PACE IN PRACTICE..

Allen Iverson’s rant on practice is a classic. Iverson had sat out a practice and it became a huge story in Philly. When Iverson retired Gary Payton told the story how in the summer prior to this interview Iverson had asked him how he was able to keep his body fresh and play every game. Payton told him his head coach, George Karl, wouldn’t let him practice very much. Karl knew he was a smaller guard and he needed rest to keep his body healthy. Iverson took it to heart, but he might not have went about it the right way.

It is still a great rant, and it relates to the Oilers because of what Ladislav Smid and Ilya Bryzgalov said regarding the pace and intensity of their new team’s practices.

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After his first practice with the Calgary Flames, Smid said he was surprised at how intense the practice was, and last week Ilya Brzygalov said the Wild practices had “a much faster pace.

Do the Oilers need to practice harder? Can they practice harder?

I went looking for the answers to those questions and a few more. I spoke with Dallas Eakins, Sam Gagner and David Perron about the Oilers practices.

I spoke to Perron because he was in St.Louis the previous six seasons, and I was curious if he noticed a difference in how the teams practiced.

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Do you think it is up
to the players to control the pace and tempo practice?

I do. Dallas
mentioned it a lot. Do you want to be the guy driving the practice or do you
want to sit in the back of the bus and hope the day goes by, and that’s not a
way you get better. It’s up to us to bring that level higher. I think it has
improved over the season, but there is another level to get to for sure.

How can you make
practices more intense?

It’s pretty simple. Every time there is a rebound you try to
score. Every time you go by the net you stop. The hard work comes
with the habits. When you have good habits it brings your level higher because
you want to succeed.

If you’re not going to do it in the game, you have to start
doing it in practice and then it will translate in the game. You will go by the
net and it will be natural that you will stop. Early in the year we didn’t have
many guys going to the net, but I think it has gotten better and when we do
have one-on-one battles in practice we can be harder for sure.

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What differences have
you noticed from practices in St.Louis to Edmonton?

Here they are a bit longer and we have more explanation at
the board. I’m not sure if it’s because we are a younger team and having to explain
more system stuff.

In St. Louis it
(practice) was pretty short, because when you’ve been on the same team for a bit
you’re on the same page, and that’s why they are having success and that’s what
we are trying to get to here.

THOUGHTS…

The Oilers are younger than the Blues and Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Yakupov, J.Schultz and Petry have had a new coach every season they’ve played. It makes sense that this team needs more teaching and likely why their practices don’t have a consistent flow as often as a veteran team like the Blues.

The Oilers still don’t go to the net as often as they should, but Perron was bang on that at least they are doing it more than they did earlier in the season. The issue with the Oilers top-six isn’t the individual talent of the players, rather that they are essentially all the same. Outside of Perron, the other five didn’t have a “drive-the-net” philosophy in junior. It is hard to completely alter a player’s game, and that’s why I believe this group needs a different mix of players. They are all too similar.

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GAGNER

89-Gagner-7

Sam Gagner has played his entire career in Edmonton. He’s had five different head coaches and I asked him his thoughts on the pace and intensity of Oilers practice.

Some former teammates
said the pace in practice was higher on their new team. Perron said your team’s
pace was lower at the start of the season, but it has improved throughout the
year. Have you noticed a difference, and if so in what way?

I think a lot of times when you are going to a new team you
are flying and stuff, and that first practice is going to be tough regardless.
For us, pace starts with puck movement and I think it has gotten better as the
year’s gone on. If you are going to be a successful team in this league you
have to be able to execute. That is something we are really focusing on, especially
in practice, and we have to continue to get better if we’re going to become one
of the top teams in the league. We still have a way to go.

Do you believe if you
practice harder maybe they will play harder and grittier?

I’m a huge believer in it. I’ve always thought when you are
in a slump you break it in practice before you break it in a game. You’re not
always going to feel great in practice, whether you played a game the night
before, but you have to find a way to get the most out of yourself, execute
properly and move the puck properly and get your pace going. It translates into
a game hugely.

Is the pace of
practice set more by the players or the coach?

I think the coach is driving the practice and we’re the ones
pushing it. The coaches have a practice plan and they lay it out, but it is on us to
make sure we are pushing it.

Thoughts…

Gagner was on to something about the first practice with a new team. Smid’s first practice in Calgary came after an off day for the Flames and when he was traveling. However, Gagner did admit his team still has room to improve in practice.

