His second NHL season ended early by injury and his arm in a sling, Taylor Hall sounded very much like the leader of the Edmonton Oilers he’s become when I lobbed him a softball at Rexall Place today.

With the Oilers in the midst of doing exit interviews after a season in which they missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season, going 32-40-10 for 74 points to finish 14th in the Western Conference and 29th overall, I asked Hall if he’s optimistic this team has a solid core and a promising future. He could have hit the underhand toss out of the park, but he didn’t.

"I definitely think we have a good, young core here and we’re definitely exciting and we definitely have a lot of potential, but I think we were sitting here last year saying the exact same thing," Hall said.

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"At some point, it’s got to turn into something. It can’t all be hope and promise because eventually the fans are going to stop hoping, they’re going to stop wanting and they’re going to stop coming.

"I think next year has to be a playoff year. We have to be a contending team, at least, a team that teams are afraid to play because of our skill level, the way we compete and the way we play defense. It is fun to be in that young nucleus of really good players, but we have to do something with it eventually."


Despite being derailed by a nagging shoulder problem, one that would require surgery and end his season, a concussion and a nasty laceration when Corey Potter stepped on his face, Hall had a terrific year with 27-26-53 in just 61 games – an 11-point improvement over his rookie season.

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Jordan Eberle made an even bigger leap along the learning curve in his second year with 76 points, a 33-point improvement. Rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins surpassed every expectation with 52 points in 62 games. Jeff Petry took big strides. So did Devan Dubnyk.

What we saw this season was the Big Three take over this team – a year or two ahead of schedule from where I sit — from the likes of captain Shawn Horcoff and old warhorse Ryan Smyth, who both got out of the gate well but deferred to the youngsters as the season wore on.

Everybody with a functioning brain stem knows the hopes for a return to respectability by the Oilers hinge on Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins. For my money, and with due respect to the smarts and skill that Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins bring to the mix, Hall is the key guy. The emotional leader.

Jason Gregor asked Hall about taking on a bigger leadership role next season. Hall, who’d rather lead by example by, say, skating through the end boards at full speed rather than talk about it, acknowledged the growing roles he and the others will play. That they must play.

"As players, we’re all maturing," Hall said. "I know myself, I’m doing the same thing. In the room I want to be more vocal and try to take that next step.

"I want to be here for a long time. I want to be here when we’re the team that’s contending and we’re in the playoffs and everything like that, so I’m looking forward to kind of taking that next step next year along with Ryan and Jordan and having a bigger voice in the room."

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I’m of the mind that there’s too much focus on captains and assistant captains and. Leaders will lead, whether they have an extra letter on their jersey or not. I don’t see the need to peel the "C" off Horcoff and pin it on Hall or Eberle. They’ll do what they do, letter or not. I get the sentiment behind such talk, I just don’t believe it holds the impact fans think it does.

There’s no question in my mind Hall is the leader of this team moving forward. He wants the gig. He’ll take it on because that’s the kind of person he is. It was that way when he led the Windsor Spitfires to back-to-back Memorial Cups as MVP and it’s that way now. It’s in his DNA.

Horcoff, of course, will have a hand in that leadership even if he assumes a lesser role next season in terms of ice time and prominence (and he will). So will Smyth, assuming he understands he’ll have to sign for third-line money to get a deal done. Both have important roles to play, experience to pass on.

That said, this is Hall’s team now. It was even before he faced the media mob today and said all the right things, refusing to take any easy outs or accept that six seasons out of the playoffs is OK just because . . . Two years in, Hall has seen enough. Haven’t we all?

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

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  • bigrroberto

    I agree. It seems to me, and rightfully so, Hall sat in the back and did what he does best. Quietly observing and speaking when necessary. Now it appears he’s had enough and is going to take the bull by the horns no matter what anyone else says.

  • stevezie

    “I’m of the mind that there’s too much focus on captains and assistant captains and. Leaders will lead, whether they have an extra letter on their jersey or not. I don’t see the need to peel the “C” off Horcoff and pin it on Hall or Eberle. They’ll do what they do, letter or not. I get the sentiment behind such talk, I just don’t believe it holds the impact fans think it does.”

    I agree with this like crazy. Are there fans who really believe Hall was holding something back this year that a letter could drag out of him?
    Also, a captain does have a few official duties and it’s probably better not to saddle Hall with them yet. Let him worry about playing. I’m sure Horcoff is a fine guy for organizing team dinners and smooth talking refs.

