A Losing Culture


The Oilers are having a distinct problem winning games. They
have only done it seven times in the last 23 matches, and that’s really beginning to
wear down some key veterans.

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I should be more clear. Some veteran media guys are getting fed up with the losing and are really antsy about the whole thing.

This tweet is about 140 characters of pure 100% Colombian exasperation. None of it really stands up to a shred of logic, but this is what happens when faced with loss after loss for almost a decade.

Let’s start with acknowledging the facts at the root of this. The Edmonton Oilers are 30th in the NHL once again. If the season ended today we would be talking about Auston Matthews and potentially the fifth first overall pick on the team. That’s embarrassing.

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The Oilers have been tarred and feathered, paraded through downtown, made to eat a bowl of spiderwebs, and then swirleed by the media since winning their fourth first overall pick — Connor McDavid — and they’re lining up for pick number five at this moment. Sportsnet (Edmonton’s rights holders) ran articles saying the NHL should have rigged the last lottery against the Oilers. I cant imagine what’s in store this coming spring if this doesn’t get turned around.

And that’s probably why there’s an ever growing sentiment to just make a big trade even if it’s really stupid.

If we boil that tweet by Matheson down we get to two main ideas.

1) Edmonton has a deeply embedded culture of losing

2) Peter Chiarelli has been sitting on his hands doing nothing to change this squad

Losing Culture

There is no team in the last five years who has lost more games than the Oilers. Since the 2010-2011 season the Oilers have picked up 209 losses. The Sabres are second with 196. We are the best at losing. That’s just a fact.

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If a “Losing Culture” were as simple as a 1:1 relationship with a losing record then the Oilers definitely have a losing culture in 2015-2016. No question about it.

However, I think when we talk about a losing culture we’re talking about a lot more than just picking up L’s. Surely a losing culture refers to an attitude that permeates the dressing room and infects the players. It’s about not believing wins are possible. It’s about not playing games the right way.

Having a Losing Culture is about every aspect of the game, from planning to preparation to execution, being broken deep down in the psyche of the individual members of the team.

It’s a big accusation to make of a team, or at least it should be.

Here’s the part where I disagree with Mr. Matheson. I don’t actually believe the Oilers have a losing culture in 2015-2016.

When I watch the Oilers play I see a team that is in almost every game they play. I see a team that is playing better defensively and has been competitive. There have a lot of one goal games or games that ended in empty netters. Last year these one goal games became blowouts by the third period. Now the Oilers are hanging around.

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Looking back to a year ago and comparing it to what we see now, I’d say that the team was definitely trapped in a losing culture. In fact, Bob Nicholson probably saw the same thing when he did his forensic audit. It’s why he changed the entire management structure and coaching of the team.

The Oilers have made massive changes to the entire organization to change the culture of the club already.

We are just two months into the coaching regime of Todd McLellan. He and new GM Peter Chiarelli haven’t even made it to their first Christmas with the Oilers. The line of “paralysis by analysis” from Jim Matheson is about four years and two GM’s late to the party. Where was that when Steve Tambellini was watching his blueline turn into ash?

The new Coach and GM have stripped the Captain of his ice time and his letter, got Nail Yakupov playing on the right side of the puck, shipped high priced vets to the AHL, added three new defenders to the Oilers, and played two others as regulars who weren’t full-time a year ago.

Meanwhile, reports have been coming out steadily for the last week that Peter Chiarelli has been aggressively trying to land Travis Hamonic since before the season started.

Paralysis by Analysis indeed.

Change Is Coming

Losing does something nasty to people who are used to winning. It eats away at them. Sometimes we see otherwise really bright people start to make really dull choices. Making a trade for the sake of making a trade is not the route I want the GM of the Oilers to take.

The Oilers don’t have the depth to make any more bad trades. They have to make the right trade.

One day, pretty soon, that trade is going to happen and the Oilers will move out a bigger piece of the team. It might be Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz, or even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leaving, but they can’t afford to move big pieces just because they’re losing a lot of one goal games. It has to be because there’s a deal that makes them better in places they are the weakest.

Edmonton might be finding ways to lose games, but we really need to look at how they play and why they’re losing before we default back to their supposed losing culture. I don’t see an Oilers team that was defeated before the game even began when I watch them play. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see the 30th best team in the NHL even though they sit 30th in the standings this morning.

  • Petrolero

    This article was relevant maybe a week ago but since the loss to the capitals the Oilers decidedly look like they already checked out of the season. In times like this a big shock is needed to wake everyone up. A trade would jot be stupid it would be like Jumpstarting a dead battery.

  • Soiled Trousers

    Henderson, do yourself a favour and never write a propaganda piece like this again. You look as foolish as Bob Stauffer and the rest of the Kool-Aid cowboys. To say that ten years of losing doesn’t equate to a losing culture is just ridiculous. Don’t lump yourself in with a group of apologists who have zero credibility as real journalists.

  • BubbaZanetti

    I have been saying this for years even before the Nation writers started articles about it.

    Lowe and Mac T must go. You must purge the people responsible.

    Any and every direct and remote link to the creators of a losing culture have to be removed before a rebuild of a team or corporate culture of winning will prevail.