A few years ago I interviewed Nick Lidstrom and he told me that bad passes weren’t acceptable during Red Wings practices. Players would get on each other if they made bad passes. He firmly believed that if you accepted bad passing in practice it would happen in the game. Mike Babcock said those rules were put in place by the players not the coaches, because the players needed to manage and decide which passes weren’t acceptable. He said it carried more weight when a teammate challenged a player on his passing rather than the coach.

The Oilers don’t have something like that in place, and if they do implement a similar rule, it has to be initiated by the players not the coach.

COACH EAKINS

Dallas Eakins 18

Do you have a response to what Bryzgalov said last week and Smid earlier in the
season about the difference in the pace and intensity of practice?

I would totally agree with them. In the Smid case, he traveled the whole day and his first practice came after a day off and of
course that will be a high-paced practice.

In Bryz’s case he is excited; he is going to a team that is coming off the
trade deadline where they made some moves to try and take a good swat at the
Stanley Cup. After that deadline I’m sure their practice was very exciting to
get the new players in.

Did they have great pace in those practices, absolutely? But
I will tell you this. I’ve watched a lot of teams practice in the NHL, teams
that have come into our building and a lot of times when your team is struggling
you go watch to make sure you aren’t missing something. I put our practices up
against anybody in the league and I’ve seen some very good teams practice that,
boy, there was no pace.

It was more rest, move the puck and conserve for the
game. There are so many different ways you can skin the cat getting ready for
the game. But for our team right now, when it’s supposed to be pace, we go after the
pace, but a lot of time it has been about teaching.

How much do you feel
is on you to set the pace, or how much of it is up to the players to set the
pace?

I think it is up to everyone. It is up to the players to
push each other; it is up to the coach to make sure they are going. The
structure of the practice depending on the day of the week and how many games
they’ve played, what you need to work on, that usually dictates the real pace
of the practice is what you are trying to accomplish.

If you are coming off a day off and you don’t play for a couple days, that’s going
to be a tough, hard battle, very high-paced practice. When you’re playing every
other day you might be just working on your powerplay, which slows down the
practice. And for our group, especially this year, we’ve had to do so much
teaching that you are stopping practice and going into the details and trying to
hammer home these new concepts and new habits. You could go watch a team
practice five different days and each day the pace would be greatly, greatly
different.

Is the plan to have
less whiteboard time next year which will increase the pace of practice?

Exactly. The less you have to go to the board, but more
importantly, the less you have to stop the drill and make sure everybody is in
the right spots and re-enforce it, then you can get on to other stuff.

You have to be careful with pace in practice. We can go out
and do a whole bunch of shooting drills that look nice and shiny and everyone
will be skating fast, but they have little to do with the structure of the
game. There are days you want the pace high, and there are days where you need
the detail and the teaching. Our team right now, much less than at the start of
year, we are still in the teaching phase and we are not going to let the
details go.

WRAP UP….

  • The Oilers top players aren’t very physical or gritty, so I wouldn’t expect them to be in practice. They are also young and inexperienced and they keep turning over the puck in games, so I understand why the coach is still spending a lot of time on the whiteboard. I still don’t think they battle as hard as they should — Perron said the same — but I think that is also a product of the make up of this team.

    The Oilers don’t have a very big or aggressive blueline. Prior to Mark Fraser’s arrival, Andrew Ference was the only D-man who would play physical. I’ve watched Fraser in practice and he doesn’t go easy on the forwards. That will help them. If they are never exposed to playing against big, mean and aggressive defenders in practice, it makes sense that they would struggle against them in a game. Fraser at least gives them an idea of how hard it will be to go to the net or come out the corner against a big D-man. Petry, J.Schultz, N.Schultz, Potter and Larsen never presented that challenge.

    I remember watching Steve Staios, Jason Smith and Ethan Moreau practice. Smith and Staios practiced like they played, and they used to have some great battles with Moreau. I believe that helped them during games.

    The Oilers are starting to get a few more players like that. Hendricks brings an edge to practice as does Gordon and Perron, but until the Oilers get more skilled players with size I don’t see this issue being solved. You practice like you play and the Oilers aren’t blessed with many big, strong or aggressive players right now. They also don’t have a lot of “old man” strength in their top-six. The Oilers skilled players will be much better and stronger when they are all 24 years of age and older, but they currently they lack the size and strength to compete with other teams.

    I still would like to see a bit more intensity in the battle drills, but like Perron and Gagner said that has to come from the players.