    • Guggenheim

      Smooth taling refs???? You are freaking kidding, right? Did you watch any Oiler hockey down the stretch?

      Also, I’d like to know any young player that was given the captainacy too early that it derailed his career. I can think of a few that did just fine with it and it actually improved their team in quick order…

      • stevezie

        I’m going to assume that you’re not freaking kidding either. Have you seen Hall with the refs? It might be the part of his game he needs to improve the most- he’s terrible at talking to refs, he’s too excitable. That passion is his greatest strength, he just needs to learn to channel it better. So did Crosby.

        I never said Hall would be “derailed” by a C, but young players given an A too soon? What an easy list to make. You’ve got to start with Vincent Lecavalier, who was a disaster his first time as captain. Patrick Marleau was stripped of his C too. He was stripped of the C and almost run out of town. I don’t think giving Ovechkin the C has done him or the Caps any favours. I wouldn’t say Mike Richards was derailed, he did make it to the finals, but only after Pronger showed up and became the unofficial captain. The way Richards responded to this is one of the reasons he’s not a Flyer any more. More locally I don’t think Jason Arnott needed the pressure of an A on his jersey in his rookie year, Phaneuf probably got one too soon in Calgary too.

        I don’t think it would ruin Hall, I just don’t think it would help him or the team either. Too much fuss is made about the C, it’s just a bunch of extra duties and a little more pressure. Leaders are gonna lead no matter what.

  • Talbot17

    I agree, and i like the fact that Eberle & Hall both stood up there today and said losing is unacceptable and they expect a playoff season next year, shows that they have high expectations. What i didn’t like, was how Horcoff so calmy made his points today but in my head while i watched him to me it looked like a guy eager to get his summer going. Maybe I am just biased because I like seeing players disappointed come clean out day when your team finishes as a bottom feeder.

    I agree letters don’t matter too much, but sooner or later a younger players desire may end up contradicting a vets tone in the room.

  • Lexi

    I wonder if Katz could be convinced to name Hall the playing-President of Hockey Operations?

    Hall has the same winning attitude Lowe had as a player. That is a quality that Lowe-the senior manager seems to have lost.

  • TwoSkidoos

    Here’s to next year, and Hall being another 5-10 pounds heavier, Eberle having that much more confidence with an NHL award under his belt, Nuge being 10 pounds heavier and another year being smarter than 85% of the league and 100% of his age group.

    Let’s hope this franchise can do something next year to give the kids the desire to stay here as opposed to get tired of perpetual basement hockey.

  • John Chambers

    Oooooooohhh, pressure is on Tambo! Better make those trades and sign that depth you’ve been dithering over, or boy wonder is going to grow some chest hair and really start calling it like it is.

    Disgracin’ for Nathan? Not an option anymore.

  • John Chambers

    I wish Hall would stand up and say something like: “Nik Khabibulin effin’ blows. I hope we waive his drunk ass. And it’s nice knowing I can still get a $10M contract after phoning it in during my contract year.”

    This way you would know that if you play on Team Hall, you’d better show up or get called the eff out.

  • stevezie

    “What we saw this season was the Big Three take over this team – a year or two ahead of schedule from where I sit — from the likes of captain Shawn Horcoff and old warhorse Ryan Smyth, who both got out of the gate well but deferred to the youngsters as the season wore on.”

    I can’t agree with that. The “Trio” were given time to be eased into heavier competition because Horcoff and Smyth did the dirty work. Did the Trio respond – yes they did. But let’s remember what really happened.

    All of this to me comes down to a lack of leadership from above. These great young players should shouldn’t want to discuss the team’s shortcomings at all from their personal perspective. They should be commenting from a team perspective, rooted in the message they are given internally, that they believe and trust.

    If the young guys are talking about winning like it’s a possibility in the future if everything they aren’t aware of goes right, as opposed to the way the future is going to be because of the way management is going to conduct business, there is a communication disconnect there. And a sign of insecure thinking higher up. Or worse.

    All of these talented young players in the system can see which guys on the ice aren’t getting things done. They are the very best hockey players. Anyone who makes the NHL is a really good hockey player except pugilists sometimes. That is where frustration comes from. And it isn’t Horcoff or Smyth they are noticing I would bet. And I would bet heavy.

