Having somebody stick a glove in the face of David Backes at the end of a 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues Tuesday obviously wasn’t going to change the outcome for the Edmonton Oilers or address the laundry list of shortcomings we know all too well, but it needed to be done. Of course, it wasn’t.

Instead, as usual, Edmonton’s Benoit Pouliot found himself surrounded by Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Backes while everybody else on the ice, save for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, stood around and took the opportunity to count the crowd or stare at their skate laces. You’re on your own, Benny.

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I’ve lost track of the number of times we’ve seen the same scenario unfold in recent years, but this glaring lack of a pack mentality and willingness to turn the other cheek and take whatever opponents decide to dish out spans several coaches and a roster that’s been almost completely turned over.

Again, the Oilers default role of playground weakling doesn’t top my list of reasons why this team is going nowhere fast – lousy goaltending, lack of depth on defense and at centre are the most obvious reasons the record today sits at 10-25-9 – but it’s a fundamental flaw that has to be addressed.

Right now, the Oilers aren’t built that way.

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I know TSN 1260’s Jason Strudwick went on about this at length last night on his show. As a guy who always showed up to engage in the battle even if he didn’t win it, I can only imagine how Strudwick tossed and turned last night after the Oilers went quietly into the tunnel yet again — a repeat of what we saw with Leon Draisaitl earlier this season.

Bruce McCurdy of The Cult of Hockey over at the Edmonton Journal, who is somebody I consider a voice of considerable reason, got to the heart of the matter, as I see it, on the radio this morning: “If you don’t have a team, you don’t have a starting point,” he said.

McCurdy, like many people, is more into advanced stats than I am, but he didn’t need to check a spreadsheet to come to that conclusion after watching the end of the game. I don’t know if you can even quantify the value of the pack mentality that’s missing with this team. That said, anybody with a lick of common sense knows being willing to stick up for a teammate, to at least engage and refuse to allow anybody to be outnumbered, is a trait that builds a sense of unity. The old all-for-one-one-for-all axiom.

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The problem is the Oilers aren’t built that way. Outside of Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon, Andrew Ference, tough guy Luke Gazdic and newcomer Rob Klinkhammer, all of whom play well down the line-up, the Oilers are sadly lacking the kind of players who simply refuse to accept seeing a teammate outnumbered or pushed around.



The idea of playing as a pack and for the guy next to you can’t be left to a handful of a guys playing in your bottom six forwards or third defensive pair. It doesn’t, and cannot, work that way.

There’s not nearly enough of it up top in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz, to name just four. Those players, who are on the ice more than anybody and thus have the opportunity to impact the game more than anybody else, just aren’t built that way.

The thing is, the pack mentality doesn’t depend on wading in and winning every battle. It’s not about dropping the gloves, throwing punches and breaking all those high-priced hands. It’s about showing up for every battle. Step in the middle. It’s about being involved rather than being a spectator.

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When you know somebody has your back, it’s far more likely that you’ll be willing to have theirs. My experience is the best teams are built that way. I have no doubt about it, even if I can’t attach a number to it. I’ve played on teams that had a dogged pack mentality and those that didn’t. I’ve watched both varieties for 30 years.

Playing with a pack mentality isn’t a substitute for talent, great goaltending or depth at all positions and it won’t completely mitigate lousy coaching or bad drafting and player development, but it’s a thread that binds and makes better whatever you do have.

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

  • bradleypi

    The only thing left to do when you have lost the game with time left on the clock is make them remember. I like this Benoit Pouliot, he is a little nasty with an offensive edge. I don’t get the rest of them. Starting trouble, getting in the other teams face is fun. Sure it hurts when taking a punch or two but man this is Edmonton. We are not sensitive like our American friends to fisticuffs. Only thing we like more than goals is fists flying. We revere those who throw fist here. If you are not going to go out a winner on the scoreboard you might as well go out fighting.

    Sports is the only place you can physically dominate another person without going to jail generally. To look at someone in the eye and know you will crush them if they come near you. It a rush like nothing else because you get old so it temporary. It is why every moment you have, you play like it is your last. You hate losing so much that you push your body beyond its limits. You got to be a little sadistic to win in sports.

    Maybe mentally they are crushed as a team beyond fixing this year. Two years in a row after a little promise with Krugar and bam out of it before Christmas. It isn’t the players fault because Dallas Eakins was a brutal coach. Great sound bite, brutal coach. That and the fact from an organizational standpoint we didn’t have a lot of depth in the system. The picks lost in the Dustin Penner signing along with so many busts comes back to haunt the team.

    If Hall, Ebs, RNH were leaders they would of done more to take Yakupov under their wing. There are always guys on teams that suck at defence. Usually they are scorers who don’t like to be touched. That is where you need that team toughness and a number one dman who makes those soft players afraid to go in front of the net. When they do you make them pay by smashing them into the crossbar. That way they will have the dentist bill to remember you by.

  • bradleypi

    Taylor Hall, Petry and second rd pick to Ottawa for zibanajad, stone, lazar, ceci, if they sign Petry we get their 3rd, eberle for couturier and second rd pick, trade otts and pits 2nd rounders for lucic and legit prospect. Pick up sj’s goalie in the off season, and awesome!

  • Mike Modano's Dog


    All Pouliot did was score their only 2 goals that evening. Why would the Oilers possibly want to defend him? (Not to mention Eberle earlier on in the evening.)

    I, for one, hope the schoolyard bully David Backes gets his lunch handed to him when he comes to town on February 28th. I for one, however, also wouldn’t bet a whole lot on that happening.

  • S cottV

    If only we could have Backes on our team…

    The top 6 / top 3 mix of players is severely lacking in any kind of warrior mentality.

    It takes a guy like Backes, to make everyone around him – man up, to the degree that is possible – for each.

    The mix of the hockey club is the responsibility of Kevin Lowe and more recently – MacT.

    The mix, the system and the whole culture is a reflection of the organization and it’s leaders.

  • McClelland

    Here’s an idea. How about finding a middle of the road defenseman that isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. Then you can have him out on the WITH the top six, so they can get a little room to do their thing. Plugging a fighter into a forward line usually ends up being a liability. If only MacIntyre could have played defence, we might have had a chance at a playoff season.