on top of his power-play duty and sliding up the line-up when needed.
— Where does Gilbert Brule fit next season? Does he fit?
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.