THE “C”: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

Based on the emotion, conversation and amount of articles I’ve seen since Wanye wrote Sam Gagner will be the Edmonton’s 14th Captain; it is obvious hockey fans are getting restless. The season unofficially begins next week with rookie camp, while thankfully main camp is less than two weeks away, so the focus can go back to whether the Oilers have improved enough to contend for the playoffs.

We’ve enjoyed the distractions: debate of the captaincy, the return of Linus Omark, Taylor Hall’s supposed Olympic snub by TSN and more, but none of that will matter once the puck drops Sept 14th vs. the Calgary Flames. What matters will be if the Oilers have improved.

Like everyone I like a good distraction now and again, so let’s look quickly at what’s transpired recently.

HALL AN OLYMPIAN

Hall hasn’t done enough to be a lock for Team Canada. Hall dominated for 45 games last seasons, but he will need to show Steve Yzerman, Mike Babcock and the rest of the coaches and management team that was just the beginning of his emergence as a great player.

It isn’t a knock on his abilities and accomplishments; it’s just the reality of the game. You can’t overlook Hall’s play at the World Championships. You might not like how little Lindy Ruff played him, but Yzerman and company will be inclined to listen to Ruff’s opinion more than those of diehard Oilers fans.

I believe the World Championships was a great learning experience for Hall. He had a coach tell him, maybe not with words, but with his actions, he needed to protect the puck better. Hall is a quick learner, and he’s a proud player. I have no doubt he’s learned from that situation and he will be a more complete player this year.

Oiler fans should be elated that Hall had that experience because it will make him a better player, and if Hall illustrates he’s become a better all-around player, his Edmonton teammates will follow. Hall will be one of the leaders of this team, and if he plays with more desire and smarts in every aspect of his game it benefits the Oilers.

I didn’t expect Hall to make to be on the Olympic team in August, and him not making the "mock" team shouldn’t be a concern. He has three months to impress the Hockey Canada brass, and if he does make that team, that likely means the Oilers will be in the playoff mix entering January.

I believe the coaches have Kunitz ranked higher than Hall today, mainly because of his connection to Crosby, but I don’t believe Kunitz makes the team at the end of December. Kunitz can’t play better than he did last season, but Hall is just beginning his ascent into the elite category of NHL players.

Rather than worry about a snub on a mock list, fans should be excited about the potential of watching Hall become even more dominant this season.

CAPTAINCY….

Does it really matter who wears the "C"?

I don’t believe it does. If the Oilers are going to become a consistently competitve team is won’t be on the shoulders or mouth of one player. Behind every good captain are more great leaders. No captain leads by himself.

The obvious example is the Oilers of the early 1980s. Wayne Gretzky was the captain, but Mark Messier wore an "A," and many said he was the main leader. He wasn’t, however, the only one.

Gretzky led by never letting up. If he had three points, he wanted four or five.

Kevin Lowe was an intense player, and he always challenged his teammates to be better, even Messier and Gretzky.

If Dallas Eakins ends up debating over who should be captain, then that is a great scenario. If he truly believes, Andrew Ference, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Ladislav Smid or Hall could be the captain that means he feels he has five solid leaders. That is what the Oilers need, a group of players willing and capable of demading more from their teammates, not one Captain who will magically transform them into a winning team.

I’d pick Ference, and have the others wear an "A".

The rest of the Oilers do not know how to win in the NHL. Ference has played more playoff games, 120, than all of the Oilers top-nine forwards and top-four D-men combined. Boyd Gordon (52), Ales Hemsky (30) and David Perron (19) are the only skaters with playoff experience.

Ryan Smyth (93), Ben Eager (47), Nick Schultz (24), Denis Grebeshkov (2) and Jesse Joensuu (1) have also played in the post-season, but I don’t see them playing significant minutes this season.

Ference has been to Stanley Cup finals two of the past three seasons, and he averaged 24:31 TOI in the playoffs last year. He wasn’t a bit player; he averaged the third most minutes on the Bruins. He won’t be the Oilers’ best player, but he’s been on winning teams and he knows what it takes to win in the NHL. He has the experience and expertise to control the dressing room.

If one of the Oilers isn’t competing hard enough, it would be much easier for Ference to call him out than one of the young kids. Ference could use examples from his playing days of how hard and smart you need to play to win in the NHL.

Some feel you can’t give the captaincy to a new player. Why not? When Jason Smith was traded to the Flyers they named him captain right away. They had Mike Richards and Jeff Carter on that team, but elected to go with Smith. The Flyers went to the conference finals that year. I’m not saying Smith was the main reason, far from it, but he’d been to a Cup final two years earlier and he knew the commitment level necessary to win in the NHL.

None of the young kids know how to win in the NHL. Winning in junior or at the World Junior Championships is much different than succeeding against the best players in the world.

Being a great captain isn’t just about leading on the ice, in fact, I’d argue most of his responsibility comes off the ice. Arranging team outings, approaching the head coach about an issue, speaking to the media daily and giving back to your community are important roles for the captain.

