OILERS NEED A WILL TO WIN

It seems clear that any player who makes it to the NHL is competitive. They had to beat out thousands of players just to get a shot in the league, but even in the NHL there are different types of competitors.

Your team will have a mixture of tough competitors and fragile competitors.

Do the Oilers have enough tough competitors?

Yesterday on my radio show I had the pleasure of having Chris Morris in studio. Morris is on the Eskimos wall of honour, he won three Grey Cups and now he is the head coach of the U of A Bears football team. Morris was one the best guests I’ve had on in months.

He was passionate, well-spoken, intense and he outlined his thoughts on coaching, but we also focused on how you build a winner, and the need to the install the drive and desire necessary to win into your players.

"You build that in people. You aren’t born hard like that. You are taught it and you are taught how to retrain your mind and reload it every time something bad happens. There a million things a coach has to build into a player’s mindset in order for them to be able to compete at that level," said Morris.

Before the interview Morris and I spoke off-air about his pain threshold and his ability to always battle hard. We talked about fragile and tough competitors, and then during the interview he brought it up and gave an excellent breakdown of their differences. I’ve debated for years that I felt at times the Oilers were too easy to play against, but not just physically. 

We were talking a little bit earlier about different types of competitors. If you want a hard,  tough competitor you have to get all the things that can break them out of them. There are fragile guys who fight really hard for a few minutes, and then one bad thing happens and they fold a little bit and then they fold a little more when something else goes wrong. Those are fragile guys.

You have to build it (toughness) in them. You have to tell them how to build their mindset. When something bad happens this is how your mind has to react to it. This is how you have to react when you’re not feeling well. Don’t talk to me about being sick. No one cares that you are sick. No one cares that you are not feeling right. None of your opponents care that you aren’t feeling right. You have to show up and work harder than them, despite how you feel.

That is the beginning of teaching kids how to act and how to be leaders and how to have a group of leaders on your team, rather than it coming from your coach. Once players are wired that way, I think you are talking about leadership exuding from your team, and that’s when you have a championship-level team. 

Right now the Oilers seemingly have too many fragile competitors and it will be up to Ralph Krueger to find out which ones can become tough competitors, and the ones that don’t need to be shipped out of town. The Oilers haven’t had as much talent as other teams for the past six years, so I never expected them to win very often.

However, too often over the past seven seasons we’ve see the Oilers get out worked by their opponents. They lose too many one-on-one battles, and that is more about mental toughness than sheer skill.

EXAMPLE

Jeff Petry’s play in OT was a microcosm of a bigger issue in my mind. He got beat coming off the wall, which is fine, because Patrick Sharp also wants to win, however, how Petry reacted after getting beat out of the corner fit perfectly into the "fragile competitor" label.

He went behind the net, and then glided for a few strides before looking back at the play. To use Morris’ definition, he folded a bit. I never expect players to be perfect, nor do I expect them never to get beat, but watching Petry’s body language and his decision to take the easy route instead of sticking with Sharp and staying in front of the net illustrated a picture we’ve seen too often in the Edmonton the past few years. I think Petry showed he can be a tough competitor last year, but right now he, like many of his teammates are fragile. They need to learn to become tough competitors on a nightly basis.

I believe one of the main reasons Krueger was hired last year was due to his strong motivational background. The Oilers need a coach who will help them become mentally tougher. It will be a process, and likely not one that changes overnight, but right now I feel the Oilers need more tough competitors, and it will be on Krueger to find out who he feels can become one and who can’t. Those who can’t need to get weeded out.

OUTSIDER PERSPECTIVE

I spoke with former NHL player, agent and general manager and now Sportnet analyst Brian Lawton yesterday about building a team. I find Lawton is always well spoken and thought provoking.

"The hardest part about building a team is filling out your blueline. I believe once you get your D straight the rest falls in line," said Lawton. He admitted that they struggled with that during his time in Tampa Bay.

I then asked him being building that blueline and finding the right balance between young players, puck movers, guys who are tough in the corners and in front of the net and overall hockey awareness on the ice. 

For me, it is the most critical part of the game, but it is also the most difficult to judge.  There are certain players in the league and you know they’re good players, and they look good on the stats sheet, and they’re well trained, and they may even be great guys, but for whatever reason their teams don’t seem to win with that certain position.

Just getting guys in the right positions is critical, and there are so many ways that we’re measuring a players performance today, yet there still is an element of feel in there as to which guys you win with and which guys you don’t.

When I look at Edmonton, without naming names because I have great respect for the organization, they have some people that I’m not sure that you’re necessarily going to win with.  They’re trying to develop them and they’re trying to build them to a certain level, and that’s what they should do, but at some point you have to make really tough decisions when you’re the leader. That may be the next evolution for the club, to make some tough decisions on people that – they’ve got all the trappings (as I like to say) of a really good player — but the end result never matches up, and quite frankly those are the most difficult things that you do when you’re managing a club is you make those calls.