    But Katz has no balls, so there you go.

  • BubbaZanetti

    Ference was -2 in the 4:24 of icetime. On the ice for 2 goals on 7 shifts??? Hope Ference does not dress for any more games this year. Reinhart is a better player and he could use some experience since the season is toast and November isn’t even over. Eberle was horrible once again. Ever heard of “TRY”???

    • Lummeropenet

      Absolutely agree we have a losing culture. When players aren’t putting in the effort required to win night in and night out, that’s the definition of settling into a losing culture. Some would call it being comfortable with losing or being comfortable with being mediocre. This time the problem is not within the top six, in fact, they may never have been the real problem. The real problem started much higher up in the organization when 6 rings announced a rebuild, and then decided to lead a weak team of scouts in drafting winger after winger, without addressing several areas of need like defence, goal, and centre. He basically started building the team at the wing position, which is traditionally the last position to address. Ask teams like Calgary, Buffalo, NYI, and Dallas, who hit rock bottom later than us and have pulled themselves out sooner than the lowly Oilers. It was the same wisdom that allowed Craig McTavish to be hired when Jim Nill, a true proven hockey mind, was available. The story of this franchise is to bet on “potential” and realizing that bet was foolish and not having the balls to admit it until last year. It’s time to give up on betting on potential and maybe slightly overpay for proven factions that have proven to be successful for a number of years, and the determining factor to success is not individual stats, but playoffs dammit, PLAYOFFS!

      Lowe handcuffed the team by handing out ludicrous contracts after the 2006 run…then the same person drafted the so-called “CORE”…then he handed things off to more nutbars to sign young players (unproven by virtue of tasting playoff success) with high draft pedigree to $6M contracts…then lets strap the team down some more after enduring 6 years of Horcoff’s et al contracts, and get rid of useful grinding type players who are actually the REAL CORE of any team by virtue of them having the right attitude to play hard every night because they realize they cannot rely on talent alone. When the drafted the talent they continue to employ today, they neglected the GRIT and COMPETE factor that should form the CORE of any team. I have never agreed with drafting talented young players, gifting them ice time, signing them to fat contracts, and calling them the core of the team and the “untouchables”. How does that impact the psyche of the other 75-80% of the team?? Why should they bust their humps to protect the young talent if they young talent selfishly skate away from their teammates in trouble. That’s equivalent to saying that team success hinges on 4-5 players on the team and that the others are replaceable, a horrible way to rebuild and serves to harbour the current culture of losing we speak of.

      I say once and for all the organization needs to dump the likes of Lowe, Howson, and MacT. Thank them for their services but please move on…and only then can the team move onward and upward. They made poor decisions that should cost them their jobs yet there is no retribution to this effect. They made promises they could not keep, that is on THEM and they need to wear the consequences. I am sick to my stomach that they are still in the organization in ANY capacity! Is this owner so gutless to fire someone?? If so, hire me and I’ll do it for you!

      I say it’s time to shed the organization of the riff raft for good and don’t look back. It’s time to dismantle the dysfunctional “CORE” that Lowe started…clearly someone who needs to tell people he knows a thing or two about winning is overcompensating!! If you’re going to rebuild right, lose everyone on the team except for McD, Draisaitl, Nurse, Davidson, Lander (because he is cheap and can win face-offs), Klefbom, Hendricks, Pouliot, and Pakarinen. I know others will have their own list of players to keep but for me I have seen enough of Hall, Eberle, and Nuge’s brand of uninspired hockey, unintelligent hockey, and skating away from teammates. And for God’s sake go get us a proven goalie, and not potential in the goal position!
      I can think of lots of talent that we can afford without the big contracts that currently plague the team…guys like Stamos, Johansen, Hamonic and Duchene are available for the right price, this rarely happens with such a rich group of star players when starting a proper rebuild, and we may have the right pieces to acquire them. These guys have at least proven that they can get their teams to the playoffs, have shown the determination that MacLellan speaks of, and that they will stick up for one another and don’t play like they are “above” anyone else on the team.

      How does this sound for a start of a NEW group to build around:
      Top 4 centres: McDavid/Stamkos/Joahnsen/Duchene/Lander (call-up)
      Wingers: Draisaitl/Pouliot (aquire the likes of Marchand/Van Riemsdyk/M. Read/Nichuskin/Saad)
      Defence: Nurse/Klefbom/Hamonic (acquire the likes of B.Burns/C.Fowler/R.Josi/S.Jones/Parayko/ Edmundsen/Ekholm)

      Balance R and L shooters on Defence, and move key pieces down the middle to address areas of weakness since you are stacked there.

        • Digger

          Haha…no, it won’t be easy but I had to sum up 10 years of frustration and futility into one blog entry while trying to keep it somewhat “short”.

