I’m sitting in the stands watching the final Monday practice of the Oilers season and I feel like Phil in Groundhog Day. It’s sure seems like every Oilers fan and member of their organization has been in this exact same spot for the past six years. It is another lost season for the Orange and Blue. They need two wins in their final three games just to avoid finishing with the lowest win total in franchise history. Ouch.
There hasn’t been any tangible improvement in six seasons, and unless the forensic audit of the organization decides to uncover the truth about what ails this team, I don’t see them improving much next year.
I would hope the audit asked the following pertinent questions:
Why are we a perennial loser?
They must look honestly at every facet of the team off and on the ice.
Why haven’t they made any improvements in six seasons?
This isn’t about a head coach, or four, or who is on the 4th line. Their problems start off the ice. How they build a team. How they evaluate players. Their process is not working. It has to change.
What is the plan of the organization?
Do they have one? Who will they execute it, and do we have the right people in place to lead the team? Past history says they don’t, but will the owner and Bob Nicholson recognize this?
What do we need to do to improve?
The answer is not a simple one. Of course, improved play from your goaltender and better, more experienced defenders would help, but every single player, coach, and person in management needs to improve, and I believe they need a philosophical change in how they run their organization (more on that in an upcoming article).
How will we build the team?
This is crucial. Winning in 2015 is different than it was ten, twenty or thirty years ago. Drafting and development are integral for long-term success, but they have to find a way to change the identity of their team. It won’t be easy, but it has to happen.
What expectations do you have for yourself and the players you bring into the organization?
They need to create a better culture off and on the ice. They must take a long look in the mirror and recognize their strategy and plan on how to build a team has not worked. They can’t keep doing the same thing and expect the team to magically improve.
These are just a few of the questions I’d hope they would have asked themselves during their internal audit, and there are many more that need to be asked.
But the Oilers must face the harsh reality that their organization is broken, and it needs to be fixed.
They are not one or two players away from competing. When you watch them play the top teams in the western conference it is clear they are no closer to being competitive today than they were in the spring of 2010, and that is the extremely concerning, not to mention disappointing.
LEARNING HOW TO WIN…
A few new players or another head coach won’t fix all the woes of this team. Much of it has to come from the players in the room now, because the majority of them will be back next season. Even if management makes a few trades or UFA acquisitions in the summer, I’d expect at least 12-14 of these players will return next year.
The players have to be better.
“We need to come in (next season) with a more confident outlook in terms of the way we need to play. We’ve done some growing up, but we need to continue to grow up. We need to become a team that doesn’t have that big mistake late in games or even early in games. We’ve lost a lot of one-goal hockey games because we’ve hurt ourselves late. That is one area we need to improve. We have to cut down on the major mistakes and be more confident as a group,” said Matt Hendricks.
The players can’t control what management does, but they determine their own work ethic and commitment. This group needs to become more resilient and focused. I believe they need to hold each other more accountable for their actions on the ice.
Every player in that room needs to be better next season. Taylor Hall can improve, so can Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. They have to demand more from themselves and their teammates if they hope to improve.
Their is no miracle cure for the woes of the Oilers.
If they fire someone in management that won’t solve all their problems. It would appease some fans, and based on the lack of success it would be warranted and would signal the a fresh beginning, but new management won’t be able to transform this organization into a winner overnight. It would be step one in a long process.
A new head coach won’t magically make them more aware on the ice. Nelson, nor any other head coach, plays the game. A coach is only as good as his players.
A new goalie, defencemen or centre won’t fix all the other deficiencies on the ice. There is no debate having better defence make them more competitive, but every player on this team needs to play better and with more intensity, drive, smarts and emotion.
Every single player, coach or member of management must do their job better next year.
If they don’t, this team will be in the exact some position in 2016.
I don’t expect the Oilers to make the playoffs next year, I believe they have too many holes to fill, but they damn well better not be out of the playoffs in November, December, January or February. They have to show some resolve and find ways to become more competitive.
If they elect to just change a few name bars on jerseys or office desks, like they have for the past five seasons, then none of us should expect any tangible improvement.
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