    • “What we saw this season was the Big Three take over this team – a year or two ahead of schedule from where I sit — from the likes of captain Shawn Horcoff and old warhorse Ryan Smyth, who both got out of the gate well but deferred to the youngsters as the season wore on.”

      What is there to disagree with? That’s what “really” happened. Is there something about “got out of the gate well . . .” that is at odds with all the tough minutes Horcoff and Smyth played to ease the kids into things?

  • Reg Dunlop

    I love the passion Hall has for the game. He is future captain material but there are 2 caveats that concern me.

    1. He is an unguided missle and is at risk of having an injury shortened or affected career.

    2. Just my gut talking, but I see Hall moving onward and upward, wiping the dust of Edmonton off his skates earliest of all the phenoms. He is Ranger captain material and like Mess before him he will not look back.

    Convince me that I’m wrong. Please.

    • Lexi

      I believe one of the best parts of Hall and RNH is they will be great, but not Gretz/Mess great that eventually out grew Edmonton. I think of them as more Sakic/Neely, great but not such big stars that they need to be in LA/NY/Tor.

      Now them leaving because of bad management is not something I can guarantee won’t happen.

  • Reg Dunlop

    My perception of Hall if he takes this team over, is that he will demand everyone raise the bar and play their best game every night. Half assed efforts, lazy aimless skating around the ice, poor positioning…..will not be tolerated. Atleast, I hope that’s how he will lead.

  • Guggenheim

    I completely agree with Hall on all accounts! Its fantastic that he said what he said and was angry with how the season has gone for him and the team. He is always about team this guy and I would say give him the A next year cause the year after that it is going to be Hall’s team. What is really hard to see is the canned expressions and sayings from the vets. Maybe that is what they are trained to do but no emotion no anger to how the season had gone. What was loud and clear is “buying into the system”. The rookies are ok with it and the vets aren’t. If they aren’t then ship them out however you can. This all comes down to Tambo and why he gets paid the big bucks. To move contracts however he can and make moves to benefit now and the future. Not just the latter. But, as we all know it seems fruitless at this point. All I see is Cloak and Dagger tactics from management. It all started with the treatment of Rob Daum and now things are in limbo for Renney cause management hides and doesn’t tell him nor the public what is going on. Us fans.

    P.S. Can’t wait to know what the “plan” next year? I am sure it will be a winner 🙁 Maybe

  • Bucknuck

    The interviews were interesting to watch. I liked how each player was bookended with Jason Gregor on one side and Brownlee on the other. Way to represent the nation (and the Team 1260) and you asked some tough questions along the way.

    I have to agree that after watching the interviews I was really impressed with Hall, and Gagner and Jones. They seemed to lead the way in terms of ownership and saying all the right things.

    I am excited for next year… but it is going to be a Looooooonnnng summer. EDIT – especially if Mr Dithers is still GM.

  • Guggenheim

    I suppose it is “deferred to” that I disagree with. I see it as carrying your own weight, by the young guys. Did Horcoff and Smyth fade out? Maybe Smyth, but I feel Horcoff did good things an awful lot (and both are great candidates for playing hurt).

    I do agree that there will be a changing of the guard soon. Perhaps I picked up on the theme that the veterans didn’t contribute, which I don’t agree with, and I’m not certain you intended.

    As I see it, Horcoff’s offense is compromised by his changing line mates and usage, Whitney shouldn’t have seen ice, Belanger was snake bit (given no help and as we know from stats is likely to rebound), and there are a lot of players on the team with issues that don’t contribute to winning.

    There is also the fact that a better season could likely have been put together with the available talent. Enough for playoffs- I doubt it, but better I do think. What that means can’t be known, but to me either says lottery please (despite team rhetoric) or worse.

  • Lexi

    The reason the torch must not only appear to be passed, it in fact must be passed. The players wearing the letters at present may continue to do so for the next year or two but it eventually will have to be shown to be fact.

    If the Oiler management and coaches fail to recognize their emerging leadership then I think it sends the wrong message.

    That is why privates don’t lead generals going to war. The tail wagging the dog can’t go on forever here.

  • Guggenheim

    Reg Dunlop:
    “…He is Ranger captain material and like Mess before him he will not look back.