  • I watched last night’s game from the lower bowl and the size difference of the Oilers and Kings was even more obvious. If you don’t believe the Oilers need more size in their top-six now, then I’m not sure what games you’ve been watching. I thought the Oilers overall effort was fine, they just aren’t as big, mature and experienced as the Kings. The Kings could manhandle the Oilers when they wanted to, and until this team matures and adds some skilled size I don’t see that changing.
  • Jordan Nolan sucker punches Jesse Joensuu and nothing happens to him. I didn’t see anyone even mouth him off when he was on the ice in the 3rd period. I’m sure Gazdic said something from the bench, but I don’t understand why he wasn’t put on the ice against Nolan. The score was 4-2 with 10 minutes to play, did anyone think the stingy Kings were going to relinquish the lead? For me it was another example of showing teams they can get away with anything against the Oilers.

    At some point isn’t it important to send a message, other than the one that says it is okay to take liberties on our players?

  • I’m looking for a travel agent or agency to team up with me for a great fundraiser. If you are interested please email me at [email protected].
  • Oscar Klefbom is a now considered a regular recall and will make his NHL debut in Minnesota tomorrow.
  • Is coaching on the verge of ruining hockey? One NHL sniper thinks it is. Read here.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR


  • R U Kidding Me!

    Nothing frustrates and pisses me off more than seeing these players time and time again not sticking up for each other.

    This isn’t something you can teach, some of these guys have to go.

  • Cold Hard Truth

    Eakins, Gagner, and Perron play down the comments made on the pace of Oilers’ practice? Surprise, surprise. Ask them again once one of them leaves the team. You’ll get an honest answer.

  • Puck_In_Throat

    I know that Eakins is taking a lot of heat here, and part of that is his own fault. He shot his mouth off a bit at the start of the year talking about how his system was going to make a big difference.

    But I have to say what has been said by other people: even a great coach can’t coach a team full of bad players to the finals.

    Exhibit A: Ken Hitchcock – coaches a Stacked Dallas team to 5 straight years of 1st place (division) finishes; sacked when performance drops (coincidence: Brett Hull retires and the Stars lose 39 goals and 75 points).

    Hitch coaches Philly to divisional finishes of 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd – fired in year 5 with a 1-6-1 start. Goalies for philly all have GAA of above 3.00 and Biron is tops for sv% at .908. ouch

    Hitch coaches CBJ to a 20 point improvement over 3 years, culminating in their first playoff appearance. Columbus is eliminated in the first round. Hitch is fired the next year when it becomes clear 60 games in that they will not make the playoffs.

    Hitch takes a year off and is hired by the Blues. They finish (divisional) 1st, 2nd, and soon-to-be 1st.

    Did Hitch all of a sudden become a bad coach in 2002 (fired from Dallas), 2006 (1-6-1 start in philly) and from 2006-2010 in Columbus where his best finish was 4th in the division?

    Or is it more likely that a good coach can only win with a good team?

    All those who say it is “Eakins fault”, you may be correct in saying that a good coach could get more out of the team (hello Ralph), but what Gregor and others are getting at is that this TEAM sucks, and that it wouldn’t matter if Scotty Freakin Bowman himself came out of retirement to coach these guys. The Oil would still suck.

    • Benny Botts

      You’re comparing a guy that started head coaching in the NHL in 1995 to a first year coach… seems a bit drastic to me no??..

      Though I agree with all your other points

  • Cold Hard Truth

    JG………..I respect your need to defend Dallas.

    I for one do not give a rat’s ass how the team practices or what the players say about practicing on other teams.

    What most fans care about is seeing improvement………..even incremental improvement. If we improved in any metric, fans would probably lay off this guy. The sad fact is we have NOT improved in any area of the game, except dietary may be.

    • Jason Gregor

      Your hatred for the coach doesn’t allow you to read an article without bias. I never defended his actions. I said I wished they had more intensity in practice, but pointed out that the players aren’t a group of aggressive players.

      Also it is a fact that the Oilers aren’t that big or strong yet. If you go hard in practice on off days they won’t be fresh on game days.

      You can interpret it however you like, but the fact remains this team’s lack of size and aggression is equal in games and practice. I also don’t expect a coach to magically make a D team into a B or A team. Eakins might not be the solution, but putting more of the blame on the coach than the players and management is ridiculous. We’ve seen how that works… Some don’t want to face the truth that this group of players don’t have the right mix to win, regardless of who is coaching them. Hopefully MacTavish sees it and makes more changes. I suspect he will.