Ference is better equipped to deal with those situations. He has more experience, he’s a proven leader and he’s already got involved in the community.

He started the November Project in Edmonton. It was started in Boston by a few friends of his, and he’s continued the tradition in Edmonton.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning Ference invites people to workout with him and some friends. On Mondays they meet at a park, it changes weekly, and they do a variety of exercises. On Wednesdays they do stairs, usually at Glenora, and then on Fridays they run hills, at a different location every week.

The idea behind the movement is to encourage people to workout and to meet new friends. Maybe you’ve been scared to go to the gym, maybe you need extra motivation, whatever the reason the November project promotes healthy living. It is a very simple thing, but many people are motivated and excited to train with an NHL player.

To find out where they workout just follow them on twitter.

OMARK

Good for him for signing an NHL deal. I hope he plays well, but I don’t see him solving the issues of the Oilers. I chuckled when I read one of the comments in my last article, ripping me for suggesting the Oilers have too much of the same in their top-nine.

The poster wrote, "Why does anyone believe this is true. Give me lines that outshoot the opposition, and draw more penalties than they take, and they can be 5’6 170lbs, or 6’4 225lbs. It is irrelevant."

He also suggested that Yakupov seemed more like a power forward.

Similar isn’t just size, it is also the style they play, and no team wins with all similar type forwards. You can live in a dream world believing you will outshoot the opposition and draw more penalties with nine similar forwards, but I can’t recall a team in the past two decades who was built that way and won.

You need a combination of skill, smarts, grit, desire, net presence, board presence, defensive awareness, toughness and size. The Oilers don’t have that yet, but Craig MacTavish knows this and he’ll keep adding and subtracting until he finds the right mixture.

COFFEE BREAK…

I recommend you don’t start watching this video until you have a ten minute break at work, because I found it hard to stop watching once I started. If you need a good laugh on Positive Friday, watch this.  

Name something you feel before you buy it? …Contestant answers… "Excited."

Name a famous Arthur.. Contestant answers… "Shakespeare."

Name something that has to warm up before you use it… Older contestant answers… "How about your wife."

People are funny….

PARTING SHOT….

  • Minor hockey coaches and parents, if you have time today turn your radio to the TEAM 1260 at 3 p.m. today when George Kingston joins me. The former NHL coach has done extensive research on the keys to developing minor hockey players: how we should do it, which drills to use and many other great tips. Young coaches will really appreciate this interview.
     
  •  The CFL has a unique rule that I, like most fans, didn’t know existed until Bud Steen told me about it.

    Late in the Eskimos/Riders game Mike Reilly was hit, fumbled the ball and the Riders recovered, essentially ending any hope of an Eskimos comeback. The play was reviewed, because it was in the final three minutes, and they deemed it a fumble. What many don’t know is that the Command Centre could have overturned the play if they felt that unnecessary roughness caused the fumble.

    Weldon Brown delivered an inadvertent helmet-to-helmet hit on Reilly on the play. It wasn’t malicious, but it was clear contact to the head. Yesterday, the CFL fined Brown for the hit, which is interesting because the command centre didn’t believe it was unnecessary roughness. If they reversed the call on the field and awarded the Eskimos the ball, who knows if the Eskimos would have scored, but at least they would have had a chance. Making Brown pay a fine after the fact doesn’t impact anyone. The fine is minimal and it has zero barring on the game. If the rule is there, why didn’t the command centre enforce it?
     

  • Spec’s Deck sold out in less than a week. A huge thank you our sponsors.  Prestige Limos who will pick you the winners, Vons Steak House and Oyster Bar who will feed us, Big Rock who wiill quench our thirst and to Yellow Cab who will make sure everyone gets home safe and sound.

    Also, a huge thank you to all of you who donated for the cause. We raised $10,000 in five days. Awesome.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR 

  • Hair bag

    Do you even like hockey? Do you know that this site is about hockey? If you don’t like it don’t read it! The whole purpose is to create a discussion about sports – primarily hockey and the Oilers. Your whole discussion has no relevance. If you’re that upset about it respond with your thoughts on how you enjoy the Oilers, etc… not with don’t tell me how to think – you sound like a jaded teenager – grow up!

  • John Chambers

    If you think that professional writers like Brownlee, Gregor, Willis have time to read the subtle nuances of your postings……….you are sadly mistaken.

    You take what they write too seriously………and what you write too seriously.

    Try and have a great long weekend………hockey is almost here!

  • I take hockey seriously, yes, and I also take balanced, mature, rational discourse seriously as well. Those are two things that I’m passionate about, and I think whether or not it is “too seriously” is simply a matter of opinion.

    I’m not sure where I suggested that Brownlee and Willis misunderstood what I wrote. However, I think it goes without saying that if you’re willing to engage in a conversation with someone as Gregor has done, you have the responsibility to do your best to try to understand what they’ve said. Otherwise it’s not really a conversation, is it?