    Convince me that I’m wrong. Please.”

    The CBA has changed things from once upon a time and Messier (and Weight, 8m to St.Louis, for that matter). The cap, both for teams and top salary mean the Oil can hang on to players provided they want to stick around.

    The markets with the most money can’t just buy whoever they get their sights on anymore, thankfully. Hopefully our prospective stars -want- to stick around and make greatness together here.

  • I loved the line “He wants the gig…It’s in his DNA”. The game that sealed it for me was the 6-1 win in Calgary. He was on fire from the opening faceoff, had I think 9 shots and finally willed in a goal that he richly deserved. Apologies to Samwise Gagner, but that was the most dominating, inspirational performance by an Oiler in 20 years. He will be healthier in October, a year stronger and wiser.He has Moose genes dripping from every pore. “Captain, my Captain! I would follow you in the gates of Hell!”

  • RexLibris

    After finishing 30th, 30th, and 29th I honestly don’t expect the team to be finishing in the top 16 next year. I’m not going to be upset if they do, but my expectations are likely that they will finish somewhere in the 17th to 22nd range where they are good, but not quite good enough. There is the chance that the Oilers could follow in Pittsburgh’s path and go from 29th to 10th in a season, but I’m going to try and remain grounded in my expectations.

    Having said that, I also believe that the three young players here are pieces 1 through 3 of our new core. There are perhaps two more players to add to that group and I don’t think any of them are ones that we will be drafting this summer. The pieces we need are more or less assembled and need only to mature. With that in mind I think that it is imperative that the Oilers continue to draft, develop, and be patient. Upgrades should be added via free agency through reasonable costs in the meantime and in two years when our defensive prospects from the past two drafts begin to emerge then we will be positioned quite well to become a championship contender.

    As for this draft year, I’m not on the draft-a-defenceman bandwagon. Sorry, but I think we still need massive upgrades in our secondary scoring and would not pass on either Galchenyuk or Grigorenko, preferably the former.

  • RexLibris

    Someone I trust told me that the Oiler players pick their won captain every season as a long standing tradition. Can anyone verify or clear that up?

    If so, there has only been two times in franchise history where a player was stripped of captainacy on the Oilers prior to being traded, retired, or unsigned. And the last time was when Gretzky was named captain.

    There is a lot of respect when it comes to not embarrassing the current captain by keeping the status quo. But I think Horcoff has embarrassed this team enough this year with the “steady as she goes” remarks. I think he also said that vertern players earn calls from the refs at one point during the season. (Someone said they read this in the Journal) Not what you want to hear from a captain of a team with young nucleus.

    • Horcoff hasn’t embarrassed anybody. He competes. He give you what he’s got. He works his butt off. His biggest crime is not being able to play at a level that justifies the salary he’s paid. That’s on Kevin Lowe, not on Horcoff.

      And Horcoff is right about veterans getting more favourable treatment from referees than young players and rookies. He was asked about it and he answered honestly. He’s right. So your problem with that is what?

      • Quicksilver ballet

        How about he takes a stand and sticks up for the young guys on the team and demand some respect for them. Sheesh, you know, do something leadership worthy. Instead, Horcoff takes that attitude that you have to earn the calls by years and years of service in the league and the last 20 games of the season was pretty much open season on the Oilers. In that last LA game when Horcoff got highsticked 6 feet from the ref and got no call, I was smiling to myself; wasn’t peaved at all. I bet I wasn’t the only one.

        Yeah, Robin, I expect better from the captain of the team. Guess some don’t.

    • Jason Gregor

      Someone you trust is incorrect. They don’t pick a new captain every year, this isn’t peewee hockey.

      The coaching staff has final say in the captain.

      Also Lee Fogolin wasn’t stripped of the captaincy. He passed it to Gretzky because he felt Gretzky was ready to wear it. Big difference than stripping it, which is what happened to Shayne Corson and Mike Modano in Dallas.

      And veterans go get the breaks from officials. Horcoff wasn’t saying it to suggest he is worthy of captaincy…He was answering a question, and earlier he had stated it was frustrating that the kids weren’t getting calls in their favour.

