Kesha made this garbage bag dress herself, supposedly, and wore it to the 2010 VMAs. As garbage bag dresses go, it isn’t that bad, and yesterday when the Oilers cleaned out their lockers, had their season ending meeting with the coaches and spoke to the media the feeling wasn’t as bad as previous years.
Last season, outside of Sheldon Souray’s classic rant, the rest of the interviews were about as exciting and uplifting as listening to your buddy ramble on about his/her past relationships.
Yesterday the attitude was rather upbeat, considering the Oilers just finished 30th for the second consecutive season. This team hasn’t wallowed in self pity very often this year, so we shouldn’t be surprised that yesterday was more about looking ahead at a bright future, rather than focusing on another dreadful season.
I had a chance to speak to a variety of players and get their thoughts on a few different issues.
What is Tom Gilbert going to work on this summer?
Individually I’m going to work on a lot, especially when it comes to shooting. I know my scoring has been down, and I found myself in the right spots plenty of times, but I didn’t get the finish I wanted. I need to focus on my shot this summer. The more you do, the more comfortable you get with it. I took a lot of time off the ice last summer; because I thought that is what my body needed, but I think the more time you spend on the ice, mess around, shot pucks and stay with the game all summer, then I will come into the season more prepared and hopefully with a better shot.
I asked Devan Dubnyk if he feels he is ready to start 50 games next season.
I think so. With Khabby here, I think he has a lot of good hockey left in him, coming in next year it will probably be a similar situation as this year. At the same time I want to play as many games as I possibly can, and there were a lot of opportunities to play back-to-back games, and four games in ten days this year and getting those opportunities builds to being consistent and learning how to play those situations. I certainly got the chance to experience that this year, and I definitely want to play more games next year.
Theo Peckham was probably the biggest surprise this season, and from start to finish he was their best D-man. For a guy who some thought should have been sent to OKC after the preseason, he had a breakout year. I asked him how he improved so much.
I looked at it like there was nothing to lose. Either you make it or you go back to where you’ve been the last three years. I really didn’t want to go back to the American league, and that was a big motivator. After not having the greatest training camp and the coaches showing still showing they had faith in me, that made it an easy and comfortable environment for me to come in and just play my game. That gave me a lot of confidence and outside of a short spell, I thought I played fairly consistent.
The Oilers don’t have many UFAs, but Ryan Jones is the one most fans want to see re-signed. Jones spoke to me about where his mindset is at right now.
It hasn’t really changed. My mind wants to come back here next year, and I’ve said all along I want to be here, so it is just a matter of getting the business stuff together and agreeing on terms. Most of the times when a player wants to be in a city, it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I’ve said all along I want to be here. We’ll see what happens, but it doesn’t always work the way you plan.
Is a three-year deal the security you are looking for, because I don’t think you’ll get a 12 year deal?
(Laughs) I’m not really to sure on the terms; it all depends on what the team is thinking. I know that two years from now will be a tough year for the team, so you have to look at both sides. Three years would be phenomenal, but we need to find out where both sides are coming from. I said at the start of the year I thought I could be a guy who could chip in 15-20 goals, and that was before I even started scoring goals. That is where I see myself. I think we can all agree I’m not a first line player, but I’d like to think I could play up in the lineup when need be, so that is where I’m hoping to fit in the organization.
I asked Shawn Horcoff if he thinks they need a few more veterans guys mixed in with the rookies/sophomores/young guys next season?
That always helps. I think at the same time, it is hard to find good veteran players to come in that are leaders and good players. I think it is a little bit of both. I think we are going to need some guys to take another step forward, guys who are four, five, six year pros now; to become leaders. I’m sure if the opportunity arises over the summer through free agency or a trade he (Tambellini) will bring someone in.
Jim Matheson asked Horcoff which young guys impressed him late in the season.
I thought Hartikainen was great. The physicality he brought, he can score some goals and he finishes every check and we need that. You can only have so much skill and so much youth in the lineup. You need to sprinkle in some grit, that’s what good teams have. You can’t have four lines of skilled guys. I think Harts did a good job of recognizing that, playing his own game and realizing what game he has to play to be successful and I thought he was great.
Leino (Omark) proved he can play. He is competitive and works hard. Vandy (Vande Velde) got better the more games he played, and he will compete for a spot next year. Pete (Petry) is going to be a very solid defenceman for us, he moves the puck well and sees the ice well, and the list goes on.
THEN THE MAN SPOKE
Taylor Hall had a few interesting things to say about his first season and his plans for next year.
What did you learn in your first NHL season?
When I first came in the speed of the game was the biggest challenge, and it was tough to adjust at first. It is funny, there is not as much hitting as you’d think there would be. Players are too fast, and that surprised me a bit. As the season progressed you realize how good the players are, and the D-men are great at containing you and having good gaps so you can’t really do anything. Overall team defenses are so good that when you come over the line you can’t cut into the middle and fake a pass, or fake a shot, you have to put it on net or make a play right away.
After producing like you did are you confident that you can produce at this level?
It is nice to know that my style of game, or how I play, has transitioned well to the NHL, but I want to keep improving as a player, continuing working with my teammates and getting chemistry with whoever I play with next year. I want to become a better player at both ends of the rink, but at the same time it is nice to know that whatever I’ve done has worked and I had a pretty good year.
What are your goals for next season?
I want to be a player that plays PK, plays PP, plays everything and I want to become a leader on this team. I just said a lot of things there (chuckles), but it’s what I want to be. I expect a lot from me and this summer is going to be big for me, and if I can come back next year and have a good year and set some goals for myself it will be a good year.
- Listening to Hall speak about his goals for next season, and how important this summer will be for him, it is hard not to believe he will be the offensive leader of this team. Hall is very driven. He talked about how he will use this extra long summer to workout, get stronger, faster and improve his shot. I’d expect him to be 200 pounds when he comes to camp in the fall.
He was 195 this year, and feels he can get much stronger. He really wants to be a leader on this team, and it is refreshing to hear a player talk so passionately about how much better he wants to become. He didn’t come across as arrogant or selfish, instead he came across as a guy who believes in his ability and realizes that if he works harder he will be better. This team hasn’t had a player with Hall’s skill or drive in many years, and I have no doubt he will a leader on the ice next season, despite being only 19 years old.
- It seems clear that the players feel Vande Velde is better than Ryan O’Marra. No one came out and said it, but when I asked different players about young guys competing for jobs next year, not one of them mentioned O’Marra, but they all talked about how well Vande Velde played down the stretch. Sometimes the message is clear even when no one says it. That is too bad, because I like O’Marra as an interview and a guy. He gives insightful answers and doesn’t just run out cliche answers.
- None of the players were satisfied with their season, but everyone I spoke with was confident about the future. Their goal is to compete for the playoffs, and they expect that to become reality, not just something you say, like they did last October.
- Today I’m going to ask Tom Renney what he feels he and the coaching staff need to improve on for next season. Robin Brownlee asked every player what they thought of Renney this year, and to a man they raved about his demeanor, patience and his desire for them to succeed. That comes as no surprise, considering Renney has a teacher mentality, but when your PK and PP are 29th and 27th respectively, and your team felt their way cautiously into too many games, the coaches need to come up with something different. I’m curious to hear what areas he and his staff feel they need to improve on next season.