Those decisions are not easy. You’re never going to make them all right, so you have to be prepared as a general manager to have some failure.  But if you work at it and you’re diligent in the process, you’ll get it right eventually. 

That is where the Oilers are at with some players. As Lawton said, Tambellini, Lowe and MacTavish won’t make the correct decision with every player, but they need to rid themselve of players with "trappings" and the players who are fragile competitors.

This isn’t an easy decision, nor will it be a quick fix, but it has to happen, because for the past six seasons I’ve seen too many games where the Oilers got out worked and lost too many one-on-one battles.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR

  • Phixieus666

    For 6 years the organiztion has not only accepted the lack of will but, in a twisted sense of logic, has fully endorsed it as a strategy to actually get better.

    Can it really be surprise that the players can’t flip a switch on this problem to get away from it?

    Heck even now management is in a sense endorsing this behaviour by refusing to make the types of adjustments that would afford Krueger the ability to move the culprits out of, or down, the line up.

    The buck should stop with the players but the problem has been bred by a complacent organization.

  • geoilersgist

    I think its up to the coaches to get the team up for the game! If you recall last season, time and time again, the team came out flat and were out of the game in the first period. Its not as bad now, but I see, that if they do come out swinging it disappears very quickly, never last for 60 minutes.

    Ask yourself this this.. how is it that teams like Toronto, Montreal [ with not too many super studs on their teams ] play hard on the puck every single night, and win many of their games.Look at Ottawa, with the studs they have lost and continue to win. Somone mention Nashvile, and Coyotes .. there are others.

    Maybe the coach and or system as more to do with it then we want to admit.!?

  • Phixieus666

    This would be the point of a normal season where teams would be just settling in & when the bounces would or should start to turn the other way! Wouldn’t it be nice to have some of those grade A chances that have been generated so far start to flutter into the net rather than off the post, into the chest protector or missing the net entirely! Or how about Petry not making a pee wee play by skating behind the net & stand there watching the opposition score the winning goal!

    My point is this, there’s obviously still holes to fill (still don’t like our tending, soft goals at the wrong time) but for a very young team still very much maturing physically & mentally, I think the Oilers are playing pretty well, us fans just need to be a little more patient

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    This is one of the very rare postings that I agree with one hundred percent.

    The problem with this organization is the rot goes beyond player personnel. The organization needs a total purge at the chief executive level on down.

    The example has been set with the head of hockey operations. No accountability for repeated failures, but rather promotions and rich contract extensions.

    The business operations side is also a mess rife with cronyism. Good people take pay cuts to work at the Oilers only to be treated like garbage. Good people are unceremoniously fired on a regular basis.

    It is a terrible organization blessed with an exceptional fanbase in a solid hockey market.

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    Too much is being made out of Ralph K being a motivational speaker……just how does that help a player.

    I’m sure that when the players are on the ice trying to make plays, they are not thinking about the last speech that Ralph gave them. You hire for attitude and train for apptitude is the saying. I believe that most of our players have the right attitued.

    Where we fall is the team is not structurally balanced……that being the righ combination of skill and toughness. Each of the top two lines should have size ( for the heavy lifting in the corners) and skill to be able to make plays, and most importantly someone who likes to shoot.

    Management has not learned this lesson fast enough and are scared to make any deals to improve this team structurally. Waiting for the draft to make deals will only ensure that we are a draft lottery team again this year.

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    Was a little surprised with the article. Never thought I’d find an article on oilersnation that had a subtle but utterly essential life lesson in it about how to develop mental toughness lol. So thanks for that 🙂

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    Nice article, however most of it is a pretty good sales job for a leadership cookie cutter.

    Most points are dead on, but remember everyone isnt cut out to be a leader, in fact there are few true leaders in any room full of athletes, its much easier to teach one player how to be a better leader and capture the few guys not getting it than to try to teach everyone to be a leader, ha ha hah ha.

    I have been that leader in rooms before and the biggest problem was always setting the pecking order, that normally just took a few games to provide results and gain trust, but occasionally there was a bully or two a sub-alpha pushing to evolve, if the system discourages this type of leadership evolution based on results and supports sub-alphas constantly bumping the steering wheel,it is doomed.

    In my Book Sam Gagner has earned the leadership role here and Smid has earned an A as well as an A for Smyth as long as he is here. Our team has been stripped of its traditions with Kevin Lowe and others who know better sitting there watching, this is an embarrasment already, someone put Hall and Ebbs in the backseat where they belong for now,let the guys pulling the team assume the leadership roles they are earning, this is the NHL the greatest league in the world and they are not popping freaking corn here, they are proving they can lead, but are being macro-managed to death. Give Gagner the C Smyth and Smid the As, and lets get on with the real work.