          I think there will be overpay’s to get the pieces we need but that shouldn’t mean we don’t do it. As long as every trade is not an overpay. I feel like the team made sideways moves this past offseason that ultimately cost the team in cap space yet didn’t make the team better in standings. These contracts are continuing to hold us back…look at Bergebvin in Montreal pinching everything out of his players and making them earn their big contracts…and they have made it to the playoffs for the past several years. I’m not suggesting we get all the pieces I have listed, but a trade for something proven, not “potential, would be a nice move in the proper direction. Every piece Chiarelli has acquired has been for “potential”, and that’s my point. It hasn’t worked and the new management group was supposed to bring a new strategy. At this point it’s almost addition by subtraction on a team full of mediocrity. I’ll even settle for finally firing Lowe, MacT, or Howson…pick one or all three.

      • Samesame

        This one had all the ole hits. Easy answers, tired narrative, simple blame game, revisionist history etc.

        It amazes me how misguided and mistaken people can be about something they feel like they know so much about.

        I’ll agree that we certainly have a losing culture. But this guy just has no idea why

  • BubbaZanetti

    Hmmmmm…funny, last time I checked NHL is about W’s and not “they deserved better” or ” I don’t see a 30th place team….” Blah blah.

    I should tell my boss “sorry we didn’t make budget, but I am good at my job, don’t fire”.

    What a joke.

  • Zamboni Driver

    Oh. My. God.

    I’m SO tired of people saying “They’re better than their record.”

    No they are not. That’s why you keep score.

    Fancy stats losers can talk about ‘shot attempts’ (which is hilarious), Corsi (which you all now think is nonsense…which is what reasonable fans have been telling you forever).

    The stat is number of goals for. Goals against. and WINS.

    this team is in last place. Again.

    The current line up of ‘stars’ are a collection of gutless, heartless Roger Dorns, who really couldn’t care less if they lose.

    • BubbaZanetti

      People think corsi is nonsense now? That’s news to me. So tell me Mr Reasonable fan, last year everybody was saying Calgary would fall off this year because their corsi was suggesting that their win rate was not sustainable. So where are they in the standings this year? Thought so…

      Corsi is a stat. Nothing more, nothing less. Just because you’re too dimwitted to understand it doesn’t mean it’s nonsense. It’s like +/-, goals, wins, hits etc… a stat.

  • Anton CP

    It’s like everyone has forgotten that McJesus is out of the lineup.

    Remember when he was in the lineup playing with Pouliot and Yak (who have been shooting blanks since) and created arguably the best line on the team?

    McDavid will be playing more than he will be injured going forward and that gives us back a dearly missed third (second) scoring line.

    It’s been rather amazing how many close games we’ve lost without him in the lineup and it’s only been maybe three periods over the last couple of games that it has been horrible hockey.

    The biggest problem with this team has always been management trading away/giving away depth (*Glencross for eg.), and if anything, I want Chia to recognize this.

    Organize the standings based upon GF/GA and take a deep breathe. This team has improved this year. (Consider also that odd Carolina stinker)

    “You just have to say ‘screw it’ to losing and get the mentality that we can win games here.” – McDavid.

  • Anton CP

    That jersey photo reminded me of the incident. The Oilers’ organization reaction was very off-putting to me. A fan had the nerve to make a demonstration of frustration. How dare she or he?

    After several years of abject losing and very patient outlook from fans, everyone was tearing out their hair, and the Oilers had done nothing to show that they were alive to the situation. The gesture of throwing the jersey was exactly what was needed. Contrary to how it was characterized, that fan probably had a hard time doing that. The fans have just as much pride in the team as the players and management, but the team made it out as if the fan was just being flippant. And this during an era when management stays mute on the atrophy of the team year after year. At least someone showed they cared.

    • nuge2drai

      We are Canadians. We don’t lower ourselves to those acts. I’m proud that the team and players reacted the way they did as they have an obligation to serve as role models for the younger fans. Would you want your child (future child) to act that way in the future?

      The ‘paper bag over the head’ while still supporting the team was the best form of protest I saw and enough of a message. I applaud the fellow who started that trend.

      The fact that so many of us still support and share hope for a team that has been losing now for 10 years is a testament to our culture of hockey in Canada and for our pride for the cities we are from.

  • oilerjed

    So much anxiety. Oilers will finish better then last year. They do have a boost in play. But I thought most agreed this wasn’t a playoff team at the start of the year? Some of these proposed trades are not logical.

  • oilerjed

    @ Henderson
    Although I agree with you that the “culture of losing” is a myth. Way to many players turned over in the last year to lay that dirty rug out again.
    Nice trolling though, you have the masses mobilizing for your lynching and already on page 3 of the comments section.

    @98% of the commenters here:

    BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA quit being sheeple. Come up with some original ideas and quit banging the same boring drum.

  • Anton CP

    The Oilers losing culture start off from trigger-happy KLowe and apparently that many are still endorsing the very same idea about just dump the entire team. How many players that the Oilers dropped throughout the years that was due to impatience or arrogance of KLowe (to the extend, Tambo and MacT)? From what I can remember, Poti, Comrie, Chimera, Smyth, Lupul, Stoll, Souray, Nash, Cogliano, Rieder, Dubnyk, Hemsky, Gagner, and Petry.

    If a team wants to win, they cannot just keep on trading players base on impulse, however quite a few still believe there is a miracle solution if the team can just “trade it right”.