      • Death Metal Nightmare

        i think people knew LONG ago this wasnt the right mix while media like you were propping up Sam Gagner to be a potential 70 point player while touting the “he’s only __ years old…” BS.

        his game was apparent in deficiencies that his size and strength are never going to over come at 21+ years old. but people still held that hope there and then they overpaid him at 5 million bucks. then this season “everyone finally comes around”. too late, geniuses.

        as for the rest of the group, we’ve known for multiple seasons that this was children mixed with very mediocre-to-poor vets that are forced into roles they can’t handle.

        and still we had to have the “sexy” coach come in while nothing got fixed on the roster in any qualitative/substantial way.

        it’s obviously a delicate/micro situation when you’re this horrendous but the management has done itself little favor when it falls in love with sad players for too long… we’re seeing this trend constantly as they try to think they can outsmart the rest of the league using trash to improve.

        if i had to guess, this group of “smart guys” over thinks how to put a team together. they dig so far into detail that they start to sell themselves on mediocre as hell players (Horcoff, Ference, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc) and then just sit in the tar pit. it’s time outside perspectives come into this group. their thinking is way too stale. whether it’s through firings, etc…

        drown in a fishbowl

    • R U Kidding Me!

      You don’t care about practice? That tells me you have no clue how teams are supposed to improve.

      I care about having a plan and sticking with it, something this organization hasn’t done for four years.

      This fan is sick of fans like you once again asking for the coaches head, but ignoring the truth. The players aren’t that good. I don’t know if Eakins is good or not, likely not, but I know the players aren’t and no coach wins with bad players.

      They had 20 good games last year and then sucked down the stretch. Where did they improve under Krueger? They didn’t improve under Renney either, because the players aren’t that good.

      MacTavish needs to improve our blueline and get some beef in our top six..until that happens, we are probably googling McDavid goals next year.

    • toprightcorner

      True the team is still not very good but if you think the team has not improved you are mistaken. The team is 1 game under .500 since Dec 27th. Sure it still isn’t playoff making winning percentage but it is an improvement.

      You have a hate on the coach and you will always be biased by that when having an opinion.

      • A-Mc

        No hate is a strong word. I do not hate him at all in fact I like his personality for the most part.

        What I HATE is not seeing any improvement and the general inability to motivate his star players.

        If the players are to blame ( including the stars of the team) then bench them. Bring in AHL players to send the message to the stars that NOT giving a total effort has ramifications!!

        Has Dallas done that………no and that’s a big part of coaching, do you not agree?

        • nuge2drai

          Oiler Domination To Follow

          I HATE when Eakins preaches accountability but favours players like Gagner and uses players like Yakupov as a punching bag.

          What I HATE is not seeing Eberle get benched after a no look pass on the tape of the opponents stick.

          I HATE the 1-3-1 power play Eakins seems to think is hard to defend.

          Other than that I actually like Eakins personality.

  • Word to the Bird

    Gregor, thanks for being the only media guy willing to ask these questions.

    I’m not in love with all of Eakins answers, but that’s likely because part of me knows the players aren’t that good.

    At least you gave us some insight into what the coach and players think. Good job.

  • Word to the Bird

    I come on here once in a while and have my short say and I watch most of the games (at least halfway through). I consider this a tough grind for reasons we all know.

    But you know who has it bad? Who I really feel for? The Gregor’s, Brownlee’s, Willis’, Mitchell’s, et al. who have to actually write lengthy, meaningful articles of some relevance about this pitiful ‘team’.

    I mean, Gregor, you talkin’ ’bout practice, man. Practice.

  • R U Kidding Me!

    Good post. My thoughts:

    I agree that not every practice is going to be fast paced, so looking at another teams practice and judging ours seems a little unfair.

    That being said, you make a great point about our forwards having no tough D to deal with in practice. Schultz, Larson, Petry, etc. We don’t have 1 single defensemen who will punish our forwards in practice, which just makes it that much worse in real games.

    Finally, the lack of pushback after that Nolan cheapshot was pathetic. I don’t understand how you can watch that and then not do anything. The ref saw it firsthand, and gave Nolan 4 minutes. So now we know that a punch to the face when the guy isn’t looking is only worth 4 minutes. I would of sent Gazdic and Hendricks out there to punch away…

  • Word to the Bird

    What concerns me the most is the team’s breakout habits. Either one or sometimes two players are cherry picking and looking for an easy breakaway, or somebody panics under pressure and just rifles it out of the zone and gives it right back to the opponent. This, in my opinion, is the main reason why Edmonton is hemmed in their zone for seemingly endless periods of time. A change in zone exit strategy could go a long way in terms of possession time.