    All it takes to become a tough competitor is a common cause to support and defend, colors if you will, a flag, a belief, anything that can catalyse all of your energy and focus as a group. When the day comes that you see Ebbs break his stick over someones beanbag to defend Nuge and Hall doing the same thing to protect and support their alpha Nuge then we will be on the right track. This team has had to much external interference in its leadership evolution the organisation totally screwed the internal competative dynamic by attatching todays percieved long term player committments to the letters more than they should have, they should have let the room decide all on their own based on realtime results. Point being all teams need a catalyst, we used to use gretzky as a catalyst a ralling point, now we dont seem to have one, we need to pick one, our system isnt capable so that leaves the other options.

    Players body language is reflective of the level of personal accontability they feel internally, not a lack of accountability or focus,and it is the coach and system that allocates these levels of player percieved accountability, this benching and moving of players and always attatching a negative dynamic catalyst to the actions is like cancer and we brought it on ourselves, now we need to remove it ourselves. The players feel like they are letting down the system and all their teammates every time something goes wrong, its time for a reality check, of all pro sports hockey is the one with the most number of non-system catalysed sudden unexpected plays that carry terminal results. This is not the sport to use this coaching tacitc. This emotionally draining dynamic must be offloaded onto the system where it belongs, the system needs to be openly held accountable and so does the coach running it, not the players time after time and loss after loss.

    When do we stop looking from Ralph down for the reasons this horrible offensive trap system is used here? Is it time to focus on whoever is forcing this down the fans and rosters throat?

    • Jason Gregor

      Not sure where you made the connection to everyone needing to be a leader. I agree not everyone is a leader, far from it, but the article was about needing more tough competitors. I don’t think they will all be leaders, just guys who hate to lose.

      I think Hall is likely the guy who becomes the catalyst. He plays hard, and now and then he snaps and runs at a guy, ala Clutterbuck. I think he one of them that emerges as the main leader.

  • Where's Your Towel

    YEAH! Experience has no bearing on ability to draw penalties!

    No one ever gets better after playing more games and it wouldn’t matter if it did because being a better player has zero impact on drawing penalties!

    Everyone’s play and infractions are evaluated equally by referees regardless of time served!

    … drivel

  • Rdubb

    I think the big decision has to come from Katz, & it is that plain and simple!
    Lowe needs to go, all he has done to this team is screw it up, signed many players to much bigger deals than they deserved (& I am not talking about Horc either). He made BAD deals when the GM & I think his nose is in the decision making too much again, bye bye Lowe!
    Tambbi must go too. What has he done? Nothing. Hell, I could have drafted the guys he drafted, when you have the #1 pick its pretty damn easy. He has not made 1 trade to improve this team in his 3+ yrs, his signings haven’t been very good, & I know not many guys want to go to a losing team, so make a deal and get some in!
    I say leave Ralph in, good coach and needs some time.
    Give the GM to MacT, let him work and make deals, sign players and get this team to where IT SHOULD BE & where WE DESERVE IT TO BE!
    It is in the head office where changes need to be made. It is like any business, you can only have as good as employees as the boss’s are, if the business isn’t working, you get new management.
    Time to change things up Katz and run this team like an owner, not like a buddy employing his pals, which is what you’re doing. Be the boss which made you a billionare

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Katz/Tambellini/Lowe obviously have a gameplan. If tanking for yet a 4th year in a row is part of his plan, then who are we to argue. Holes are apparent throught the lineup and nothing is done, zero activity/help coming their way. The writing is on the wall. These kids are on their own if they’re going to have any success this yr. Success through failing is still managements gameplan.

      Nothing is being done on purpose. Ownership/management obviously covet one more lotto pick.

    • The Soup Fascist

      …. Fair comments. However,if you believe the old Toe Blake chestnut that the main requirement to be an NHL GM is to “be able to watch 40 guys skating around the ice and be able to pick out the ONE that can actually play” – or something to that effect – then MacT makes me a bit nervous.

      This is the guy who thought Liam Reddox and Toby Peterson were viable NHLers, despite all evidence to the contrary. And also the guy that said Marty Reasoner had a lot of the same attributes as Joe Sakic.

      I think MacT is a bright person and a good guy in the community. I also believe the Oilers pro scouting has been atrocious. If MacT is given the reins and has the same pro scouting department advising him, I don’t see a big improvement. Overall player personnel decisions over the last decade or two have been abysmal.

      • The Soup Fascist

        Ever heard the saying, “Don’t judge until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”. Well every person who makes a comment on here like this one should take a step back. I understand your frustration, I’m as die hard a fan as anyone but use your brains once in a while. First off, I’m not a fan of Lowe’s – but the only way he was going to get free agents to come to Edmonton or stay in Edmonton back in his GM days, was to overpay. Edmonton for a good number of years was the least desirable destination in the league! It all started with Pronger demanding to be traded and went down from there. As far as Tambo goes, if you look at what was out there for free agents in the last 3yrs, there wasn’t a lot to choose from that would consider Edmonton as a destination. I think he did alright with who he signed based on what they brought to the table – the fact that some players have not performed as well as they did prior to their signing is something that no one can predict. Some of you are great fans but you really don’t know f’all about building a hockey team and what goes on behind the scenes…but keep blogging