  • RexLibris

    I dont want to rub it in, but we are still at rock bottom. I know its a rebuild, but to blatantly neglect holes like defence is rediculous. It costs a small fortune to watch these games live, and fans have put up with enough. The losing mentality has started to seep into the fan base. The team failed on their promise this year, no more of this o well crap. I know we didn’t expect playoffs, and draft wise the end result is better, but as fans we have to start forcing the issue of accountability. Its clear the org wont make good decisions without outside pressure. I swear to god if dithers gets an extension. Katz its time to step up, if you are a true fan you’ll find the right management group this summer. #playoffs or bust.

  • Guggenheim

    “If so, there has only been two times in franchise history where a player was stripped of captainacy on the Oilers prior to being traded, retired, or unsigned. And the last time was when Gretzky was named captain.”

    er… Shayne Corson.

  • Giving Taylor Hall the C now would be a mistake, but it’ll help keep him in Edmonton past his RFA status.

    Eberle is the guy who’ll balance Nuge & Hall going forward. Ultimate respect from opponents and has the ears of officials. I’m not a Hall guy, but I really respect his determination.

  • Rama Lama

    Can everyone agree that Hall will turn into the next Iginla? Halls seems like the type of person that once he matures will turn into the type of player that Iginla is.

    Poke him enough you will wake up the beast. When Iginla fights it is probably the most motivating, adrenaline pumping moment of a hockey game. Then he also has the ability to go out and score two goals to take the lead. Thats the type of player I see Hall becoming because I feel his frustration and I think it is going to start boiling over next year with all the loosing and cheap shots he takes. It is really motivating for a fan see Hall try and do everyhting with the reckless abandon he has, but it doesnt seem to charge up the team which is very concerning.

    • stevezie

      Hall brings a lot more to the game than Ignila IMO. Iginla is a great hockey player with a snipers touch. Hall is electric. It would be a stretch to think Hall will score as many as Iginla but Hall has such an intensity and passion about him. The rub against Iginla has always been that he doesn’t compete every night and can go through long spells where he isn’t contributing (scoring or otherwise). The end of this year and the beginning of every year are examples. Hall is 100% committed every night whether he hits the scoreboard or not.

  • Rama Lama

    Rex Libris, you’ve been spending too much time over at the downtrodden gloomy fn, this is ON we sell hope for a living! You should know that! I think that the oilers will be much better whoever they pick,( they will pick Murray) and who knows, when Hall wants something, he chases it down, and wills it to happen, so if he’s healthy I think they have a good chance to surprise us next yr.

  • D

    Lee Fogolin turned the C over to Wayne when Lee knew it was the right time for Gretzky to officially take the lead. I believe Horcoff has the good judgment to know when it is time for the next generation to take the C. This is definitely Hall’s team now, but just like it was Gretzky’s team in 1983 and Fogolin remained Captain, next year (and maybe even the year after that), Horcoff is in a good spot to remain Captain.

  • TwoSkidoos

    Horcoff should definitely keep the C, the kids are certainly not ready. For instance, watch Hall after a non call – he complains too much. He’ll be ready when he learns to cut stuff like that part of his game out.

    It’s all about respect, you’ll get it if you give it.

  • Rama Lama

    I really feel for Horcoff. He knows that he has limited time left as a captain and that there is an overwhelming need for someone to address the vacuum we call ” management”.

    Hey it’s not his fault that he has no appreciable offensive talent. He is good with words and has management written all over him/

    What we need is a GM with balls and the ability to communicate with players, media, and the fans. What we have is Gauthier west!

    Everyone is trying to be the GM except the GM.

  • Gitagrip

    I’m predicting we draw the forth Ace from the deck and go all in next year. No saying that the next lotto pick isn’t the franchise player. Oh ya! when do we play the Flames??

  • Reality Check to the head

    I like Shawn Horcoff as a player and a captain. Sure he isn’t Bucky or Moreau who could drop the gloves or run someone through the boards. What he is, is a consumate pro. He trains hard, comes into camp ready to go, he wins faceoffs, plays sound defensive hockey and sometimes pops a few points. I think Horcoff is the type of player that should be used as an example for our younger players on how to work and train.

    Going forward Hall, RNH, EBs, Jones and other young players can use the lessons that Horcoff has shown on being a true professional hockey player.

    Too bad he is overpaid, because if he was making 2.5 million a year I bet he would be every Oiler fans top 3 favourite player.

    I really like Halls’ comments about the youth realizing or reaching their potential. We really something to cheer for.